Sunday, March 30, 2014

Guinea Pigs - Taming and Bonding

I have mentioned how important cage placement is when making a guinea pig part of your family.  Proper cage placement will help them bond with you, as described here.

In addition to cage placement, there are other things you need to do to bond with your guinea pig.  I frequently hear how mine are so cute, calm, tame, or something similar.  While I always appreciate those compliments of my guinea pigs, I want others to understand that my guinea pigs are not unlike any other guinea pig.  I've had them each less than a year, they were all separately adopted as adults, from less than stellar circumstances.  They just happened to be in need of homes at the time I was ready to open my home to guinea pigs, and I couldn't be happier that I found them.

First you need to understand guinea pigs to know how to bond with them.

They are not perfect.  Sometimes they still get spooked and run from me - this is a common reaction of an animal that has instincts that tell them they are prey.  When they see hands coming down from above to swoop them up and away, this could mean death for their wild relatives if a hawk is coming.  Moving your hands toward them from the side instead of from above can help.  Even our spoiled little house pets still have these instincts.  These times are rare, as I've earned their trust, but you do need patience.  They're very social, so having a companion is importat, which you can read about here.  Also, they do have potty accidents sometimes when they are being held or out during playtime.  We prepare for this by having towels, diaper pads, or something under them.  They're a little animal with a fast digestive system and they just can't help it sometimes.  

It's important to know guinea pigs have great hearing and sense of smell.  Use it to your advantage.  Keep your guinea pigs where you frequently see them and talk to them every time you walk by.  It makes them learn to love the sound of your voice.  When they learn to love the sound of your voice, they will come up to you when you talk to them, especially if you have some veggie scraps.  They smell those veggies coming and get so excited!  (Click here for ideas if you aren't sure what types of foods to feed them.)  Feed them the veggies from your hand.  After a lot of talking and feeding, you'll surely become their favorite person.  

You will need to hold your guinea pigs - a lot - for them to get used to being handled.  As I've said many times before guinea pigs become what you invest into them.  You must make time to talk to them multiple times everyday and hold them daily to get them used to it.  It helps to use an extra cage cube, sheet of cardboard, or something similar as a little divider to put around them when they're in a corner.  While talking to them sweetly, you can calmly reach down and pick them up, supporting their rear end well.  This keeps you from chasing them all over the cage.  They will be scared, but they'll be much less frightened if you are able to calmly get them without all the chasing.  Talk to them while picking them up with a happy tone.  

Once you have your guinea pig ready for your lap, here are a few tips:
1.  Hold them individually until they're used to it.
2.  Have a towel handy to hold them on your lap with.
3.  Make lap time peaceful, calm, and rewarding for the guinea pig.  Until the guinea pig is used to being held, don't allow small children to hold them.  It also is overwhelming to have a lot of children crowding around them.
4.  You want to make this experience really positive, so give them their favorite veggies while holding them, like a piece of carrot.
5.  Talk to them kindly and pet them.
6.  If they are too scared to eat the veggies and will not relax, keep the lap time short at first, to around 5 minutes.  If are content, still limit the time to 15 minutes the first few times out of the cage.
7. Last but not least be patient!  This process takes time for progress and you must work with them daily.  Don't give up.

In the end, it comes down to this: A happy guinea pig will make the best pet.  Do your best to enrich their lives, and they will do the same for you.

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