Bonding and Interaction: Illustrated social behaviours and bonding dynamics

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Wiebke

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Overview
I Introduction
II Pre-bonding

- Quarantine and sexing
- The need for a plan B
III Setting up an introduction
- Getting to know each other
- ‘Buddy baths’ – why not
- Setting up a neutral bonding area
- How to start the bonding
IV Acceptance phase: Do we like each other?
- Friendly getting to know behaviours
- Acceptance has not happened
V Leadership phase: Establishing leadership and a group hierarchy
- When the leadership is contested
- Establishing a hierarchy when the leadership is not in question
VI Special aspects
- Boar bondings
- Sow bondings
- Mixed gender bondings
- Introducing babies
- Fear aggression
VII Dominance phase: Working out the relationship after the bonding
VIII Further information guides



I Introduction
Bonding is always a rather nerve-wracking time; this thread here will hopefully help you to understand what is going on during the key stages of an introduction.

Bonding does not start when you put two guinea pigs together; it starts ideally at least one or more days earlier, while you are preparing for it, especially by settling in newly arrived guinea pigs, quaranting and sexing them if necessary, and letting them get to know each other so you can take as many stress and risk factors as possible out of the crucial bonding itself .
It also doesn't stop when you put the guinea pigs in their cage after the bonding; it is a process that takes time, exactly like you would experience yourself when moving in with somebody you have previously not known, only that the actual guinea pig behaviours differ from our human one. Unlike us humans, guinea pigs need to play everything out in full, which in these days of political correctness can come across as the dominant guinea pig being "mean" to the submissive one. However, unlike us, guinea pigs instinctively know what is going on and understand dominance behaviours very differently.

The range of friendly and aggressive behaviours is actually the same for both genders and is understood instinctively by all guinea pigs. What differs during bonding is often the choice of behaviours. Each bonding is unique, as the dynamics depend entirely upon the setting, the characters involved and their interaction. In a successful bond, you will get mutual interest/liking and a balance of personalities that complement each other. Guinea pigs are individualists and when two individualists meet, anything can happen!

Boars more often than not will start with a rumble-strutting or humping spree (which can be mutual), whether it is with another boar or sows, while sows only mount as an expression of dominance or when in season; however, sows can also mount boars during bonding, so don't panic! Aggression in boars is generally more straightforward and easier to spot than in sows. Sows are much less upfront and bondings involving sows can can fail more often well into the dominance phase if there is a dislike or an unresolved dominance issue.
It is important that you know that any boar on boar bonding differs in one crucial point: you cannot separate boars and interrupt the bonding halfway through. Once you have committed to a bonding, you have to let the boars work it out until there is a clear success or failure. If you split because your nerves fail, you condemn your boys to start all afresh right from the beginning - and you can imagine how well that is going down with them!

Five minute tester meetings and play dates also don’t work – for guinea pigs every meeting is a proper introduction, and every separation is a prematurely aborted bonding, which is very upsetting and frustrating for them! If you stop any bonding at the first sign of dominance behaviour, your guinea pigs simply will never have a chance to bond. For them it is like a series of meetings where you are basically sent away again as soon as you say hello!
 

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II Pre-bonding

Quarantine and sexing
Please always quarantine any new guinea pigs that have not been adopted from a good standard rescue with a mandatory quarantine or that come from a home you have verified yourself that the guinea pigs have been well cared for and are healthy/have only known problems. Please be aware that people wanting to get rid of their pets can be extremely generous with the truth.
Quarantining doesn’t apply for youngsters under 4 months and freshly bereaved guinea pigs that have stopped eating/drinking. In these cases, companionship takes precedence over health concerns and you have to treat all your guinea pigs in contact with the affected piggy in case of skin parasites or an infectious problem.
Importance Of Quarantine
What to check and look out for in new guinea pigs (vet checks, sexing, parasites&illness)

Always double-check the gender of any guinea pigs before bonding!
This is a surprisingly basic measure, but mis-sexing is sadly not at all uncommon. Safe rather than sorry is the motto to go by - the ensuing mess can be very stressful and upsetting to sort out, especially when the birth goes wrong...
Our illustrated sexing guide tells you exactly what to look for: Sexing Guide


The need for a plan B
When you bond at home, you always need to make sure that you have an alternative at the ready in case a bonding doesn’t work out. There is never a sure-fire guarantee that you will be successful as each bond depends entirely on the personality mix and the dynamics between the piggies involved - and you can never predict that! What might look perfect on paper can be a completely different ball game face to face.
Contrary to the widespread conception, by far not all babies will be accepted; even here mutual liking is very much in play. In fact, rescue dating (where guinea pigs have a say in who they get on with) has shown that acceptance rate is roughly the same irrespective of age.

