starwars_banner_s_2.gif   

 

General Behavior of pigs in captivity   

  Quick Find

History                   Wild vs Domestic

Instinct & Natural behavior

Six Senses                  Predator-Prey

Interactions with other animals

Interactions with humans

Social Lifestyle               Aging behaviors

 

    Pigs are not domestic animals like dogs or horses, they are wild animals and that must be factored into our understanding of their psychology. Unlike domestic animals, humans are not viewed by the pig as a playmate or like a dog views us, but as a potentially deadly predator. More about the definitions and significance of this status later. But keeping it foremost in the mind helps to understand many things that are not otherwise clear.

     Pigs live 15 to 20 years.  Some small percentage may live even longer. we don't have enough history yet to know how many might do so.  The oldest possible pigs in 2010 could be about 24, the second generation of the original (all deceased) imports in 1986.. They do not stay little and cute, despite what you may have seen or heard on TV or in ads. Normal,healthy pot bellied pigs average 120 to 160 pounds at maturity. And unlike animals like dogs, which do make good pets,  pigs mature mentally and develop intelligence far greater than other animals. What playfulness was so enjoyable when he was a 3 month old piglet will be gone and forgotten when he is 4 years old and entering the mature pig years. He will no longer be willing to be entertained in such silly ways. He will become an adult pig with adult PIG needs.. not human needs or dog needs.. he will need the society of pigs, an environment that is challenging and interesting, relationships that have social and emotional content suitable for his species. A single pig is one of the saddest things on the planet. He knows, somehow, that he will never in his lifetime get to speak to someone who understands his language, or share his needs and his fears. Many, when they reach this point of awareness and the desperation that comes with it, simply give up and die.  If you expect that your companionship is enough to sustain him, you are simply not thinking about what he needs. Think long and hard about life, and imagine that you are raised by groundhogs and will never in your life see or speak or touch another human, living in an environment that is unhealthy to your genetic type and mentally incompatible to your needs... it's not a life we would choose. And he does not choose it.  Those who point to the social nature of wild pigs to indicate how willing pigs are to live with humans forget the simple basis of the interaction, the pigs are free to come and go.

When he weighs 150#, rejects the very concept of being led or picked up and is aggressive to everyone in the family because you are keeping him in jail,  you have a major problem on your hands. Starting right and planning for his maturing needs will reduce these problems. Outdoor pigs with plenty of territory seldom exhibit aggressive behavior towards people.

Pigs are outdoor animals. While inside time is fine in moderation, it is not his natural setting and will not make for a happy pig in the long term. It is like keeping your teenager locked in the house.. not a good plan for either of you. Start out with a well-planned outdoor area and invite him in for visits. He will be happier and healthier and both you and the pig will have a more normal life style.  Pigs have to graze to keep their immune function working properly. It is for that reason (and others) that house pigs often only live half as long as outdoor pigs. Grazing, exercise and an outdoor life with sun and breezes and rain is essential for a healthy pig.

Careful attention to his environment is the key to your long term relationship. Environment as much as genetics drive his behavior and while there is nothing you can do about the genetics, you have control of his environment and are solely responsible for providing a suitable one. Observe and learn from your own pig what he really enjoys for entertainment. Some like a soccer ball to push around, others absolutely have to have company. The biggest mistake you can make with a pig is assuming he will be content with being a "pet". Pigs are as intelligent as primates and have emotional and social needs that very closely parallel the same in man. In many cases their reasoning results in conclusions that are far more "mature" than one would expect based on similar situations in human society. A pig needs intellectual stimulation to mature into the adult of his species that he is designed to be. He needs emotional fulfillment through lifetime bonds with others of his own kind, especially his family.  He needs the opportunity to develop his own society and rules of behavior that are satisfying to his innate psyche.

Look around you at how pet pigs are kept. Is it any wonder they become aggressive, depressed or simply lie in a bed and vegetate?  Pigs succumb to depression very quickly when their youthful years are over and adulthood holds nothing to stimulate them.  Humans don't speak their language so unless they are in a situation with another pig they are essentially forced to live without communication forever.  The company of cats has saved more than one pig from depression, and rabbits and goats and other species, although a far cry from the best choice, certainly help.

