Recently we published a blog on defining pet pigs as therapy animals and there were a lot of people that took to it. We wanted to present the good and amazing side to the work that real and properly registered animals bestow on us. Although Emotional Support Animals are REAL and do serve most people with a very valid purpose, we want you to meet a highly registered therapy pig that helps the community in so many ways! Meet Michelle and Patsy Swine...
Hi Pet Pig Team, I wanted to share a little insight on how Patsy Swine was able to become a certified therapy pig. I'm not sure that therapy work is suitable for all pigs. I've been lucky enough to have two that have been certified, both for work in complex situations, but both are very different personalities. Patsy came to me after she had been mauled by a dog, surprisingly she's still comfortable around dogs and her other therapy "friends." Because I knew that we would be working with children I wanted to know that she was as safe as possible in any situation. Lets face it, kids are scary and pigs are strong! I worked with Patsy until she was able to complete the canine therapy dog test, since most people assume that a pig is just like a dog, they expect them to act like a dog. So far from reality some days! So many of the things that Patsy learned are very much against her normal piggy instinct but they're also things that people assume she should be fine with...again it's an assumption that shes a dog in pig form.
Patsy sits, stays, lays down and walks on a leash. The sit stay and come were difficult. Delayed reward is difficult for a piggy to understand. Patsy had to ignore people grabbing her to hug her, had to let anyone pick up her feet, check her ears, open her mouth and offer food and take it away. Take food away from a pig!? 😱 Patsy had to be non reactive during loud noises or being bumped by someone unsteady on their feet. Because of work and family commitments, Patsy and I mainly work in the libraries with a program called Paws2read. We meet with children one on one. Some kids are struggling to read for various reasons and Patsy provides support, a listening ear and the opportunity for the child to grow and feel comfortable with no fear of judgement. Funny enough, she'll often grunt during a pause or quietly "squeek" when appropriate and of course, she smiles. I had to learn as much as Patsy so I could interact appropriately as well. As humans we need to also be well trained to know how to react and simply respond in any given situation that may present itself, after all, we are the handlers. I love the work and as far as I can tell, Patsy does too! She runs to the front door and takes herself up her ramp to get in the car. Her worse tantrums are if she thinks we should be going somewhere snd we don't. All in all we only volunteer about 8 to 10 regular hours a month and some extra special events. We're starting at the Ronald McDonald house very soon.
What is the difference between an Emotional Support animal and a Therapy Animal? Great question and one that often gets very mixed up! The website at the bottom of this paragraph does a wonderful job at explaining the difference between different titles and shows the canine test that Patsy and I performed. It is basically an obedience trial. You can guess why most pigs arent suitable. 😊 I chose Pet Partners for the evaluation and registration since they are one of the largest and best known therapy and service dog organizations. I think one of the best reasons for getting registered is that we are covered with liability insurance through Pet Partners. There really is no benefit for me personally to have Patsy registered as a therapy pet. It really costs me time and money but allows us to visit hospitals, libraries, nursing homes, etc. Since Patsy is not a service animal we don't get any special priveleges. Therapy animals are bound by the same rules and regulations as any other pet. I spend more time being her emotional support than vice versa. Its hard work dealing with new and stressful situations and there are times that she sleeps for hours after a visit. Pet Partners actually limits therapy work to 2 hours a day to protect the pets health and wellbeing. Animals must be re-evaluated every 2 years and at a minimum, handlers must take a new online course every 2 years. Some animals cant do therapy work long term because the stress takes a toll. Keep in mind its a solid 2 hours of being highly vigilant and focused and non reactive. I'm fairly sure that the only animals allowed to be service pets are dogs and mini horses (This is entirely accurate, Pet Pig Confirmed that). Happily, I have noticed that there seems to be a change in some public zoning to allow pigs as pets but I cringe when people try to label their pet as therapy or support as a means to try to get service dog allowances. Those of us with registered therapy pets spent a huge amount of time and effort to accomplish the registration, we dont get any personal benefit except for what we get in helping others and we're very careful in how we handle our pets. As in the case with the pig on the plane, it just takes one pet placed in an unfair or dangerous situation to create doubt with the actual work that we do. Please visit the following link to see the exact tests Patsy and I went through:
Patsy has some of her favorite books and friends she wants to share! I hope this is a little extra insight into the life of a therapy pig. Its not for everyone but I do think it has helped keep Patsy Swine from becoming bored and spoiled! So many victories for us and for the community! 💕
Thank you Michelle for taking the time to share your story with our community! We hope it has not only enlightened some but put a smile and warm feelings in the hearts of all our readers, it sure resonated with us!
