Ferret behavior has evolved along with their domestication by humans over the last five millenia to resemble canine social skills rather than their wild relatives.
Ferrets have been domesticated by selective breeding from the European polecat (Mustela putorius). They have been bred originally for practical functions (hunting), but nowadays many of them are merely kept as pets.
In contrast to wild Mustela hybrids, domesticated ferrets tolerate eye-contact by their owners for a longer time than strangers and show a preference in a two-way choice task towards their owners versus strangers. Furthermore, domestic ferrets, unlike the wild hybrids, were able to follow human directional gestures (sustained touching; momentary pointing) and could reach the success rate of dogs.
- Lodé T (2008) Kin recognition versus familiarity in a solitary mustelid, the European polecat Mustela putorius. Comptes Rendus Biologies 331:248–254
- Price EO (2002) Animal Domestication and Behaviour. CABI Publishing.
- Hernádi A et al (2012) Man's Underground Best Friend: Domestic Ferrets, Unlike the Wild Forms, Show Evidence of Dog-Like Social-Cognitive Skills. PLoS One 7(8):e43267