Help! My guinea pig is not tame!

You have welcomed two guinea pigs in your home and you hoped that you could cuddle a lot with them. But now it seems that they don’t like that as much as you do. And taming them takes a lot longer than you thought. Now what?

Guinea pigs are prey animals

Of course, guinea pigs are awesome. But in the wild (at least, their wild ancestors) they are below in the food chain. They are food for other animals. To survive there you have to run away in time. This need to run is still very strong in our domesticated guinea pigs and does not need to be underestimated. Do you want to pick them up? Big chance that they’ll run away.

What is “tame”?

Many owners think that it’s important that their guinea pigs are “tame”. They have bought them at least partly to cuddle, so they should not be scared too much or run away and they need to calmly sit on our lap. Then they seem “tame”. Many guina pigs will never fit this description.

What you should want is that your guinea pigs feel comfortable in their cage. That already is a big accomplishment. Big chance that they will keep running away if you want to pick them up, because that’s just what they do. And often they will come to you to take some vegetables. But don’t expect them to run to you for a hug.

Which factors influence the taming process?

  • Character: character is of mayor importance and sadly is underestimated often. Some animals are less scared than others. And those animals will be tame easier. Some animals just stay scared, even if their owner has spent lots of time and effort in them. The other way around, guinea pigs that have never been through this process can become very tame. Buying young animals is no guarantee that they will become “tame”.
  • Age and experience: of course it is easier to influence the experience of a young guinea pig. Were there many positive contacts with humans? Big chance that they have more trust in them. Did they have lots of negative experience because they were treated roughly? Then it can take longer to gain their trust.
  • Patience: some people expect that their animals will be tame within a week and sit still on their lap immediately. That’s not a very realistic expectation. Some animals are used to their new environment very quickly, but most animals need more time, sometimes even a year or longer. And maybe he just stays scared.
  • Housing: is the guinea pig cage situated in a house full of life and events? Or do they have a big enclosure in the garden? Then they are used to something completely different. Guinea pigs that are housed outside generally are less easy to pick up, because catching them is a stressful event that should not occurs more than necessary.

What more can you do?

  • Pleasant experiences: do you want your guinea pigs to feel comfortable when you’re around? Always remain patient and calm and just bribe them with food often: food is holey for them and you can use this. Offer fresh veggies from your hand regularly. Have patience and keep trying, even when they seem too scared in the beginning. You will see that they will come and look easier and easier.
  • Resistance to stress: vary the houses and toys in the cage regularly, put them in a playpen or on the lawn in summer. This helps them learning to cope with stress and stimulates them to explore.
  • Houses: hiding is very normal behaviour for guinea pigs. They love to have hiding opportunities. But are they stuck in their houses the entire day? Then you could choose models that are more open (like tree tunnels) or remove the houses for a part of the day, so they can also learn that there is nothing to be scared of (and let them be then, don’t chase them). Always provide sufficient resting opportunities!
  • Location: put the cage on a calm place, but not away from all the fuss. This way, they will be involved in sounds, movements, etc.

When your piggies are not so tame as you hoped for

You did everything you could and despite all the time and effort they remain scared. This is relative to the expectations that you have of your guinea pigs. Do you expect them to come to you when you want to pick them up? Not gonna happen. You want them to stop running away from you after a week? No chance. Maybe they remain more scared than you had hoped. That’s how they are then. They have a very own character and we should respect that as their owner. Keep that in mind and accept it if they do not meet your expectations.

For your animals it is of mayor importance that they feel comfortable and satisfied. They even don’t have to be tame for that. If they have a big exhibit in the garden where they can run or just a nice cage inside you probably already make them very happy. And that is the best you have to offer to them, right?

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