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Boars: Bullying, Fighting, Fall-outs And What Next?

Discussion in 'Behaviour and Bonding' started by Wiebke, May 22, 2015.

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  1. Wiebke

    Wiebke Moderator
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    The hormonal teenage months

    It is a myth that boars cannot live together; the vast majority can be bonded and rebonded at any age. The key to any successful boar bond is character compatibility and mutual liking. An age difference (preferably as large as possible), especially when one of the pair is a teenager or baby, can additionally help to stabilise the bond, as only one boar hits the hormone spikes at any time.
    Sadly, the vast majority of boars are sold as unmatched babies in often far too small cages or hutches, which is what has given boars their undeserved bad reputation. It is not their fault; they are failed by sellers who don't have the time, knowledge and largely no interest whatsoever in carefully bonding boars for character compatibility and buyers specifically requesting cute little baby boars, preferably litter brothers - yet another persistent myth!
    The safest place to get a stable boar pair is a good standard rescue (links see further down in this thread). If you would love boars (which are often more personable than sows), consider getting an already stably bonded pair if possible; if one or both boars are adult, it will contribute to the stability.
    The Myth About Boys

    What are the most difficult times?
    Guinea pig boars go through a hormonal phase roughly between 4-14 months old. These months are characterised by bouts of testosterone which manifest in lots of dominance behaviours.
    Things can be kick-started a bit earlier, often during an introduction shortly before the teenage months would start. While boars are able to make babies from 3-5 weeks old, it is usually the descent of the testicles that triggers the teenage months.

    Typically, boars experience a strong spike of testosterone at the beginning at around 4 months old, then again at around 6 months of age. These are generally the times when the worst personality clashes and fights/fall-outs happen between boars that are not character matched and too dominant to get on with each other; this age is also the most tricky age for bonding/rebonding boars.
    Another very difficult period is usually the period between 8-10 months old, but it results much less often in full-out fights although boars can often be right up at the bearable limit of scrapping and winding each other up for several weeks.
    Boars that have had a very smooth ride so far can suddenly wake up and get into trouble right at the end at a year old or slightly over when the other pairs are already over the worst.
    Boars generally reach a hormonally more settled adulthood by around 15 months of age.

    Occasionally adult boars can experience a sudden short-term hormonal spike or get into fights when they experience major changes to their cage or environment, which triggers a renewal of dominance as they re-establish their hierarchy in new surroundings.
    But thankfully, most adults can be rebonded again after cooling down overnight with some time out from each other.

    What are your boars’ chances of making it together?
    - Pairs: the good news is that more baby boar pairs than not make it together. It doesn’t matter whether they are siblings or not; the key to success is whether their individual personalities balance well enough. Two dominant brothers will inevitably clash the same as any other all-dominant pairings.
    - Trios: 90% of baby boar trios will not make it to adulthood together. They usually end up with either one dominant boar making war on the other two or two ganging up on a third (bullying). If you are unlucky, you will end up with three boys that won’t get on with any of the others.
    - Quartets or quintets: no chance whatsoever. At the best, you end up with two working pairs, but it is more likely that you end up with one pair and two singles. We even have had a sad case where all four boars fell out with each other.

    Please don't be tempted to add another boar to a working couple or to merge two happily bonded boar pairs - it is usually a recipe for disaster!

    Boars are best kept either in pairs or otherwise in bachelor herds of over 10 boars with ideally at least 1 square metre per boar and separate accommodation available in case of bullying/fights or illness.
     
  2. Wiebke

    Wiebke Moderator
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    What can help to boost your boys’ chances?
    Please keep in mind that these tips are not cure-alls; but they can help to remove or minimise the most likely flashpoints for conflict.

    - Lots of space
    It really helps if the boys can get away from each other; ideally 2x5 ft tradional cage or hutch or 2x4 C&C grid cage on the same floor or even better 2x5 C&C grid cage (ca. 2x6 ft traditional cage) for two boars.
    We recommend looking at C&C cages for boars, as they can be extended, divided and adapted with more than one story according to changing needs and easy splits in case of fall-outs.

