Raccoons are small, cute creatures, just like cats and dogs. Some people often wonder if it's possible to domesticate raccoons, and what they could be used for. Dogs were originally used to alert humans to intruders and help us hunt. Cats lived with humans to keep rodents down.
Is It Possible To Domesticate Raccoons?
If we could control raccoons completely, they would be very useful. Raccoons have fine motor skills and can climb just about anything. Their hands and climbing could be leveraged to go in tight spaces and grab things out of reach. This would be especially useful for the elderly or those with movement restrictions as raccoons can open just about anything!
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Why We Can't Domesticate Raccoons
Unfortunately we can't domesticate raccoons. It has been attempted several times before, and still raccoons exhibit hostile and instinctual behavior. There are a few reasons for this:
Reason #1: Raccoons Aren't "Social Creatures"
Dogs are very social creatures, and cats still bond socially with humans. Raccoons on the other hand are isolated and do their own thing. They don't develop emotional connects to humans like cats and dogs do. Dogs also instinctively want to serve their masters. Because it sees us as their master, it is happy to do as we say.
Even after breeding several generations of raccoons, they still do not form any connection to humans. Cats on the other hand will build a deep connection especially if adopted early on. Raccoons are instinctively aggressive, curious, and independent, hence why they have not yet been domesticated (and won't be anytime soon).
Reason #2: Raccoons Are Aggressive Biters
Raccoons are not easily house-trained. When they get hungry, stressed, or upset they have a tendency to bite. While cats and dogs may exhibit this behavior to an extent, it can be bred out and they can be conditioned to not bite. Also when they have a connection to their owner, they are much less likely to bite or attack.
Raccoons on the other hand do NOT form that connection and therefore have no problem attacking the owner human. Raccoons also are a "rabies vector species," so if you ever are bit by a raccoon you should dial 9-1-1 immediately so you can be sure you don't have rabies.
Reason #3: Raccoons Are Too Curious
Raccoons can't stay in a single area for too long. They are wandering foragers, and keeping them in a single area causes them to get aggressive, which in turn causes them to get bite-happy. Attempts at domesticating an "outdoor raccoon" (much like an "outdoor cat" that spends most of its time outdoors) have failed because the raccoon simply moves on to another place. Cats & dogs on the other hand develop a sense of "home" which is also fueled by the connection with the human, so they keep returning back home.
Reason #4: Raccoons Will Mess Things Up
With their fine motor abilities like human hands, raccoons are able to open just about everything humans can. They are master thieves and escape artists. Several attempts at domesticating raccoons have failed simply because the raccoon found a way out! Even if you can keep the raccoon in your home, it's very common that the raccoon will open things like the fridge, drawers, and move them around, and even tear up the couch.
Also, we should add, there have been no successful cases we have found of raccoons being trained for an extended period of time to use a "litter box" like a cat. Unless you want raccoon waste everywhere in your home, it'd be best NOT to try tame one.
Why It Appears Some People Have "Pet Raccoons"
Some people have uploaded cute videos of raccoons calling them "pets." We wanted to dispel some of the myths and false appearances some people are making too. Raccoons are cute creatures, but they are NOT pets. Here are two reasons why it may seem that other people have domesticated raccoons:
Reason #1: People Only Share Positivity or Viral Content on Social Media
That cute 5 minute video (or compilation of several short videos) you watch is just that- 5 minutes of happiness. The rest could be pure hell for all you know. Real scientific research has shown that it is not possible to domesticate raccoons. People claiming otherwise are only showing the positive side of things. Don't attempt to do the same.
Reason #2: Pure Conditioning
Conditioning is the act of giving a reward or a punishment for a specific action completed. All animals (humans included) can be conditioned to perform certain behaviors under certain circumstances. The best attempts at domestication of raccoons are simply heavy conditioning. A raccoon is given a reward for doing a certain behavior, so it continues doing that behavior.
Remember that when the rewards stop, so does the behavior! Also as soon as the human leaves the raccoons rapidly return to their instinctual state. Raccoons are high-maintenance and their aggressive/curious side can only be turned off with constant, 24/7 monitoring.
Domestication does NOT equal conditioning! Conditioning is ONE isolated behavior that is being shared, whereas domestication is a lifestyle with humans.
Moral Issues of Domesticating Raccoons
We have clearly laid out that it is impossible currently to domesticate raccoons. Attempts to do so are illegal in some states and countries, and even in states where it is legal could come with certain fines or issues down the line. Attempting to domesticate a raccoon now is immoral because raccoons are instinctively curious foragers.
Forcing a raccoon to live with humans because of it is cute does no good for the owner or the raccoon. The raccoon will likely cause damage to the property, the owner (through bites), and anyone else the owner brings over to the property. The raccoon will not be happy stuck in a certain place and is not a social creature, so don't try to force it to be one.
Evolution & Domestication
Raccoons can't be domesticated NOW, but studies have shown that raccoon violence has gone down in the past hundred years. This could be due to a number of factors, or it could be that less-aggressive raccoons are more likely to survive than aggressive raccoons. This is because raccoons are now primarily urban creatures, and humans will eliminate any aggressive threat to them. So raccoons are naturally becoming less aggressive (again potentially, there could be other reasons for this) because those that are aggressive are not reproducing and spreading aggressive genes.
It is possible that in a few hundred years that raccoons begin to co-exist and eventually become domesticated by humans through evolution and natural selection. Scientists believe this may have happened with dogs, but only time will tell if this happens to raccoons.
In the meantime, it is not right to attempt to tame or domesticate a raccoon now. It may also be illegal. Do your own thing, and let the raccoon stay free in the wild.
We hope you enjoyed this read and look forward to hearing your response. Thanks!
-Wildlife X Team International