The most common solution for a failed bonding is two adjoining pens/cages with interaction through the bars to allow full stimulation and constant interaction (voice, body language and smell/pheromones).
Please do not pop any failed piggy back to a shop, into a shelter or hand them on to people and homes you haven't checked for compliance with minimal welfare standards; and please do not condemn a failed bonder to a life as a single!
Rescue adoptees need to be returned to the rescue if you cannot keep them.

If you are frightened of conducting an introduction, it may be worth to research whether you have got a rescue with mandatory quarantine/vet care within your reach that offers bonding at the rescue, so you come home only with a new friend if acceptance has happened. A few rescues also offer residential bonding where the whole bonding process happens at the rescue. While many rescues do have neutered/de-sexed boars, there are only a relatively small numbers with spayed sows in the US, Canada and one in New Zealand.
Recommended UK rescues that offer dating: Recommended Guinea Pig Rescues
Recommended rescues in some other countries: Guinea Lynx :: Rescue Organizations
In the US and Canada you can find more rescues via petfinder, but their quality can vary enormously and good practice or guinea pig knowledge is not necessarily guaranteed.
 

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III: Setting up an introduction

Getting to know each other
Please give any new arrivals time to settle in and get their bearings. Quarantined guinea pigs can spend a few days next to each other with interaction through the bars. At the least, it would be good if you allowed your piggies a night in a divided bonding pen. In that case you can just lift the divider in order to start the bonding.

Be aware that excitement and lying by the divider is not necessarily a positive sign of a guinea pig desperate for a new mate – a dominance ‘power lie-in’ can also be the reaction from a guinea pig that is feeling challenged by a new arrival and is making sure to mark where its own territory is starting!

Pre-bonding meetings on your lap are often NOT an indicator whether a bonding is going to work or not, but if your piggies are teeth chattering and starting to tussle very quickly, you know at least that you do not have to go any further – any further meeting is bound to fail pretty spectacularly! In any case, have oven gloves and a carrier at the ready and do NOT get your bare hand anywhere near a riled up guinea pig!

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Maelog went off Iola as soon as she started power grooming him too roughly for his taste!


Buddy baths’ – why not
While bonding baths are still widely touted as a magic wand bonding tool in online places, our forum experience over the last dozen years has not borne this out. All it does is to stress out the piggies additionally, delay the bonding process and have no influence on the outcome.


Setting up a bonding area
- "Neutral territory" doesn't mean completely unknown/new space for each bonding, but somewhere that is not a regular part of any piggy's territory and that doesn't carry the scent of just one of the bonding parties.

- Have oven gloves at the ready in case you need to separate severely riled up piggies or piggies that are very much on edge. NEVER go between fighting piggies with your bare hands; the instinctive bites can very deep and do permanent damage if you are unlucky.

This video shows a divided bonding pen with three adult boars meeting through the bars. This meeting was not for the purpose of bonding, just to test whether the boys would work out as next door neighbours in adjoining pens once the initial excitement was over.


How to start the bonding
- Generally, you usually put a larger/likely more dominant piggy or a group in the pen first when introducing newbies, but ultimately it doesn't matter too much, as it is no-pig's territory, so they all start on an even footing.

- Start off with some fresh grass or hay in the middle of the empty bonding pen that is neutral territory for everypig (can range from an unused cleaned cage to your bathtub to any washable floor like underneath the kitchen table to give timid/frightened guinea pigs an added feeling of protection or a lawn run, if necessary covered with a blanket) to give the piggies a chance to size each other up.
Guinea pigs are wired to graze in a larger herd that comprises of smaller bonded group – there is safety in numbers.

