Having grown up on a farm and being around all kinds of farm animals, it never entered my mind or that of my parents to call any of the animals aggressive. Yes, a bull might put you over a fence to protect his turf and a momma sow might back you off to protect her babies, but aggressive is not a word that is used by farmers to describe their farm animals. I have even raised and rehabilitated a lot of wildlife, but again I can never remember the term “aggressive” used to describe their instincts.
When I began to put this article together, I phoned several of the farmers I grew up around and discussed at length the idea of farm animals (livestock) being called aggressive and boy, did I get a laugh or two! Most said that was not a word casually thrown around by farmers to describe their livestock or farm pets, such as their working dogs or cats. Yet, in the short five years I have been active in the potbelly pig community after acquiring my first potbellied pig, I have heard this word a lot. Some large organizations have used it to stop miniature pet pigs from being allowed into cities or subdivisions on the grounds that potbellies are aggressive. When this term is used, people have a tendency to visualize an animal that will do great harm to anyone it comes into contact with. So begun my search for truth about the animal I love so much. If we are to ever educate the general public, we need to know the truth. first, and then share it. Remember the saying “that the truth shall set you free” and I for one, want the potbellied pig to be a freely loved pet for himself and not what others say about him.
Now to the Vietnamese Pigs. I read with interest an article this past week that talked about the pigs from Vietnam as being wild, but I had heard differently so I went on a search. My main source of information about them came from Valerie Porter’s book “PIGS: A Handbook to the Breeds of the World.” Although limited, it is a very good resource. One thing that I found interesting was that what people here in the United States are calling “wild” pigs are prized family possessions in Vietnam. On page 186 of this book you will find that some families “specialize in keeping one or two breeding sows, which are served by boars brought to the holdings by traveling boar-keepers. The piglets are sold to other families, who rear them to 10 kg, when they are bought by fatteners, who take them to 70-80kg, or sometimes by those who specialize in rearing weaners to 25-30kg before selling them on to the fatteners.” It goes on to talk about family enjoying keeping pigs and is a sign of wealth or like a savings for when they need something. So, these pigs are domesticated in their native country just like our farm hogs are here in the USA.. A far cry from the picture that some want to paint that these are wild, free roaming pigs, that have never encountered man.
So, are our pigs aggressive or is it instinct? In a word study from New Webster’s Dictionary and Thesaurus: “Aggression: noun. A deliberate, unprovoked attack by one country or group on another. Psychology: Energetic activity of the mind or body, whether innate or a product of frustration, and either healthily expressed as proper self-assertion or in the use and perfection of skills, etc. or morbidly express in bullying, masochism, destructiveness etc. Or sublimated in play.”
“Aggressive:adjective. Wanting to dominate by attacking, domineering; involving attack; enterprising and forceful and aggressive advertising policy (this coming from a French or Latin word ‘to approach’).”
When you look at the above words, you get a picture of a very planned out and thought out type of attack. The connotation behind these terms is more than just an act but carries with it the picture of a planned out enterprising attack. Armies do this and very vengeful people do this, yet animals mostly live by instinct.
“Instinct: noun. a specific, complex pattern of responses by an organism, supposedly inherited, which is quite independent of any thought processes: the instinct that attracts moths to bright-colored flowers for food may also attract them to a candle flame at night and destroy them. The ability to form a judgement without using the reasoning process.”
The problem with the word “aggression” when it comes to our pigs, is that the general public sees a large aggressive type of animal like a tiger. They see pigs ripping up people like a tiger would do. This is why a lot of zoning requesting the pig for a pet is lost. If we change our vocabulary, it will take the focus off of aggression. All animals, humans included, have the ability to act aggressively. But we don’t go around talking about people being aggressive, so why should we say our pet pigs are aggressive.
When I first got Gordy, I was told that living with a pig was like living with a 2 or 3 year old. Now I have a granddaughter that lives in the house with me and she likes to have her way, but I don’t go around telling people I have an aggressive granddaughter. We correct the behavior based on the age and type of correction needed. I mean, Ania, can point her little finger at people and start to tell even Granny off or yell, “NO! I DON’T HAVE TO MIND YOU!” I pick her up and set her in a chair or send her to her room. She is 2« years old and, yes, I’ve even swatted her butt a couple of times but she is not “aggressive” so if my pig is like (and he is) a two year old, why should I tell people I have an aggressive pig? I correct him with whatever works. He is being a pig. Pigs bite. That is fact. Anything with teeth can bite given the right circumstances. Dogs bite and so do cats, snakes, rats, cows, horses and guinea pigs. I can’t remember ever hearing people say guinea pigs are aggressive the whole I time I raised and sold them. But I’ve sure been bit by them. Yet we throw the word aggressive around with our pigs and sometimes that very word costs them a loving home.