    - Having one of each per boar when it comes to furnishings and accessories
    This includes hideys, cosies, bowls, water bottles and access to hay that cannot be blocked by other boars. Ideally, you have every same item well away from the others, so no boar can become possessive over more than what is “his”. Giving each boy his mini-territory at either end with hay in the middle will help to keep peace.if you have got a hay loft, make sure that there is another acess to hay that cannot be blocked, like a hay rack downstairs.

    - Feeding frequency/meal sizes
    Ideally, you also feed your boys fresh food and pellets in smaller portions that can be eaten in one go; this prevents food hogging. 80% of a good guinea pig diet should be unlimited hay, so your piggies won’t go hungry in the meantime! That way, there won’t be any bowls with leftovers that can spark discussions. It also minimises the chances of food bullying. If you have a very dominant boar, have a third 'distraction' bowl handy to give your under-boy a chance at getting his fair share.

    - Keeping any territory changes to a minimum
    Changes in territory or surroundings trigger a new dominance sort-out. In extreme cases this can include roaming and lawn time or even a cage clean. In that case, you best rub both boys with a soft cloth and then the new bedding and cleaned furniture with the scented cloth to make the cleaned cage smell "right" or give them a bit of time to play in and scent mark the new bedding before you use it in any new cage or layout.

    - Respecting the hierarchy
    Always handle, cuddle, groom, feed and move the most dominant boar first. It is his right and he will not feel the need to re-establish his dominance over his companion upon his return; the under-boar is also more relaxed when he knows he is not going to be in trouble.

    Here are more tips: Boars: A guide to successful companionship.


    What does NOT work?

    - Litter brothers
    It is a persistent myth that litter brothers or related boars will not fall out. In fact, a large difference in age (ideally one adult boar) can go a lot further to stabilise a boar bond than being related, as only one of the boys is going through the tricky teenage months.

    - Adding a baby boar or two to your couple
    Adding a third boar can destabilise an existing boar bond; even with adult boars, trios are more likely to fail than to succeed. Please do not break what is not broken, however tempting it is; rather get another stably bonded boar pair to live separately.
    Working trios are more likely the older boars get and the less they are ruled by testosterone, but this is very dependent on finding exactly the right balance of personalities. For a working trio you need at least two or three laid-back submissive boys. We have had several instances where a bereaved adult boar attached himself to another adult boar couple in the same household.
    Boars with disabilities (blindness, deafness etc.) also seem to be happier to live together in trios or quartets. As they are much more dependent on the company/support of their caring mates, the dynamics are somewhat different to normal boar bonds.

    - Neutering boars to calm them down
    This does not work for guinea pigs; as it doesn’t change their personality or their dominance behaviour. Two dominant boars will still not get on. Sadly, there are still a fair number of non-piggy savvy general vets who think that guinea pigs are the same as rabbits!

    - Smearing noses with vicks or otherwise masking boar scent
    These breeder tricks may work for half an hour, but they generally fail as soon the boars get into the dominance phase of rebonding. Vicks additionally contains substances that are noxious for guinea pigs.
     
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  3. Wiebke

    Wiebke Moderator
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    Fighting, bullying and when to separate

    It is a very difficult and stressful time, especially for inexperienced newbies to guinea pigs, when their cute little babies suddenly turn into mean machines! The tendency is to separate too early at the first sign of dominance behaviours; the advice is to leave your boys together until things are getting truly dangerous or if you happen to come across the aftermath of a bad fight.

    What are the signs of a dysfunctional bond?
    - Incessant humping/mounting and chasing around the cage by a boar that is pumped up by testosterone and simply won’t let his mate be. This can either lead to a fight-back by his companion, or the companion becomes withdrawn/depressed if it is not in his nature to stand up for himself.

    - Preventing the companion from eating, sleeping or getting any respite. The typical signs of a bullied piggy are being quiet/withdrawn/depressed and often weight loss/failure to put on weight as much as the comrades. You also need to check a bullied piggy for bite wounds to the rump, which can masquerade as little scratches. However, the stress can also manifest as mange mites with self-biting or be a sign of an underlying health problem, so please see a vet to exclude any medical angle.