Except opening and closing remarks, this blog was written and shared by Michelle V.
Our last blog was on aggression, training and "Shifting the Pig" and yet I really feel obligated to touch on another aggressive and poor behavior issue that goes hand in hand with our last topic. There is a real behavior condition in pigs called "Spoiled Pig Syndrome" and it commonly occurs in miniature variations of pet pigs and even more commonly, pigs that are indoors and kept as house pets. We rarely if ever see it in pigs that are kept outdoors or as farm pets.
Let's see what Webster's Dictionary defines spoiled as: "To impaire, damage or harm the character or nature of (someone) by unwise treatment or excessive indulgence, etc. to spoil a child by pampering him." That's pretty accurate and no surprise when it comes to some of today's modern house pets, especially pigs. Unlike a dog or cat that you may spoil from time to time and not create any ill lasting affects from, when you spoil a pig excessively you are walking a very fine line. Why is this? Pigs are naturally stubborn and aggressive when it comes to getting what they want from you or another animal. Like we said earlier, it kind of goes hand in hand with the training methods explained in our prior blog. Sometimes a pig will start challenging you for dominance and hierarchy BUT sometimes... You have single handedly created the monster by over indulging your pigs every desire or want. In effect you are giving in and training your pig to push you and your family members around until it gets exactly what it wants. That's a dangerous president to set! So what examples of behavior patterns are out there to help understand what we are referring to?
When you are in the kitchen getting a snack for you or your family, you automatically give the pig some of the snacks you are having. Here you are teaching your pig they can have whatever you are having, whenever you are having it or when you enter the kitchen or a specific room of the house. Another, when your pig awakes early in the wee morning hours or demands to be fed at obscure times and you get up and feed them in hopes that it will keep them quiet, even if for a few minutes. Here you are teaching your pig that it can demand whatever it wants of you, whenever it wants it. If your pig squeals/screams loudly till something he wants is given to him, again, he has won and you are teaching him this behavior is ok and desired. The pig will continue to push, push, push till it gets whatever it is after and sometimes this can even lead to dangerous behavior. All these examples are prime indicators of a spoiled pig in the making.
We can't stress enough that every pig is an individual in personality and behavior. Some people will in fact get lucky and have a pig that is given in to constantly and yet the pig stays calm and easy to work with regardless. However, this is not the norm and should not be expected. With some pigs that remain on the smaller stature end of the scale, giving in to them is easy and possibly easier to deal with, even if they do start to show symptoms of a spoiled pig. It's always easier to scold a Chihuahua than it is an unwilling Great Dane! Even with differing personalities, we never suggest setting your pig up for this type of behavior, even if you, "don't think it will ever happen to my cute pig."
Once this behavior is established and engrained in to the pig, the training to get them back to a more normal and more manageable state is taxing! Some would even consider it exhausting and a stress on the owner and family, like nothing you have ever experienced! Pigs that display this syndrome will scream an ear shattering scream, charge you/family, chase you/family, bite people and even tear up other objects relentlessly in order to get your attention. Their aggression, once this behavior pattern has been established, knows no limits. If you have a pig that is already suffering from Spoiled Pig Syndrome you will want to revert to our prior blog on training and "Shifting the Pig." On top of that, you will want to start feeding all meals and even treats to your pig in a treat toy/enrichment toy. It is natural for a pig to have to work to find its food, this will help refocus the pigs energy to the toy for food and not people. It also helps the pig expend energy because it is "scavenging" for its food like they do in the wild. Always make a pig work for its food! Another tactic to add to your arsenal is forcing the pig in to a "time out" as soon as it starts to exhibit poor behavior. Put them away in their crate, confined area or specific room of the home for an allotted amount of time or until the behavior has completely subsided and calm is restored. You must be consistent with this in order for it to work. The pig needs to know any poor behavior will not be tolerated or given in to and they will be consistently punished by not only NOT getting what it was originally seeking but he must now be locked away for a period of time from any human interaction. Trust me, that can be sincere punishment for a pig use to his humans.
One of the worst things I hear and see people do and they even make light of it by joking, is giving in to your pig and feeding it whenever it wants to be fed. Not only does this pave the way for obesity, but the behavior you are establishing is horrifying! You wouldn't let your teenage children push you around like that and TELL you WHEN you will do everything for them, so why on earth are you doing it with a 150 pound pig that is already sleeping in your bed? We come across others that are trying to "teach" other people about pig behavior, but doing exactly what they are telling others not to do. They are spoiling to no extent and creating a monster, then wondering why they have an ill behaved and grumpy pet or passing it off as a joking matter. I see it every day and with multiple people in the pet pig community. The first step is to never start this pattern! Remember, a pig is not a dog. It is a stubborn, smart and demanding animal that when given an inch will always demand a mile! If you find yourself in the Spoiled Pig Syndrome boat, stop immediately and start addressing the behavior head on. You will have to change and address YOUR behavior before you can effectively change the pigs. It's like parenting to an extent... We have to stop enabling them and fix our behavior first!
