After thousands of years in captivity, the guinea pig species still instinctively looks all about for predators, like tiny fat wild horses. Although guinea pigs are curious about people, their instincts often make them too nervous to be handled. When they are a few days old, they can be very briefly and gently handled. This positive experience can make a guinea pig tame fast.
But most people get guinea pigs when they are at least two months old or (better yet) adopt them as adults from a local animal shelter. These guinea pigs might not have had a lot of handling and what they did have was probably not very nice. These guinea pigs can certainly be tamed, but you must be very patient.
The wildest guinea pig I ever had was named Peanut. I saw her at a pet store when buying supplies for my other piggies and just couldn’t resist (but I urge you to adopt before buying an animal from a pet store). She let anyone handle her or pet her but I should have realized she only did so because she was scared. When she got home, she became a wild piggy.
At the time, I had a section of my bedroom closed off so the guinea pigs could run about and jump in and out of their cages when they wanted to. With this freedom, Peanut became nearly impossible to catch. I’d have to herd her in with outstretched arms in order to get her to jump into her transport cage in order to take her to the vet.
But after a year, Peanut was tame. How did this happen?
I probably could have tamed Peanut sooner if I had worked with her every day. At the time, I had two jobs, so taming wild guinea pigs had to take a back seat. But every day I would talk quietly to all of the guinea pigs. I’d try to move as slowly and deliberately as possible. I had plenty of treats for the other guinea pigs, who would come up to me to take the tidbits out of my hands. Peanut would watch this with interest.
The secret is to let the guinea pig come to you. Eventually, Peanut wanted those treats. I stayed still and let her come to me. It was hard not to reach out and pet her when she finally took a treat from me, but the movement would have scared her and I’d be back to square one.
When I had to pick her up in her cage for whatever reason, I placed the back of my one hand on the bedding. Peanut would scoot around in fear of the hand, but eventually, she’d calm down (or else she got tired!) I’d use two hands to pick her up, one under her bottom and the other under her chest. I’d try not to loom or bend over her like a bird of prey swooping down on her.
And then came the day she came for a baby carrot and stayed next to me, munching away. I gently stroked her and she accepted it. The wild pig was finally tamed. If Peanut could be tamed, then any guinea pig can be tamed.
“Guinea Pigs.” Audrey Pavia, et al. Bow Tie Press; 2005.
“History of the Guinea Pig (Cavy, Cuy, Cavia porcellus.)” Michael S. Forstadt. http://cavyhistory.tripod.com/
Guinea Lynx. “Care Guide: Behavior: Taming Your Pet.” http://www.guinealynx.info/behavior.html