- If the bonding goes on for some time, please refill the hay and add a water bottle.

- With a group, a timid piggy may sit apart for a while or even squeal submission loudly and high pitched whenever a stranger comes close.

- Mild teeth chattering between insecure piggies is also fairly common; distract them with some more grass or hay to give them time to get used to the presence of strangers.

- Young guinea pigs tend to be very vocal and often quite dramatic.

- Any bonding session should ideally last for a few hours unless tension between two guinea pigs is transmitting to other guinea pigs or it is building up/staying high instead of settling down. When bonding pairs or groups, you may find that they can close ranks against a newcomer if one of their number takes against a newbie. In that case, a bonding fails.

Starting the bonding...
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Keeping the distance:
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IV: Acceptance phase: Do we suit?

Welcoming getting to know and making friends/reaffirming a friendship behaviours:

Washing when sitting next to a new piggy (ideally reciprocated): "I am not hostile to you and would like to get to know you"
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Coming up to a piggy, nose to nose sniffing or following round
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Mutual bum sniffing
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Ear licking or nibbling from the more dominant piggy translates as "I want you to be part of my group". This is also called power or dominance grooming.
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Grooming
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Accepting a hump from a boar (be it sow or another boar) is also a sign of friendly acceptance, but it won't happen from a dominant sow contesting for leadership! Some sows can come spontaneously into season when they are close enough in the estrus cycle when in the presence of strong boar pheromones. In this case, the bonding can be rather wild!

Videos from the start of a bonding:
When neutered boar Dylan met sister Morwenna (white) and Mererid (black)

A rather lively bonding start with confident twin baby sisters Meleri and Miaren with gentle adult sow Briallen (white, top piggy) and neutered boar Barri (black, second in the hierarchy)


Acceptance has not happened

- if one or both guinea pigs persistently refuse to interact (give it more time and try again another day, ideally with more preparatory contact through bars or living next to each other). However, if a piggy resists any contact with another piggy repeatedly and persistently, please leave be.

- if there is an instant dislike and major hostility, including a full-on fight, please accept that success is very unlikely. Attitudes tend to harden rather than soften as time goes on. Some piggies can carry a grudge from a failed bonding for years!

Like with humans, the exchange of signs can sometimes be very subtle and can escalate very quickly if a sign is misunderstood or the exchange of signals is heading the wrong way. Love or hate on first sniff exist in the piggy world as well as in the human world!

Here is a video of a classic failed mixed gender bonding that lasted exactly as long as the video!
Try to pick up just how many red lights freshly neutered over-sexed black Barri ignored in that time.
 

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V: Leadership phase: Working out who is top pig and establishing a hierarchy

This phase immediately follows the initial acceptance, which usually lasts between 5-30 minutes from first interaction; it usually takes an hour to several hours or even more than a day in sow/mixed gender or group bondings. One piggies have established that they like each other, they now have to create a new hierarchy which is central to guinea pig society and lies at the core of the bonding process.

The dynamics during this phase can vary widely depending on whether the guinea pigs are closely matched in dominance/attitude or whether it is pretty much clear from the beginning who is going to be the top pig and the bonding is more of a matter of if and where to fit in. In a group bonding, dominance is first established between the two leaders of the two parties and then travels down the ranks until each piggy has found their place on the ladder.

A bonding fails at this stage if one of the piggies does not accept the loss of its leadership or in the case of boar humping, has had enough and the whole thing ends up in a scuffle.


Working out who is the new leader between two contenders

Dominance between two determined claimants is often established by a series of matching up to each other. The actual power can shift more than once during these encounters. The "chinning" (facing off with raised ching and open mouths) can also be accompanied by some loud teeth chattering from both piggies as well as rumblestrutting (rumbling while bum wiggling).

If the dominance is on the mild side, the settling of the top spot can be interrupted by periods of friendly interaction like eating, bum sniffing, lying next to each other or mutual grooming, which serve as a confirmation of the commitment to a peaceful bonding.

If the measuring up happens in a more controversial atmosphere, you have to carefully judge whether your piggies are just going right up to the wire in terms of dominance, but are very careful NOT to get into a fight, or whether the chinning up is going to escalate very quickly into a full-out fight. It takes a certain amount of experience at this stage to read the often very subtle exchange of signs and dynamics. Bonding involves a lot of rather instinctive reading of body language; if you haven't got the practice, have your oven gloves or towels at the ready in case things derail before you realise the danger signs!

