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The idea of training a pig may seem daunting, but Hess says it’s very much like training a dog. “They’re just as smart — if not sometimes smarter — than dogs.” A pig can learn many of the same things a dog can, including sit, stay and come when called. Many pigs can also master tricks like spin or play dead.
But just like with dogs, pig training is more than just teaching tricks. Among the most important thing a pig can learn is to walk politely on a harness and leash. “It’s not necessarily an innate behavior for a pig to know how to walk on a leash,” Hess says. “You have to teach them.” Walks are an important way pigs receive needed exercise and enrichment. Walks also help to maintain hoof health by naturally wearing down hooves.
Training is also a useful way to prepare your pig to be handled, which is important for grooming and veterinary care. Early training can accustom a pig to procedures like hoof trimming and veterinary exams. Pairing different types of handling (like touches and lifts of the hoof) with treats increases the likelihood of having a calmer, more cooperative pig during procedures.
Training a pig is far less complicated than might be expected. Like other animals, pigs learn best with positive-reinforcement training. For anyone who has trained a dog using treats, pig training is a relatively easy transition. A clicker or verbal cue, like “yes,” can be used to mark desired behavior. Follow the click or cue with a treat to reinforce the desired behavior.
“Food is an important training reward for pigs, but they do tend to get fat,” Hess cautions. She recommends using small pieces of veggies or fruit as rewards. Reserving these special treats specifically for training can help to increase the pig’s motivation. But keep servings small: A little piece of carrot or apple goes a long way.
Non-food rewards can also be used. “Petting and praise are big rewards for many pigs,” Hess says, “especially if it’s done on favorite scratching spots like on the head around their ears. If a pig has favorite toys, like a ball or ring toys, these can also be saved to use as rewards in training.”
The key to getting training buy-in from a pig is making the training high-value in the pig’s eyes.
“Training has to be made worth the pig’s while or chances are slim they’ll do it. Pigs are notoriously stubborn — very stubborn,” Hess adds. “They’ll train if they’re interested. You really have to make training worth it for them to want to do it.”
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