As a guinea pig owner you may want to train your wee piggy to do tricks to entertain or show off to your friends and family. Or it may be that you just want a well ‘behaved’ guinea pig. Teaching your guinea pig tricks is neither harmful or damaging to your wee friend. When performed in a nurturing relaxed manner, working together and socializing in this way can be fun for both you and your guinea pig.
The Principles Of Guinea Pig Training
Training your guinea pig is similar to all pet training; It takes patience, consistency, persistence and most of all edible treats.
For all you psychology buffs out there we use “classical conditioning” to reinforce the behavior we want our beloved pet to exhibit. Basically we take a naturally occurring behavior and associate it with a stimulus (whistle, clicker, word) then reward our pet when they do what we want.
Take the time to observe your guinea pigs ‘natural’ behaviors as these are going to be the starting points for teaching more complicated behaviors or “tricks”. You are going to introduce a cue for these naturally occurring behaviors then build on them.
Training works best when in a quiet space once you have established a solid relationship with your guinea pig and he or she trusts you. Ideally this will have been established during the first few weeks of coming home (see Bringing Your Guinea Pig Home).
You are going to need to be well prepared for your training session. Have ready, your whistle or clicker, a good supply of treat food and a quiet room to train in before getting your guinea pig. You both need to be in a calm relaxed frame of mind so if either one of you are uptight postpone the session until both of you are in sync.
Guinea pigs don’t like to be loomed over so either place your pet on a table, desk or bench that brings him up to head height or lie on the floor face down in front of him.
Whenever your guinea pig does what you want to do, click your clicker or blow your whistle, then reward them with a piece of food. Initially the sound may startle your little piggy but keep repeating the process and it won’t be long before she will come to realize that the sound means she has done something right.
NB: You don’t have to use a clicker or whistle but it helps establish the association: noise = behavior = food
A Hungry Guinea Pig Learns Best
Like all animals, food is the best reward and motivator for your guinea pig. Although guinea pigs are social animals and like company, praise and hugs is not going to motivate your guinea pig to do what you want. Have a handful of food treats at the ready though and your hungry guinea pig will do almost anything.
Now I am not saying that you should starve your pet… that would be cruel. However if you set up a regular feeding routine you can incorporate your training sessions with the daily meal times.
What’s the best treat to give your pet? His favorite fresh food… carrot, capsicum, celery, tomato etc; whatever makes him dance for joy when he smells it. Make it a habit to hand feed half inch squares of fresh veges and you will establish a positive association between you and good food. (You will also avoid fouling his home with unwanted rotting vegetables)
Teaching Your Guinea Pig Its Name
When ever you approach your guinea pig’s home announce your presence by saying their name. When they come to greet you give them a treat while saying their name again. Call them by name whenever you feed them a treat and it won’t be long before they will recognize their name as a “come here” sound and will rush to meet you in the hopes of a tasty treat.
Your First Guinea Pig Trick.
Remember how I said earlier to observe what your guinea pig does naturally? Well this first trick is simple because guinea pigs naturally turn all the time; mostly to be on the look out for predators, and to scurry back into their hidey-hole. Now we want our guinea pig to turn clockwise on command…
Place your guinea pig facing you and say the word “Turn”. If by chance your guinea pig turns her head slightly to the right, click or whistle then give her a treat to eat. Let her finish eating then return her back to the starting position and say “Turn”. Again if she turns her head to the right, click and reward. As your piggy learns the signal make it progressively harder to earn the reward. Where as you rewarded for a slight head turn, wait until she has turned her head 45 degrees, 90 degrees, 180 degrees and so on until she does a full 360 before giving your guinea pig her treat.
Be patient, it may take several weeks of daily training before she learns the complete trick. And don’t over do it either, no more than 10 minutes a day spent training or you both will find it tiresome. All work and no play makes for a dull day. Remember this is supposed to be fun and a way to bond with each other.
Besides, once you and your guinea pig has learned the principles of learning a new trick it gets easier to add more complicated tricks to their repertoire. More complex tricks may need to be broken down into smaller steps to learn then combine them to complete the trick.
Making Your Guinea Pig Jump Through Hoops
Believe it or not guinea pigs can climb and jump. In fact giving them the opportunity to do so is essential for their health and fitness, so asking them to jump through a hoop is not beyond their natural ability. Just be aware that they are not dogs and the maximum height you should train for is only an inch off the ground.
For the Hoop Trick you will need a hoop or ring, your clicker and treat food.
Begin by holding the hoop vertically touching the floor in front of your guinea pig. With a treat in your other hand, pass you hand through hoop from the side opposite to your guinea pig; say “through the hoop” or “jump” (whatever command you choose for this trick) and lead him through the hoop. Click once he is through and let him have his treat. Swap Hands and lead him back through the hoop back to the starting side using your command phrase.
Once your guinea pig has got the idea, hold his treat on the opposite side of the hoop and give your command. If he doesn’t understand what to do, lead him through the hoop a few more times extending the distance between him and the treat food in your hand. Try holding the food on the other side again and when he walks through the hoop on his own click and reward.
Once your clever wee piggy can walk through the hoop on command raise the hoop off the floor a 1/8 inch or so and gradually increase the height until he will comfortably jump through the hoop one inch off the floor.
Congratulations! You now have the beginnings of your very own Guinea Pig Show!
Here is a Playlist of my favourite videos of Cavys doing Guinea Pig Tricks