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Bonding: Illustrated Dominance Behaviours And Dynamics

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Staff member
Mar 10, 2009
Coventry UK
Bonding is always a rather nerve wracking time; this thread here will hopefully help you to read 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 especially new guinea pigs by settling them in and letting them get to know each other so you can take as many stress factors out of the crucial bonding itself as possible. 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 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 straight forward and easier to spot than in sows.
It is important that you know that any 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!

In this thread I am trying to follow the dynamics of two friendly, but quite different bondings, which can hopefully help you understand better what is going on. One is a bonding between two evenly matched 3 year old sows and the other is from bonding in a young sow into an adult sow group with a neutered "husboar".

For full information on bonding and re-bonding and the full range of dominance behaviours please read carefully through the tips in our introductions and dominance behaviour guides. This thread here DOES NOT repeat all the necessary and vital information to make your bonding a successful one, but is more of an additional illustration to help you understand the dynamics during the crucial stages of a bonding.

Double-check the gender before bonding!
There is however one step you always have to make before putting guinea pigs together - please double-check the gender of all guinea pigs involved, but always that of any incoming piggies!
Never rely on the judgment of others and never rely on shop staff, general vets with not much sexing esperience or online guessing games from a fuzzy picture, and especially NEVER rely on guessing the sex just from behaviour!
Only ever bond guinea pigs that you have made 100% sure that the gender is clear and is the correct one - in all of them! Mis-sexing is unfortunately not at all uncommon.
Sexing Guide

Setting up an introduction

A word or two of warning first...
- If you bond at home, please always have a plan B at the ready before you initiate a bonding session, so you know what you can do if the bonding fails and you have got the accommodation and your options sorted in such a way it that ensures the current and future safety and needs of all guinea pigs involved are assured. Just popping a failed bonder back to a pet store or handing it on to a friend is not a safe option as it usually condemns that piggy to a single life through no fault of its own!

Bonding baths - why they are no longer recommended
- Against the still widespread advice on social media, bonding "buddy baths" are unfortunately just an added stress factor and do not contribute in a positive way to the ultimate outcome in our long term experience on this forum. They are simply another of these supposedly fail-safe tricks that have not stood the test of time.
If you really want to do something, rather mingle the piggies' scents by wiping a soft rag over them in turn, but even this trick has only limited effect.
- You have to respect that a bonding stands and falls on whether the personalities involved in it mesh or not. Nothing you can do can will change your piggies' characters; no disguising or neutralising trick will work for long for that reason. The gloves are off latest in the dominance phase. Guinea pigs have their own ideas who they want to be with and you cannot just make them become best friends just because it is what you would like!

Where and how to set up the bonding
- "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. Ideally you bond on a wipeable floor; it can even be a shower or a bathtub with a large towel or two for grip. A run on the lawn or the the kitchen floor is also a very good idea if you have the space.
- 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.
- 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 wipeable 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.
- For boars, a soft toddler safe humping toy that you have rubbed against both boars beforehand can help to draw off some of the usual humping "fire".
- A small tunnel or cardboard box with two baby-sized exits on opposite sides can also help when bonding a baby boar with an older/adult boar.
- If the bonding goes on for some time, please refill the hay and add a water bottle.

Starting the bonding process
- Generally, you put a larger piggy or a group in the pen first when introducing newbies, but ultimately it doesn't matter too much, as it is nopig's territor so they all start on an even footing.
- 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 to give them time to get used to the presence of strangers.
- Young guinea pigs tend to be very vocal and often quite dramatic.



Keeping the distance:

Acceptance phase

Friendly getting to know 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"

Coming up to a piggy, nose to nose sniffing or following round

Mutual bum sniffing

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 grooming.


Accepting a hump from a boar (be it sow or another boar) is also a sign of friendly acceptance.

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 not likely to happen.
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!

Example of a failed bonding that lasted only 3 minutes before it ended up in a tussle (none of the piggies were harmed, by the way; it was a tussle and not a full-on fight). You can see how quickly things can escalate if the warning signs are being disregarded and a piggy insists on pushing its luck; in this case by black neutered boar Barri when he met sows for the first time. How many warning signs from the sows can you spot?
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Staff member
Mar 10, 2009
Coventry UK
Establishing leadership and 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. Once guinea pigs 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 can also be accompanied by some loud teeth chattering from both piggies as well as rumblestrutting (rumbling while bum wiggling).

