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Increasing The Bond Between Guinea Pigs And Owners

How can a guinea pig owner increase their bond with a standoffish pet?

By Shannon Cauthen
Posted: June 13, 2012, 7 a.m. EDT

Q: Last year I adopted a 1-year-old, female guinea pig called Ginger. I have tried to follow all advice on guinea pigs, but I still can’t seem to tame her. Although she does let me pet her, it is only sometimes and usually while she’s eating. Other times she just runs away, and I am not sure why. Sometimes I wonder if this is just a way of her playing, because she tends to come out of hiding the moment I stop trying to pet her and not when I am far away. I’m not sure whether she wants my attention or not. When I adopted her, her profile in Petfinder indicated that she liked being petted and held, so I wonder if she simply doesn’t like me at all. She usually doesn’t want us to pick her up, but we have had to a few times (for example, last year we had to flee our apartment due to a fire alarm) and after being placed in my lap she seemed to be quite content. How do I know if my guinea pig loves me, whether she is just cranky or if she is simply playing hard to get? I respect my cavy’s temperament but if there is a chance for me to be able to bond with her more, I would love to find out.

A: What you are describing is not uncommon in guinea pigs. Based on your description, your guinea pig does not have a love/hate relationship with you, it is just a matter of communicating your needs so that she understands. Try these suggestions.

1) When interacting with your guinea pig, take away her house so that she has nowhere to hide. Taking away the house will eventually indicate that this is "playtime or interaction time" between the two of you. When that time is over, return her home so that she can feel safe.

2) Every time you approach your guinea pig's cage to interact with her in any way, bring a small treat like a bit of carrot, lettuce, grape or berries (strawberries, blueberries, raspberries). You will quickly find out her favorites and reword her accordingly for her trust. There will come a time when these things will no longer be necessary and you will simply be able to approach the cage for a kiss through the bars or a nose rub.

3) If you always call your guinea pig by name she will learn it and respond to it. She will learn the sound of your voice and always associate it with the pleasantries you offer with each visit. Guinea pigs are very food-motivated and learn quickly.

4) Announce yourself by placing your hand at least 5 inches from your guinea pig's eyes so that she can see you. Guinea pigs do not see directly in front of their noses, so being at least 5 inches away cuts down on the element of surprise and generates a true bond of trust between the two of you. Sometimes you may notice your guinea pig turn one eye on you and then the other, which makes it possible for your guinea pig to see your face despite its nose.

5) Keep your guinea pig in an area you where are most active and work with her outside the cage in a small playpen; both actions will win her trust. Granted her first reaction will be "what do you expect from me," and she will sit there like a stunned fish. But keep offering the opportunity to explore this environment or other places that provide space for exploration and are easy to clean up.

6) If it is possible, engage your guinea pig in a one-sided conversation. Tell her about your day, the people in that day and eventually she will reward you with purrs and twitters as if to offer her opinions on these experiences as you interact with each other. Guinea pigs are very social creatures, great listeners and wonderful lap animals. I often allow them to run around my tile bathroom as I read a book. They love to take this time to explore me and nibble on the corners of my books. Occasionally with a guinea pig that has severe trust issues, I lie in the middle of the room and let her explore me. Sniff and run, sniff and run and then it eventually turns into just sniffing. I may put a carrot under my hand, or knee for them to find, which associates good things when interacting with me. Time will earn your reward, and your guinea pig’s undying friendship once won over is worth its weight in gold.

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Reader Comments
Thank you so much for this. My 2 guinea pigs were very scared of me before and ran away when I went near them. I can already see the difference in our relationship after only an hour.
Jock, Double Bay
Posted: 9/21/2014 12:16:18 AM
ive had my piggy for over a year now. I got him from a friend who said she bought him for her son. they kept him in his cage locked in a cage and he rarely got attention. so when I got him I made him try to feel as loved as possible. one day I was holding him and he bit the tip of my finger nearly off. so I left him alone for a while to give him time to get use to his new home. then I tried again. hes always been kind of grumpy so I try not to bother him much. I give him his carrots every morning and his apples in the evening causethose r the 2 veggies he likes. I had even bought him a friend to have interaction with but they got to fighting so bad I got rid of the other one. I give him free roam of the living room so he has plenty of running space. he has his cage set up and I have very low burring places around for him to feel safe undr. I do everything possible to make him feel secure. and yet still when I try to approach him he runs like crazy. I have to trap him to b able to catch him to give him attention. and today I was loving on him and he bit me twice. the first time was a nibble and the next was a hard one. hes such a grumpy piggy. I just don't know what to do. im so good to him yet hes so mean to me. what can I do to change this?
melissa, anniston, AL
Posted: 5/14/2014 11:15:02 AM
One of my boars loves cuddles and will tolerate anything except being touched on his side. The other is very happy to chill out and flatten himself pancake like under my chin. The third had to contract bloat, almost die, be nursed constantly for a fortnight and have of multiple daily sessions on a vibrating pad (one used for my back) and have his spine elongated on my chest exposing his tummy for lots of gentle rubbing and massage (the only thing that got his bowel moving apart from a prescribed motility drug) before he realised I wasn't going to harm him. Now, we still have tummy rubs but I have trained this one to go into a cat bed-pyramid-cone thing which he knows is transportation in and out of the cage. It means playtime. Lots of patience, TLC and favourite food and you'll get there. But no two piggies are the same. They all love their Ikea cuddly carrot children's stuffed toy which they lounge around on to be petted and to relax. They all also have a hard plastic ball with jingle in which they nudge -almost a header with a bit more practise!- round their cages (cat ball only £1 from a pet shop).
Piggywiggydoohdah, International
Posted: 5/6/2014 8:33:52 AM
Firstly, by their very being guinea pigs are timid creatures, preyed upon in their native land so naturally they will always run away. If you approach them when they are in their cage they tend to run to the corners or in tunnels where they think they cannot be seen. Alternatively, they may just stay very still (almost like acting dead) so that you will not pick them up - again all linked to their natural habitat.

Once you understand their true roots you can then begin to work on a human/cavi relationship.

I have two male boars aged three and a half. They are long haired shelties (or Silkies as they are known in America). They have a routine and this suits all of us. During the day they are in the garage in their huge hutch which has a 7ft by 7ft enclosure to run about in. At about 4pm they come indoors for cuddles, loves etc. They actually have a huge plastic dog basket which I line with one of their many comfy blankets. They love the change of scene and during nice weather they go in the gardens to chill out.

They seem to accept that when they are out of their environment ie the cage/run and in mine they "conform". They like to be picked up and cuddled, kissed on the nose and stroked until they curl up and go to sleep on your lap or shoulders. You have to build up a rapore with your cavi and over time the talking to them, gentle handling and caressing makes for some excellent relaxing quality time. I never pick them up in a rough manner just firmly and straight to my chest where they can see my face and listen to my voice.

Of course they like treats and hay/water at all times and people can't believe that two guinea pigs will sit content in a living room either in their basket or on our knee all evening.

If they are feeling particularly affectionate they will like my chest and chin to put their scent on you - so in effect they are making you their mummy! arrgghhh .....

Be consistent and if you put the time into your piggies they will reward you back - the key word is respect!
Elaine, Skelmersdale, PA
Posted: 8/19/2013 7:34:49 AM
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