These guidelines are set in place for the foxes who come to us that fear humans.
Many of these foxes were abused or neglected in some way.
Because these are not wild foxes and can never be released, our main focus is getting them comfortable with humans so they can live comfortably. These guidelines will help the foxes progress and flourish.
Keep in mind that a fox might be stuck in a phase for months, to even a year, before progressing.
What NOT to do
- Never offer your hand to a fox you don’t know. You might get bit!
- Don’t clap, snap, or make loud noises at the fox.
- Never make long, direct eye contact.
- No loud conversations with other volunteers near new foxes—(pay attention to their body language!)
Phase one: Getting the fox used to your presence
It is important not to move too fast in training sessions. This could cause a negative affect. Keep in mind that the fox could be in phase one for MONTHS before he is ready for the next step in training. In phase one we focus on getting the fox used to us being around. This means just sitting in the cage with the fox, mostly ignoring him/her with no direct interaction. You can simple be on your phone, read a book, or watch a movie. You may read out loud or even watch a movie with sound. Never make long eye contact, this can scare the fox and make him see you as a danger.
Has the fox passed Phase one?
How do you know if the fox is use to your presence? He/she is not pooping and peeing in fear when you enter the cage. The fox is not cowering or hiding during your time with him. The fox feels comfortable to nap while you are in his/hers cage and may even play with its toys. The fox is showing some interest in you.
Phase two: Building trust
You now may slowly start making direct interactions with the fox by looking at him and speaking to him. When you look into the foxes eyes make slow long blinks, this will help him see you as not a threat. If the fox still acts nervous when this is practiced take a step back and try it again another day. Talk to the fox like he is your friend. Try throwing a toy around and offering toys to him. Make your own notes on his reaction to this. Try offering treats. You may start by offering them away from you and not out of your hand. Slowly offering treats closer to you (this is not expected to happen in one day) eventually placing the treats onto your lap. When you have gained his trust he will start coming into your lap to accept treats. This does not mean he will let you pet him yet, and that is okay.
Phase three: Light training
If the fox is at phase three you have gained his trust! This is the last phase for our scaredy foxes. At this point the fox has already reached the level of human comfortability as many of our other foxes. If you are at phase three, he now feels comfortable with your presence and will accept treats out of your hand and your lap COMFORTABLY. Instead of taking the treat and running to hide and eat it he will eat it in front of you, and will patiently sit or stand at your feet for more. You may have even gotten some happy wags or signs of excitement when he sees you come to visit. At this point the fox has never been outside of his cage to run with the other foxes in the ‘big fenced area’. Why? Because we would never catch him. For this phase to be completed we want them to have that little bit of freedom and that is where some light training comes in. We try to teach all the foxes here the simple command of ‘treat’. Even for our foxes we can’t hold, or pet, this is a way to get them to willing come to us so we can let them out of their cages, and put them back into their cages. When the fox learns “treat” and comes to you, without ever seeing the treat, then he is ready to come out of his cage for free time.
After these phases are completed we encourage you to continue to work with the fox. Maybe some day he will even allow you to pet him and you can teach him a few other commands.