Monitoring Your Potbellied Pig
Who’s the Boss?Ó
Part I & II
by John Vincent
The aggressive pig has become a real problem for many pig owners. Seldom does a week go by that I don’t get a call asking for help with a biting pig. Although my method has lasting success, the longer the behavior goes on, the harder and longer it takes to stop. Aggressive behavior should not be tolerated in house pigs.
Generally, the pigs that bite are the mistreated or abused pigs that bite out of fear or, more commonly, the pig that has not been taught the order of command in the house. Just as with people, some pigs are more dominant than others and all pigs will try to establish dominance over something if given the right situation. If your pig happens to be the dominant type and has few if any rules, he may begin to display aggressive behaviors.
Most people who call think they have established rules in the house because their pig knows the meaning of “NO”. They also think because they can pet their pig that the pig can be handled. Then, by asking a few more questions I come to find out there are rules in the house – but the pig sets most of them. I also find that their pig can be pet, but only when he chooses. He cannot be moved around or picked up unless he is continually fed to keep him quiet. And “NO” means — not while someone is watching, and he probably hears it twenty times a day. If the pig becomes too much of a bother, he is locked away. This is especially true when there are visitors — “just for safety sake.” I find that there is little positive interaction with the owner and that the pig is not taught to interact with people outside the immediate. Just like children, pigs will test authority and must be taught how to get along in their environment. This takes a little time and effort, but owning a pet is a commitment and one that must be taken quite seriously.
Six months to one year is commonly when a pig begins to test the waters and take over the household, but it can happen at any age. Pigs are not happy until they know their placement in the household hierarchy and will challenge other family members (including pets) to establish their place. Often strangers in their house are a target; the pig senses fear and so he becomes more aggressive. With family members the pig will often start with the person who appears to be the weakest and most afraid, then work his way up. The most important part of stopping aggressive behavior is overcoming all fear of the pig. About 75% of the problem is that some family member is afraid of the pig, which only adds to the pigs determination to dominate. Standing up to the pig will greatly reduce his advances. Most pigs start backing off without any correction.
Pigs are highly intelligent animals and will only engage in a fight if they are confident they will win. In nature, pigs will test other drift (family) members a little at a time, then watch to see what happens. If their rival shows fear or weakness, he knows he has won and becomes more aggressive. If the rival does nothing, he continues to test until there is a reaction and the dominance issue is resolved.
There are several methods people have used to correct the aggressive pig. Squirt bottles, whips, newspapers, etc. If one of these methods has worked for you — great, but the problem is you don’t always have these things immediately available and the pig can quickly learn when the tool is with you and when it’s not. Corrections on aggressive pigs must be done immediately to be effective. You can’t be running across the room to pick up your tool — it’s too late. Yelling “NO” at your pig is not a good idea either. An aggressive action needs more than a verbal reprimand and “NO” has probably lost some of its effectiveness in every day living.
Other problems I see with yelling or making loud noises is that:
- It makes the pig fearful of anything loud.
- It implies that only loud commands have meaning.
- It frightens guests or relatives enough to make them afraid of your pig.
Recognizing Aggressive Behaviors In Pigs:
- Standing very still with head very low (always done before biting — if only a split second.)
- Snapping in the air.
- Swinging head sideways.
- Lunging, nips very close to rival, then jumps back.
Pigs understand physical correction very well. After all, this is how they naturally establish dominance between each other. The correction described below has been used on many pigs with great and lasting success. The correction is not an overnight miracle cure, it takes time, consistency and effort — but it will work. During the first week of corrections, it’s possible that your pig may even get worse because your taking away privileges he has enjoyed. The correction also requires you to work positively with your pig, learning to handle and control him. It’s designed to teach your pig not to bite yet it doesn’t hurt, frighten, or make him hand shy. You must never lose when making the correction, and if you get into a fight with the pig, you are doing something wrong.
First, get your pig comfortable with you gently holding his mouth closed. This is accomplished best while petting the pig. Next, get your pig comfortable with you moving him a few inches while holding his mouth closed. Once he’s comfortable, you are ready to use the correction.
It’s important that the first few times you make the correction you are fully prepared. The correction must be done without hesitation. You cannot chase the pig around the room, this only frightens him and he forgets why he’s being chased. You also have to learn not to pull back when the pig snaps. Pulling back shows fear that the pig will sense and the correction will be much less effective. The hardest part of this correction is teaching yourself to grab your pig’s mouth and not pull away. To help yourself be prepared for the correction, it’s best to try to set the pig up. Place a harness on your pig to help with controlling him. Put the pig in a situation that causes him to nip and be prepared. Remember to make the correction each and every time the pig displays any aggressive behavior. Don’t wait for the pig to snap. If you see it coming, correct him immediately. Learn to recognize the aggressive signs.
