Guinea pigs aren’t like your average cat or dog; they behave differently, have different care needs and preferences, and respond differently to various types of affection. These needs should be considered when training, handling and generally spending time with them.
So, what are the best ways to bond with and tame your guinea pig? Well, the most important things to note involve attention to gentleness, having patience, and understanding their limitations.
Know that this is a multi-step process that may take a long while. But by doing your research, you’ll be well on your way to success. Here are some of the best steps and tips for establishing trust and compassion with your guinea pig.
Why Should You Bond With Your Guinea Pig
The costs of not bonding well with your guinea pig are immense. Likely, they will spend much of their time hiding in their enclosure, venturing out mostly just to eat. The ensuing lack of exercise may cause excess weight gain and associated health problems.
Moreover, the lack of companionship (particularly if you own a single guinea pig) does not make for a happy pet! Their mood and overall disposition may tend towards aggression or severe skittishness.
Take the time to engage with your guinea pig multiple times a day, and they will warm up to you. Both of you benefit from bonding; no matter how long the process takes, it will be worth it.
How To Bond With A Guinea Pig
There are countless ways to safely bond with your guinea pig when you follow a few established rules of thumb:
- Guinea pigs are sensitive to loud noises and chaotic environments. Avoid bonding or even placing their enclosure in rooms that may overstimulate them, like a living room with a loud tv in it, or a child’s playroom.
- Being fairly anxious animals, guineas love consistency. Make sure at least a couple of the bonding activities you choose are done daily, roughly around the same time each day and in the same type of environment.
- Establish yourself as a non-threatening, calm figure. Move gently and speak in a soft, quiet voice. Let them get used to your voice over time, and be able to recognize you by it. This will reduce their anxiety when you walk into the room, as right away, they will know you’re not a threat.
- Give them an enclosure in which they’ll feel safe. A few comfortable places to hide and burrow (in which you never disturb them) are critical in allowing them to adjust to your home.
With these guidelines in mind, you can consider which bonding activities you’ll choose. Be sure to select activities you have time for daily, perhaps even a few times a day.
Each of these options ranges in the minimum amount of time you should be spending, with 15-30 minutes being a rough average so as not to overstimulate your guinea pig.
However, activities like floor time can go on a while longer if the space is secured and your pet does not appear stressed.
Here are some trust-building activities for better bonding with your guinea pig:
Hand-feeding treat foods. Choose mild flavors like leaves of lettuce or small cucumber slices, chunks of bell pepper or stems of parsley or dill. Start with longer items, so your guinea pig doesn’t need to get very close to you right away.
Then you can build to shorter slices of things, even placing them in your flat palm. As always, take care to use smooth, slow movements to avoid startling your guinea pig.
Continuously talking to your guinea pig helps them relax and remember your voice. Sit on the ground near them and start softly rambling while you open the door of their enclosure (provided the larger space is secured), inviting them to come closer. Let them come to you.
As you may have already noticed, guinea pigs are very vocal animals (check out our guide about their sounds and meanings) so being vocal back with them reassures them.
Give them a bath! Yes, many guinea pigs love a nice warm bath, and other than cleaning them a bath can be a great bonding time for the both of you. Just make sure you do so correctly, check out our full guide about bathing.
How Long Does It Take To Bond With A Guinea Pig?
This question does not have a straightforward answer, because every guinea pig is different. However, several factors will affect the amount of time it will take to bond well with your pet:
Where you got them from: was your guinea pig’s prior home a packed, chaotic pet store or were they separated from their family very early? These turbulent sorts of circumstances can lead your guinea pig to be more skittish and skeptical of bonding with you.
The number and age of people in your household is part of what determines the level of calm your guinea pig will feel. Noisy children with erratic movement patterns will make your pet nervous, and the presence of many different people will make it harder to build recognition and security.
How much bonding time you invest per day and the consistency of activities are perhaps the most critical bonding speed factors. If you spend time with your guinea pig at unpredictable times or for only a few minutes at a time, they won’t learn to be comfortable with you, nor will they be affectionate.
How To Pet A Guinea Pig
Petting is a great way to connect with your pet and reduce their anxiety, especially if they haven’t been with you very long. It’s a great first step before trying to pick them up. As with everything else, petting your guinea pig requires trust and permission.
Follow these steps to ensure their comfort and safety, and be sure to stop if they exhibit signs of aggression or irritation:
- Let your guinea pig know you’re there; they don’t like to be startled. You can start by speaking to them in a calm voice to relax them. Sit or crouch down to their level to make them more comfortable.
- Start with the top of their head, or under their chin. After a minute or two, you can proceed to their back and/or belly.
- Always pet in the direction of fur growth to discourage matting.
- Apply only a little pressure, and keep talking while petting to create a soothing environment and associate your voice with comfort.
