When you get a new hamster, leave him to settle in his cage for 24 hours. You can talk quietly to him so he gets used to your voice. When he has settled you can then start handling sessions. Hamsters from hobby breeders are often tamer than their pet shop counterparts as they have been well handled as babies. Any hamster can be slightly unsure after moving into a new home.
Always handle your hamster with clean hands. Make sure he is awake and aware you are there. Unless your hamster is very used to you, it is better not to pick him up out of his nest, but wait until he is wandering around his cage. I like to handle all nervous hamsters over a box, so that they are safe and contained if they jump. This is especially important with roborovski hamsters which can be incredibly fast.
Taming for a Nervous Hamster (or Owner)
Put something in the cage for the hamster to climb into, such as a hamster ball, flower pot or jar. Cardboard tubes work well as you can block the ends with your hands as you transfer the hamster. They are also nice and dark so the hamster feels safe in it. You can tempt the hamster into the ball or tube by putting a treat inside. Don’t make any sudden movements or noises.
Transfer the tube with the hamster inside into a deep cardboard or plastic box. I like to have substrate on the floor for burrowing and some treats scattered around so the playbox is a nice place to go for the hamster, but this is not essential. Let the hamster come out of the tube and have an investigate while you talk quietly to him.
When the hamster has settled, try scooping him up. I do this by sliding my hands along the floor from either side of the hamster when he is near the side wall of the box. Do it gently, calmly and confidently (even if you don't feel it) as they do seem to feel if someone is nervous. Lift him up only about an inch or so in case he jumps or you feel unsure and want to put him down.
Let the hamster run from one hand to another one or two times before allowing him to walk back onto the base of the box and have a little rest. I don't attempt to hold onto the hamster at this stage, and if he wants to run off my hands I allow him to - he won't come to any harm as he is only a little way off the floor and is contained in the box. Do this several times in one session, but keep the sessions short (5-10 minutes) before transferring the hamster back to his cage using the ball/tube/jar for a rest.
If you do this one or two times a day, the hamster will gradually get used to being handled and should become a lovely tame pet.
As you and your hamster get more confident, you can try picking your hamster up one-handed. With a baby or unsure hamster, I hold him on one hand and then slowly stroke the hamster with the other before curling my fingers around his side and gently lifting him up. Once again, I recommend doing this over the playbox and holding him just a few centimetres over the floor so he is safe.
When he has got used to this, you can then lift him one-handed straight from the playbox and then his cage. Be careful not to swoop suddenly from above with your hand as your hamster may take fright, thinking you are a bird of prey.
When you and your hamster are confident in each other it is important to continue to handle your hamster regularly. The playbox can be somewhere for your hamster to explore during their out of cage time. Perhaps you could hide some treats in the toys or substrate for him/her to hunt out. A large sand bath goes down well with many hamsters if they don't usually have one in their cage.
Hamsters should never be left unattended in an open playbox, no matter how confident you are that they are unable to climb out. Hamsters can clamber out of seemingly impossible to escape from tanks and boxes! A hamster should be able to have a rest back in their cage every 15-20 minutes so they can drink, eat and rest. This applies also to using a hamster ball.
If you have more than one hamster, always check that the playbox is empty before putting a new hamster in it.
I generally do not recommend the play pens marketed for small animals as they are very easy to escape from for all species of hamster. I have found homemade playpens more useful and have written a how-to guide which can be found on my blog.