Arrival in a home from the perspective of pet shop guinea pigs

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Mar 10, 2009
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Coventry UK
This text is part of an article I have written for Guinea Pig Magazine issue 47 (November 2018).
It is the propriety of GPM and is being shared on here with the magazine's permission. Guinea Pig Mag

Guinea pigs are most often seen as cuddly pets and as a living extension of our human desires and expectations.
This can cause problems because guinea pigs are prey animals whose instincts are still intact even after thousands of years of domestication and they are also highly social animals with their own expectations. When those two worlds collide, clashes can be inevitable!
Even though their prey animal survival instincts are usually not as sharp as in wild species, guinea pigs still have them, especially new arrivals and guinea pigs born to stressed mothers on high alert.

Imagine how arrival in a home looks from the perspective of a young pet shop or for sale breeder guinea pig!

Chain shop piggies usually come from a commercial breeder with virtually no human interaction. The babies are plucked up from their mothers’ breeding group and then carted away to the various branches where they sooner or later end up on the shop floor together with a few other youngsters they try to bond with an form a group. Then they are picked up for their cute looks by huge, loud and smelly predators. If they are lucky, the predators will choose a companion to snuggle up to, but it won’t necessarily be their best friend.

The new place is often an open cage with little protection and that is full of strange new smells and loud new sounds. A little baby first separated from its group and then it mates is feeling very lost, alone and frightened without hope of how to ever being found by others.

As the babies experience cuddling, they are grabbed and played with by the huge smelly predators that might let them go if the little piggy is sitting still and letting the predators do what they want in the hope that they can get away with their lives if they are not entertaining enough and the predator loses interest.
Unfortunately for them, the ‘uninteresting plaything’ instinct doesn’t work with humans who want nothing more than a cuddly docile handful of cuteness…
The plucky ones will protest with teeth chattering, finger tweaking or protect themselves by biting in defence to a sudden movement by a predator that is instinctively perceived as an attack when no escape is possible.

Apart from providing piggy company, trying to avoid as many hunting behaviours like sneaking up, looming over and grabbing without warning can make that initial phase where especially baby guinea pigs feel very lost and in fear of their lives easier.
Placing a bed sheet or towel over the top of the cage in the first days can make the new territory feel safer and encourage the piggies to come out and explore it more quickly.
Keeping up gentle flow of a chatter (hunters don’t make their presence known) and using friendly social behaviours like imitating a piggy wash at eye height and not staring at the piggies directly can help to build bridges.
Food is always a great lure once the initial contact has been made. Piggies are generally ready for lap time once they take food from your hand and associate you with nice things.

As the babies gradually settle in, there often comes the time when they find the courage to protest to the handling, feeling finally secure enough and no longer in danger of their lives to do so. That is the stage of “Why do my piggies suddenly hate me?” - Actually, your piggy has just made a huge step forward in trusting you enough to tell you how it feels!

Invite your piggies into your own family by gently fondling the ears and tell it that you love it by stroking the area around the eyes gently. That moves you instantly from potentially deadly predator to a kind of giant piggy species and goes a very lng way in assuring your piggies that they are not in danger of being killed.
If your skittish piggies panic, give them time to settle down (which may take a few hours or even a day) and then start again from scratch. Each time they will come round quicker if they feel respected and understood.
In this way you slowly, gradually build up trust.

For more information on how prey animal instincts work, how you can work around them and settle very skittish new piggies as well as some simple, but highly effective illustrated guinea pig whispering tricks, please read these guides here:
Understanding Prey Animal Instincts, Guinea Pig Whispering And Cuddling Tips
How To Pick Up And Weigh Your Guinea Pig
How Do I Settle Shy New Guinea Pigs?
How To Pick Up And Weigh Your Guinea Pig
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