Pot Bellied Pigs/Scared pig and snapping
QUESTION: Hi. I have a pot bellied pig as a pet. Her name is Fiona. She is a year and one month old. She lives in my house with my fiance and myself. We rescued her from a bad home about 9 months ago. We believe she was abused physically and also very underfed. It took months for her to warm up to us, but she finally did. She was the best pet in the world when we were home alone. She knows her name, she will sit (most of the time), sometimes stay. However, she is terrified of guests and snaps at other animals (except our cat). She will often walk up to their feet and start squealing very loudly. We started working on giving her a "safe space" when people came over and I kept her in there so she didnt feel threatened. We have been working with a trainer over email because I cannot for the life of me find anyone close to where I live in the south suburbs of chicago. That was going pretty good. She still was not ready to be around new people or go out on walks or anything. Unfortunately life happened and my grandparents had to move in with us for a short time while they were going through some health issues. During that time Fiona started snapping. She had NEVER done this before. She also still squeals when there are new people (and did so the whole week my grandparents were there) they moved out now (about a month ago) and she is still snapping. Especially at me. And I used to be the one who she trusted the most. We do have a man there almost daily working on construction so maybe that is contributing? I want to give her the best life she can possibly have. I would also like to have other pets one day and definitely children. Will she always be terrified? I was trying to look into some sort of place I could take her or send her for some socialization and training but I dont know if that exists? Is there anything out there like this? Can I pay to send her to piggy school? If it were classes I would take her somewhere within an hour of home, if it was somewhere to send her for an extended time I would drive ANYWHERE to take her! I would do anything to keep her but I dont want to limit my future family or her happy life either. Is there anything I can do?
ANSWER: The biggest problem here is Fiona's past. We don't know exactly what she had to go through, and she can not tell us.
Pigs see the world as a ladder, with each person, pet or pig having his or her own rung. Naturally, nobody really wants to be on the bottom rung. But, after Fiona settled in, she was content to be very low on the ladder, because she felt safe and secure.
Now, her world is changing again and she has no way of knowing if it will be for bad or for good. She needs to feel secure, and thinks she can do this by moving herself up the ladder.
Pigs display dominance by making each other move. One pig may be asleep under a tree. A pig higer up on the ladder will display dominance by making the lower ranking sleeping pig get up and move away. The dominant pig then may or may not take over the comfy spot. The confrontation was not about the spot at all, but about the dominant pigs ability to make the lower ranking pig move.
When pigs interact with humans, they try to display dominance by untying shoes, or biting or pushing at feet. Because when people move their feet, they move. If the pig can make a person move their feet, in the pig's opinion, he's won because the human moved.
The construction is no doubt part of the problem. Not only is it another new person in Fiona's home, it's a noisy person messing with construction. She probably thinks that you have not done your job as "herd leader", because all these new people and things are happening.
Because of her past, Fiona may always be slow to accept new people and situations.
Does she have to interact with the construction man, or can she stay someplace "safe", like a large crate, small bedroom or even a closet?
Show her that she can trust you but must be subordinate by using the same techniques that a pig would - by making her move. But be ready, she may not appreciate your first efforts.
When she is lying in the way, do not step over her or go around her. Instead, make her get up and move. This will be something new to her and she will not be happy. If she is taking a nap, be the dominant pig, wake her up, and make her take a few steps. Remember the first couple of times she will be unhappy about it, but it teaches her that your position as "herd leader" is firm and secure. Once she understands this she will be far less likely to snap at you.
Obedience and trick training are about the pig and person learning to communicate with each other. The pig learns to listen to, obey, and trust the person, the person learns to read the pigs body language and predict reactions. It helps to let piggy eat a partial meal a few minutes before a training session. This way piggy is not too hungry to concentrate.
I highly recommend the dvds from Top Hogs, "There's a Pig in the House" and "Amazing Pig Tricks" at www.tophogs.com The book "Pot-bellied Pig Behavior and Training" by Priscilla Valentine is another good resource. Finally, on Yahoo Groups there's several groups devoted to pet pigs. I recommend PigInfoAndChat, I know there are people from IL in that group, along with many other people who have taken in abused pigs and might be able to give you some particular insights into Fiona.
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QUESTION: Thank you so much for your response. I did order that book and I will look into the videos. I joined the group on yahoo. Thanks for all of those suggestions. I will make sure to deal with the snapping. What do you think I should do about her being scared of people coming in? Should I keep her away from people for now? Do you think its best to try and get her used to people? I dont want to make anything worse for her thats all. I will do whatever she needs. I also thought that maybe some day I would like to get another pig. Do you think this would help her in any way? Or would that hurt her? I can go either way I just noticed some posts on here that said that a fellow pig can be a good thing. Thanks for all your help!
Definitely best to get her used to at least two or three people who would be available to take care of her in case of an emergency. That way if anything bad happens, she will know and feel comfortable with the person who would be caring for her.
Start slow, let her go at her own pace. Start with someone who is comfortable around animals, not easily scared, and prepared to deal with a potentially unpredictable situation. A terrified or uncomfortable person isn't going to be helpful. If a frightened person will be her emergency care giver, introduce them later. What's important is how the first person will react with piggy. It doesn't have to be someone she'll see often. The idea is to set piggy up to succeed in this meeting, it's about piggy not people or personal relationships.
Keep the first visit very short. Let the new person in, give them some treats to feed her. It helps if piggy knows a few simple tricks like Sit or Spin. Bring piggy into the room, give her a treat. Have her do her tricks. Let the new person offer her a treat, then let the new person have her do her tricks. Then the new person says good by, take piggy out of the room, the new person leaves.
Repeat this over and over again, each time making the visit longer. After piggy has done her tricks, instead of leaving, the visitor can offer her a toy like a busy ball, and now it's time for the people to visit while (hopefully) piggy will play contentedly.
When piggy is comfortable with the first visitor, bring a different visitor in. When piggy is comfortable with both these people, and with both of these people being in her home at the same time, you can move on to another person. If a person who should be friends with piggy is scared, have them visit with one of the first visitors for the introductions.