UC Davis undergraduate, 4th year
Major: Wildlife, Fish, and Conservation Biology
Jelly Bean, Romeo and I posing for a photoshoot
Romeo has been a bit of a menace this week. In our first few training sessions, myself and my fellow Pig Whisperer, Claire, had been rewarding the piglets with treats straight from our hands. We quickly discovered, however, that this leads to the pigs associating food with our fingers and therefore encourages biting. So, we changed things up and placed their food rewards on the ground instead of a sensitive body part. For a while, this seemed to greatly deter biting! Until this week…
Though the pigs still occasionally chew on pocket zippers or belt loops, they seem to be growing out of their hand biting stage. Minus Mr. Romeo. This past week, in particular, he has been extra feisty, his little pig mouth reaching for our hands as we relax with the pigs in their stall.
Just as humans become bored of the mundane, animals require enrichment to stay engaged, busy, and happy. It is important to provide any animal you’re caring for with novelty in their environment, and that is especially important if you’re caring for future therapy animals. The pigs can’t help people if they aren’t happy themselves!
Romeo and Jelly Bean enjoyed their new rope toy
Claire and I had to brainstorm. What method could deter Romeo from biting? It seems as though this behavior stems from occasional boredom. It occurs mainly when we’re sitting in the stall with the pigs after a training session when their food has been consumed, their bellies are full, and there is less stimulation surrounding them. A few weeks ago, we had researched enrichment ideas and found a few good options: rope toys, treat dispensers, really anything that might keep the pigs interested. This past week, Claire brought a small rope toy to the ranch, and we were shocked by how engrossed the pigs were with the toy. They don’t usually stay interested with new experiences or objects for very long, but the toy continues to hook them in. What’s more, Romeo’s biting habits have decreased immensely! He’s finally starting to understand that hands are for pets and rope is for chewing. Success!
Our next mission is to find more enriching objects or activities to ensure our piggies stay happy and healthy. Stay tuned!
Green Care Blog
Here you can find blog posts from each Green Care Lab intern. We'll be talking about our research process, the benefits of Green Care therapy, and sharing pictures of our work. Follow along with us!