We have all been there...you get home from work only to find that your pig discovered that the fridge DOES open...or those spectacular flowers you spend 6 hours planting? Gone.
Did you know pigs can be destructive when they're bored? A lot of pigs tend to get into some mischief when they have nothing better to do or nothing to keep their little minds occupied. So, what is the solution? Enrichment activities for your pig(s)!!
First let's see some destructive behavior from pigs that had too much time on their hands. (Or too much freedom)
We call this "hoarder corner" at my house. Anytime someone is missing something, they automatically know to check hoarder corner.
For some reason, pig love to hear the ripping sound made from fabric as well as paper.
Dirt + pigs will always equal a mess. Maybe there was some kind of treasure in there or maybe he was just curious...nonetheless, those bags were there and within reach, so they were fair game.
So, how do you avoid this?
You will hear many different answers to that question. Probably the most important and common factor, as in these situations pictured above, is that they all occurred indoors. Pigs NEED outdoor time. Not only do they need sunlight to aid in the absorption of essential vitamins/minerals, they need to have a place where they're not penalized for acting like a pig. Pigs like to dig, they like to look for things you may not have known were even there. Pigs have an incredible sense of smell and they use it to their advantage. I assume everyone has heard of pigs being used to hunt for truffles. This dates back to the 15th century and they were able to identify these fungal investments that were 3 feet deep! It was thought that natural sex hormones of the male pig are similar to the smell of the truffles and others said pigs simply love digging for food making them a great source to find the truffles so many were eager to get their hands on. Some have argued that their particular taste for truffles leads to a more devoted beast and ultimately, countries began to prohibit pigs from truffle hunting because they weren't careful diggers and caused damage to actual truffle while digging for it creating a drop in their production rate. Pigs love to dig, that is all there is to it. Taking that ability away from them by not allowing them to have time to root and investigate can lead to behavioral issues and/or destruction in the home.
Make sure your pig has an appropriate outdoor space. If you like having a nice yard, then a pig isn't the right pet for you, unless you can dedicate some separate space for your pig to be a pig. A secure fenced in area is ideal for a pet pig. Plenty of room to run around in and plenty of dirt to dig in is the type of environment a pig will thrive in.
Another important factor is providing a stimulation type activity for your pig. This can be indoors or outdoors. Some love treat dispensers, but some pigs get frustrated and quickly lose interest in them. However, to encourage exercise, as well as positive reinforcement, treat balls are often recommended to help curb a bored pigs mojo. The Kong, Busy ball and Bobalot treat dispensers seem to be a big hit for pigs. (All can be bought on Amazon.com)
Another suggestion heard frequently is puzzle type treat dispensers. These can range from fairly simple to rather complicated. Most treat puzzles are easily mastered by pigs. So, you may not want to invest in super expensive treat puzzles in case your pig quickly catches on rendering that puzzle useless. (Although, old toys can be "new" again if put away for a period of time and reintroduced later on)
Balls seem to make a lot of pigs happy as well. Big balls, bowling balls, sports balls, such as basketballs or soccer balls are all good choices. I will warn you, if you get a plastic ball that can easily be punctured or has a flimsy surface, your pig will likely poke a hole in it and it will deflate. This can cause a potential choking hazard, so be careful to choose a ball that is pet friendly. The example below is a horse product called Horseman's Pride Jolly mega ball and is 30" in size. Pet specific balls can cost little more, but they're made for them specifically and are usually a safer choice. The one below is around 29.99 on Amazon.com.
Oddly enough, one of my pigs favorite things to do is rip through a phone book. These aren't even delivered in my area anymore, so I let her have junk mail and newspaper instead sometimes. But phone books or thin paper can be a way to keep your pig from being bored. They love to hear the ripping of pages and will chew on the paper for a little bit, but they do not typically "eat" it. To be sure, watch your pig and make sure they're not swallowing excessive amounts of paper so there are no complications from letting them participate in this kind of activity. Overall, my pig LOVES this though and would prefer ripping paper to any toy I have purchased for her.
