Overall, guinea pigs are rather easy going, gentle furry potatoes (as we guinea pig people fondly call them). If cared for properly, (they have a cage that is the proper size, hidey houses to snooze in, plenty of healthy foods, 24 hour access to hay and pellets and there is no overcrowding in the habitat) they are, generally speaking, happy little campers.
The number one cause of guinea pig stress is fear of humans; it’s an instinct that has served them well in the wild. And even though there are no wild counterparts of the domestic pet guinea pig, the instinct remains. Even wee little babies, just hours after birth, will try and get away from a human hand reaching into the enclosure to pick up a baby. Some are born with more fear than others. Some have had no human interaction from birth whatsoever and will be more skittish due to lack of exposure.
I’ve seen guinea pig stress so severe that the piggies will fling themselves against the bars and sides of their habitat to get away from humans. Other ways this type of stress shows is where a guinea pig will hide until you have left the room to come out to eat or drink. They will sit still and very quietly and patiently wait for you to leave.
It’s this type of stress and fear that breaks my heart to see. It’s no fun for the caretaker and certainly not a fun way to live for the guinea pig. Just imagine being in perpetual fear like that. I developed an easy technique to help your guinea pig get over that fear or at least take the edge of the extreme terror that some experience.
Let me try and explain it for you here. All taming techniques work best with open top cages like a Midwest or CandC cage. The smaller type cages with a small front opening may not work so well. (Another great reason to upgrade to a larger cage!)
With this method you can work with one or several piggies at the same time.
- Remove all hideys from the habitat.
- Focus on one pig at a time.
- Using your hand, slowly approach your guinea pig from the side or front so she can see your hand approaching.
- Piggy will get scared and run away from you.
- Slowly and calmly follow your guinea pig around until she will stay still.
- Reach in to give her a few head scratches.
- Then, very slowly, move your hand away.
- Wait a few seconds and repeat. She will do the same thing again and run away in fear. But eventually, she will always stop and allow you to touch her. Give some head scratches again and move away. At this point she is thinking whaaat?? I did not get hurt! But I got some pleasant head scratches!
- Repeat this same process another four times, and you’ll see that from here on it will become easier, and the time it takes for her to stop and stand still will be less and less.
- Repeat this twice a day for a total of five days.
- You should now be able to reach into the cage without the guinea pig running away from you in fear.
You must be consistent with this method; it absolutely works and will make you and your guinea pig so much happier. Some piggies will get this after just one day of trying, while others may not show progress until day three or four. But, if you are doing this taming method correctly, it will work, and at the very least, will take the edge off of any fear related stress.
After you and your guinea pig have mastered this exercise, the next thing will be picking up your guinea pig without stress. We will cover that in another blog.