How To Pick Up And Hold A Guinea Pig
Depending on how much bonding time you’ve had with your guinea pig so far, you may need to wait a few minutes for your pet to come to you before attempting to pick them up.
You can entice them with a treat, talk to them quietly in an inviting tone, or just open their enclosure and wait. Allow them to smell you and place at least two paws on you before attempting to pick them up.
If you know your guinea pig is already quite comfortable with you and being handled, you can gently alert them of your presence and simply pick them up, taking care to observe whether they are in a good, calm mood beforehand.
There are a few guidelines to keep in mind when picking up and holding your guinea pig:
- Lift from the bottom with two hands, one scooping under the front legs and the other cradling the bottom. This allows for good support of your pet as you lift, and prevents too much pressure on one spot.
- Use a swift, smooth motion to lift, and taking care to avoid excessive speed or spinning. This will make your guinea pig feel more secure in your hands, which is critical in mitigating the disorientating effect of moving from the ground to eye level.
- Hold securely, but not very tightly. While guinea pigs are certainly squishy little guys, too much pressure can inhibit breathing and increase anxiety.
- Try out different ways of holding your guinea pig. They may find comfort in being close to your torso, or perhaps slightly away from you, held up vertically to observe their surroundings. Again, keeping both hands on them if you’re not cradling.
- Assess their comfort regularly to be sure they are calm. If your guinea pig is experiencing fear or restlessness, they should be put back down. They may make worried noises or begin moving around—these are easy indicators of a need for space and must be respected.
Holding your guinea pig is a bonding activity that inspires comfort; it’s essential to incorporate it into your routine with your pet once they are comfortable being picked up and held.
How Do You Know When Your Guinea Pig Trusts You?
It’s relatively easy to tell when your guinea pig trusts you, because the difference between their normal, anxious behavior and comfortable, calm behavior is so clear. Here are a few telling indicators of trust:
- They may elicit a soft purring sound when you’re holding them or are near. While a louder purr can signal annoyance, a quieter noise usually indicates contentment (check out our full guide about their noises and their meanings).
- Your guinea pig will allow you to hold them and won’t move around much. Through establishing trust, they will find security in your arms.
- They will approach you when you are nearby, recognizing your voice and the positive qualities it’s associated with. They may also climb on you and gently nibble on your clothes or hands. A trusting guinea pig will rarely bite you with force; if that happens consistently, there is an underlying problem.
- Accepting food from your hand also takes trust. Your guinea pig will associate you with treats and food, as well as the calmness you inspire when feeding them.
Look for these signs of trust, but don’t expect your guinea pig to develop them overnight.
How To Tame A Guinea Pig
Taming your guinea pig requires many of the same steps of bonding with them, except combined with positive reinforcement techniques to encourage good behavior.
Dedicated taming activities should occur only after you’ve established some baseline trust with your guinea pig; otherwise, they may become aggressive or increasingly skittish.
You should identify which negative behaviors you need to target and make a plan to discourage them:
- Reward good behavior, such as when your guinea pig comes to you on their own. Give them herbs or lettuce and a little pet on the head or nose.
- For general aggression, or fighting with other guinea pigs, don’t let go right away when placing them in their enclosure—holding them correctly, though firmly, will allow them to calm down while their little legs scurry.
- Biting, while unusual, can occur if your guinea pig is disturbed or has trust issues. Be sure not to startle them or try to pet them when they’re eating out of their bowl. And work more on your bonding.
- Make sure your hands are clean and free from perfumes/scented soap when handling your guinea pig, as they’re sensitive to smells and might bite to investigate them.
- If their enclosure is too small, or they don’t get enough time to explore open space, they may grow anxious and prone to biting. Consider an upgrade and more playtime!
Do Guinea Pigs Get Attached to Their Owners?
In a word, yes. Displays of trusting behaviors do not occur with just anyone, only with people with whom a guinea pig feels a comfortable attachment to.
Over time, they will recognize you and regard you as a safe, caring, reliable figure. They will come to you without much or any prompting because they enjoy spending time with you.
Like other pets, guinea pigs may show affection by licking you. The action is reminiscent of grooming that a parent might do for their young; it’s an instinct motivated by closeness and community.
Their surprisingly dependable long-term memory helps with attachment; your guinea pig will remember you, even if you’re away for months or years. Voice especially is strongly held in the memories of most species; guinea pigs are no exception.
Antsy by nature, guinea pigs take a while to consider whether they trust a person or animal. Their trust is given by them; it’s impossible to take it without jeopardizing the relationship you’ve built up to that point.
Always let your guinea pig come to you, and let it happen on their time. Otherwise, they won’t learn to trust that you aren’t a threat.
Now you have a better understanding of how to bond with and tame your guinea pig. Your mutual comfort and companionship depend on the care you take in these steps.
They might require lots of reassurance and slow trust-building, but overall they are very affectionate and loving little creatures. Best of luck to you and your furry friend!