Charlotte the pig had to be off the property in 24 hours. All the other animals had left already.
She’d been chased for 3 or 4 days before I came to help. The barn hands were trying to capture her as she got more and more stressed. It was unfortunate, but she’d definitely lost all trust in the kids and adults that frequented the farm. You know that saying about catching a greased pig? Well, catching an ungreased one is like that too. You can’t really put a collar or a harness on a pig that’s not been trained. So I knew what I needed to know. Or I guess I didn’t know. I’m not a certified pig wrangler. I was never in 4H. I didn’t own a hog panel. My tools were food, A crude target stick, a mat, a dog crate and understanding of learning theory. She liked marshmallows and Cheetos. She had a history of being fed in a horse stall. She never liked to be touched even before this. She’d just spent the last few days being chased around, I’m not exactly how those kids were planning on doing it. My first thought was to build some trust. “Treat & Retreat” A game I’ve often played with fearful dogs. And then we did target stick training. That was working. She’d follow me around, but I didn’t really have 8 sessions to get the desired behavior.
Then I tried some target training. That worked, but allowed too much freedom of choice. Unfortunately, time was of the essence here. I do believe in Least Invasive Minimally Aversive Principles, but sometimes the pig just needs to get in the crate.
I only had two more sessions till she would have a new life as a feral pig. She was far too dainty for that. Always have a good plan. You don’t just lure a pig into a dog crate, because then you have to shut the door, and trap them in there, and pigs being prey creatures can be pretty fast when it comes to running away from potential threats. And they’re faster than you.
So at first I tried the dog crate in the barn isle, added a few favorite snacks and left it kind of like a live trap That would have been somewhat more traumatic for her anyway. She got familiar with it over a course of an hour. My plan was to then move the now conditioned crate into a horse stall and heavily bait it so that when I returned in a few hours, I’d be able to do the same, thus capturing her in the stall. It worked. I had her in the stall. And eating out of the crate in the stall. We were losing daylight and her scheduled transport was arriving soon.
It took another hour of me feeding in the crate, and getting her used to my presence, and getting used to me touching the door. And making it make “crate noises” before I was ready to commit to closing it and capturing her.
Poor girl was rather exhausted from the whole ordeal, and I’d imagine a belly full of junk food, sugar and carbs didn’t make the ride to her new home very pleasant. Or maybe it was a delightful food coma. I’m not sure. I tell this story to you today so that you can learn that animal training principles are the same. They’re the same for people, kids, giraffes, elephants, butterflies, if it eats and can avoid unpleasant situations we can change its behavior. Fear can often be overcome with food, or at least influenced by it. Reducing the size of your animal’s environment can give you a window to more desirable behavior. If you have a pig, I would highly recommend training it, to be restrained, to come when called, and probably even to go to a crate. So let me know if I can help you with your pig or whatever you have. You can schedule something with me. I am by no means an expert on pet pigs, but I know that if I help other pigs, they won’t have to be as scared as Charlotte was that week in the summer of 2017.