For more detailed information on pig behavior and how to address training issues, please see our website page on behavior and our last blog entry on Training & Behavior dated December 31, 2015.
*Although the term "Spoiled Pig Syndrome" may have been originally coined by someone else (we are not sure on who that was originally), this blog was entirely written and produced by Jodi Register and did not use any references. We always site references when they are used but none were for this article. It was all free written based on experience and my own studies.
Lucy the HIGHLY intelligent pig displays just how smart pet pigs are! Thus, we must positively stimulate and work them accordingly.
our website has a pretty great page dedicated entirely to pet pig behavior, the daily challenges most of us face and introducing pigs. It encompasses natural/wild pig behavior and why pigs act the way they do. You can access that page here, by clicking on this sentence.
With that aside, I am still asked and sent private messages daily about pet pig behavior problems and training. An interesting statistic... every person that I know that has had a problem with poor pig behavior/attitudes, are indoor house pets. Don't get me wrong, these individuals let their pigs out daily for play (weather permitting) and some even take them on walks! But honestly, this statistic does not surprise me one iota! Why you ask? Pigs, for as long as we can identify them through out history, have been outdoor livestock or feral. Even in the wild they THRIVE being outside in nature and in small herds. Swine learn appropriate behavior and survival skills from their heard mates and siblings on a continuous basis. Pigs also thrive with companionship from the same species. Pigs were never meant to be house pets, we forced them to be that way over the past few decades. We have bred them to be smaller and smaller in order for them to make even better indoor pets and we have requested they abolish all their natural and instinctual behavior patterns so our houses are not destroyed in the process. Although there are CERTAINLY individual pigs out there that happen to get the perfect genetic make up and are blessed with an ideal attitude and size for being a house pet, we need to mention that the majority will not be this way! That it cannot be expected out of every pig and it WILL be a daily challenge for us as owners!
There are a plethora of behavioral problems in pigs as indoor pets. The one we may notice first, even if they are young piglets, is tearing up the home and their enclosure. This is natural behavior. Instead of punishment, which never works with pigs, we need to redirect the behavior to an appropriate item or toy they CAN destroy. When they destroy or successfully start playing with the item/toy of our choice, we immediately reward! With pigs, the reward is typically food as they are without a doubt food driven creatures! Plain Cheerios or fruit are usually the treat of choice. Even when we redirect them and praise them for the desired behavior, it is not full proof. Pigs are curious, inquisitive and highly intelligent animals by nature. They explore by rooting and eating what they are interested or curious about. Just like a baby that learns by placing everything in its mouth, so will your pig. The problem is, the pig never grows out of that infantile phase! You are stuck forever with a toddler that will always push its boundaries! When it comes to destroying the home and personal belongings our response is this... 1)Pick up stuff you don't want them to have access to because otherwise, it is free game! 2) Find good enrichment toys or exercises for your pig that encourages natural behavior, this includes rooting! There is a great indoor rooting rug out there that we suggest on Etsy! Visit our blog on Top 10 Pig Enrichment Toys. 3) Limit the area your pig has access to, especially while you are away. If there is damage sustained, at least it will be to a smaller area and probably more economical to repair or fix. 4) Our MOST important recommendation! Slowly introduce your existing pet to a new pig (if possible) and create a safe environment or enclosure outside for your pig/s to romp in. Pigs typically do SO much better with companions and more outdoor time than being confined indoors! Even if they can't be permanently outdoors, having them in a secure, fenced location, for the majority of the day and left alone to "be a pig," is so much better than having a pig that rarely gets out of the home. Above, is the BEST and most IDEAL situation that we promise, both you and your pig/s will benefit from in the long haul! We do understand that there are a few rare exceptions out there whose pet pigs actually have no desire to ruin things in the home. Please understand that this is not the norm and count yourself blessed. A pig may also lose interest in being destructive as they age, that is entirely possible too.