 If you are going to keep a pig as a companion, look to his needs, look to what nature had planned for his life and see what you can do to provide for  those needs. You cannot return him to the life he was designed to live, he must live his life enslaved in a world of restrictions, under the control of another species.. but you can do a great deal to make that life richer. Providing plenty of territory, the companionship of another pig or pigs and privacy in his life,  will keep him fit in both physical and emotional terms.  While not many homes can provide the size territory he needs, (acres) and cannot give him the full range of social life through a herd of pigs that includes his siblings and mate and children, most people can make some major improvements in their pigs life by fencing all the available space, adding "pushable" items like logs, a sandbox for soaking up the sun, a "hide out" of dense shrubbery, a small mud hole for wallowing  to keep skin protected from sun, providing a warm dry house outside and allowing the pig to have that private area without interference. If you have dogs who bark and run around and want to play, put them in a fenced dog pen and keep them away from the pig. As he matures into an adult at 4 to 5 years of age he will have less and less patience with the "silliness" of our canine friends. Cats will appeal to him as they are quiet and make good sleeping companions.

If you are already living with an aggressive pig, fix the environment and solve the problem He may need a another pig as a companion to exercise the territorial instincts he is developing as he grows up.  We will be glad to try to help in any way we can with solving your pig problems. For the pig the options are few, and you control them all. Either fix his environment or he will end up like so many others being put down or abandoned. For a problem that wasn't of his making, those are terrible penalties to pay. And its a shameful failure on our parts as guardians, to make a pigs life so intolerable that he dies from depression, obesity or being destroyed by the very person who made him that way.

Behavior Modification is for the pig owner.. not the pig. He is doing what is natural and proper for him. All your "modification" is likely to do is make his life miserable and that's not what you planned when you got that sweet baby piglet.  Read more on the natural behaviors that he will exhibit as he grows up to understand them.

            Vietnamese potbellied pigs and their numerous cousins of various sizes and colors range all though Southeast Asia, Africa and South American jungles. They are one of the most widespread of all prey animals. So important to world ecology that they are protected species under some counties laws to assure a source of food for the many endangered species who prey on them in an ever smaller ecosystem.

The foundation of the Vietnamese pot belly breed  (shown below left) is a mid size, long bodied  black pig and quite social in its wild state. Hanging around villages they were welcome 'cleanup crews" and were not typically used for food.

The US potbellies today, with or without "papers", are a mix of Vietnamese potbelly, a white domestic pig (perhaps middle white) mixed with potbelly to produce the white potbellies and the flashy black and white and silver color patterns and a "smushed face"  and a wide variety of other genetic influences, including Guinea hogs, South American and island species, African miniatures, ferals and domestics.  The Chart of Pig Breeds  on the Pig Site, an excellent resource, will give you a brief history and details on the importation of the first potbellies in 1986 to the U.S. as well as some fundamental history on all domestic breeds  

Ref: photo of native Vietnamese pigs.

        In the wild the concept of "purebred" has a negative meaning. It is the hybrid vigor of out crossing as far and as often as feasible that keeps the species viable and the individuals robust. The closer the inbreeding the more defects and the less survival traits exist. In Domestic swine, purebred means bred without regard for longevity to produce traits that have nothing whatsoever to do with survival of the species. The species survival is in the hands of the breeders. Essentially, to any species, purebred means little chance of your genes surviving the rigors of adaption in successive generations. Domestic swine as a sub species have been domesticated for 6000 or more years. It is nothing short of amazing that research shows that domestic swine will, in one generation, show a visible physiological change  if set free in the wild. (Read full article published in the Docent News of the LA Zoo, 2008)      Quote from that article: Amazingly, when barnyard hogs become feral, all these domestic adaptations are quickly reversed; changes in the size and shape of the skull occur within a single generation as the pig brain starts to grow again.  The head becomes longer, the snout straighter and narrower.  The coat becomes denser; the hair grows more bristly, as does the pig’s attitude.  It seems that after all those millennia, the wild boar material still lurks in the genes of domestic pigs.

Porky, Piglet, Wilbur, Freddy and Napoleon are one unlocked gate away from becoming all that they can be.

         For reasons unclear to me, many people want to classify the potbelly is a domestic breed. Biological definition and behavior indicate this is incorrect. They perhaps confuse domestication with socialization. A domestic breed is "created", a "socialized" breed is simply taken into captivity and bred. To create a whole new "type" or sub species, typically requires  hundreds of years and thousands of generations.  

Domestic or wild, if set free  these pigs will soon return to their wild state, a state of exceptional survival skills. The difference with the potbellied and other wild pigs in captivity is that they never really stopped longing for their freedom. And handling them. treating them when sick will be a much greater difficulty than handling the mild mannered domestic pig.

