Vietnamese potbellied pigs were once “darlings of the media,” and promoted as the condo pet of the eighties – clean, smart, small and affectionate. Imported into the United States from Canada, the first potbellies sold for up to $25,000!
Ten years later, there are sanctuaries for unwanted potbellies that are filled to capacity. Potbellies are often advertised in the “For Free” section of newspapers, the prices have plummeted, and occasionally, the pigs are even abandoned by the roadside. What happened?
Of course, with any new, exotic breed of animal, prices will fall as the supply meets the demand. This goes with the territory. But in the case of the potbelly, other factors came into play.
Potbellied pigs are very “special” animals. Most owners that understand their personalities and quirks bond to them. Many owners sleep with their pigs, travel with their oinkers, dress them in costumes and share every aspect of their lives with their portly companions. Potbellies love to have their tummies scratched, and to snuggle with their owners. Pigs are like 2-year-old children – intelligent, curious, mischevious and sometimes manipulative. They are sensitive creatures that can be playful, and even almost humorous.
In the intelligence scale, they are only two species away from the intelligence of humans! Only the monkey/ape family and the dolphin/whale familes are more intelligent.
Unfortunately, that can be detrimental to having a pig as a pet. The porker will quickly learn to open refrigerator doors and cupboards in his eternal quest for food, and outsmart his trainer by taking the shortest route to gratification. Wily pigs learn to scream, to wake their owners for breakfast, beg for food and raid pantries. They can be demanding, overly sensitive or even neurotic. Piggies often pout if challenged by humans! Their personalities are complex. Because of this, pigs need a lot of discipline and monitoring. A bored pig will root, knock over household objects and devour house plants. Pigs take nothing for granted and seem to want to know what is under everything.
Pigs are not good pets if left home alone with no mental stimulation or physical challenges. And, because of their intelligence, they can be aggressive with young children. The good news is that pigs are very trainable. First, a pig must be taught that he can trust his owner. Firm, gentle discipline works well. Because of their love for food, positive reinforcement is effective. Negative physical reinforcement is not. Pigs have a great memory and respond well to commands. They are capable of learning to slam dunk a basketball, play a piano, or golf, play soccer, jump through hoops, dance, ride a skateboard and dozens of other feats. Housebreaking comes very easy to pigs.
Potbellied pigs average about 125 pounds at 3 years of age. Originally, they were advertised by breeders as being around 50 pounds at maturity. What few people took time to learn was that the pig grows until 4 years of age, and often is too large to ride in a car to go to the veterinarian. This problem can be overcome, if the owner is dedicated, by training a pig to climb a ramp into the car. All pigs must be neutered and spayed to be good pets. Otherewise they are very hormornal, demanding and whiney.
Potbellies are herd animals with a strong pecking order. If they are spoiled, they often become territorial, and aggressive towards humans, especially house guests. The pigs have an instinctual urge to be “Top Hog,” and defend their turf. Pigs with lots of subtle, daily discipline and boundaries in the home, do not exhibit this phenonoma. The oinkers must be taught the word “NO” and to respect humans.
Porkers need time outdoors, in a fenced yard, secure from hostile dogs. This cuts down on household territorialism, and gives the pig something to do. Pigs root, although this can be somewhat curtailed. They rarely get fleas, but do get mange, which is easily treatable.
All in all, pigs have the potential to be the BEST pet, or the very WORST pet. It really depends upon the expectations and efforts of the owners. Pigs are not small, or easily transportable, and do not belong in apartments, generally. They can be convoluted, or even aggressive, if their caretaker does not come across as a leader. They get bored easily, and knock over waste paper baskets and household objects. They will also do anything for food – living up to their name.
As long as you do not expect a pig to be anything other than a pig, a potbelly can be a marvelous lifetime companion. They are adorable, loving, affectionate creatures with incredible intelligence. They have grunted their way into our hearts and I wouldn’t trade mine for anything in the world.
Article Courtesy of Priscilla Valentine. Reference: “Potbellied Pig Behavior and Training”, www.valentinesperformingpigs.com.