Socializing is perhaps the most challenging (and rewarding!) aspect of caring for your pig. Pigs are not naturally social our trusting, unlike dogs and cats. Pigs are prey animals, which means they behave very differently than dogs or cats do. They instinctively react to interaction, noise or movement by being skittish, fleeing, or when they feel trapped, squealing or screaming. This is why it is especially important that you choose a breeder or rescue that takes great time and care socializing their piglets and pigs.
A lot of pigs and piglets that end up in rescue because of behavioral issues stemming from poor socialization. If a breeder or rescue does not take the adequate time and attention it takes to properly socialize piglets, you end up with a pig that is fearful, screams and bites. Most new owners do not know how to handle these behaviors and the pig ends up in rescue. Make sure to observe piglets and how they are handled before buying and adopting, as this will greatly determine how easily the pig will transition into its new home.
Even the most socialized pig will have an adjustment period when moving to a new home. Just as some cats and dogs need time to adjust, a pig does too. In fact, pigs are highly intelligent and very emotional animals. They take a lot of time and love to gain your trust. They are also very vocal, so positively talking to and even grunting to your pig will go a long way in creating trust and a bond between you and your pig.
Transitioning To A New Home
When you bring your new pig home, the best thing you can do is be patient and let the pig become familiar with its new home. Giving them some space to learn that their new environment is safe will make the transition smoother for everyone. Avoid fast movements, reaching at or over your pig, and loud noises if possible.
Sectioning off a small part of the house or a pen for the pig to call its own will help it feel more at home. Make sure they have a bed, water, an area to eat and a litter box/access to outside. When your pig starts to feel comfortable with their new space and the comings and goings on of the house, you can start to get to know your pig.
Pigs are very smart, emotionally sensitive and have individual personalities. Getting down on their level, speaking softly and with gentle movements are all ways you can let your pig know you are a safe person to be around. Let your pig come to you and learn your smells and sounds. Most pigs have poor eyesight so sudden movements and changes can cause distress. Set aside some time to let your pig get to know you every day.
Some pigs need more socializing than others, so if your pig doesn’t let you pet it right away, its okay! Be patient. One thing you can do to help a pig who is having trouble trusting you is to sit on the floor with a few treats (small pieces of fruit, cheerios, or even a few pellets of food) next to you. If they still won’t come close, put the treats father away and let the pig come to you in time. Once the pig is comfortable coming close to you for treats, you can try gently touching or petting your pig. Don’t be discouraged if they don’t let you right away! Pigs are a lot like people in that they have to do things in their own time.
Petting, Picking Up & Holding
Pigs do not generally liked to pet like dogs. Reaching over their heads can be less successful, we find, than under the chin or belly rubs. Pigs love belly rubs! Once your pig is comfortable enough to come into your lap, try gentle scratching on their belly. A good time to do this is when your pig or piglet is sleeping too. The more they are handled and used to being touched the better. If you have a larger or older pig that won’t or can’t sit in your lap (though my biggest pig thinks she is a lap pig) try to sit near or next to them and do gentle, relaxing touching a petting. They might not go for it every time, but that’s okay! Just try again later when both of you are comfortable.
Pigs generally do not like to be picked up initially. Their first response will be to flee, and if they cannot flee, they will panic and scream. Getting your pig comfortable with picking up and holding takes some patience, but not only is it a nice bonding exercise, but it is also handy when they need grooming, vet care or transport.
When your pig is comfortable with being in your lap, belly rubs and your hands and arms being on and around their body, you may be ready to start training your pig to be picked up and held while you are seated the ground. Pigs are extremely vocal and trainable, so make sure you let your pig know what’s going on. Pick a command word that you can use consistently, such as UP or LIFT and use it every time you attempt to lift your pig.
A lot like a rabbit, a pig needs to feel secure and safe, so support their whole body and legs close to your body. Unlike a rabbit, pigs are very strong and sometimes not so small so be prepared for a startle and hold securely, but not tightly. Comfort your pig like a baby, with gentle rocking or swaying, low humming or words, gentle chin scratches or belly rubs.
If this goes well several times over the next week or so, you can try standing up and moving around the house slowly. This cannot be rushed. Your pig must trust you for this to be successful and enjoyable for both of you. If it does not happen right away, or if your pig struggles or screams, put them down and try again later when everyone is calm and comfortable. Always use positive encouragement, even if it doesn’t work right way.
If you and your pig get to a point of easy pick ups, enjoy it while you can! Your pig may not be small forever, so enjoy baby snuggle time while you can.
Introducing Your Pig To Other Pets
One thing we cannot stress enough is that pigs are prey animals. They behave and interact with other animals very differently than dogs or cats, who are predatory animals. They are very social animals that thrive with companions, however, and many do well in the right environment with animals other than pigs.
Make sure when you pig first comes home that dogs are leashed or behind a gate. You should feel completely comfortable with your pig and dog before leaving them alone together, though we recommend that you always supervise your animals together. Dogs can and will attack a pig companion, even after years of perfectly fine interactions. Know your pets well before deciding what level of interaction is safe for them, alone or supervised.
We have found in our experience that pigs and cats get along pretty well, though it seems pigs are more interested in the cats than the cats are in them!
In the end, the best companion for your pig is another pig. If it is within your means and ability to have more than one, pigs really do well with other pigs of the same sex.