While other little piggies went to market or stayed home, two little Colorado piggies were busy learning to shoot hoops and ride skateboards.
Bacon and Porkchop, two potbellied pigs belonging to John and Lynne Vincent, may be the world's most talented pigs. Each of them knows about 100 tricks, including such crowd-pleasers as dunking a basketball, leaping over 18-inch hurdles, picking out a tune on their "hogs-a-phone," dribbling a soccer ball and doing Elvis and Michael Jackson impersonations.
The porcine pair have performed on The David Letterman Show and The Tonight Show, and Porkchop once won a starring role – as a pig, of course – in an episode of Diagnosis: Murder with Dick Van Dyke.
They put in about 120 performances a year at birthday parties, company picnics and other such gatherings, mostly in and around Denver. They sometimes share billing with Top Hog, the world's only trained wild boar, and with Hamlet and Hamburger, two 600-pound farm pigs Vincent has trained to perform stunts, though the potbellies are the most versatile performers.
"It's amazing," says John Vincent, an engineer by day and animal trainer by night. "But everybody loves watching a pig do tricks."
Rise to Stardom
Their rise to stardom began nearly 10 years ago, when Lynne Vincent told her husband she wanted a potbellied pig. At the time, potbellies were at the apex of their popularity as exotic pets. Even so, John Vincent was reluctant. He didn't want a pet pig. "I had the same misconceptions most people do about pigs," he says. "I was a dog person."
But to please his wife, he agreed just to look at some pigs. "You never want to look at baby pigs unless you intend to bring one home," Vincent now says. "They're awfully cute." That's how Bacon, a black pig, came to live in the Vincents' suburban Denver home.
"Once we got it home I knew people would make fun of me for having a pet pig," Vincent says. "I'd heard they were smart, but I didn't know how smart. I just started training him to be smarter than my friends' dogs. And Bacon learned things so fast, it was incredible."
Spending just 15 minutes a night on training, the piglet soon learned to sit, shake, lie down, spin in a circle, push a ball and fetch. "Eventually he learned to dribble a soccer ball into a net," Vincent says. "Those were his first real tricks."
Bacon's Big Break
Bacon's big show business break came a few months later when the breeder who'd sold him to the Vincents put on a pig show at a mall and invited him to perform to demonstrate what pigs could do. "I thought five or six people would be there to watch him," Vincent recalls. "But when we got there, there must have been 50 or 60 people waiting to watch him perform."
Nine months after adopting Bacon, the Vincents got Porkchop, a white pig, with the intention of teaming them up to make a pig-training video. They did, and the pigs' careers blossomed.
The Vincents have since moved from the suburbs to a rural area about 45 minutes outside of Denver. They've also added to their menagerie. In addition to Bacon, Porkchop, Top Hog, Hamlet and Hamburger, they have six other potbellied pigs, plus horses, miniature donkeys, parrots, dogs and cats. All but the horses and donkeys live in the house – and the Vincents are pretty sure the horses would come in if invited.
Each animal gets its share of attention. "John plays with every animal every day, and he rides the horses on the weekends," says Lynne Vincent. "He gets up at 5:30 or 6 every morning and feeds everybody. Then he goes to work, then he's up until 11:30 or midnight every night training the animals."
John Vincent says, "I really love these animals. Now, people sometimes call me Dr. Doolittle." Training is never coercive or abusive. Why make an animal do something resentfully, out of fear, when you can get it to do it willingly, for the fun of it, he asks. "I use operant conditioning – or a better word is shaping," he says. "I use the same method on dogs and birds and pigs. It's low stress. I don't force anything."
At ages 10 and 9 respectively, Bacon and Porkchop show no signs of slowing down or easing into retirement, John Vincent says. The only problem is that Vincent is running out of new tricks to teach them. "The past couple of years, it's been hard to think of tricks that are funny enough to put into our act," he says. "And we hardly ever have to work on our old tricks because their memories are so good they don't forget them. "I guess it just goes to show you can teach an old hog new tricks."
You can visit Bacon and Porkchop's Web site at www.tophogs.com.