To understand why the term aggression doesn’t fit our pet pig, we have to understand the pig. We have to get to know and appreciate where the pig is coming from with his attitude. Pigs are herd animals and within each herd is a hierarchy or pecking order. If you watch the movie “The Joy of Pigs” you will note that in herds a female will rule most of the time. You will also learn that when the “alpha pig” gets older and/or sick, they will loose their place and move down in the hierarchy . Each place within that order has to be earned and then protected or else it changes. Once pigs have set the order they live happy and contented lives and will follow the leader and those above them.
Now we bring these pigs into our homes and change their whole environment. We actually become their herd and if we are not careful they will take over as the “top hog” and they will act out within that order. This is especially true of pigs that are loners within the home. Usually if there is a second pig or more, they will settle the hierarchy among themselves, leaving humans to be humans. It is why we advocate that new pig owners adopt two pigs in a relatively close time. Now a person who understands the hierarchy in pigs will hold his place as a human and place the pig as a pig. This order has to be set and maintained from the very beginning. It is for this reason that we suggest to pig owners that they train their pigs to do simple tricks. It’s not for the fun of it but rather that the pig learns to obey and realizes the human is in complete control. Once the pig learns this, he is a well- adjusted and happy pet to live with. This means never letting him tell you when he wants to eat, sleep or that he doesn’t want strangers in HIS home.
Another reason for a pig to act aggressively is because of the pig’s strong emotional being. He is an animal that likes consistency and he does not like change. So when a pig has lived in a home environment and then discarded, he becomes scared and confused and very fearful. In rescuing pigs we see two things happen to pigs that are discarded. They become angry and/or depressed and sometimes both simultaneously. Even pigs that have come out of abusive homes, still don’t like the change. He may have been abused, but it was the only home and family he knew. Most of the time with a lot of tender loving care, the pig can be turned around. Some just take longer than others. But does this mean we want to label them as aggressive? If we do, then we have placed the label on all of them and in the end, more harm will have been done to a much loved pet.
In doing my research for this article, I asked for the opinion of different people who work either in rescues and/or run sanctuaries where lots of these pigs end up. I was not surprised to find we shared like views on the aggression issue.
Phyllis Battoe of Pig Pals Sanctuary in Whorton, IL said, “I see some with behaviors that result from confusion, fear, or territorial domain, but I don’t consider them aggressive pigs, just pigs. I’ve seen depressed pigs use this defense when they don’t know what else to do but I don’t consider it aggression. It is more that they are unhappy and they don’t know what to do about it. . . . I believe that for those of us willing to look for the underlying problems, there are no aggressive pigs . . . just pigs doing what nature tells them to do in a given situation. Unlike a dog, you can’t rebuke them out of it, or bribe them out of it. You have to try and avoid the problem in the first place, and if it does come up, then you think of a way around it. That is the only thing we have going for us with these pigs is the fact that, as smart as they are, we can still out think them if we try.”
Richard & Laura Hoyle of Mini-Pigs, Inc. said, “In 15 years we have never seen an aggressive pig. Yes, we have seen scared pigs, abused pigs, spoiled pigs and emotionally/physically deprived pigs, but never one that was purely ‘aggressive’.
“Pigs react to their environment and to things that they perceive as threats. This is not aggression and always has a root cause somewhere. Especially in rescues we often do not know much, if anything at all, about the pig’s history or past life. It would be easy to write off biting, head swinging and butting as ‘aggression’, but it is not that simple.
“Over the years we have learned, more and more, to look at things from a pig’s perspective. We call it ‘learning to think like a pig.’ If you take the time to watch, listen and learn from the pigs in your care, you will slowly begin to understand how a pig thinks and what it is and is not capable of. One of the things they are not capable of is ‘aggression’ especially not the way you have it defined.
“We have a number of pigs here that get along beautifully in their herds and in a pig environment but who are still ‘aggressive’ towards humans. The answer here is simple, the pig was badly abused by humans and sees all humans as a threat and reacts accordingly. Some of these pigs will ‘come around’ over time and others will not but they are not aggressive pigs just pigs reacting to years of abuse at the hands of their human ‘caretakers’.”
To sum up, we need to take the word “aggression” or “aggressive” out of our vocabularies when it comes to speaking about our pigs. When we use these words we are giving the pet pig a bad rap for which he is not guilty. Personally I prefer to call them “pigs with an attitude” or “pigs that need an attitude adjustment.” It is more of a “spoiled rotten” house pig who is confused, scared and in need of understanding. But until we, the pet pig owner, stop referring to the pigs as being aggressive, we will never get the general public to understand the true characteristics of the pet pig. Is this what we want? Or do we want the general public to understand and accept our miniature pet pig the way he should be accepted, just like any other pet? So, we can change our chatter and help to save the pig or we can keep using the same vocabulary and never help the pet pig overcome the stigma that he carries. I guess the choice is yours!