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

Here is an example of a friendly boar bonding during the initial dominance phase. This was about as exciting as it got between adult Nosgan and rumblestrutting youngster Nye who was just about starting his teenage phase. It never went further than a nip from Nosgan when Nye got too persistent.

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!

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 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 frontal.


Chinning off can end up with mutual lunges at each other or in a wild chase 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 slowly less heated and tense; they were interspersed with washing and grooming until this phase ended with both of them resting next to other.



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.

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, 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 all on edge.
If it all disintegrates into general mayhem and all over teeth chattering, it is not worth to continue 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) are "Not Us" then they 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. Guinea pigs can make up their mind not to want the other party in the meantime if they have felt stressed during the intros. 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.
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Staff member
Mar 10, 2009
Coventry UK
Working out dominance when the hierarchy is already clear

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 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.

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.

There is however some power display from the previous bottom sow, Papi. Her demeanor is threatening to preserve her position oin 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.

Papi also rumblestruts slowly around Helygen

But she still allows Helygen to sniff her bum

In this case, I transfer the whole group back to the pen once they have all had a peaceful rest/nap together.

Cross gender bonding - special aspects
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 it does happen. Once the guinea pigs have got past 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." However, you will also notice that they will not move far away from the boar despite their drama, apart from getting their bum out of the 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! Sows come into season again within hours of giving birth, and babies start as soon as the weaning process is under way - baby boars can make babies from 3 weeks onwards and baby girls can get pregnant from 4 weeks onwards. Sows are basically nonstop breeding machines until they die. There is no menopause for either gender.
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 both or one of them have been with a sow; it is demotion in status while their bond has been broken without respect of the social dynamics.

Boar bonding - special aspects

Boars generally bond through humping, whether that is mutual or 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 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. Too much 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 either before their testicles start descending (but then they have to go through the tricky hormonal teenage months together) or the older they are and the less driven by testosterone.
However, you always have to be careful 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. 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 nextdoor 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.

Baby boars will usually not be hurt by older boars, but they can be at the receiving end of some enthusiastic humping, so please provide a safe 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.
Please be aware that not every baby is to every boar's taste; individual instant likes and dislikes rule as much as with us humans!

Please note that bonding baths or so called "buddy baths" are only necessary when re-bonding nearly fallen-out boars on the following day to help remove the stink of testosterone from their coats; otherwise the currently much touted bonding baths will not contribute to the ultimate outcome, which relies entirely on character compatibility. A buddy will in fact only serve to rather stress out the boars instead of relaxing them; the same goes for sows, too.
If you are really set on doing something, rubbing each boar with a rug that carries the scent of the other is more helpful; but again, it is not going to change the ultimate outcome of whether their personalities mesh or not!

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 a while afterwards before moving them to their completely neutralised pen that only contains hideys with two opposite exits. 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.

Fear aggression

Much of the aggression during bonding is actually caused by fear and insecurity rather than by outright agression, although there are those, too. The majority of bites happen as a defense reflex, so the more you can eliminate potential flashpoints where a piggy can feel cornered or trapped, the better. Ideally you start out with no hideys at all and just an open area.

Typical fear-aggressive behaviours are in increasing order:
- rumblestrutting with pronounced bum wiggling
- teeth chattering - "I don't like you" (can be both loud or soft)
- 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" /"stay AWAY from me" (in the strongest possible terms)
- readiness to bite when feeling cornered/trapped

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. It often goes right up to the line, however, so it is not at all easy to watch and sit by for a new owner.


Staff member
Mar 10, 2009
Coventry UK
Working out the relationship (dominance phase)

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 squeals. However, right at the end of the dominance phase, 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 youngster is pushing for more power than the overbearing boar will allow and it comes to scuffles or an outright 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.
- dominance mounting (by both genders)
- rumblestrutting
- forcing up the chin of the underpiggy


Typical submissive behaviours:
- submission squealing:
Submission squealing is loud, high and very dramatic. It is NOT caused by pain. Instead it translates as "Don't hurt me! I am not contesting your claim to dominance." In this it is usually pretty effective.
- running away

These behaviours should slowly calm down as the piggies settle down together. Ideally, the very worst of the heavy dominance should be over within a day or two, but it can take longer. Dominance is often most dramatic 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. Each case has to be looked at in detail, as the dynamics are very much based on the personalities involved.
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