Aside from a pigs naturally destructive behavior inside and outside, some of us get "that pig" that manages to push every boundary on the attitude scale and fights relentlessly for total domination of the family leadership role. Again, although not everyone will end up with a pig like this, this is a common problem in "house pigs." There are a few reasons this happens and your pig challenges you and possibly anyone it comes in contact with. It's a natural response to fight for dominance in the family unit and with guests... They are trying to establish his spot in the "herd". Some people are even afraid to let guests in to the home because the pet pig will corral and harass them to no extent and furthermore, some are blatantly dangerous! As annoying as this behavior is, it is natural and innate behavior for a pig to respond this way. Let's address some reasons as to why this happens.
Let's kick it off with spaying and neutering your pet pig. Getting your pig fixed regardless of its gender and ESPECIALLY if it will be a pet that is indoors at any time, is KEY to pig ownership! Spaying and neutering, although it will not completely fix the problem, is always the first step to better behavior. It does lessen the hormones and obnoxious attitudes that are typically seen with them. With lower amounts of these associated sex hormones coursing through the body, your pets attitude won't be as bad as it COULD be. Trying to live with an unaltered pig in the home (either sex) is literally an impossible feat. Pigs that are under normal circumstances house trained, during heat cycles or mating season, will urinate all over the home and in front of people to get attention. Males may even try to mount people and objects. They will also behave exceptionally poor in all other areas, because they are seeking attention they would usually receive from a mate. Not only is spaying and neutering a fabulous idea for any pet pig because you are also granting them a longer life by abolishing reproductive organs from getting cancer (one of the number one killers in pigs), but you are arming them with a solid opportunity to being a better house pet. See our page on why we suggest fixing your pet.
After your pet is altered we recommend using some strict training techniques, starting when the pig is young and under a year old. This way you are teaching and using proactive behavior with your pig the moment it steps foot in the home. Just because your pig is small and cute when you get it, doesn't mean it isn't learning from you! If the pig knows at a young age and is consistently reminded who is in charge, it will never need to aggressively challenge you or the family once it gets the opportunity; it will clearly understand its place within the family hierarchy. Addressing the behavior issue before it EVER starts is the responsible thing to do as a pet pig owner. It is SO difficult to retrain the pig once it has established dominance with people and it becomes a danger to even keep in the home, this is when most pigs with behavior issues find themselves in shelters or euthanized. Do yourself and your pet pig the biggest favor in each other's relationship... And do it correct from the start! It truly is the gift that never stops giving and allows you and your pet to live stress free and responsibly throughout their entire life. We don't recommend working with your piglet till it is comfortable in the home and with you/your family. Trying any of this with your pet while it is still trying to adjust to a new environment will stress the animal out. So what training techniques do I use? How do I start?
We like to call this training technique "Shifting." In the "mini pig" world you will also often hear it referred to as "Move the Pig." Even before pigs were pets, hog farmers, FFA students and 4H kids did this type of training to get their pigs in and out of the show rings or from one barn to another. The basics of it is getting the pig to go where you want it go and WHEN you want it to go. This is not done in a cruel manner no matter how upset the pig gets with you because a pig that feels attacked will fight or push back. Punishment or hitting will never work with a pig, consistency and persuasion reigns supreme! We repeat, NEVER under any circumstances hit or strike your pig. Let's start.
With a pet pig in the home start by walking up to a calmly sitting/laying pig that is in a relaxed state. Nudge the pig on its shoulder to get up. The pig will need to move away from you, and in the opposite direction from where you are standing/nudging. Say you nudge the pig on its left shoulder, the pig needs to move away from the pressure exerted on its left side and go right. If you apply pressure on him from the right, he needs to go left. They can get up and go straight as well but they HAVE to leave the spot they were in. They have to respond to the pressure on their body to GET UP and GO. They cannot come towards you or try to push you out of their spot. You must "shift" them from their original starting spot/position. Even if the pig never displays poor behavior, you need to keep shifting him accordingly and on a, several times a day basis. This clearly establishes that you are in charge and you will be telling him when it's time to get up. Keep doing this at different and varying times through out the day. You can even do it at or near meal times. Once they have shifted away and politely left the area you wanted them to vacate, stop and calmly walk away and go sit down or go back to what you were previously doing. Do not pester the pig when it is responding and listening to instructions. Pigs behave like this naturally with each other in the wild, so in no way is it cruel. The dominant hog always forces its herd mates to shift spots, this lets them know they need to do what is asked of them if peace wants to be kept within the unit. Top hogs are typically challenged by younger males for the dominant position in the herd and shifts like that do take place from time to time; a new boar wins the breeding rights to the herd this way.
How hard do you nudge? This entirely depends on the size of your pig. The pig must be able to feel what you are asking of it, so it can't be a light tap. But your pig should never be hit and should never lose balance because you nudged too hard. A happy medium is best!
