Pot Bellied Pigs/Aggressive behavior - biting
QUESTION: Hello there,
Terk is just under ten months. He's a neutered male, about 70 pounds, and very healthy - solid, but not fat. More recently, he's become aggressive. We'll be snuggling and I'll go to pet him, and then he'll head-swipe at me. I fear the day his tusks come in, because I'm afraid he'll gore me! I push back against him (behind his ears on his neck, where I'm told mother pigs push their piglets) and I say "NO" firmly. He swipes at me again in retaliation. Then I lightly bop him on the nose or I put his snout in my hands and shake it downward, saying "NO." When this doesn't work, I get the water bottle and spray him. That seems to help for the time being, and he "grovels" and tries to make up for the fight by cuddling again a few minutes later... but later in the day, we go through the whole thing all over again.
I have read a handful of potbelly pig books, including Priscilla Valentine's book on behavior and training. I've applied the advice to my situation with Terk. Still no luck. I am told I should not let him sleep in my bed, because it levels us as equals, as opposed to making me the top hog. However, I let him sleep with me in my bed because we don't get much quality time during the day - I work a lot every week to be able to afford a rental that allows potbelly pigs. Interestingly, my roommate is home more often than I am, and he gets along with Terk better than I do! Terk really only tries to bite ME, his mom!
I was also told after I got him that he was weaned at 5 or 6 weeks. Is that too early?
Any advice is greatly appreciated. I love this pig, but he sure is a brat toward me...
ANSWER: Weaning at 5 or 6 weeks is a bit on the early side, but what's done is done. Pigs may not like change, but they are smart and can learn and adapt.
Pigs see the world as a ladder, with each person, pet and pig having his or her own rung. Some pigs have a deep urge to be Top Hog. Dominant pigs establish their authority by making the subordinate pigs move.
One pig may be sleeping under a tree. A dominant pig will disturb the sleeping pig, by putting his snout right into the other pigs face, or by head swiping or trying to bite. The dominant pig will make the sleeping pig get up and move away from the spot. The dominant pig may or may not take over the sleeping spot. The point wasn't who gets to sleep in the comfy spot under the tree. The point is that the dominant pig is in charge, and can make the other pig move away.
So how does this apply to pigs living with people? The answer is that humans can establish dominance over an aggressive pig the same way a pig would - making the pig move. If the pig is lying in the way, never step over or around him, make him get up and move. If a person wants to sit on a chair where a pig is sleeping, the pig has to move. If the pig is underfoot and in the way, the pig has to move. Sometimes it can help to just make a pig move at random times throughout the day for no real reason, because that's how pigs interact.
Trick training is also effective, because it teaches the person and pig to communicate and understand each other. It reinforces the position of person over pig on the ladder, and teaches the pig to listen to, respect, and obey the person.
I think what has happened is that Terk sees your roommate as dominant, and the two of you contending for second place. In other words your roommate is the boss and you and Terk are coworkers, both up for the same promotion.
You feel your time with Terk is limited, so you want the time you spend together to be quality time. That's perfectly understandable from a human perspective. But from Terks point of view, you are not really staying on the rung above him, and he'd like that rung. So he's interacting with you the way he would interact with his littermates.
I suspect your roommate doesn't feel obligated to pamper Terk, and that makes it easier for Terk to respect the order on the ladder. Your roommate is probably automatically doing little things, like making Terk step out of the way, to establish Terks position on the ladder.
Pigs can be very territorial about their beds. Aggression problems often start with bed conflicts. You can allow Terk to sleep with you if you want to. The key is Terk must understand it's your decision, not his.
First make sure Terk can get in and out of your bed safely and quickly. Little piglets are nimble, but can, and do, break legs jumping out of beds. You can teach him to climb up on a chair or step stool to get into bed, or purchase pet steps made specifically for this purpose.
Next, establish the bed as your territory, not his. Giving him a bed of his own will help. He can sleep in it during the day, and he will have a space of his very own. You get in bed first, he follows - when you're ready to let him. If he gets grumpy or aggressive, make him move out of the bed. He can get right back in.
A few minutes of trick training will go along way towards helping Terk stay on his own rung. Pigs enjoy treats and don't mind doing tricks. Ten minutes of trick training is better for them mentally and physically than ten minutes of cuddling.
---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------
QUESTION: I've heard from PBP enthusiasts in my area that allowing pet pigs to sleep in our beds is a very bad thing and something I'll regret later. Your response to my last question gave me hope - that it's okay. Terk has "his own" bed in the living room (in front of the heater) and I make a point to be in MY bed before he's allowed into it, so he knows he's a guest in my space. It's a low platform bed, which he steps onto and off (no jumping required). I also don't let him sleep in my bed during the day, so I keep my bedroom door shut. In other words, he only gets to use my bed when it's dark and when I'm home. He does, however, love the couch...
Terk is very good and excited about trick training! He knows "sit", "around/other way", and then when I say "shoe", "rug", "pillow", "bowl", or "ball", he nudges the object in question. Such a good pig when food's involved! So here's another question: When he completes a trick perfectly, I say "good boy!" and give him a raisin, half of a dried apricot, or something similar. Sometimes I say "good boy!" to him just because he's being good and fluffing up his bed - without giving him a treat afterward. Am I confusing him by saying that to him and not giving him a treat?
My other question: My roommate and I are very bad at "moving the pig". We ALWAYS step over/around him. I just "moved the pig" in the kitchen a minute ago, and he was NOT happy, haha! He tried to bite me multiple times. I'm wondering: As we're establishing who's dominant, do I discipline (squirt or push) him when he shows he's angry about being "moved" (i.e. when he bites), or do I just let him deal with the fact that he'll have to learn that he's not the top hog, like he thinks? Is sulking discipline enough for him? I don't think he'd be able to understand that he'd be disciplined for biting - NOT for not understanding why he isn't Top Hog anymore.
Thank you, Helen! Pig psychology sure is fascinating stuff...
It's Ok to tell Terk he's being good whenever he's being good, the important part is to keep the treats as rewards for obeying a request only. Giving the treats at random is what is confusing. If you want to keep the two things distinct - obedience and just plain being good - you can use the phrase "Good Job!" for tricks or obedience, and save "Good Boy" for whenever he is just being his good old self.
Overdoing treats and rewards is a problem. Not only does it make pigs overweight and aggressive, it can also impede their desire to learn and perform. On the other hand, it's almost always Ok to offer praise or a belly rub just because.
Yes, it's no surprise Terk was upset the first time he had to move. It upset the natural order of things, and he clearly understood that it meant he was subordinate. The important thing is to make the pig move. Even if it's just a few steps back. Slapping, squirting, etc. really don't work as well as just making the pig take a few steps back.
Each pig has a unique personality. Some pigs are naturally more assertive than others. Sometimes a particularly assertive pig will go a little bonkers when he is suddenly faced with discipline that he understands (being made to move). In situations like this, it can help to make the pig retreat to his safe space but just for a moment or two. Let the pig calm down and the person take a breath. Keeping him confined for a long time out won't work, it will just confuse him.
Terk will understand that he's being disciplined for biting, because by making him move you are communicating with him in pig language.
If Terk goes off and sulks for a few moments, that's Ok. He should be back to normal in a few minutes. Sometimes if pigs are really upset they may need to destroy something. Often, it's their bed, because that's the safe space they retreat to when they are upset.
Yahoo groups has several chat lists devoted to pot-bellied pigs. If you'd like to learn more about how pigs think, and different pig personalities I suggest joining PigInfoAndChat. There's a gal on that list who has successfully tamed and trained all kinds of pigs, including wild pigs, and she loves to share her training tips, techniques and insights.