California Potbellied Pig Association, Inc

Aggression Part 1


In their recent internet survey, Dr. Valarie V. Tynes, formerly at the University of California, Davis, and associates determined whether associations exist between human-directed aggression and sex, neutering status, age of weaning, the presence of other pigs, or the presence of environmental enrichment objects in the miniature pet pigs.   

The one factor that stood out as having the most effect on reducing potbellied pig aggression was the presence of two or more pigs in the household.   

Animal trainer Stephanie Taunton wrote the following in 1994, in an article for CPPA.   

1) Do you have an aggressive or potentially aggressive pig?                   

       Some pigs show aggression when they are young but the majority of aggression is seen in older maturing pigs.  Aggressive pigs are pigs with: sideways body posture, hackles up, a chomping mouth, and/or high pitched tones.  These behaviors are normally the early signs of aggression before any biting occurs.  For example, you may see some or all of these behaviors when company is in your house.  Every pig is different so you may see very subdued behaviors like these or very aggressive behaviors like sideswiping or charging.   

2) So why are people having pig aggression problems?  


       When we are living with and training a particular animal it is important to understand the way the animal thinks and lives in a natural state, or how do pigs live with each other in a group?  They definitely have a hierarchy, similar to dogs but not as well defined.  Within their social structure there are dominant pigs and submissive pigs.  The dominant pigs take what they want from the submissive pigs and in general take charge of things.                       

       The great thing about having social animals, like a pig, is that they like being around you.  They like learning and being part of your family.  The problem with having an animal that lives within a social structure is she/he is either a submissive member or a dominant one.  There are no in-betweens.  So the ranking of a pig determines its workability and how social it is.  The more dominant pigs are harder to work with, and they feel they are more in charge than you are.  The submissive pigs are easier to work with and to control.      

3) What determines your pig’s rank or personality?                   

       One factor is your pig’s predisposed genetic make-up.  When pigs are first born they fight for the better teats on the sow.  The more dominant ones get the best teats. There will be some change in ranking as they mature, but you can generally pick out the dominant ones at birth.                   

       A second factor is environment.  It starts with the sow and the litter mates.  It is important that piglets stay with their mother to learn important social skills.  In other words, she keeps them in line.  The next environment which will determine a pig’s ranking is living with you.  If you take a genetically dominant pig and it gets placed in a home where the person is not as dominant, chances are you will have problems.                   

       Aggression does not normally surface until the pig is around 1 1/2 to 3 years of age.  It may be sooner or later, depending on the pig.  The aggression normally starts with company or family and usually ends up with the pig being aggressive towards its owner.                   

       If you were to take a genetically submissive pig and allow it to do whatever it wanted, you could create a dominant pig.                   

       There are a lot of theories about what causes aggression in pigs, such as: Too much fruit, not enough food, bottle raised pigs, bad breeding, living indoors and the list goes on.  Of course, you should address these issues as factors that might add to aggression, but how you live with, train and treat your pig greatly affects his/her behavior.   

Also in 1994, Marcie Christensen wrote about the aggressiveness of T.S.Piggliot.  

The first time my friends saw me correcting T.S. (my 4 year old pig) doing this new method of training, they said I looked like a “lunatic”.  Hence the name, “Lunatic Attack”.  Nancy Shepherd published an article about Rutledge, “the pig from hell”, in the August/September 1993 issue of the magazine, “Pot-Bellied Pigs”.  Knowing I had aggression problems with T.S. she asked me to read the article.  I put off reading the article until “I had a little more time”, then in October T.S. attacked me, completely unprovoked.  I sat down and read the article immediately.   

For those of you who do not know about T.S. Piggliot, I will tell you a little about him.  I first held him at 15 days old and brought him home to live with us at just barely 4 weeks of age.  He was given everything and of course spoiled rotten.  He started showing some different behaviors at around a year old.  He would chase company around the house.  We thought this was cute.  Wrong!!  This was the beginning signs of major aggression.  This escalated until we had to separate him from all company.  I’m sure many factors led to his aggression especially the fact we took him away from his mom too soon, spoiled him rotten and were not fully prepared to own a pig in the first place.   

At about 2 1/2 years of age he started showing signs of aggression towards us.  Unprovoked attacks.  No major damage to us, but a little scary at times.  At one point I wanted to destroy him due to the aggression.  My husband absolutely refused.  He believed we would find a way to turn our boy around.   

We tried human types of discipline, ie: go to your room, spanking on the behind, etc.  Of course this did not work.  Next we tried target training and using a small crop to discipline him.  This worked for a while, but soon his aggressive behavior began to return.   

After I read Nancy’s article I began this new training.  I set T. S. up the first time.  When he was in his bed he did not want to be touched or petted.  So I would reach over and touch him.  He would immediately slash his head and bark.  I did the same.  I got into what I call a football hiking stance, barked back and poked my finger into his neck repeatedly.  In other words I acted just like a mother pig would do in disciplining her babies.  T.S. was pretty shocked by my actions.  He got real quiet and just laid there moaning while I petted him.  This is how T.S. reacted.  Your pig may not.  He/she may become very agitated.  Be careful and be cautious.   

Not knowing how he would react the next time I kept my face away from his and stayed in my football stance.  He got real nasty this time and jumped out of bed to challenge me.  I was glad to be upright so I could move quickly, but I still stood my ground.  I barked louder than him, stomped my feet, poked my finger, fist and hand into his neck and pinched his ears.  I never hit him though.   He finally responded by backing away, turning his tail to me and lying down just out of my reach.  From this point on I would set him up at least 5 to 10 times a day.  I would get down on all fours and chase him on my hands and knees if he tried to run from me.  (If you do not wish to put yourself in this vulnerable position, stay in the football hike stance.)  The entire time I would be barking or growling “NO” in a deep voice and poking him in the neck or even biting his ears or nose.  Yes, I actually bit my pig!  I did everything a mother pig might do to her babies.   

The outcome of this was unbelievable.  T.S. turned into a different pig.  We still did not trust him around guests, but I knew I was boss and so did he.  I have told other people how I do the “Lunatic Attack” and so far there has been a lot of success.  If you are going to try this, you must first make sure you believe you are the boss and NEVER back down.  Your pig will posture like he/she wants to hurt you, but he/she is just testing the waters.  The important thing is that they must turn tail to you.  If they just back up but continue to face have not won. When you show your dominance they will, usually, back down and turn away.  Be consistent and frequent in your training, and if your pig is particularly large or violently aggressive, you may want to take the precautions of wearing heavy clothing and gloves and of having someone present in case your pig proves to indeed be the “boss”, good luck.

"Heaven help us now if hogs had kept all five fingers." 

L. Watson