Potbellied Pig Behavior and Relationships

Tue, 12/04/2018 - 00:31
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Doogie and Millicent the potbellied pigs who get along well

Potbellied pigs (also called potbelly pigs) are intelligent creatures who have complex thoughts and emotions, social hierarchies and herd dynamics. To be content, they need the companionship of other beings, especially other pigs. Pigs love being in the company of other pigs, so if you’re considering adopting a pig, please think about adopting two instead of one.

Pig relationships with other pigs

Because they are prey animals, pigs need each other to feel safe, but they also need each other as companions with whom to play, eat, sleep and sort out herd dynamics. Pigs should live with other pigs, since they can provide enrichment, mental and physical stimulation, and companionship that other animals can’t provide.

In fact, a pig without piggy friends can become bored or depressed, which could lead to the pig exhibiting undesirable behaviors or even becoming ill. Besides, two pigs can entertain each other; if you have just one pig, you’ll need to provide a lot more physical and mental stimulation to keep your pig happy.

Pigs and humans

Pigs can be wonderful animal companions for people, as they are affectionate, curious and trainable. At Best Friends, we have had pigs who will climb right into our laps and ask for belly rubs. Many potbellied pigs also enjoy clicker training and Parelli Natural Horsemanship training.

With that said, some potbellied pigs have had bad experiences with people or have been neglected by them. These pigs generally come around and trust humans, but it can take time for them to feel comfortable enough with people to start trusting them. If a pig is pressured into interacting with people, she will retreat emotionally. The caregiver needs to be understanding, nurturing and patient while waiting for the pig to gather the courage to trust a human.

Even if a pig has a wonderful relationship with her people, her other needs must be met. As mentioned above, it’s best if pigs live with other pigs, and they also require a good diet, a suitable living space and plenty of enrichment activities. In addition, potbellied pigs can live 18-20 years, so if you adopt pigs you must be prepared to make a lifetime commitment to these active, emotional, social and intelligent animals.

Dominance behavior in pigs

At Best Friends, we often hear of behavioral issues from pigs in homes, in which pigs “challenge” people or other animals. They can nip or lunge at them, give them a head swipe or forcefully nudge them for attention. These behaviors are usually dominance games that pigs would be playing with each other. So, if a pig nudges you and you move away, the pig may assume that she has won the dominance game and has become your boss.

We believe the best way to address this type of dominance behavior is to use a stick to set boundaries and defend your personal space (your “bubble”). If the pig comes through your bubble, she bumps into an obstacle — the stick you have in your hand. If she stops and doesn’t come through your bubble, she gets rewarded with a pet and scratch from the stick. Instead of disciplining her (stomping your feet, saying “No!” emphatically or clapping your hands) every time she gets pushy, you come in first with your stick, and casually and unemotionally use it to show you have a bubble. In this way, you’re conveying that it’s nothing personal; you're just telling the pig where your body begins and ends.

These dominance behaviors are part of working out herd dynamics and establishing a leader of the herd. Prey animals like pigs need a leader in their herd because in the wild the leader shows them places to eat, sleep and drink that are safe from predators. In homes, pigs still have to know who the leader is; otherwise, they won’t feel safe.

If you adopt a pair of pigs, they typically are less inclined to play these dominance games with humans. That’s because the pigs have someone of their own kind around who not only understands piggy language, but is better at speaking it than we are.

Introducing two pigs to each other

If you have one pig and you’re adopting a second one, be aware that the introduction needs to be done carefully. Pig introductions are notoriously “ugly,” especially if the pigs who are meeting haven’t lived with pigs before. You’ll need to be patient and understanding as the pigs adjust to this big change in their lives.

To make the introduction as safe as possible, start by putting the pigs in side-by-side enclosures for a few weeks, to allow them to become accustomed to each other. When it is time to let them actually meet and greet each other, find a neutral area for the introduction.

Regardless of how many weeks they’ve spent in neighboring enclosures, they will fight for dominance. The fighting won’t usually result in serious injuries (unless tusks are involved), but there may be superficial injuries that do bleed a bit. In most cases, after several minutes one of the pigs will give in and walk away in an act of submission. Before you house the pigs together, it’s a good idea to have several meet-and-greet sessions to slowly allow the pigs to get to know each other.

Pigs and other pets

It’s possible for pigs to get along with other animals — including dogs, cats, horses and goats — but they do best hanging out with their own species. Allowing dogs and pigs to interact can be especially risky, because dogs are predators and pigs are prey animals. To be absolutely safe and prevent injury or attacks, pigs and dogs should never be together without human supervision.