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Initially in this bonding, Iola, the larger lilac sow, started the dominance sort-out from a position of strength as you can see in the picture above, but slowly over the course of the next few rounds the weight shifted towards ginger Hafren. The body language is very subtle, but you can see that Iola is increasingly chinning from a sidewards position, so she is able to break off and flee at any moment whereas Hafren is full-on frontal.
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Chinning off can end up with mutual lunges at each other or in a wild chase with nipping if one of the contestant's nerve breaks. It is important that you do not have any nooks and crannies or hideys with one entrance to allow the pursued piggy to be trapped, as this is one of the most common scenarios where a full bite to the lips or a fight can ensue. Scratches from a misjudged swipe or nip can easily happen; if they are glancing and not full-on, they will not necessarily influence the eventual outcome of the bonding (even though you may need to separate and restart the whole bonding at a later date), but a full-on bite generally is the end of line.

In the case of Hafren and Iola, the chinning and teeth chattering bursts became gradually less heated and tense; they were interspersed with washing and grooming as a reaffirmation that despite the dominance confrontation they still wanted to be together until this phase ended with both of them resting next to other.

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(Hafren being groomed by Iola as a sign that she wants to be with Hafren in between rounds of chinning and chattering)

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This was the stage when I moved the two sows into their newly cleaned and rearranged pen, which only contained open-ended log tunnels for the first night.

Here is an interesting video of how master diplomat Terfel deals with Iola's rough power grooming - by just complaining, but not chattering at her but then power grooming her back exactly the same as her until she is protesting! That is how he nearly unnoticeably establishes her authority over her and establishes what is accepted behaviour and not. I owe Terfel a lot for teaching me the subtleties of guinea pig interaction!
(The bonding between Hafren and Iola came after Terfel had followed the last of his old wives to the Rainbow Bridge a few months later.)


You have to wait until the leadership and a rough group hierarchy (from the top to the bottom) has been established and the piggies have ideally had a nap all together and are still fine afterwards before you move them into their cage. This often takes several hours.

When boar bonding, it is of great advantage to wait until after the boars have had had their first nap together. It is often critical to the success of the introduction how they react to each other's presence when waking up. If all is well in the half hour afterwards, you can move them to their totally cleaned cage, again with only hideys with two opposite exits.
Boars: A guide to successful companionship.

When group bonding, it is important to know that while the other piggies will usually watch and await the outcome of the dominance contest, but the general tension can sometimes lead to lower ranked piggies ending up in the way of a wild chase or have them breaking out in hostilities when they are on edge. If it all disintegrates into general mayhem and all over teeth chattering, it is not worth continuing the bonding and you'd rather look for a different solution. If just one guinea pig is the cause of any disruptions, then you will have to weigh up whether you want to return to the pre-bonding status quo or find another solution for that struggling guinea pig.

Once guinea pigs have made up their mind that somepig(s) is/are "Not Us" then they will rarely change their mind. You are in with a chance as long as the dynamics are still in the range of "Maybe Us". Disrupting the bonding process at this stage can be counterproductive, as the thorny dominance issue has not been solved and is inevitably going to rear its head again and piggies can make up their mind not to want the other party in the meantime. It is much better to sit out this crucial phase until a positive or negative outcome has been reached as far as sow or cross gender bondings are concerned.

Overnight separation in bondings with sows is only necessary if the bonding has failed or if the general level of tension is persistently high after dominance has been established, especially in a group bonding. Usually tempers are a lot calmer when you resume bonding still on neutral ground on the following day. If dominance cannot be settled on the second day, and the losing sow continues to cause major disruption, it is generally better to call the merger off, as in my own experience the problems are bound to continue and to flare up again and again.
If you are worried that your boars only bond is not stable enough for transferral to the cage, please DO NOT separate but leave them in the bonding area overnight.
 

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Establishing a hierarchy when the leadership is not in question

In any group setting, bonding in a newcomer starts with acceptance and dominance from the top down. The worst of the dominance usually comes from the sow just above in the hierarchy as she wants to make sure that she is not bypassed.