Phase l: When your pig makes any aggressive action, quickly grab your pig’s mouth and hold it closed. Don’t let him swing his head or run away. Hold his head for two or three seconds, firmly say “NO” and release. At first the correction is very short to ensure a victory for you and to avoid a huge wrestling match with the pig. You are controlling the pig, you are not trying to frighten or harm him. Show no emotion, this is simply a rule the pig must follow. After the correction, continue on as if nothing happened, A little practice may be required to catch the pig before he runs off or to avoid being bit, but this technique can be mastered in a short time. For the faint of heart, a leather glove can be worn at first, but remember you may not always have a glove available at the appropriate time. Repeat holding the pig’s mouth closed for two to three seconds each time he displays any aggression until he becomes comfortable with the handling (about four to six times).
Phase 2: Now the severity of the discipline must be increased each time the correction is made. About one second with each correction until you reach fifteen seconds. Remember, if you’re fighting the pig, you’re probably proceeding too fast. You must remain calm and in total control.
Phase 3: Once you have reached fifteen seconds, it is time to get more physical. Lift the pig off his front feet while holding his mouth closed for five seconds. There are three easy ways to do this:
l) One hand on the mouth, the other on the leg near the shoulder.
2) Both hands on the mouth.
3) If he is wearing a harness, one hand on the mouth, the other on the harness. Keep increasing the time until you reach twenty seconds. If the pig understands the rules, move to the next step.
Phase 4: With the pig’s front feet off the ground, drive him backwards about a foot. With each correction, drive him backwards a little further until you push him across the room and into a corner, a wall or a piece of furniture. Show no emotion. If you have a larger pig that you can’t lift off his front feet, just drive him backwards on all four feet. Lifting the front feet off the ground is best and even with a l00 pound pig you only need to lift his front end – or about fifty pounds. If you have HOGGIN’s video, “Amazing Pig Tricks,” this correction is shown in the intermediate section where the pig breaks “sit-stay.”
Phase 5: The next step requires some preliminary training. The pig must have been taught to sit physically – not by being lead with a piece of food. This “sit” is also shown in the training video “Amazing Pig Tricks” in the intermediate section. The pig should also be taught “stay.” A pig that will stay when told, truly respects you. For very aggressive pigs, this forced sit and stay is very important to teach. The training also gives the pig positive time with you, not just negative experiences. Once your pig has mastered sit, drive the pig across the room and physically place him in the sit position, hold for about five seconds. Show no emotion. When your pig knows stay, leave him on stay starting from ten seconds up to one minute. Remember to always release the pig from sit stay. Do not let him wander off on his own.
The correction could take four to five weeks depending on these factors: * How many times the correction is made. * How long the pig has been biting. * How effective you are in making the correction.
You must be consistent and always follow through with the appropriate degree of correction necessary to cure your aggressive pig. All that you’re doing is calmly and unemotionally teaching your pig (in his own language) that he does not hold the dominant position in the household.
Because of a pig’s aggressive behavior, many people want to find a new home, shelter or rescue for their pig. Placing a pig in a new home is very difficult and placing a biting pig may be impossible. Many problem pigs placed in shelters or rescues are never adopted and are either euthanized or condemned to live their lives in outside pens, only getting attention when fed. It’s a harsh experience for a once loved and pampered pet. The correction described in this article has saved many pigs from getting locked away, sent away or euthanized. It’s your pet, your responsibility, your choice. Make the right one.
About the Author: John Vincent trains pigs and does quite a lot of entertaining with them. His TOP HOGS act is well known both nationally and internationally.
Call if you need assistance. My service is free: 303-688-2821
This article is being used with the permission of NAPPA and is copyright protected.
Amazing Pig Tricks Video by John Vincent of Hoggin’:
This video shows you how to handle and train your potbellied pig. Hoggin produces another video, “There’s a Pig in the House”, that helps you learn how to care for a new pig, step-by-step. Both are excellent!
11400 E. Folsom Point Lane
Franktown, CO 80116,
$33.95 each (If you purchase both tapes the cost if $55.00)
NAPPA is here to serve you.
Should you have any questions, please feel free to write or call the phone number listed below:
408 14th Street, SW
Ruskin, FL 33570