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.
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.