In this case, little 5 months old bereaved somewhat feisty/fear-aggressive Helygen was rumblestrutting to the bigger piggies initially, but could not back it up. The desire to be with a family very much outweighed her apprehensions, especially as her new group was very chilled out about her presence.

Maelog, the dominant leader of Tribe, is rumblestrutting around a submissive little Helygen. She is too quick for him to mount her and nowhere near her season. Sows that are, can come into season spontaneously, which can make bonding much wilder but can help to cement a cross gender bonding much quicker.
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Hedydd, the top sow, is not at all bothered about the bonding and new arrival, as it is very clear that Helygen is not a challenge to her position in the sow hierarchy. The other sows just below her act in a friendly, welcoming fashion, too.

Top sow #2, Pili Pala, however makes sure (after initial friendly invitation to join the group) that Helygen is no match for her. Pili Pala is less secure in herself than Hedydd.
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There is however quite some power display from the previous bottom sow, Papi. Her demeanor is threatening to preserve her position in the rankings, "I am not taking any nonsense from you!" Helygen stands still and to attention (typical for a submissive guinea pig that accepts the superiority of another guinea pig). She is not frightened, though, as she has experienced a friendly welcome, but other submissive guinea pigs will emit a high pitched submission squeal that sounds similar to a pain/surprise squeal and often throws new owners.
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Papi also rumblestruts slowly around Helygen
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But she still allows Helygen to sniff her bum
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In this case, I transferred the whole group back to the pen once they have all had a peaceful rest/nap together.


Here is a second video from bonding 5 week old baby sisters Meleri and Miaren with Briallen and Barri taken during the stage where the hierarchy is established. You can see clearly how the twins' cheekiness is temporarily frightening gentle Briallen but how she is then rallying around and establishing her own superiority with some nipping - a typical dominance behaviour.
 

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VI: Special aspects

Boar bonding

Boars generally bond through humping, whether that is mutual or just one way, depending on their personalities and their dominance. Especially younger boars with raging hormones can go overboard. It pays to have a soft piggy sized ‘humping’ toy in the cage with them. Please separate and abort the bonding if the humping is truly incessant and prevents the receiving boar from resting or eating. Humping can also lead to fights when both boars turn out to be on the dominant side or the more submissive boar has had enough and is rebelling.

It is generally easier to bond boars the older they are and the less driven by testosterone and the most difficult at the height of their teenage hormone outout at 6-9 months.
However, you always have to be careful about trying to ensure that only one of the boars is dominant in order to make a bond work; no bonding trick in the world can change boar personalities - including neutering!

Bonding boars at home always come with the risk that they may not get on; when dating at a rescue, the average of candidates to find "Mr Right" seems to vary between 1-3 boars. Some boars can take longer, but only a few boars are truly unbondable and don't even profit from next-door guinea pig company; this is mostly the case if a young guinea pig has been kept single without social interaction with its own kind during the formative months and sees itself as human and not as guinea pig anymore.

If the dominance is closely matched, you will see chinning etc., then going to mutual lunging and proceeding into increasingly aggressive scuffles and fights unless one of the boars is backing down. The bonding won't succeed.

The most crucial time in a bonding that is going well is usually after boars have had their first nap together in the bonding pen. Please wait to see how they interact for at least half an hour afterwards before moving them to their completely neutralised pen that only contains hideys with two opposite exits once you have assured that they get on in the new cage.
If you are unsure, you can leave the boys together in the bonding pen overnight.
What you CANNOT do, is separate boars once you have started the full bonding process!


Black Nosgan and white laid-back Nye are showing in this video how a friendly bonding is running:


Sow bonding
While younger sows often bond well as they are wired to live in a group, this will often change with age. Bonding mothers after weaning, older/bereaved sows or trying to merge adult fully sized pairs or small groups can be very tricky and may not come off.

In my experience, sows are much more often showing fear-aggressive behaviour than boars. It is important that you give them time to settle in and ideally do not bond any sows over 4-6 months straight away; this can help to relax them.

