Although all guinea pigs are individuals, males (boars) do tend to be considered friendlier with people and less unpredictable than females (sows). However, sows are friendlier and less unpredictable than boars with other guinea pigs. Sows can become extremely friendly with people if training is patient and persistent. Boars have been known to get along with other boars after they are neutered, but that’s not an absolute.
The Herd Structure
Scientists aren’t entirely sure what species of South American cavy that the domestic guinea pig is descended from. But no matter – they all pretty much act alike. Domestic guinea pigs left to roam in large areas (such as in Guinea Pig Village at Longleat) show us how guinea pigs would behave when left alone.
Guinea pig families form small herds, lead by one boar. He usually has only two or three sows to protect and care for, but will breed with other sows when given the opportunity. This happened to Smutty in 2000, when he managed to slip into a pen full of about 24 receptive sows. He managed to successfully impregnate all of them. However, there is no way one boar could manage such a large herd. After Smutty was discovered, he was placed back into his cage where, exhausted, he slept for three days.
Since boars are the protectors (and opportunists) they are the first in the herd to investigate any strange new noise or titbit. Meanwhile, the sows gather up the baby cavies and herd them into hiding places until the danger passes.
Free Range Fred
Peter Gurney, known as the “guinea pig man” in the UK and author of several ground-breaking books on guinea pig care, also maintained that male guinea pigs were friendlier and more outgoing than females. In “The Proper Care of Guinea Pigs” (TFH: 1992), he said that all of his females were safest in cages or pens while some males were able to safely roam about the home like a cat or a dog.
His most famous pet was Free Range Fred, who featured in many of Gurney’s books and also visited children in Great Ormond Street Hospital. Fred was clever enough to avoid feet but not clever enough to avoid jumping in the laundry and nearly getting killed. Boars can be curious, but are not smart enough to avoid dangers in advance. However, these qualities make a male guinea pig one of the best first pets anyone could have.
Most of the guinea pigs this writer had were sows. They formed their own herd, with one female taking on the male’s role. The subordinate females startled very easily but responded to patient soft talk and crunchy carrots. Females can be quirky. For example, two sisters that had gotten along for over a year suddenly fought frantically and had to be kept apart for the rest of their lives.
Sows also can get cranky and be more prone to biting when they are in season. When living with female guinea pigs, it’s best to observe them first and see how they are behaving that day before trying to pick them up or cuddle with them.
“The Proper Care of Guinea Pigs.” Peter Gurney. TFH: 1992.
“Guinea Pigs.” Audrey Pavia, et al. Bow Tie Press; 2005.
BBC Wales. “Lothario Guinea Pig.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/wales/justthejob/takeitfromme/star_sooty.shtml
Cavy Spirit. “Your Guinea Pig’s Social Life.” http://www.cavyspirit.com/sociallife.htm