Into the Bonding Pit
Phase One: Putting on the Pouch
Just what does it take to truly bond with a sugar glider? Regardless of how much research we do, or how many bonding articles we read, we are never really prepared for the reality. Sugar gliders can be scary! It is a matter of survival instinct. A small, sweet faced creature, usually weighing in at less than five ounces, the sugar glider has had to develop extreme methods of survival in the wild. A colony of crabbing sugar gliders will frighten off a predator that might otherwise make a meal out of them. The lunge of a cornered glider may also serve as a deterrent against an animal in search of a meal, and it is a well known fact that even the bite of an adorable joey has sent many a potential owner in search of a more “domestic” pet.
If you want a sugar glider to trust you, you must be willing to put in a great deal of time. Bonding does not always come easy, and for every story of the glider who bonded to its owner overnight there are twenty stories where it took a year. Throughout this article you will notice a mantra of three words: Time, patience, consistency.
Sugar gliders tend to bring certain human emotions to the surface.
- Love - our hearts are filled with this, often at the very first sight of a sugar glider
- Pain - our hearts are usually broken within a day or two, as soon as we realize our love is not returned. In fact, just the opposite seems true. The adorable creature appears to hate the sight of us.
- Frustration - we are trying so hard to “bond,” but don’t seem to be getting much cooperation from our glider(s).
- Fear - What if he bites me and it hurts? What if he never bonds with me?
- Joy - Today he let me feed him, he didn’t crab, lunge or bite. Today I was allowed to pet him for the first time.
You may; in fact, you probably will experience all of these at some time during the bonding process.
As much as you want to get your little glider out of the cage and hold him just as soon as you get him home - don’t. When you get home place your glider in the cage where he will be living and let him rest. Moving from one place to another is stressful. Whether a young joey, or older glider, he has been taken from the home he knows. Suddenly all of the scents and sights are unfamiliar and frightening. Your glider may be very shy about coming out of his pouch for a night or two, and may flee back to it if you enter the room or turn on a light. Give him a few days before you start the bonding process in earnest. Do sit by the cage each night during those first days. Talk softly as you clean or feed. Try not to make loud noises or quick movements that will startle your glider. Even during these first few days you will be earning, or losing, your glider’s trust.
After a few days, remove your glider’s pouch from the cage during the day while he is sleeping. He will most likely crab at the motion, and almost certainly will crab if you show him your face. This is fine. Don’t take it personally. It is the only way he knows to get rid of you, and YOU aren’t going to let it work because YOU have patience and are consistent. I found that sliding the pouch inside my shirt worked best in the beginning. Here I would like to point out that, a pouch is a pouch is a pouch. There are all kinds of pouches. Thin bonding pouches, thin sleeping pouches, thick bonding pouches, thick sleeping pouches, and thin and thick traveling pouches…which one you use doesn’t matter. It will be easiest if you use the same pouch your glider sleeps in as the bonding pouch. That way all you do is reach in the cage, take out the pouch with the glider already in it, and slide it inside your shirt. It is also helpful if you keep the pouch hanging on, or near, the main door of the cage where you have easy access to it.
In the beginning you will want to keep your glider on you as much as possible. As you go about your daily routine the glider will become accustomed to your motion and voice, as well as your all-important scent. You smell special and you want your glider to know it. Remember when your mother complained about the smell of your dirty clothes? Well suddenly they have a purpose. Each day give your glider an article of clothing, or a piece of fleece that you have worn long enough that it carries your scent. I wore a piece of fleece in my bra each day and gave it to my gliders each night. It also helps to rub the fleece or clothing over your face and neck where your skin is most oily. I know, your mother would be horrified, but we are bonding here, and willing to do whatever it takes.
