How do you tame a guinea pig?
What does a “tame” guinea pig mean? Most people expect that a guinea pig is not scared, doesn’t hide much and remains calm on your lap. That’s what many people call “tame”. Sadly, many animal will never fulfil this expectation. But what can you expect?
Guinea pigs are prey animals, which means that they run off when they have the chance. If wild guinea pigs don’t do that, the will end up as food for other animals. So, for prey animals it’s not very useful to be “tame”. If you stay where you are when something wants to eat you, you will probably not survive. Instead, you run off in time. This urge to run is still very present in the guinea pigs that we keep as pets. Most animals will feel more comfortable when they live with us and will even come to us for food. Still, most guinea pigs will run when we want to pick them up. Although there are exceptions of course.
Also, there are some important factors that influence how “tame” a guinea pig is. These are character, age and experiences, housing type and our effort as owners.
Four factors a tame piggy
Character is a very important and yet often underestimated factor. Some guinea pigs are less scared than others and they will be tamed easier. Some animals remain scared, even when we put in lots of effort and energy in the process. And the other way around, there are guinea pigs that never had experiences with humans that became tame very quickly. Adopting new guinea pigs is no guarantee to have less shy animals.
An example is our guinea pig Kiki. She was abandoned in our shelter with her friend due to lack of time. They did not get much attention at their old home. Kiki felt right at home in her new environment and loved to be petted, also in her cage. She also joins us on visits in retirement homes and schools and enjoys that (as long as she is bribed with some food as well). Her curious character allows this perfectly.
Of course, age and experience do play a role in taming a guinea pig. A baby piggy that had much attention and positive experiences with humans probably has much more trust in us than a guinea pig that did not. But this does not mean that adult animals can’t get used to human contact. Many guinea pigs will also become calmer and easier when they get older. Most young guinea pigs just don’t want to sit still on our lap. They simply have too much energy and other stuff to do.
Housing also influences how easy we can tame our animals. Guinea pigs which are housed in a living room, surrounded by all sorts of sounds and activity, will experience a lot and be used to a lot as well. It’s also quite easy to pick them from their cage. Guinea pigs in a fantastic huge outdoor pen will probably have a calmer place to live and less easy to pick up. Even catching them is a completely different job!
Last of all, a guinea pig will be less used to us when they are barely in our presence. So if we are willing to put time and effort in them, you will often see more result.
How do you tame a guinea pig?
In my belief, taming sounds quite weird. Maybe socializing is a better word. That means that an animals feels comfortable in specific situations, that they get used to it. For instance, petting them or sitting on our lap. Patience is really important! Don’t expect that you will socialize you new mates within a week. Maybe you are lucky, but most of the time it takes months or even longer to make them feel ok in our presence. It’s really important that animals have positive experiences to make the situation pleasant fort hem. When you start, this is very easy: you can just bribe your animals with some food. Put their favourite vegetables in the cage and take a step back. You’ll see that they will explore their treats soon enough.
If this is going well, you can make the distance between you and your animals smaller. Then, you can try to leave you hands in the cage a little longer. Eventually, you might even try to pet them, although some guinea pigs will never learn to like that.
Most guinea pigs become stressed when you try to pick them up. No wonder if you think about the fact that they are prey animals! But sometimes you just have to pick them up, for instance when you clean their cage. Most guinea pigs are quite calm after you have picked them up. It’s important to get them out of the cage calm and quickly. Don’t chase them. Put their houses and tunnels out of the cage and escort them gently with your hands to a corner. You can then often pick them up without causing too much stress.
When you hold them, do this good and firmly but not too hard. This also teaches them to relax when they are a bit scared. You can also use special cuddle sacks for guinea pigs fort his. They feel safe in there, which makes the experience of sitting on your lap lots better.
What else can you do to make your guinea pig feel comfortable?
Make sure that your guinea pigs have good experiences with you. To make them feel comfortable on your lap, you have to remain patient and calm. Even better: bribe them with food, which is the most important thing on earth fort hem! Offer your piggies food from your hand and keep on trying, even if they are too scared in the beginning. You will see that they will come faster and faster for a treat.
You can also make your guinea pigs more stress-proof: vary the cage design regularly, let them run in an extra pen or in a pen in the garden. This learns them to cope with stress and new objects and this stimulates them to explore stuff. Don’t overdo this, especially when your piggies are scared.
You can also adjust the hutches that you use. Hiding is normal behaviour for guinea pigs, so hiding possibilities are essential for their well-being. But if your piggies are in their house the entire day, you could choose for a more open model like a tunnel or bridge. This still gives them the opportunity to hide, but they still see what’s happening around them. Also, make sure the guinea pig cage is placed somewhere not too busy but also not too quiet.
What if your guinea pigs are not as tame as you hoped?
Maybe you did everything and despite that, your piggies are still very shy. Your expectations towards them are very important. Do you expect that they will come to you when you want to pick your guinea pigs up? That’s not very likely. Maybe they will always remain shy. Then that’s how they are and you have to respect their character. Keep that in mind and accept it when animals act differently than you expect. Most important is that they feel at home with you. For this, they don’t have tobe “tame”. When guinea pigs have a big pen to run around and behave normally they will be very happy. And if you provide that, that’s the best you can offer to them!