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" Biting" And What You Can Do

Discussion in 'Behaviour and Bonding' started by Wiebke, Jan 16, 2016.

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  1. Wiebke

    Wiebke Moderator
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    Biting can be a worry or a problem for new owners, especially those with small children. However, there are some very different issues lumped together under the broad umbrella of “biting”, sometimes with fatal consequences for the poor, misunderstood and not appropriately handled guinea pig that is dumped back to a shop or a shelter with a euthanizing policy for not adoptable pets - which is what any guinea pig labelled as a "biter" is inevitably classed at by the non-piggy savvy. At the very best, those guinea pigs are usually and unfairly condemned to a solitary life.

    The good news is that the vast majority of incidents can be worked around with some understanding of what is going on and why a guinea pig is "biting". As you become more experienced with guinea pigs, you learn how behave around them and biting of whatever sort is usually no longer a problem.

    Serious defence bites

    - On edge, spooked or cornered

    Bites in defence are instinctive, split of the moment ones by a guinea pig that is usually already on edge and feeling threatened. The guinea pig is literally defending its life. These bites are deep and can permanently damage your hand or – very, very rarely – even kill another guinea pig if they hit a vital spot. There are some contexts where you are more likely to be at the receiving end of one of these bites. The trick is to avoid creating situations that can trigger defence bits and to not put your hands where a guinea pig can get at them.

    Here is more information on guinea pig instincts and how you can mimic guinea pig behaviours to tell them in their own language what you want from them: How To Understand Guinea Pig Instincts And Speak Piggy Body Language

    - During cuddle time
    It is a common mistake by new owners that they assume that an apparently placid guinea pig is happy with being cuddled and is therefore safe with a child. As discussed in the link above, these seemingly “quiet” guinea pigs are in fact deeply frightened and are just unresponsive in order to be left alone by a bored predator. In that situation, a sudden movement, laugh, scream or just noise can trigger a defensive bite.

    It also advisable to not pull a new guinea pig out of his hidey. Train them to come into a tunnel or a little walk-in cardboard box or hidey with a bottom instead, if necessary with a little veg treat at the far end.
    How To Pick Up Your Guinea Pig
    Settled young guinea pigs are usually vocal and squirmy. They don’t sit quiet for long when they are still babies!

    Please do not let your children handle and cuddle any guinea pigs until they are confident and responsive, and always only under close supervision. Remind your children to move slowly and to speak softly. Be aware that your child may drop or throw a biting guinea pig as an instinctive reaction to a bite!
    Children And Guinea Pigs - Age Appropriate Interaction And Responsibilities.

    - During bonding
    Bonding is a classic time for defence bites when newly introduced guinea pigs are still on edge and are feeling cornered or spooked. This is the reason why we recommend to stage introductions always in a neutral area instead of putting a new guinea pig straight into the cage of another one. We also strongly recommend not have any hideys with just one exit or any nooks and crannies where an underpig can be pinned down in the first days while the guinea pigs sort out the hierarchy.

    - During fights

    NEVER go between seriously riled up or fighting boars with your bare hands!
    Please keep an oven glove or a towel handy during introductions or while your boars are going through their hormonal teenage months. A fair number of bites in boar fights are actually made in defence, not as a deliberate aggression. Unlike in their normal habitat, pet guinea pigs can’t just get out of the other boar’s way, so the smaller the space, the higher the risk of fights between hormonal sub-adult boars that are not character matched. Your sudden interference is perceived as a thread by a guinea pig that is already very much on edge.
    More information on how to minimise the risk of boars fighting and what to do if they get into trouble:
    Boars: A guide to successful companionship.
    Boars: Bullying, Fighting, Fall-outs And What Next?
     
    Eilidh likes this.
  2. Wiebke

    Wiebke Moderator
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    Nibbling and accidental bites

    - Exploring
    Young guinea pigs explore the world with their mouths. They often pluck food from their elders’ mouths to taste it. Since suinea pigs don’t have a vomit reflex, they need to learn what is edible, safe or not by its texture and taste. In fact, this is so vital that guinea pigs have roughly double the amount of tastebuds compared to humans and several times those of a cat!
    Nibbling can be gentle, but sometimes rather a bit too enthusiastic. In this case, a gentle sound of displeasure usually does the trick.

