A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper

A Day in the Life of a Zookeeper
Ever wonder what its like to share your world with a bunch of crazy critters? Tune in to find out!

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bonding With Your Pig - An Interesting Article

I found this interesting article about pig training - much of what this says I have found to be true.  It's titled Bonding with a Young Pot Bellied Pig:

Pot bellied pigs have individual personalities, but many piglets do not like to be touched much, or held. Usually, they grow to enjoy being near the people they bond with, and like to be touching them or sitting in their laps. However, piglets can be quite aloof or fearful at first, especially if they have not been well socialized by their breeder. Even well socialized pigs may take a while to learn to transfer trust to a new owner. When you bring a young pig home, you first need to gain the piglets trust in order to have it accept handling readily, then work on training basic behaviors (such as leash walking, house training) and being able to restrain the pig so necessary grooming and medical care can be done as needed. Although most pigs quickly outgrow being picked up, it is worthwhile to get them used to being picked up as they will be more willing to be handled and restrained if you are able to gain their trust enough to be able to pick them up.

When you bring your new pig home, he (or she) will probably be very nervous and scared, since he has left everything familiar behind and has to adjust to all new people and surroundings. Be patient at first. You will want to keep him or her in a small confined area until he is more comfortable. Let the pig explore a bit and get comfortable with his new surroundings, and once he doesn't seem apprehensive, try to get him to approach you by tempting him with food. Sit on the floor with the pig, and offer a bit of food (for piglets, it is probably best to just use their regular food for most of the training - small bits of vegetable or fruit could be used for special treats). You may just need to put the food on the floor in front of you at first, and gradually work up to the piglet taking the food from you. Do this repeatedly over the course of the first few days at home and have everyone in the family have a turn so that the piglet can bond with all the family members.
A note about any sort of training with a pig: positive reinforcement is the key to success. They won't respond to force or punishment very well at all. To a pig, the most obvious kind of positive reinforcement is food, remembering that most pigs will be happy to work for small tidbits such as raisins, small pieces of apple or other fruit, or even pieces of their regular ration. When you are trying to tame a stubborn piglet, you may even want to hand feed all their food, since the quickest way to a pig's heart is through his stomach. However, obesity is a common problem, so keep treat foods to a minimum and make sure you are not overfeeding your pig by feeding full meals and supplementing with extra food for training.
Bonding With a New Piglet
There is a fairly fine line between spending enough time with your piglet and spending too much time, though. While you want to take the time to get to know your pig and have him or her trust you, you also want to make sure you do not lavish too much attention on your baby, or he will come to expect attention all the time. This is also true of using food as a training tool - spend time with your pig without giving treats as well, or he will think of you as a food dispenser and may start to expect or demand food contstantly. Keep the bonding and training sessions short and regular, with breaks to give the pig time to rest and develop the ability to entertain himself a bit too.Once your piglet is comfortable with being near you and taking food from your hand, you can reach out and try to scratch your piglet gently under the chin or along the sides. Move slowly, and speak calmly and gently to your pig. Remember to give treats as you do this, and the piglet will eventually realize this is a pleasant experience. Move at a pace that your piglet is comfortable with, though. If he resists being scratched or petted, back off a bit until he is more accepting.
Picking up a Piglet
Generally, pigs do not like to be held or picked up. When a pig feels threatened, it will squeal, loudly. Usually very loudly. Obviously, when you are trying to pick up a baby pig you want to cuddle you are not a threat, but you have to remember that squealing is a natural response to something the piglet doesn't like. As the piglet bonds with you, it will trust that you are not going to hurt him or her, and you will likely be able to teach him or her not to struggle and squeal when handled. While pigs usually outgrow being picked up quite quickly, being able to pick up your piglet will make it easier to move your piglet around, which is especially handy during the house training process.
Once your pig is used to being handled and scratched, try to entice him or her to sit in your lap. If your piglet has a favorite blanket, put it in your lap to encourage the piglet to lay in your lap. Once your pig will climb into your lap, gradually work from petting his body to gently wrapping your arms around him. Then start to apply gentle pressure with your arms. You'll want to cradle your piglet gently, but firmly, under his neck/chest just ahead of his front legs and under his rump, wrapping your arms around the side of his body that is away from yours. Hold him against your body, so he feels secure. Continue to pet him and talk gently to him, and give him treats (having a helper to feed treats while you try to cradle him works well). Once he is okay with being cradled, try and lift him a bit. If he squeals or screams for more than a few seconds, back off and work on just holding him more and work back toward picking him up. This is where things get a bit tricky and it helps to really know your pig. You do not want to let him keep screaming as it is a signal that he is very stressed. On the other hand, you do not want to put him down the second he starts to squeal, since you then reward him for squealing when picked up and therefore inadvertently teach him that if he squeals he gets put down. As you get to know your pig, you can judge better when your pig is just protesting a bit compared to when he or she is truly stressed. Teaching a piglet to be picked up can be difficult, since it requires teaching something they do not like to do. Be patient and make it a gradual process, and you and your piglet will be happier as a result.

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