Probably the most important thing you can do is train your pig. Pigs love social interaction, but they only know what YOU teach them. Working with your pig to teach them basic tricks or how to stay using positive reinforcement will take you a lot further than ANY toy or treat dispenser. This is a basic need for pigs and shouldn't be overlooked. Neglecting to train your pig often leads to a pig that displays undesirable behavior. This is NOT your pigs fault, this is YOUR fault. Your interaction with them teaches them manners and respect as well as positive behaviors get rewarded whereas negative behaviors do not. Sit and spin are typically the simplest tricks for pigs to master. Soon enough, your pig will greet you by spinning in circles or sitting because they know they get treats for this type of positive behavior normally. This particular pig, in the video below, had some aggression issues for months prior to him being able to be trained. So once he was neutered and his hormone level normalized, he was obviously a much different pig than he was while we waited for his surgery date. Once trained, he turned out to be one of the best behaved pigs and well-mannered pigs I have ever seen and made a very good pet. To date, according to his pig mom, he is still well mannered and behaved and a "joy" to be around. (FYI, if your pig is intact, sometimes the trouble is based on the fact that they're trying to find a suitable mate. They don't realize that there are no other pigs within that vicinity, so they leave "hints" for others, just in case. Please spay or neuter your pigs!! Click here to read more about those procedures)
Or perhaps work on the command "stay"....this pig knows what she has to do before she gets dinner. This is much more advanced training. It requires a lot of patience since pigs are extremely food motivated to begin with. You must first build the foundation with your pig realizing you are to be respected and what you say goes. Do NOT give in, not even once, because your pig will remember that and continue to test the boundaries hoping that you will just let them eat and won't enforce the rule.
You can work with your pig on very specific skills such as painting pictures. You can then hang these in your home or even donate them to various pig rescues who can auction off one of a kind pieces and help your pig community. This is fairly easy to accomplish. Using non-toxic after based paint and a flat canvas, any pig can be an artist!! Combined with positive reinforcement, your pig will love to paint as much as you love their paintings. I have been doing this with my pig for a couple of years now and although her technique changes with each painting, her art is always a masterpiece.
Creating activities for your pig isn't as hard as it sounds. I have used baby toys as a training tool as well as other child electronics to teach my pig the concept of positive reinforcement. Again, they can quickly master these toys, so you may have to step it up a notch fairly quick after starting your training. My pig learned that the end result was a treat, so she would push the button, twist the button, press the button and slide the button to get a treat. For the easy ones? She would close the pop up pieces and reopen them again and expected her treat, after all, she did it again. The one I used was similar to the one pictured below.
Using household objects or household products to create an activity can be just as good for your pig. PVC pipe are often the product of choice because of their durability. Drilling holes big enough for a treat to fall out of and hanging that from something sturdy can provide hours of entertainment for your pig. This particular picture is from The California Potbellied Pig Association's website. http://www.cppa4pigs.org
Summertime can bring a host of other problems, but one way to keep your pig cooled off and hydrated is to freeze water, with or without other items added in for them to find. But since hydration is so important, using a frozen treat in the heat does create an additional water source for your pig during the hot months. (again, photo is from The California Potbellied Pig Association's website linked above)
An outside agility course can promote exercise as well as disciplined behavior. Agility courses can be homemade or bought as a set from a store, such as this set from Amazon.com. This particular course is around 200.00, but provides you everything you need to set up a working agility course right in your backyard!
Using food as motivation typically works....as long as your pig can actually eat it. This is Harley Swan's video she shared with us last year with a brilliant idea for apples. This was an easier task for one than it was for the other, but nonetheless, a great idea and way to keep your pig busy!
Pigs can bowl, its an activity that they learn the end result is what you're after, so when I was training my pig to "bowl", she would run to the end of the room and knock the pins down with her snout before the ball ever made it down there. Still fun to watch though. A cheap set of children bowling toys are less than 20.00 and can be found at most toy stores or Walmart.
We have a section of the website dedicated to enrichment for pigs. It is available, but will be updated soon, so check back often to see updated ideas and products that you can use to help your pig stay entertained. You can visit that section by clicking here. Sometimes a pig that tends to get in trouble isn't because of boredom at all, but rather persistence. These are the group of pigs that pig proofing was made for. If your pig has plenty of outside time, plenty of "enrichment" to keep him/her occupied but still tends to get into things? Well, your pig knows there is food in that cabinet, or is flat out being defiant. Again, something you can work on using training to teach respect and exactly who is in charge, but you should be sure to keep anything your pig may be tempted to "get into" out of reach or locked away.
Whatever method or technique you decide to use, just do it with consistency. Your pig is likely used to a routine (or would like to be), so taking the time to train and making it a part of your routine will give your pig something to look forward to. Pigs love to learn and explore, give them an avenue to satisfy that craving. If you have additional ideas for enriching your pigs life, we would love to hear about them or see examples. Feel free to send us pictures and/or stories and we can get them added to the website/blog.
Our names are Brittany Sawyer and Nicole Cox and we are pig parents, pig advocates and also the authors of the "Dear Pig Whisperer" blog. Follow our blog that will feature topics to help you become the best pig parent you can be...along with some other fun things. We will also feature guest bloggers from time to time who want to share their life experience or knowledge with anyone who is interested in learning.