As you are “wearing” your glider each day you may begin to shamelessly bribe him with “licky” treats. These can be baby food fruits, applesauce, a bit of yogurt, an occasional piece of grape or apple, something that you discover your glider really loves. Each time you reach into the pouch have something to offer. Yes, the glider may still crab and lunge, but for the largest percentage of gliders the “licky” treat seems to work. As soon as the glider lunges with the intent of biting, he receives a wonderful taste. Before long his hands, instead than his teeth, will reach for your finger. While you may be bitten, I found my gliders to be very intelligent about it. It only took a few offerings before they decided I was the “snack fairy.” This takes a great deal of consistency. It is an ongoing process and should never end. You won’t always offer a treat every time you pet your glider, but be prepared to do it occasionally for the rest of his life.
Now that your glider is busy holding your finger and licking off his special treat, use your other hand to very gently stroke his head and back. Do not make sudden movements that might startle your new friend and undo the good that has been done so far. The more time you spend with him at this early phase of bonding, the more quickly your glider will learn to trust you. I tried to spend at least two to four hours a day with my gliders during the first month of daytime bonding. Now, on to phase two…the tent.
Phase Two: Out of the Pouch and into the Tent
A tent? Did she say a tent? Indeed she did. When I first read about the use of a tent for bonding and playtime I thought surely I had misunderstood. I do not know where this idea originated, but I DO know it works wonders. The tent is usually a small dome tent, the type that can be purchased for under $20.00 at Walmart or Target. These are easy to set up and take down, and store in very small travel cases making them easy to take with you on road trips. They have small rings attached to four corners of the interior ceiling, perfect for hanging glider toys such as ropes and swings. Hopefully you will be able to leave your tent up permanently for convenience, but even if you are unable to, set up and breakdown take only minutes. Once the tent is up, STOP, before you grab your glider pouch and jump inside there is a bit of preparation that will help keep your gliders comfortable. Place a sheet on the floor of the tent. The plastic flooring tends to make loud crackling noises as you move about on it, and the sheet serves to deaden that sound. Now choose a few hanging toys that your glider has already used in his cage, and place them on the rings. A paper plate with a snack is also something your glider will welcome. It is in the tent that I feed moths. Watching the gliders catch them is true entertainment. The tent also provides endless photo opportunities.
I found that taking my gliders in for tent time about an hour before they normally wake up works best. They are still drowsy, but it only takes a short time before they are out of the pouch and investigating. I offer licky treats and pet my gliders, talking softly as they wake up. REMEMBER the first thing your glider will do when it wakes up and leaves the pouch is urinate and defecate. If you do not want this to be done on your lap cover it with a paper towel or cloth.
How do you play with a glider? Most gliders LOVE feathers, so a cat feather teaser is a lot of fun. There are also items made by many members of the glider community that can serve as enrichment for tent time. Your job, as tent master, is to sit quietly and observe. The tent provides a safe, secure environment for your glider, and the confined space means that while they play they will constantly be crossing over you, jumping on and off, or resting on your shoulder or lap. This wonderful microcosm provides the gliders with a perfume of your co-mingled scents. Before long you just become one of the colony.
Tent time, like daytime bonding, needs to be done on a consistent basis. One to two hours nightly, at least five nights out of the week when you begin. Even now, long after the bond with my gliders is strong, I find that on occasions where I must be away from them for a few days or a week I become a creature to be reinvestigated before I am fully accepted again. Gliders require your presence on a very regular basis if you want them to include you as one of their own.
While my gliders now have their own room, I still begin each evening with tent time before they are released into the larger space. It has kept the bond tight, and provided me some of the sweetest moments with my gliders. They come to rest in my lap. Each time I look down into their sweet faces I thank those many people who took their time to share bonding methods with me. There is nothing that can replace the time you spend with your gliders for sealing the bond. Unless you are consistent and patient your glider will simply be a caged stranger in your home, never a companion. While the investment is great, the reward is even greater.This entry was posted on Wednesday, April 1st, 2009 at 9:08 am and is filed under Articles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Responses are currently closed, but you can trackback from your own site.