The Art of Negotiating with a Mini Pig

Pigs are smart, and intelligence is such a great quality to have in a pet. Pigs potty train easily and learn tricks quickly, and I believe their intelligence helps in forming a strong, lasting bond.

A smart animal, however, can present challenges. Oscar constantly keeps me on my toes because, frankly, he’s quicker to outsmart me than our dogs. This means I have to work to stay a step ahead of him. Also, unlike dogs, pigs don’t go out of their way to please humans or work for affection, so that means coming up with creative ways to make sure Oscar is well trained and behaved.

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I realized recently that I constantly negotiate with Oscar. I don’t negotiate with my dogs because I expect them to listen and do what I’ve asked. However, my little mini pig is stubborn and has no problem ignoring me and doing whatever he wants. That doesn’t mean he’s a bad pet; it means I’ve had to learn his language and adjust my tactics.

As you might expect, a mini pig’s language is food. Oscar generally does what he pleases, but he would sell his soul for a Cheerio. So, I use this to my advantage when teaching him the behaviors that work for our home. I was initially hesitant to use food as an incentive for our pig, but it’s usually the only way to get his attention. I try to use healthier treats and really small pieces throughout the day to limit his overall consumption, and that works because he isn’t picky about what or how much he gets.

One of the times I negotiate with Oscar is when I need him to come inside the house after a potty break. When Oscar goes outside, he loves to eat grass but then throws a fit when he has to come in. Instead of just dragging him in, I either let him get a mouthful of grass “to go” or I pick a few pieces of grass and give them to him on the way in. That has worked well and has reduced his reluctance to come in.

Another time I negotiate with Oscar is when I put his harness on and take it off. He used to hate everything about his harness; it was a stressful battle each time ending with a crabby pig and frustrated mom. I started giving him half of a Cheerio each time I put his harness on and took it off, and he immediately became accepting of the harness. We use the same method to get him into his crate at night, and now he’s eager to run in and go to bed.

Since Oscar is still young, we are constantly coming up with new negotiations. The best thing about the negotiations is that the positive behavior (such as the harness) “sticks” even after we remove the treat; this allows us to use the food rewards for other behaviors and helps me feel comfortable that the negotiations are effective in training him long term.

Negotiating with a pig feels strange sometimes, but it has allowed me to enjoy his intelligence without getting frustrated by the challenges that come with it.

4 thoughts on “The Art of Negotiating with a Mini Pig”

  1. This journal has helped me feel a little better! I got my first pig yesterday, and although I did plenty of reading an research, now that he is here, I’m having so much anxiety over if he is alright and happy! The balance between earning his trust and making sure he knows who is in charge, is difficult! Right now, he is trying to chew in his crate(it is metal) and telling him no and nudging him away from it doesn’t seem to do much! Is telling him no and making a louder noise like clapping it stomping the only way to try and get him ti quit that?

    1. Hi Andrea! I’m glad it has helped you feel a little better! You are right on about the tricky balance between earning his trust and making sure he knows who is in charge. That’s really challenging in the beginning because you want them to learn rules but also want them to feel safe around you. In general, I wouldn’t stress too much in the first week or so about making sure he knows who is in charge. Instead, focus as much as you can on making him comfortable at home and around you, and then you can focus more on rules once he’s settled in.

      Hmm…Oscar never chewed at his crate, so I don’t have a great answer for you. You could try putting him in a small room with a gate for a while instead to see if that helps or maybe redirect his chewing with a puppy Kong with a bit of peanut butter or something like that. I’m guessing he’s chewing to get out and not for the desire of chewing in general, but making his crate a happy place with some toys (when he’s supervised) might help to relax him in there.

      Once Oscar was a little older, he started pushing against the door of his metal crate. I was afraid he would learn how to escape, so I made him “circle” every time he wanted out. My goal was to teach him that the crate door opened when he circled and not when he pushed on it with his snout, and it seemed to work. So, this won’t work now, but that might be a trick you can use after your little one is ready for some training.

      Hope that helps!

  2. So Oscars sleeps in his crate every night? We have a large pen area set up in a room off our mud room for the pig to hang out but thought maybe having a crate in there as it’s house would be nice. Would you recommend closing the crate door at night for bedtime? If so how do they go potty? Please let me know your thoughts.

    Thank you!

    1. Yeah, Oscar actually still sleeps in his crate every night. He’s been through a few different crates as he’s grown, but he seems happy sleeping in his crate and we like that we know where he is and don’t have to worry about him getting into things while we’re asleep. But, a lot of people handle bedtime in different ways. One thing that makes the crate work for us is that Oscar isn’t litter box trained and only goes outside. So, we want him to scream or make noise if he needs to go out so that we can take him. If he was litter box trained, I would probably give him a small gated room with his crate, bed, litter box, etc and then leave the crate door open at night. I don’t know if that’s what will work best, but I think that’s how I would approach if Oscar had a litter box. That way he could sleep in his crate or in his bed but still get up to use the litter box. I would just pick a way to try at first and see what works for your piggy and then adjust. But, I like the idea you have of the large pen set up off of your mud room. The crate might be nice in there in case your piggy wants a smaller space to hide/sleep in at first. Just some ideas of how you can approach it, but that’s how I would start out if it were me. Hope that helps!

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