Bondings involving sows often fail, sometimes several days into a bonding, because leadership has not been accepted. This doesn't manifest so much in fights, but generally in a grudge match of teeth chattering, chinning, chasing and nipping that is gaining in intensity instead of gradually settling down in the days after bonding. Once sows have decided they do not like another piggy, they are not going to change their mind for the next few years!

More on sow behaviour in this guide here: Sows: Behaviour and female health problems (including ovarian cysts)


Mixed gender bonding
Please brace yourself for a testosterone stink orgy and stage intros where you have good ventilation or in suitable weather outdoors. Boars will spray the sows with testosterone laden pee to mark them as his; the sows will usually target spray back, especially when he is bum sniffing to - literally - tell them off. If a sow is not anywhere near in season, she may accept a dominant boar's initial mounting, but generally fence off any advances. If a boar is too persistent or not to a sow's taste, it can end up with a dominance contest or even a scuffle or outright fight with bites.

It is much rarer that two fairly evenly matched cross gender piggies will have a fall-out during the establishment of the dominance, but once the guinea pigs have got this phase and have accepted each other, they are the most stable of guinea pig bonds.

Sows have a special whine when they are about to come into season. They tell the boars "I am not ready yet." But you will notice that they will not move far away from the boar despite all their carrying on, apart from getting their bum out of line of attack. What boars hear is something else - "I will be ready very soon!", which serves to spur them on even more. The ensuing chases and pursuits can be quite wild. Overexcited boars can lose their head and mount any sows whichever way. Funnily enough, a happy non-dominant boar will often go and popcorn even when he has been rebuffed by sows.

Please make sure that at least one party is safely castrated or spayed, as you will otherwise have to separate the pair before birth anyway or you will be knee-deep in babies pretty quickly! Boars require a full 6 weeks post neutering wait until they are 100% safe. I have the daughter of a supposedly safe over 5 weeks post-op boar (not one of mine) and have since heard of other cases, just to prove that particular point!

Also be aware that bonded boars will NOT go peacefully back together if one or both of them have been with a sow; it is demotion in status while their bond has been broken without respect of the social dynamics.


Introducing babies
Please be aware that against general assumptions not every baby is to every piggy's taste; mutual liking is key as much as in any happy piggy bond. In fact, rescue dating has shown that the like/dislike ratio is about the same as when adults meet.

Baby boars will not be hurt by older boars, but they can be at the receiving end of some enthusiastic humping, so please provide some retreat in the form of a small tunnel that the older guinea pig can't into or a cardboard box with two small exits on opposite sides for the little one.

Older sows are not always open to a baby companion and their dominance behaviour/rejection can be quite strongly expressed. It is often a little easier when introducing a couple of babies, but you have to accept that this is not a guarantee for success.

Make sure that you have plenty of space. Youngsters are much faster and more agile and are not in any danger as long as they can get away. Only transfer them to their cage once the initial overexcitement is over.

Here are two examples of baby bonding videos:
In the first one, 2 year old totally non-aggressive neutered boar Dylan is meeting two freshly separated 3 weeks old baby boars. Look carefully at how differently he deals with the more dominant of the little boars compared to the submissive one who just wants to have a big friend and playmate!

In the second video Dylan is introduced to an 8 weeks baby girl the size of a small 3 weeks old (handed into rescue as an unwanted baby boy). See how still Begw is holding during the initial meeting and how she is eventually allowing Dylan to dominance mount her once to signal her submissive acceptance of him. Otherwise you hear some of the typical "I am not in season; stay off me" squeaking.

When transferring babies to the cage, please make sure that they cannot be caught in a hidey or a corner. Dominance against babies is often very emphatice as they lose their protective status as babies (even from their mothers), but generally shorter than with adults. As long as it is noticeably less with every passing day, the bond is going to work out. Brace yourself that babies are real drama queen and that dominance behaviour is not as hurtful and mean as it looks!


Fear-aggression
Much of the aggression during bonding is actually caused by fear and insecurity rather than by outright aggression, although there are those, too.