In addition to YOU shift training your pig, your family members MUST also get involved. If you are the only one working the pig in his training routine, he will not respect the rest of the family (herd), only you. This could be detrimental to the overall balance in the home if every family member doesn't get involved. Make sure your family members that are old enough, are willing to jump on board with training and "working the pig," if you decided to get one. It is a life long commitment that the entire family needs to accept for it to work. They don't need to do it as many times a day as the main owner but they certainly need to willingly partake at least once a day for the training to be effective. You can even have willing guests shift your pig from time to time and a training exercise to respect guests.
Outdoor pigs, especially ones with a companion, don't typically display behavior as bad as indoor pigs. This is because the pig has been taken out of its innate outdoor environment and is forced to find it's way and establish hierarchy with a foreign family and foreign "litter mates." Even right after birth, piglets that are left with their mother and mates not only gain better overall health but establish the basics of how to appropriately interact with mother and its siblings. This is a very important first step that sadly a lot of piglets these days miss out on. Alas, pigs asked to live in the home still do better with a sibling or friend. It is difficult to introduce two pigs after too much time and growing has elapsed but it still can be worth it! They will usually exert playing and dominance behavior on each other till hierarchy is established, as opposed to taking it out on the human family. This won't alleviate the problem but it tends to make it better. A pig will calm down as it ages too, so keep that in mind. It's not always the case, but typically due to slowing health, metabolism and possible arthritis issues.
WORKING THE ALREADY AGGRESSIVE PIG
There are some pigs, especially rescues that may come from deplorable situations and thus come with extra behavioral baggage. The most important thing to remember in these situations is safety. Always make sure to have a legitimate hog board on hand in cases like this. Please refer to our Products Page to be directed to a store where you can purchase these boards. The hog board has been used for as long as I can remember when sorting hogs to various locations and to separate fighting which then calmly redirects the pig. They are a large straight board that is either made of solid wood or plastic and has holes at the top for hand holds. They also keep the pig from hurting or attacking you if it becomes obsessively aggressive. This is a great tool to have in your arsenal!
Once you have obtained a board or a large piece of material to safely separate you from the aggressive pig, you will work the pig typically the same way you work a calm pig, just with the board in between and the board doing the nudging. Make the pig move away from you and in the opposite direction. As long as it keeps going forward, this is fine. It cannot stop and try to come back at you or push you. Keep working him till he stops and he stands away from you quietly. He cannot be smacking his lips either, this is still an aggressive behavior. Some large pigs may require a walking cane or sheaprds hook. These were originally used in showmanship classes and on the farm to steer the direction of the pig and keep them going forward. They are not a torture devise to hit your pig with, but an extension of your arm, which is HIGHY desirable if you have an aggressive pig. With the cane, you nudge the pig and get it back off and redirect it in another direction. Do NOT let up on the pig till the behavior stops, do not let it stand still and continue to express aggressive behavior, this is a NO NO. Keep it moving and moving away from you, either with your cane or your board.
You will always want to feed an aggressive pig its meals via an enrichment toy. This is ideal for all pigs though, not just aggressive ones. Make the pig work for its food, that's how they do it in nature, work to find it! This always helps curb bad behavior associated with food or meal times and provides exercise at the same time.
WHERE OUR METHODS ORIGINATED
I have worked with horses my entire life, litterally since I could stand and walk. I have trained horses from my young teens and on. I have taken colt breaking classes through out college and have worked with too many problem horses with odd behavioral issues to count; even abused horses that wanted nothing to do with humans. I broke my first horse to ride when I was 13 years old. I have also worked behavior modification on exotic animals, including macaws. Why is this important?
Shifting the pig is essentially the same method used in horse training. When we work a yearling in the round pen for the first time, the first thing we ask of it is to go forward and away from pressure. With a rapacious or territorial horses, we aggressively pursue them and run them away from us until they have decided we are in charge and give in to us. When they give in to us and submit to our leadership, we can easily see this by a lowered head and the licking of lips. They may even stop and face us. When they are fully ready to work with us, they will willingly follow us around the arena without even being requested or lead. When it comes to pigs and their hierarchy system, horses are almost identical.I have worked with a couple aggressive pigs but not one of mine have ever had the opportunity to exhibit poor behavior because I have curbed it at every opportunity. In addition, my pigs are typically (we have had a few come inside on occasion) outdoor pets, that have full access to acerage and pastures.
The Hog Blog...
Jodi will be keeping up the blog but we are more interested in guest bloggers! Please contact us via email if you may be interested! Check back to see who our guest blogger is and what topic we will be exploring.