    - Increased and increasingly acrimonious face-offs and scrapping.

    Here is a list of dominance behaviour in ascending order of aggression. Any mild and medium behaviours you have to tolerate. Please note that loud screaming by the “underboar” is NOT PAIN, but submission!
    Dominance Behaviours In Guinea Pigs
    Illustrated Bonding / Dominance Behaviours And Dynamics

    How can I test whether a bond is no longer working?
    You can try a trial separation. If the “underboar” is suddenly perking up noticeably when away from his mate, you know for sure that he is not happy in their relationship. If both boys still want to be back with each other, then you know that their bond is still functioning.

    However, you can trial separate only so often without additionally destabilising a bond that is already under stress, so you need to consider carefully when to do it.

    For re-introductions after a trial/short-term separation, please follow our advice in this thread here: Introducing And Re-introducing Guinea Pigs

    What to do if my boars have had a bloody fight?
    - Firstly, please separate both boars immediately and check them carefully over for bites or bad scratches especially on the face, neck and ears and the rump.
    Disinfect any wounds with hibiscrub or sterile saline solution (both available from a pharmacy). You can make your own saline by mixing 1 teaspoon of salt with 1 pint/500 ml of boiled, cooled water.
    Please see a vet promptly for an antibiotic if the bites are deep or as soon as you notice any swelling or pus in the bite areas in the weeks after (abscess).

    - Take a deep breath and wait until you yourself have had a chance to recover from the shock!
    If your two boys have got full-on bite wounds, please do not try to put them back together; it won't work, as much as you would like it to!
    If it is just shallow scratch wounds, you can try a re-introduction on neutral ground after a cooling down period of 1-2 days and a “buddy bath” to remove the testosterone stink from their coats to prevent them from getting riled up again. Please also make sure that you thoroughly clean the cage and all furnishings.
    Introducing And Re-introducing Guinea Pigs

    Please keep in mind that any re-introductions may not work out and that you cannot count on your boars getting back together as adults if you have separated preventatively. Many won’t. Some may get as far as sharing roaming time together, but they are usually not likely to share their territory with their mate again.
     
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  4. Wiebke

    Wiebke Moderator
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    Life after separation

    There is no ideal solution that fits all situations. Your personal options very much depend on how much space, time and access to a good rescue or vet you have got. That can vary enormously. Please take your time to think things through and research all your options. You are always welcome to open a thread on the forum for further support and help.


    List of options:
    The following solutions take your boys’ need for company and an assured future into account. Please be aware that any solution that allows your boys to make their own choice before you bring home a companion is going a long way towards stabilising a bond compared to bringing home an untried companion, especially one that you cannot return if they don't work out after an introduction at home.

    List of recommended good standard UK guinea pig rescues: https://www.theguineapigforum.co.uk/pages/guinea-pig-rescue-locator/
    List of recommended guinea pig rescues in other countries: http://www.guinealynx.info/rescues.html

    - Living alongside each other with interaction through bars for constant stimulation
    Pros:
    You do not need to get more guinea pigs. Suitable for a pair that can't live together and can't live apart or if you haven't got access to a good rescue or a good vet.
    Cons:
    Both boars need to be able to stay in constant visual/sniffing contact with other for mutual stimulation. Body language is an integral art of guinea pig communication.
    Two cages on top of each other won’t do the trick. A double or triple tier 2x3 C&C grid cage (105 x 70 cm) with a ramp and a hayloft on the other level can be a solution if space is very cramped, but more ground space on one level would be better. The boys are staying basically alone, each with his own territory.

