Pigs are not born naturally social or trusting. Unlike a puppy, a piglet is not born tame. They are prey animals in the wild and instinctively will be nervous and want to flee as a response to movement, noise, or touch. Because of this, pigs require socialization and desensitization by the breeder or human in order to be pets.
Making sure a breeder spends a lot of time with their piglets gives an owner and a piglet a huge advantage in the socialization process. Often times if a breeder spends little to no time socializing their piglets, you will get a piglet that is skittish, squeals, screams, squirms, and bites. New owners do not know how to curb these behaviors. When bringing your mini pig home you will notice that no matter how much your piglet has been socialized while with the breeder, they will still be a little scared and unsure of their new environment for the first few days or weeks in their new home. Piglets have just left their litter mates, parents, and caretakers for their first few months of life, which is all they know. They will need an ample amount of time, attention, and affection to get them to feel comfortable in their new home.
It is important to find a breeder that spends a lot of time socializing their piglets, and in turn shares how the piglet has been handled, and talked to. Your breeder can share how he or she holds the piglets, trains them, rewards them, and bonds with them so that you can mimic some of the same things making bonding and socialization process easier and more comforting to your piglet. Don’t forget to talk and grunt to your pig. They will communicate with you often times mimicking your grunts, and you will both quickly learn what each other’s sounds, tones, and your words mean. Pigs love to communicate and praise is a huge component to socializing and training.
When you bring your mini piglet home allow some time for the piglet or pig to adjust to its new surroundings and people. Pigs need some personal space at first and they need to know that the new people and the new home is safe. You will need to avoid fast movements and reaching at or over your pig.
Create small area within the house or a pen and allow your pig to have its own space. Include their food bowl, heavy water bowl, litter box, and on the opposite side of the area their bed. Once a pig or piglet gets to know their surroundings, smells, voices, etc. slowly start getting to know your pig. Sit near your pig on their level so that they feel more comfortable.
Some pigs are very social right off the bat, and others may need more time in the socialization process. Pigs need to feel confident and trusting of you before they are completely comfortable being pet and held. When being held, it is important that their back and front legs and/or neck/head is supported.
If your piglet is too scared to be held comfortably, meaning they are squealing, biting, and/or trying to escape your arms you need to wait and let that pig gain some confidence in the new environment.
Floor time is a great way to get your piglet to approach you, as sitting or lying on the ground makes you more approachable. You can use pig pellets or treats, such as Cheerios, and place one a few feet in front of you. Once your piglet responds to the treat continue putting down a treat slowly moving it in closer and closer to you. You want to do this frequently until your piglet is completely comfortable being near you and then you can begin to attempt to touch.
Floor time creates trust and allows your piglet to feel comfortable approaching you without you trying to pick them up. A pig will back up when you try and reach for them, allow this floor time to be a time that your piglet can make the decision to come to you and freely approach you and eventually get on your lap, if smaller, without you grabbing for your pig. Pigs do not like to be reached at over their head like you would pet a dog. A slow open palm reaching under the pigs chin is generally more accepted by them.
Sleep touching can be a good way to desensitize a piglet who is not used to being handled. Take their naps as an opportunity to gently pet all over their bodies. Scratch their bellies and you will find they roll over for more. The more the pig is handled the better.
For an older pig, the same exercise applies, you may just not be able to have it in your lap or stand up and hold your pig. After this training exercise is a continued success, your piglet should be much more comfortable being held by you and family members. Hold them on your chest or lap while you are watching television or include them in nap or bed time so they are comfortable falling asleep on you, get used to your smell, heartbeat, breathing, etc. The more holding and bonding time, the faster your pig will learn to trust and bond with you.
Picking up or lifting your pig can be a challenge for new pig owners. Pigs do not like to be grabbed at or held initially. They are prey animals and their only defense is to flee. When you grab at them their natural instinct is to run. When they are held off the ground they lose the only mechanism they have to flee and that can cause panic.
Once you have introduced treats and taught your pig the command to come it can be easy to lure the piglet into your space and lap. Let any new piglet explore your lap freely without the threat of your hands. Once your pig knows that you are safe you can begin to reach underhanded to scratch the chin or belly. Get your pig comfortable with this handling, but do not force it. If the pig is not accepting of the touch, then back off and wait. You never want to force contact, it will come with time and reinforcement that you are safe.
When your pig is accepting of the underhanded touch to the belly and chin or your hands and arms being around their body you can attempt to pick the pig up. Use your words to let the pig know what is about to happen. Say pick up, up or lift and then reach under handed and scoop the pig up holding him/her close to your body while seated.
You need to cradle the pig’s body so he/she feels fully supported. Do not grab two handed around the middle of the pig like you might a dog or puppy. Use both arms to support the weight of the pig’s body and have their legs tucked under them.
Your pig may startle so hold securely and comfort the pig like you would a newborn baby, with a gentle voice, rocking, swaying, scratching the chin. When the pig is settled you can release him/her back into your lap. If the pig struggles excessively and will not be comforted, release and try again at a later time.
If you have achieved successful results when trying this seated several times over 2-3 days, you can progress to standing and moving slowly around the room.
Lifting and carrying your pig requires the slow building of trust. This cannot be rushed. You will always want to end on a positive experience. If you achieve an up or lift with little or no struggle stop and enjoy the cuddles. Try again in a few hours.
Do not give up on this one! Your pig will only be small enough to carry for a short time, but it can be beneficial and pleasant to be able to hold your baby while you can. Slow and steady and you can accomplish this.
When introducing to other house pets, start slowly and watch for body language. A dog should be leashed or behind a baby gate when first introducing. Pigs are social animals. They thrive around other animals and they need companionship, so pets are a very important part of your pig’s life. It is important that you trust the interaction between your piglet and said pets before ever leaving them alone together.
Many breeders recommend NEVER leaving your pig alone with dogs or other pets that can potentially hurt or attack your pig. Owners need to know their pets well and make decisions on when is a good time to allow them to run together and whether or not they can ever be together while supervised or alone.
Susan Magidson, President of Ross Mills Farm explains it best in this video on How To Socialize your Pig:
How to Hold Your Piglet