    - Mistaking your hand for food
    Please keep in mind that a guinea pig can’t see what is immediately in front of it. It relies very much on scent and its whiskers. Fingers that smell of tasty edibles can sometimes be at the receiving end of an enthusiastic bite. Generally, a guinea pig will try pull its punch if it realises its mistake and is usually careful to not repeat it.
    The same also goes for colour perception. While guinea pigs can see colours, reds appear mixed with other colours for them. That is why they can easily mistake a finger for a piece of cucumber, sweet corn or a carrot if you offer them on your hand or with your fingers (that by then also smell the same!). Make sure that the food is always closest to their mouths, and not fingers!

    - Perfumes and scents
    Please be aware that highly scented human skin products and perfumes are not necessarily pleasant for guinea pigs and that they can elicit a rather strong reaction on occasion. Please try not to use them around guinea pigs!
     
    Eilidh and Thelove4piggies like this.
  3. Wiebke

    Wiebke Moderator
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    Tweaking

    In this category I am discussing the carefully judged, deliberate bites that are painful, but not designed to break your skin or just about to break your skin. "Tweaking" can be used by a guinea pig to express displeasure, discomfort or as a way to get its way.
    There is generally a bit of dominance behaviour mixed in, so the best way to deal with these situations is to assert your own dominance with (friendly) ear fondling or to reassert it by a more direct forcing the piggy’s chin up, as described in the body language link at the top. Always temper any dominance with love (stroking around the eyes and the piggy’s individual sweet spots) and plenty of vocal encouragement/praise.
    How To Understand Guinea Pig Instincts And Speak Piggy Body Language
    Please DO NOT shout, slap, gently blow in the face or implement any of the other – usually offensive – tricks that you find recommended! They are not understandable to guinea pigs, often hurtful and not at all necessary when you can show guinea pigs in their own language that a behaviour is not acceptable.

    Typical situations where tweaking happens are:

    - Displeasure of being picked up or put back into the cage
    Use a walk-in conveyance instead your hands/arms for transporting your guinea pig. Asserting your dominance can also help. How To Pick Up Your Guinea Pig

    - Toilet warning
    Most guinea pigs get rather squirmy when they need to go to the toilet or have had enough of a cuddling session, but some can pull on your clothes or your skin instead. Learn what is your guinea pigs’ way of telling you when they have had enough or need to make a wee.

    - Trying to get their way
    This happens most often when guinea pigs become more hormonal teenagers and – like all teenagers – are testing their boundaries.
    It can also come from an rather indulged or dominant guinea pig that is trying to dominate you; these guinea pigs are also usually quite clever at working you to get what they want with other tricks like begging or getting your attention with an annoying habit. Assert your dominance by forcing the guinea pig's chin up, confirm your love with a stroke around its eyes and firmly ignore any habits that you do not like, as hard as it may be! Guinea pigs are not stupid and will stop pretty soon when a certain behaviour doesn’t bring the intended result. If they start to relapse, a short comment of displeasure (audible in the tone of your voice) is usually enough to keep the guinea pig on the straight and narrow.



    Nipping other guinea pigs

    Nipping is often referred to as “biting” by new owners unaware that their newly bought guinea pigs need to establish a hierarchy in their new home. In fact, nipping is a carefully judged gesture of power by a higher ranked guinea pig, designed to just let the under-piggy feel the teeth without breaking the skin. Nipping is a very mild dominance behaviour that you most commonly see in the days after a new introduction or whenever guinea pigs need to re-establish their hierarchy. The less you interfere the better, so your guinea pigs can settle their relationship.
    Illustrated Bonding Behaviours And Dynamics
    Dominance Behaviours In Guinea Pigs

    Problems can happen if the under-piggy gets caught in a corner and can’t escape or if the nip is accidentally misjudged. The extreme form is sows pulling a mouthful of hair during a squabble, again - rather carefully judged.
     
    LDs_mom, MrsMoo, Eilidh and 10 others like this.
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