If you buy your gerbils from a good source, the job of taming should be well on the way. Gerbils should be at least six weeks old before coming home with you; this will give them time to learn proper gerbil social etiquette and to not fear humans.
When you first bring your gerbils home, go ahead and place their habitat right where you intend to keep it in your home. Then do not handle the gerbils for 24 hours. Do not ignore this rule! Give them time to settle into their new home and become familiar with the new sights, sounds and smells around them. This will make it much less stressful on the gerbils and easier to handle them later.
Make sure that you wash your hands before and after you handle your gerbils. There are several reasons for this. First, it prevents any germs from possibly contracting any illnesses to your gerbils. Second, if you’ve eaten anything recently the gerbils will not smell the food on you and try to bite thinking there is something to eat! Third, gerbils are very scent oriented. If you’ve handled another animal, especially another gerbil, they may feel threatened and bite you out of fear. Fourth, you always should wash your hands after handling any small animal.
Gerbils greet one another through the use of scent glands in their mouth, so you can introduce your hand into their tank and let them sniff it. It is not unusual for young pups to mouth or taste you as they explore and examine your hand. Don’t jerk your hand away. Instead, give them a quick puff of air on the top of the head (NOT in the face) to tell them “no.” If you pull away or jerk your hand, this could frighten them, or teach them that bites = no more hand. This type of exploratory nipping is a habit they will quickly outgrow. You can sweeten the deal by using sunflower seeds in the middle of your palm.
Try to avoid chasing your gerbil around the cage or sneaking up on them, as trying to grab them from above can also trigger prey instincts (think of how a bird of prey hunts – from above!). NEVER PICK A GERBIL UP BY ITS TAIL. You risk causing a seizure, and can seriously injure their tails, even pulling it off completely.
Hand training a gerbil can be easy, if you move patiently and slowly. Every morning when you feed your gerbils, remove all the sunflower seeds from their food and then put them aside. Then throughout the day, put a few sunflower seeds in the palm of your hand and quietly rest your hand with the seeds on the cage bedding. Before long the gerbils will become used to your hand, and see your hand as a glorified seed dispenser, and ladder to the outside world.
Some gerbils love to have their noses and foreheads rubbed, try lifting them out of the tank. When you do cradle them in a cave with two hands held against your body; some will go to sleep, while others have a silent purr like kittens. Additionally, you can let them run along your hands, arms, and shoulders.
Also, talk to your gerbils! They will quickly learn your voice and eventually will scamper eagerly to greet you when you enter the room. Use a normal but gentle volume with them as they have sensitive hearing and they will begin to associate your voice with good times to come and food. Your voice can also be soothing for them in stressful times when they are ill, so the sooner they know it the better.
Within two weeks, well trained gerbils should be very friendly and enjoy being held. It is recommended that children do not handle gerbils until you are confident that the gerbils are tame. This avoids a bad early experience for both child and gerbil. Additionally, it is easier to tame gerbils when only one person is working with them. After you are confident in your gerbil being tame, children can gradually begin to play with them. Each gerbil has a personality all its own.