Pig Behavior & Training...
There are a lot of questions out there from pet pig parents regarding behavior. The questions come from mild “What should I be doing?” to “My pig is attacking me, other members of the family or friends in the household, HELP!” Honestly, most pigs end up rehomed or abandoned because of behavior issues that should have been addressed long before it manifested in to an actual problem, or even as a small piglet.
There is a system out there that was originally implemented by Lydia Weaver, called Move The Pig. It is a training system that focuses on making sure that you and your human family become “top hog” within your pigs “herd” and stay there for life. It is a very successful tool to have in your arsenal when owning and dealing with pet swine. This tends to be a much larger issue with pigs that are indoor pets as opposed to pigs that are living outdoors and have a companion at their disposal. It can happen with outdoor pets, especially if they live alone, but it is more rare. I have never had an outdoor pig display or attempt a dominant attitude with me or my family, only others indoor pigs. I highly believe that pigs that have little to no natural socialization with other mates of it’s own species, tend to resort to this behavior when it knows no other reality. Demanding behavior also becomes problematic when a pig is spoiled and given way too many treats or exactly what it wants on a daily basis. If your pig is becoming nippy because you always feed it or offer it treats while in the kitchen and from your hands... stop. You are creating a spoiled pig, which is a real condition/behavior in pigs. Start feeding the pig ONLY from its dish or on the ground. Enrichment toys used for every meal and treat offering also works to curb this bad behavior. Always make the pig work, exercise or perform a trick for it’s food!
Working with equines and many other species of exotic animals myself (training with equines since 4 years of age), I could not agree with Lydia more. Move The Pig is an excellent example of behavior modification for pet pigs. I would like to not only touch on it but even elaborate. Lets start out by addressing the behavior of wild boars and sows, this may help you to grasp the innate and natural behavior of your pig. Male pigs (boars) fight for dominance of a herd or “sounder”, just like equines and many other species. The male will win the rights to mating the females that make up that sounder. Males tend to travel alone or in very small herds together (with other boars). There is always a leadership role within these small boar herds and only when the female group or sounder comes in to heat, will a boar team up with them for mating. Liken to a dog, the “hackles” or hair on their back (this looks like a mohawk on pigs) will stand straight up, they will begin to foam at the mouth and make a repeated gnawing/chewing and teeth grinding action. They will also take up the “fighting stance”, which is a funny side step; always keeping the other pig on the lateral or right/left sides of their body. Once the fight begins, the shoulder nudging or violet pushing, head butts and swiping of the tusks start. In the wild, they tend to fight to the death. One of the boars will either walk off defeated to try and tend to its wounds and move on or he is left to die. the fights are long and very drawn out, they can last for hours. Sows are also known to attack but this is usually because she feels threatened and the need to protect her litter. Under normal circumstances, females are not naturally as aggressive as the males can be. Even as piglets in a litter, we see the few week old piglets play and push each other around, sometimes violently, for a mother’s teat or food. This is also why keeping a piglet with it’s litter mates is so important, it helps establish and imprint important social skills.
Keeping that in mind, we now move to the pet pig. Although some very dominant females can and will display this aggressive behavior from time to time, it is usually more pronounced in males, even neutered males. Just like wild boars and sows, your pet may try and challenge you or your family members for leadership in the “herd” or family. You never want to have to address this issue once the problem becomes so bad you fear to have your children or friend’s in the home. Always start and imprint your pig at a young age if you have that ability! This is where Lydia’s Move The Pig tool becomes key. Every day and on a random basis, even if your pet is not displaying poor behavior, you want to literally move your pig around the room by pushing on it’s shoulders or neck area. ONLY use the amount of force it will take to move your specific sized pig. Never shove a piglet so hard it rebounds clear across the room. Same goes for a larger sized pig, don’t push it so gently that it has no idea what point you are even trying to get across. Also, when we refer to “push” we mean just that, a quick and repetitive shove, like you would see on the playground. Do not lean in to your pig with constant unrelenting pressure (see videos at the bottom of this article). All this will do is teach them to push back or lean in to you harder. It is ideal to start this routine while the pig is in a clam state, like laying down or simply being calm and hanging out in the room. Just randomly and calmly walk up to the pig and start gently pushing it to a new location in the room. Do this a few times and then let the pig go back to what it was doing calmly; you can then repeat this routine a couple times through out day. If you have children or a spouse that also resides in the home, the child must obviously be able to understand the basics of the drill and why it is being done, but have your other family members also partake in this routine. You can do it once a day but then let your spouse also do it, then your child. Doing this with all the different family members will imprint your pig with the understanding that he is lowest on the totem pole or chain of command. sticking to this routine works as a good daily training session for your pig that will ultimately remind him you are the leader and that he will do what you and your family say. If this is started at a young age, you should never really run in to many intense behavior issues regarding dominance or biting in the home. Flat out, your pig will know better.