    - Boar dating at a good rescue
    Pros:
    Letting your boars choose a same sex companion under expert supervision will go a long way towards a stable bond, as character compatibility is key for any successful guinea pig bond. Please use a good standard rescue, so you only come home with a guaranteed healthy companion if there has been success. An age gap can also help, especially when bonding a teenage boar.
    This is by far the least risky way of bonding single boars, as you have got the backing of the rescue and you won't end up with having to accommodate yet another single boy if things go wrong.
    Cons:
    You double the number of boars. There is also a (reduced) risk of a repeat of your problems when a sub-teenage companion is hitting the hormones, but by going rescue, you will be able to contact the rescue again if there are problems along the way.

    - Keeping and rebonding one boar at a good standard rescue while surrendering the other boar
    Pros:
    You are keeping the same number of boars if you are strapped for space, but allowing both boars to find a new companion and a good home.
    Cons:
    You will have to choose between your boys and that usually comes at an emotional price.
    You will also have to make sure that you choose a good standard rescue that does not rehome boars into single situations and only to good homes and that has a non-kill policy to make sure that the boy you are surrendering has a happy future, too.

    - Getting a baby boar companion for each boar
    Pros:
    If you do not have access to a good rescue or another place to stage a meet&greet for your boy before rehoming, or a good vet for neutering, this is an option to consider. Look for preferably submissive, but healthy and active babies. Start with bonding your most dominant boar, as he will likely be the more difficult to match. Please look up our bonding tips before intros or start a thread in this section.
    Cons:
    While the age gap means that your boys won’t hit the hormonal spikes together, there is of course still a certain risk of fall-outs when the youngsters hit the big hormones themselves as you cannot character match them. Please be aware that not all boars click with every baby boy; there are decided likes and hates on first sight!

    - Neutering for each boar to live separately with a sow or two
    Pros:
    Cross gender bonds are the most stable of all once initial acceptance has happened. Fall-outs are virtually unknown and the bond can often be very loving. A neutered boar living with sows is living the dream!
    For a happy bond, dating sows at a good rescue is a decided plus – that way you can make sure that your piggies click with each other and that any sows are health and not potentially pregnant.
    A neutered boar can live one or more sows, but you cannot have more than one neutered boar in a group.
    Cons:
    Again, you end up with at least four guinea pigs and two cages, and it is not a quick fix solution. In order to minimise the operation/post-op complications risks, you need to find either a general vet with plenty of experience in guinea pig neutering (usually for a rescue) or an exotics specialist with lots of practice in small furries operations. Finding the right vet can really make all the difference and is crucial for the success rate! Depending on the country, a neutering operation can be very expensive.
    You will also have to factor in a full 6 weeks post-op wait until your boys are 100% safe to go with girls. I have the daughter from a supposedly safe over 5 weeks post-op boar (not one of mine) and have since heard of more cases, just to prove this particular point that it can really happen as late as that! I have yet to hear of an over 6 week post-op pregnancy, which is nowadays safely practised by most good standard rescues.


    Not recommended solutions:

    - Dropping one or both boys back to the shop they came from
    These boys will have to live as single piggies in an unchecked home; their fate is potluck.

    - Dropping one or both boys to a shelter with a euthanizing policy
    Any boar that is labelled as a “biter” comes with a straight death sentence attached (as he has no realistic chance of finding an adopter). The time of grace for any animals in shelters before euthanizing can be extremely short in some places. Please always tray to find a rescue with a non-kill policy!

    - Advertising one or both boars on a free-ads site
    Please be aware that these sites are being trawled by people looking for unwanted pets to feed their snakes and reptiles with or to use them as bait for dogs. It is often the female partners that are sent to collect the animals and stolen set-up pictures are being used to fool the unwary. Please always check a new home in person and don’t go through if a visit is not possible at the last minute for whatever reason.
    If you really want to advertise your pets on free-ads, we very strongly recommend to ask for money and to home check in person, and not just go by a (stolen) picture.

    - Handing on a single boar to a friend or acquaintance
    Giving one boar to a friend or acquaintance where he will be single, unless they already have got well-kept guinea pigs that you can home check and that he can live alongside with. Be aware that you won't be necessarily able to stay in contact.

    - Having both neutered boars living together or living in one group with sows - IT WON'T WORK!
     
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