Sunday, February 20, 2011

Still Life With Pig

Meet Tofu, a four month old Vietnamese Potbellied Pig and the newest addition to our home!

Tofu arrived yesterday after a harrowing three hour-plus drive through a heavy Oregon snowstorm. His foster family, who bravely drove him here to Bend, had been caring for the little black pig for the last three weeks.  The kind foster family arranged for his medical care, including a much needed neutering. Even now, two weeks after his surgery Tofu is quite amorous, grunting at me in what we have come to call his "Barry White voice".

Many people adopt Potbellied Pigs after hearing that "Pigs make great pets!" and "Pigs can be easily taught to use a litter box!"

Just be aware- pigs can be taught to use a litter box, but many  will never defecate in them, preferring the great outdoors (or your floors) for this activity.

Pigs can also make great pets-if your expectations are reasonable. Do not be swayed by fond memories of the genius-like Arnold the Pig or clever Babe or even sweet naive Wilbur from "Charlotte's Web". Your pig will never gain the power of human speech, nor will he influence spiders to spin webs in which colorful words hang like raindrops-believe me.

Nonetheless, a pig, like any other species, deserves to be taught using the fairest method available.

I believe that when you bring another species into your home, you are as obligated to teach them and to care for them as you would a child. Fortunately this does not include sending them to college, paying for orthodontics, or allowing them the use of the family car.

Knox gets a look at the new guy. "What kind of cat IS that???"
It does, however,  require you, the human with the (presumably) larger brain, to also use the kindest method possible in teaching your new addition the rules of the house.

Today's Lesson

A pig, in nature, would never wear a harness.

This piece of equipment has no meaning in a pig's natural world.

When living with humans, however, a harness is a useful piece of equipment that allows us to safely travel small distances.

But how do we communicate to the pig that despite what he thinks, we are not trying to harm him or trap him (surely a harness must feel this way to a prey animal?)

Simple! We make the entire thing his idea.

What do you mean, Chris?

I'll show you! This video was taken on Tofu's second day in residence at my home. Total time spent training was about nineteen minutes or so, broken into three small training sessions. It may seem like a long time. Some may insist, "Chris! Just slap the darned thing on and be done with it!" But really,  a twenty minute investment in such a useful behavior is well worth the time, yes?  Even more importantly for me, it establishes the relationship between us as one of trust.

You give me what I want and I will reward you for it

Being a young pig, Tofu has had very little experience with a harness. As you will see, in the first frame, he cautiously backs away from the harness. BUT-by the end, he is standing in place for the harness to be fastened! Smart pig!  Watch video by clicking here  -use your back button to return to this article.

How was this training accomplished?

The clicker

A clicker takes a snapshot of the behavior you want. When the click is followed by a reward the clicker becomes a very powerful training tool- the training itself  becomes rewarding!

This results in training that is:

FAST (amazingly fast, especially as the learner 'learns to learn')
Fun for both the learner and the subject
Successfully retained (sometimes years later, even if not performed during all that time)
Simple-anyone can learn how to do this!

I hope you will check back often to learn how Tofu is progressing. We would love to see you here again! And as always, comments, questions, and sharing of ideas are welcome :)

Happy Training!

For more information about Pot Bellied Pigs go to:  
Northwest Miniature Pig Association
If you would like to learn more about clicker training, go to:

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