Typical fear-aggressive behaviours are in increasing order:
- rumblestrutting with pronounced bum wiggling
- teeth chattering - "I don't like you"
- yawning - "stay away from me or I might attack"
- rearing up and shaking - "I am ready if you want to take me on"
- lunging - "get off my patch"


Fear-aggressive guinea pigs often can't back up their initial over the top dominant behaviour; it shows usually in the body language that is not matching the behaviour and betrays a fear-aggressive guinea pig. Much of the ultimate success of a bonding depends on how the other party is dealing with it; whether they are chattering back and deciding on mutual dislike, whether a lunge is answered by a counter-lunge or whether a bonding partner is staying cool and non-threatening in that situation and is winning the day by calmly establishing their friendly dominance without pushing the fearful piggy over the edge.

It usually takes time and several bonding sessions to work through fear aggression, but it is worth it as long as any aggression is staying this side of fighting and both parties are not willing to risk a full-out fight.
 

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VII: Dominance phase: Working out the relationship after the bonding

In the days and weeks after the initial bonding the newly established hierarchy needs to be constantly ensured as the relationship is being worked out in detail. The dominance phase does not define how good friends guinea pigs will ultimately become, but what shape their companionship is going to take. I call this phase the time when the piggies are working through the small print of their partnership contract. This phase typically lasts from a few days to a few weeks, but the average seems to be about two weeks.

During this time, you will notice pronounced behaviours that showcase the power of the more dominant guinea pig. In a group, this is going to slowly travel down the ladder until it reaches the bottom.

Towards the end of the dominance phase when bonding a pair or trio, you may notice an increase in the submission squealing, which is NOT a sign of being in pain, but a very effective deterrent. It translates roughly as "Don't be mean to me; I am not your competitor!"

Right at the end the submissive guinea pig will be given the opportunity of stating just how far it allows itself to be pushed. In some cases, a boar bonding between a rather fear-agressive, over-dominant boar and a baby can fail right at the end of the dominance phase if the increasingly feisty baby is pushing for more power than the overbearing boar will allow and they fight.


Typical dominance behaviours are:
- throwing an underpiggy out of a hidey - please make sure that all hideys have got two exits until this phase is over! Provide a hidey for each guinea pig (and ideally one more) as well as a bowl and more than one water bottle, each same item spaced well away from the other same item, but at least one body length. Also make sure that you have got more than one access to hay so a dominant piggy can't block access by lying across a ramp, under a water bottle or in front of a hidey that has the underpiggy inside.
- insisting on first choice when eating - feed small portions of veg and pellets several times a day, so all food can be eaten in one go; this ensures that all piggies have much more of a change to get a fair share. Have a bowl per piggy and one spare as a distraction in case the chasing off is persistent. In the meantime between meals, unlimited hay should make 80% of the daily food intake anyway. Remove the bowls between meals.
- nipping: This is NOT biting, even though it is usually answered by a loud squeal of protest or submission from the underpiggy. Nipping is a carefully judged demonstration of power that lets the underpiggy feel the teeth without hurting it or breaking the skin.
- head butting: the same - problems arise only if the underpiggy hasn't got space to get out of harm's way in time.
- chasing
- rumblestrutting

- dominance mounting (by both genders)
- forcing up the chin of the underpiggy

IMG_2944_edited-2.jpg

These behaviours should slowly calm down as the piggies settle down together. Dominance is often worst with an insecure leader that has to first find their confidence. Please open a thread for support if dominance behaviour remains on too high or too incessant a level to the extent that an underpiggy appears subdued and depressed for more than just a few days; in this case, you may be looking at bullying, but each case has to be looked at in detail.


VIII For more information on bonding and interaction please see these guides

Additional bonding and dominance information

Introducing And Re-introducing Guinea Pigs
https://www.theguineapigforum.co.uk/threads/dominance-behaviours-in-guinea-pigs.28949/


Sow and boar behaviour
Sows: Behaviour and female health problems (including ovarian cysts)
Boars: A guide to successful companionship.
Boars: Teenage, Bullying, Fighting, Fall-outs And What Next?

Further information on problem areas with guinea pig bonds
Adding More Guinea Pigs Or Merging Pairs – What Works And What Not?
Bonds In Trouble
Moody guinea pigs: Depression, Bullying, Aggression, Stress, Fear and Antisocial Behaviour
Neutered / De-sexed Boars And Neutering Operations: Myths And Facts
 
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