         To be a prey animal has some  unique characteristics. As predators, we humans seldom consider how different the perspective is .  A prey animal will never sleep without a sense of what is going on around him; he will use whatever skills to disguise and protect his habitat, leave no trails, and attempt to send the tiger or crocodile onto a trail which leads to the neighboring village, not his own. Many of the "bad habits" of pigs in human homes are direct applications of these survival skills.

                     Being aggressive about his "home", his bed  (Protecting self and family)

                    Aggression toward strangers     (Protecting self and family)

                    Tearing up blankets, carpet, walls and even floors    (Nesting material; frustration with inactivity and lack of freedom)

                     Peeing in his pool  ((if this were a stream of water in the wild it would carry his scent away)

                     Making a  weaving trail through the fields and following it every day  (species specific pheromones lead him home)

                     Screaming if you pick him up, restrain him or try to give medicine or injections. (Response to restraint which to a prey means they are caught and will be killed)

·     Wild animals respond to illness much differently than domestic animals

             A wild animal such as a potbellied pig will respond with strong species preservation and self preservation behavior to the same stimuli that a farm pig will look at with mild curiosity. Why? Because farm pigs have been domesticated for thousands of years. The strong survival instincts and much of the innate intelligence has been selectively bred out of the species in favor of lean meat on their hips and shoulders.  A 1200 pound boar with strong survival skills would not be bred. He would be far too aggressive and territorial. He would be slaughtered and a more amiable animal selected for breeding. Over 6000 years of selection has produced a more docile pig.

While pheromones have been studied for years, there have been none done with potbellies.  A wealth of knowledge is there waiting to be identified and classified. 

 Excellent information on pheromone  studies available here.      

            When animals are young many relationships exist between predators and prey. As the animals mature, the rule of nature takes precedence and prey animals become viewed by predators as targets for food use or for just killing to destroy them. Keep your pigs safely fenced from all dogs. They are the number two killer of pigs (number one being humans). No matter if they all got along fine as puppies and piglets.. and they may have... the day will come when they don't and that pig will be horribly killed or ripped apart. Building fences is for keeping risks OUT. If spayed/neutered pigs won't leave home (except to find food).

Other predators: Coyotes are not much of a danger to adult pigs . I have never lived anywhere that wasn't knee deep in the little guys. They are hard on rabbits and chickens and other small critters but adult pigs pose a bit more of an aggressive resistance. Coyotes are shy and easily driven off by a LS Guardian dog like a Great Pyrenees. Keeping a Pyr is as close to 100% effective against coyotes as you will find. Years ago I used to have problems with them and skunks getting my little Silkie chickens and rabbits so I got a Pyr pup and that was the last loss I ever had ( 1985) . I have never been without a Pyr since.  I sleep soundly here, surrounded by wildlife, knowing  my 350 pigs and my cats are all safe from harm because the two Pyrs are wandering around doing their job.  For info on Great Pyrenees.   

A much bigger concern is stray dogs and the neighbors dogs. Dogs all have a natural instinct to kill pigs.. its the predator prey relationship and it doesn't matter what kind of dog or how it was raised or how friendly it seems to be with the pig, given the right opportunity one day it will kill it. Simple as that..  .. dogs are by nature intended to kill prey animals.. and they will. So a fencing project should be undertaken with dogs more than coyotes in mind. It only takes one wandering dog to brutally kill 2 pigs in a few minutes. They rip them apart, eating their ears and rectums and vulvas .. and sometimes chewing off the feet while the pig screams.. Its a horrible thing to even contemplate but knowing the enemy is half the battle. And dogs are the pigs enemy. He's who you are building the fence to protect from, not the coyote. Coyotes seldom weigh more than 30 pounds.. and are used to living off small prey.. a pig may smell like a big meal but he will also appear like a big task to bring down and they will move on. I won't say its impossible for a coyote pack to kill an adult pig but in the 25 years I have been working with pigs I have never heard of it happening.

If you don't want to add a Pyr pup then leaving your large dog out at night will help discourage the coyotes. Its a matter of pheromones and some breeds have been bred to have a better ability to ward off  strangers.

From my experiences with various fencing types, cattle panels, properly installed so that there are NO gaps at the bottom that don't have flat panels extending out and staked are far and away the best choice for safety from dogs and absolutely prevent pigs getting out. Coyotes may be small enough to wiggle in but aren't likely to do so. 