When we run in to a pig that has already established it’s dominance within the family unit, a more aggressive form of this behavior modification is needed. If you feel sincerely threatened by your pig and the possible head swiping and biting behavior that he may display, you need to intervene immediately and assertively. We also recommend using a pig sorting board, a trash can lid, or a piece of thin plywood as a barrier between your body and the pig. Just like with a large and demanding equine that tries to establish a dominant pecking order with it’s human counterpart, we aggressively nip it in the butt and refuse to tolerate such behavior, it is flat out dangerous! We immediately run at them and grunt or clap our hands and stomp in an agitated state and ask them to move away from us; we essentially send them off and we do so aggressively! We continue to send them off running and push them around an arena or pasture until they come back to us and display a “I am giving up, you are in charge” behavior (in equines, it is a lowered head with licking the lips and light chewing, they may even stop and turn in to us and watch our every move, they may even start to follow us where ever we go with a lowered head). The same goes for an unruly pig, the second they try and nip or come at you, get up and yell “NO”, “GET” or “SHOO”, while pushing/shoving them by the neck or shoulder across the room. Pick one key or trigger word to consistently use with your pet and use it every time he is displaying a bad behavior. Sometimes just a negative tone in the voice will work to scare your pig out of his attitude, other times you may have to yell or get upset about it. If they keep displaying a fighting or agitated stance/attitude, get even more aggressive with trying to move them; don’t stop. Keep them moving even if you have to insert a sorting board or trashcan lid for safety! You can also drive them from behind. What this means, if the pig turns away from you push it's bum with your knees from behind to make it keep moving forward and away. Keep the pushing up until the pig backs off and purposefully tries to walk away. Once the bad behavior finally resides, let the pig come back to the room with a watchful eye on his body language. Try and move him again from a calmer state after 30 minutes. With a pig that is already displaying such a negative attitude in the home and with members of the family, you need to push the pig around in many different locations and many times through out the day. Never just use this tool when the pig finally becomes a problem or decides to push you around. Use it every day and ingrain that you are the leader of your home, same for family members, have them help assert dominance over your pig so they do not fall victim to his push for the leader role.
Please understand that asking your pig to move away is not mean, it is a natural and innate behavior pigs use every day to communicate dominance within the herd. If they did not do this, there would be chaos, just like in your home. This is not a cruel training tactic it is simply an extension of the pigs natural and wild behavior.
Written by Jodi Register (2015)
Check out this video of a wild herd full of adolescent males fighting with each other for dominance. Take special notice to the lateral movement and quick shoves and jabs made to the shoulder region of the body.
Here is another short clip of two wild boars fighting for dominance. Notice the frothing mouth, chewing action, screaming, lateral movement and pushing of the shoulders.
This is a video of Vegas Pig Pets using the Move The Pig training technique to work with an aggressive pig. It is short but notice the hog sorting board she is using to protect herself in case the pig decides to make a dangerous move. Also listen to her tone of voice and the one "key word" she consistently uses with him.
Another short clip of Vegas Pig Pets and the same food aggressive pig. Notice the use of the same key word and that when the pig finally reaches the desired behavior, she gives the pig her food but only in an enrichment toy. A toy that is specifically designed to make the pig work for their food.