Guinea pigs are prey animals, which also indicates that taming your guinea pig is going to require effort, patience and love. Guinea pigs will not automatically come to you like a dog or cat. Dogs and Cats are predators not prey animals. So let’s ask first what is a Prey Animal and what does this mean in terms of guinea pig behaviour with humans.
What is a prey Animal?
Prey animals are essentially the food source of predators. They are generally herbivorous meaning they eat plants. Prey animals have developed a variety of techniques to evade predators to avoid being attacked or consumed. Guinea pigs hide, run, scratch, bite or warn others in the herd with shrieking. You may notice guinea pigs will quickly scatter in quick succession if a loud noise suddenly occurs or they are startled by your presence. Overcoming this strong protective instinct may never be completely overcome however you can gain the trust of your guinea pig overtime with the below techniques. It is important to remember that your guinea pig does not dislike you if it is hiding or running away. In fact they are very smart at running because this technique protects them and other cavies. Guinea pigs need to be shown with repetition that there is no need to fear and over time they can learn that a particular person is not a threat.
The more handling the better
Guinea pigs need to become familiar with humans and especially their human family. It is important that you correctly handle your guinea pigs following our handling guide – click here for more information.
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Include them in the household
The more your guinea pigs are exposed to human noises such as your voice, television, vacuum cleaner, microwaves, appliances and general household noise the more they will see this background noise as normal and unthreatening. Indoor housing provides your guinea pig with the opportunity to be included in all household activities. It will de-sensitise them to unfamiliar sounds. Soon they will even know that the sound of the fridge door opening means food!Indoor housing provides guinea pigs with the perfect opportunity to become used to humans and their surroundings. They will become more curious venturing into the open to see what you are doing. When you pass by the cage they will come and say hello. It will allow you to bond with your guinea pigs, you learning more about them and they can learn more about you.
Spend quality time with your guinea pig
Lap time is a wonderful tool to get your guinea pig to become familiar with you. Many guinea pigs like to be petted behind the ears or gently stroked from the neck to the rear in the direction of the fur (do not pet against the grain). Place your guinea pig on your lap with a towel or lap pad. Provide some food whilst having lap time to positively reinforce the experience. Time with you = food. Allow at least 30 minutes of petting time. Many guinea pigs will learn to relax often stretching, yawning and some even falling asleep. Lap time should be a calming experience. Enjoy your favourite TV show and some piggy time!
Provide healthy Treats
Guinea pigs love food and they soon realise that humans supply their food. A great way to get your guinea pig to trust you is to hand feed them in the safety of their cage. Guinea pigs will nibble from your hands and soon learn that you do not pose them any harm. If you are having trouble getting your guinea pig to eat from your hands one of the easiest tricks is to hold the end of a carrot and let them nibble the end. As the days progress slowly shorten the length of the carrot until they are nibbling directly from your fingers.
Provide them with a large cage
A large cage ensures your guinea pigs feel more secure in their environment. They have space to run and hide if feeling unsure or frightened. Imagine a large hand coming towards you and you are in a small area, blocked with nowhere to run and hide. It would not be ideal would it? A larger space provides more options. When they do come to you or you do pick them up, it is from a trust perspective.
Changes will not happen overnight. Taming your guinea pigs can take weeks even months but the results are well worth it. Some guinea pigs may never like to be picked up and may simply be content with a petting in their cage. Every guinea pig is different so remember that some guinea pigs will run and this is instinct not due to dislike. If you are able to keep handling, feeding and socialising your guinea pigs you will have a beautiful bond.