Welcome to one of the most enjoyable journeys you will ever embark on. Once you begin to understand pig instincts, behaviors, vocalisms, personality, no other animal will ever seem quite the same in comparison. There is just something so unique about a pig. Unlike most dogs, a miniature pig’s trust is very hard earned. They are extremely discerning about whom they decide to be friends with. The most important thing to remember is that these highly intelligent beings have been taken away from their natural habitat.
If we are expecting them to be household pets or even lawn ornaments, we have asked them to adapt to a world that is foreign to them. It is up to us to understand them and their needs, not for them to have their behaviors “modified” to fit our idea of what an ideal pet should be. People who have cultivated excellent relationships with their pigs are those who have studied the workings of the porcine mind, the true nature of the little critters, and created an environment that gives the pigs what they need in order to be happy, well adjusted companion.
Things to know from the start:
The Socialization Process
It is best to have a quiet enclosed place to begin the process. It is a myth that a pig must be segregated to “tame” it and having more than one pig in the family will not make them any less attached to the people they share their lives with. Because they are such “copy cats”, they will learn from watching another pig how good it feels to be scratched or that nothing horrible happens if a human touches you. When the first piglet in a litter goes down for its first belly rub, you will often see others keel over as well even though they have yet to be touched. Everyone else wants a piece of whatever is feeling that good! I have also seen groups within a herd learn to sit for treats simply by watching one pig do so. There is usually one bold Columbus type in each litter. Utilize that one to show the others that you are to be trusted and in fact bring tidings of great pleasure. For single pigs in quarantine, a cat can often model the behavior that people are safe and provide good feelings through touch. Our cat Percy actually seems to understand the process and acts like a literal “go between” by carrying scent and gentleness between us and the pig. I have also had great progress by letting a pig watch another pig be loved on by me through the fence.
Don’t attempt to touch a pig until it is comfortable having you in close proximity while it eats. Desensitization while the pig eats is the key. Start by staying low to the ground. Gradually get the pig used to your standing up and moving around without running from its food bowl. This is like learning to dance. The pig will tell you if you are moving too fast and that will be your clue to slow down and back off a bit. They are also remarkably forgiving creatures in many ways. Just because you make a mistake and scare the pig, or it must have an unpleasant procedure during this juncture, does not mean that all is back to square one. But, if an unpleasant procedure does need to be done at this time, let someone else do it if possible.
After the pig is comfortable with you squatting by the bowl while eating, put your hand in a position where it will have to brush against your hand to get the food. The decision of the pig to touch your hand while eating will not take long if you have done your homework of being in close proximity without fear.
Put your hand in different positions around the bowl for the pig to touch and gradually let your hand be in the bowl holding some of the food. If the pig eats out of your flat hand in the bowl, gently raise it up so that the pig is eating out of your raised hand. Slowly begin to rub other parts of the pig’s body as it eats. If you are moving too fast, the pig will let you know. With many pigs this process will need to begin on the cheeks and under the neck rather than up on top of the head. Under the tummy and heart girth is usually a ticklish spot. Let them get used to it at their pace and it will soon be a favorite spot to have you scratch.
As the pig becomes more comfortable, it is time to sit on the floor and let it explore you. Often they gravitate to your shoes and in the case of piglets-shoestrings. Some pigs will need to “taste” you. This is best done with heavy clothing on and hands tucked away. This is natural and nothing to view as aggression. Some will also want to crawl on you. That is fine as well. They have a need to do this and does not equate with a pig seeing itself as dominant once you stand up and become a person again.
Give the pig bigger food like a half of a carrot or big piece of banana out of your hand. They will learn to come to you and associate you with good things. The important thing is that they have to “work” for their food and you do not become seen as a mere food dispenser. They can sit, spin, or come when called in order to get a treat.
Now that the pig is comfortable, it is time to take your relationship to the next level. This is when the pig knows that you adore it and have only good intentions. It is then that the pig begins to seek you out for friendship. Once you have found that secret spot on the pig that they cannot resist being scratched on, they will begin to seek you out. They will walk up and their “Mohawk” will stand up in anticipation of good things to come. Even if they have their pig buddies, they will want to come to you for that special bond that you have so carefully developed.
If you want to begin harness training at this juncture, do so again while the pig is eating in an enclosed area. After you can place the specially designed pig harness on the pig without worrying him or her, then you can attach the lead. Take care to never have the back portion of the harness fastened while the front is unfastened. If this back harness slips back towards the pigs flank, you will have a very unhappy pig on your hands.
When you first attach the lead, let the pig lead you and do not apply any direct pressure. Over a course of days, let the pig feel more gentle resistance that causes no harm. Pull them gently to the side and teach them with a treat to come to a side pull. If they do “spook” and try to run forward against the lead in the enclosed area, create a situation where the pig stops and then get it to turn in towards you for a treat. Make it automatic that when they feel pressure that they turn towards you for a treat.
Ask the pig to follow with a shaker of feed and stop and treat when the pig follows along. If the pig does not have a “good mouth” again use a bigger food item. Once they are good at this in the small area, they are ready to go out and practice.
Many people have problems having piglets that do not want to be picked up. We never force our pigs to be picked up but rather let them crawl into laps and then arms to find treats and comfort. If the pig finds this enjoyable, this process gradually leads to standing up and holding the pig. Some pigs find this so enjoyable that they will ask to be picked up. If the pig is absolutely not interested and terrified at being picked up, that is OK because in the vast majority of cases, carrying such a heavy animal is not a desirable activity once it is grown. Better to spend your time harness training the pig so you can control it when fully grown. Your best friend will be a crate as the pig gets too big to carry and you need to take it to the vet or other places. Much easier to lift a stationary crate than a 150 lb wiggle worm of a pig. Always have a way to get your pig moved in an emergency.
Good luck to all who embark on this. There is no better friend to have than a pig! Let us know if we can help in any way or answer any questions.
© 2006 by Lorelei Pulliam