                Some pigs never meet a stranger, others are very wary of everyone. Don't force unwanted relationships or biting may occur. Pigs and young children should be associated only with extreme caution. Pigs snap at each other as a normal part of their behavior and they snap at a child just as easily. It is not a signal of a "bad" pig, it is a perfectly normal action but can easily result in injury. And the pig who gets a deep laceration will heal without a scar in no time without any care but the same wound on a child is serious and will require stitches and antibiotics and a lot of pain will be experienced. I have often had my leg opened from knee to ankle by a pig in a bad mood. Don't condemn the pig for behaving as a normal pig. These behaviors are not explained to prospective buyers or adopters for obvious reasons. Who would then take on such a risk in their household?  

Once you have created spaces for his life and yours to coincide comfortably, then establishing some rules may be necessary. If they snap at you they are exhibiting a territory ownership and a few strong words and a slap will usually convince them that you are bigger and have a claim on that territory. It is enough to make them settle into "second" place. But don't claim their sleeping area, that is the pig's very private space. Serious aggression problems virtually never occur with outdoor pigs in suitable environments. 99% of aggression is attributed to confinement. The house pig has no other territory but the house, he has to claim it. And as he grows his territory also grows. And as he grows he becomes an adult pig and doesn't want you in it.

 If you think "its all in how you raise them" you are living in a fantasy world. Instinct will prevail. You must remember that these are "wild animals", not domestic, unlike dogs who have been living in man's world for centuries. Many of the pigs in homes today have great grandparents who were wild in the jungles of Vietnam or Thailand. They are wonderful social animals, but they are still dependent on their keen "wild" instincts for survival. You won't change their instincts and trying may make for a very unhappy relationship. The idea of behavior modification is born of an irrational arrogance that says all things must serve the human captor that controls it. This doesn't work with pigs. Like some peoples in history who could not be enslaved, some pigs would prefer death to subjugation. It is a fine line between the instinct to preserve life for the species benefit and the plain and simple despair of the individual.  If behavior needs modifying to make a good relationship between pig and human, it will be the human behavior that usually needs change.

There seems to be a good bit of confusion about "bonding"; both bonding with humans and bonding with other pigs.

The sex does not matter much in any bonding relationship. Once you eliminate the sexual relationships of a pig's society, the relationships that form thereafter are those of mutual friendship and benefit. And his bonds with human are less stressful as well. Whether you bond with a single pig or two at a time the bonding process is the same and the bonds have no greater or weaker threads. Bonding with two makes for a more well rounded group for the pig. Since you have other relationships with humans or perhaps other animals, it is certainly unfair to expect the pig to "make do" with only you as his companion. You cannot satisfy the need he has for his own kind, no matter how much you care for him.

A good human to pig bond is beneficial for both of the beings involved.

A pig-to-pig bond is natural and better for the pig than any other bonds.  It matters little about sexes in a pair of pigs but in general, the tightest bonds are between siblings, followed by a bond between two males; then that bond between two females and the least bonding occurs between male and female unless they have been a mated pair prior to neutering.

        Pigs who live in a "natural"  environment, outside with plenty of acreage to wander, trees and water and fields to graze, and the company of their family members or other pigs develop remarkably different behavior than their limited lifestyle counterparts in suburban homes. Pigs from one sanctuary to another, in differing environments and population sizes live differently. Environment plays a huge role in how the live and how long. Anthropology offers some general rules about life styles and environment and certainly laboratory animals have written the book on suffering in close confinement and the behaviors it creates. It is up to us who work with different species over decades to see how these animals fit the norms.

Some observations about social behavior from our years of work with pigs:

 

                 The dynamics of aging can be studied better in pigs than in any other living being. With domestic/ companion animals the brain size has decreased during the eras of human dependency and the dietary and environmental needs skewed by the generations of non natural behavior. With wild animals the captivity wreaks such damage on the overall health that you often can’t tell what aging is “natural” and what is directly resulting from the poor health the captivity itself engenders.

Humans have a life span too long for objective study. The inability to “see” it all, repeatedly, from birth to death, leaves us too close to the forest to see the trees. 

But pigs are social by nature, adapting to being captive with a great degree of pragmatism, are long lived but not so long you can’t “see” the processes as they occur and they exhibit much the same types of aging “issues” as humans, making an understanding much easier. They get blind, they get senile, deaf, indifferent, slow, arthritic, lose competitive interest,  seek more warmth and get picky about their food. They grumble and complain and want more comfort. Sound like Grandpa? Well, it’s about the same with pigs reaching their late teens and early twenties.

To see our old friends age and become fragile is a sad reality.  Once they become seniors, at 14 or so, they begin requiring more specialized care. They tolerate less cold, less heat, less humidity, less poor feed, less anesthesia... The Elder pig and his needs will be addressed in several sections of pig care as it is at the end of life that his needs are greatest and most likely to be difficult to attend.