Saying that monkeys can be aggressive is a colossal understatement. In addition to the typical challenges that are expected with the onset of maturity, they can also be moody, unpredictable and given to tantrums. They have "bad" days just like people do and as a monkey parent, it's our responsibility to deal with these inevitable challenges constructively and appropriately. Losing our temper or inflicting harsh punishment to vent our own frustration will backfire...I guarantee it. Cruelty or inappropriate retaliation in any form will sever any remaining bond of trust and will do little to establish you in a position of respect. Do not mistake fear for respect. A monkey that fears you is only waiting for the opportunity to get even. They are intelligent and cunning and know to be patient when it comes to exacting revenge. This is certainly not the type of relationship you want with your companion. Appropriate discipline is firm and fair and immediate. The desired outcome is not to make your monkey afraid, but to respect your alpha position. For smaller New World monkeys like marmosets and tamarins, the best way to handle a show of aggression is to immediately restrain them and force them to look you in the eyes until they look away...followed by time out and restriction of privileges. On occasion they may have to be caged for a couple of days and fed only by hand. This dependency forces them to understand that they can trust you to care for them and meet their basic needs. They should be petted through the cage and spoken to and played with, but not allowed the freedom that they enjoyed previously. When let out, they should be on a leash and allowed to slowly earn the right to freedom and interaction on their own terms. They quickly learn that the freedom they desire has to be earned by respecting you and that you are kind and trustworthy, but will not under any circumstances allow disrespect for your alpha position. Consistency is the key. Don't allow a monkey to behave badly one day and then punish him the next. From day one, work at establishing your status and over time a bond of mutual affection and respect will evolve.
What I have discovered is that the more time invested in a monkey during its infancy, the less of a problem aggression will be later on. A successful relationship with a monkey is built on trust and security. There has to be a level of mutual respect for a bond to form and for the monkey to be comfortable looking to you as the alpha member of his "troop". It takes a lot of trust for a small monkey like a marmoset or tamarin to allow you to just pick it up. Remember that in the wild, anything that picks them up is most likely about to have him for dinner. Monkeys generally demonstrate aggression or bite for three reasons: (1) They are afraid (2) They feel territorial toward their person or an item they consider theirs. (3) They are attempting to establish dominance over a family member or other pet. We gain a whole new perspective when we take the time to see the world through their eyes. It takes time and patience to develop trust that overrides their instinctive reaction to bite.
It really is important that you have done your homework and feel secure enough to make your "alpha" status in the household clear. You can't show that you are hesitant or fearful in any way. There isn't time for you to be timid when facing down a primate that thinks it can win a challenge. Be clear and concise and leave no room for doubt that it's just not going to happen. There is very little room for error here and one lost battle means you will be challenged again, more aggressively the next time. Yes monkeys understand and appreciate your kindness. Yes they are grateful for the care you provide; however, when they are feeling full of themselves they respect only one thing: Strength. If you get a bite here and there, (and you will) as long as you won the battle, there are plenty of days for playing and cuddling.
I've found that if given a firm "NO" from the time they are little, they know that the word means that a line has been crossed. I can also say from experience that the times that my little guy thinks he can put one over on me, a firm, loud "Don't even think about it." seems to snap him right back to reality. When you parent a monkey, you just accept the fact that disagreements are going to happen. I just make sure the outcome is always the same. Monkey 0------Mom 1... end of story. You can't back down and you can't let it slide.."just this once". They sense fear and they sense weakness. Millions of years of evolution have developed keen instincts for survival and the ability to "read" a situation and to get the upper hand is what has guaranteed their survival.
Alpha that I am, I still have respect for his space. There are things I would never do, for instance: I would never startle him from sleep or try to hold him down if he was having a fear reaction to to a noise. I would wait for him to come to me for comfort. You also need to realize that when upset, monkeys act out at the first thing in their space, which is another reason to not allow them around strangers. If your monkey is sitting with someone they don't know well and something startles them, they will likely get upset at the person holding them. It was nothing personal... it was just monkey behavior.
A monkey that has been well cared for, appropriately disciplined and allowed to integrate into a family on his own terms, isn't likely to develop serious aggression issues. Give them a bit of space to make their own decisions and learn to pick your battles wisely. Decide early on what is and is not acceptable. If you constantly discipline them for every little thing, your discipline soon becomes meaningless. Constantly being told no or receiving time-outs and punishment for small infractions leads to frustration and fear. Trying to bite or acting up when getting a diaper changed should be reprimanded; but, please understand that getting in trouble for chewing on your expensive pen or destroying a concert ticket is not something he is capable of relating to. If you have something that isn't monkey resistant, keeping it in a safe place is your responsibility! A monkey is not capable of determining that one doo-dad is ok to play with but another doo-dad isn't. Resist the urge to scream or loose your temper. They can't understand what you are yelling about anyway, and all it does is add to the stress. and confusion. Monkeys require consistent, firm yet loving discipline that is administered without the infliction of serious pain or threat. It is in their nature to respect our alpha status. It is also in their nature to expect you to have rightfully earned the position.
If you have general questions or need details about any of our products, or if you just need to "monkey" talk, please contact me at (253) 862-0432 or email me at LindaLawrence@aol.com If I'm unable to answer your questions, I'll do my best to direct you to someone who can.