Most folks know that you can’t chase a cat and force it to love you. You have to wait and allow the cat to come to you.
Much the same way that most know how to approach a dog meeting you for the first time. Politely allow the new dog to sniff your hand and “get to know you” before you reach right in and try to touch him.
Not as many people know how to behave around a hedgehog, however.
Hedgehogs DO have quills, they can and WILL poke you, but that is no reason to be scared of them. Dogs and cats can nip you and scratch you with their claws but you don’t think too much about it, it’s considered the hazard of owning a pet. Sometimes these scratches are on purpose, sometimes they are an accident.
Hedgehogs are naturally shy creatures, they would much rather hide and protect themselves first and ask questions later. Which means rolling into a ball and becoming pretty prickly. They easily startle and most will hide their cute little faces with their forehead quills until they determine it is safe to check things out. Babies are even more on the defense than adults. Youngsters are pretty dramatic. Babies don’t know as much and have not met as many people, you have to move slow and remember to breathe when around a hedgehog. If you are scared and tense you will make them question what’s wrong with you and if they have a reason to be scared too!
Ever walk along and see something on the ground or in the sky then notice the person behind you looking around trying to see whatever it was you did? It can be funny, but animals are the same way, they don’t use words like we do so they have to be really good at reading body language and determining the mood of someone or something. When we are scared, breathing shallow with our muscles tense and act jumpy, it tells the hedgehog there is something wrong here. Maybe it’s a dangerous situation, and they should feel the need to protect themselves.
If your hedgehog is in a ball it’s best to just sit quietly with them on your lap or in your flat open palms and let them unroll in their own time when they begin to feel safer. NEVER put a balled up hedgehog down or back in its cage. They learn fast that they can make you go away by doing this.
Hopefully after having his house taken away for a few minutes this will allow your hedgehog to wake up and look around. Then it’s much easier to scoop your hedgehog up from underneath his soft belly. I like to put my hand right in front of the hedgehog and let them lift their head and sniff me before I slowly move my fingers underneath their neck, then all the way under their body. Be sure to spread your fingers out underneath them so you gently support their full body, often their little legs will dangle between your fingers. Be ready with your other hand to support and keep them from falling if they jump or move suddenly.
Most hedgehogs will relax much more once you pick them up. I have a lot of hedgehogs still have to put up a “tough man” attitude, but once I just go in and scoop them up they are happy to be held and cuddled.
You have to remember that unlike dogs and cats, hedgehogs don’t have nearly as many years of domestication behind them. Hedgehogs still have a lot of natural instinct intact and as a result they are always ready to protect themselves from becoming lunch.
Humans are seen as predators (yes, even if you are vegetarian). We have our eyes on the front of our face (rather than on the side of our head to see all the way around us as prey animals do), when we feel something pulling against us we pull back, we move fast, we grab fast and squeeze with our fingers (like claws)…all characteristics of predators. Combine this with a small vulnerable hedgehog who is rather low on the food chain in the wild and you can see why we might make our new hedgehog a little nervous. 🙂
A little patience on your part will go a long way in your hedgehog’s book to becoming a trusted friend. A great activity while your hedgehog is getting to know you is sitting together and watching a movie, or computer time on your lap. They also love a big sweatshirt pocket!