Posted: October 13, 2014, 9:35 p.m. EDT
© Courtesy Daeltun Cauthen
A guinea pig who nips and charges at his owner is trying to be the boss.
Q: We have had our new friend, Apollo, for about three months. He is a guinea pig rescued from a private individual. He is 8 to 12 months old and becoming "nippy." We were very excited when we first got him and gave him lots of lap time and free roam time in his "pig pen" (a corral my husband and son built). As the months have passed he has become bolder and more aggressive. He is in a traditional "pet shop" cage right now, but I am building him a 2 by 3 C&C cage this week. His cage is located in the living room and sees lots of action; he is definitely part of the family. He wheeks when he sees us and gets excited for dinnertime, but he charges and nips me when I try to replenish his food dish. Also, he wheeks for attention, but when I go to get him out of his cage he won't let me pick him up and nips me as well. He sometimes tolerates a scratch on the head or ear stroking, but quickly nips (within 15 seconds). When I do manage to pick him up to clean his cage, he teeth chatters at me. Someone mentioned getting him neutered to help with the "teenage years." We really do want a sweet lap guinea pig but the kids are now scared to play with, or hold him. We had him evaluated by a local exotic pet veterinarian who gave him a clean bill of health. Any words of wisdom?
A: I believe Mr. Nippy is actually a very smart guinea pig and he cannot understand why you are not conforming to HIS demands. He is treating you in the same manner he would if another guinea pig was living with him. He is very aware of his environment and of who you all are, but he wants you to conform to his needs and wants. His nips are his way of trying to give you direction. His teeth chattering is to let you know he is not happy with what you are doing.
If your reaction is to pull back, put him down or even walk away, these are victories in his head and you have played into his plans.
He is going to need to be approached in a different manner. Regarding neutering, it does not change a guinea pig’s behavior. He still thinks everything is fine, mounting and humping just as before because he will be the head guinea pig.
To change his behavior, approach him low and slow, and at his level. Make sure he sees you. Watch to see if he comes to the front of the cage to see what is going on or to better hear you. Talk low and slow, blow a puff of air his direction to get his attention. Do this periodically throughout the day.
When you decide to pick him up, continue to whisper to him but tell him in a direct manner you are going to pick him up. Take away his house, if he has one, whenever you want to interact with him. You must set the tone of the interaction. Show him the palm of your hand so that he are sure to see you, move it side to side and then scoop him up. Place a towel on your lap and then place your guinea pig in it. If he chatters his teeth just ignore it.
Use the small end of a plastic spatula to begin petting him. If he turns around and snaps at it he will bite the plastic and not your hand. Hold him often if you can and continue to gently stroke him with the spatula and speak to him. Eventually he will learn that his teeth chattering does not work, nor does nipping. If possible, stroke him under the chin and then on the top of the head. Petting the top of the head is a dominating posture, under the chin means "I am a friend.” Always follow up with the friend pet if you pet him on the head. Eventually he is going to learn that you are the dominant one in the herd and nothing he does will change that fact.
It will be just a matter of time. If additional family members interact with your guinea pig, be sure that you are all consistently doing the same thing each and every time.
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