If you’ve just gotten your very first guinea pig or are looking into getting one, then congratulations. These little pets are cute, fun, and extremely social. They make great companions.
But how to train your guinea pig? Guinea pigs can be trained using positive reinforcement techniques that involve their favorite fresh foods. They do not have the same physical abilities as a cat or a dog, but they are capable of performing multi step routines and simple agility skills.
Training a guinea pig takes time, patience, and practice, but it can be a whole lot of fun for both you and your guinea pig. Continue reading for all the information you need to know to have your guinea pig using a litter tray and performing tricks like coming when you call it or pushing a ball around its exercise pen.
Can Guinea Pigs Learn at All?
Guinea pigs, also known as cavies, are commonly kept as pets and raised by people of all ages. They have a pleasant temperament and simple needs. Being social animals, they form bonds with other guinea pigs and humans readily once they trust them. Plus, guinea pigs are absolutely adorable, am I right?
Guinea pigs are also highly intelligent. They can learn to recognize commands, follow you when you walk, respond to their name, run obstacle courses, and even use a litter pan.
They communicate using a variety of sounds like whistling, chirping, and purring, and they also communicate with body language. When they are happy or excited, guinea pigs will pop up and down. This is called “popcorning” because they look little kernels of popcorn popping.
It may take some time, but if you pay close attention, you will learn the way your guinea pig communicates and what they are trying to tell you.
Best Treats to Use When Training Your Guinea Pig
The most effective way to reward a guinea pig during a training session is with food, and I’m sure your guinea pig would agree. The best food to use as a treat when training your guinea pig is a healthy food that they really enjoy.
Healthy Guinea Pig Foods
The Humane Society of the United States recommends that a guinea pig eat approximately 1 cup of vegetables per day. These vegetables should be mostly leafy greens like romaine lettuce, spinach, kale, or parsley.
Carrots, zucchini, bell peppers, or sweet potato can be offered 1 to 2 times a week or in very small quantities daily.
Fruit should be offered daily, but in tiny quantities. A wedge of orange, five blueberries, or thin slice of banana is plenty of fruit for a guinea pig. Please note that you should only feed your guinea pig bananas once in a week.
In general, a guinea pig’s diet should include a variety of fruits and vegetables without too much of any one thing. All new foods should be introduced slowly and one at a time.
Selecting the Best Food for Training
To figure out which food you should use for training, you’re going to need to figure out which food your guinea pig most enjoys. This is easy enough to do.
Select approximately 3 foods that you know you will be able to access easily, and that you can offer in sufficient quantities that it will last a full training session. I suggest starting with romaine, spinach, and parsley as you can feed a whole cup of these which will provide plenty of treats for training.
To figure out which vegetables your guinea pig is most enthusiastic about, you will need to offer small quantities of these vegetables all at once and see which your guinea pig likes best.
Begin by placing the vegetables the same distance from your guinea pig, and in similar quantities. It is best to do this in an open space or a large pen.
Allow the guinea pig to enter the pen and watch which food they gravitate to. It is usually pretty easy to tell which food is their favorite.
Jackpot rewards are big rewards, and they are used to reward a guinea pig for doing a task that they have been struggling to do. For example, if you are trying to get your guinea pig to climb over a small arch, and he is resistant, the first time he does it, you would give him a jackpot reward to so that he can associate climbing over the arch with a positive experience.
To figure out the best foods to use as a jackpot reward, pay attention to treat foods that your guinea pigs especially loves. This will likely be one of the items you cannot give as often like bell peppers or fruit.
Using a jackpot reward at the right moment can help a guinea pig learn much faster.
Hungry or Full?
You might think a hungry guinea pig would be more motivated to perform the tasks you set up for it, but this is not the case. Think about how you perform when you’re hungry. Hunger can cause people to have poor concentration and feel physical symptoms like light headedness.
A hungry guinea pig will not be at his best. He will be stressed out, distracted, and maybe even cranky.
It is best to do a training when your guinea pig is not too hungry, but also do not train right after a meal as you don’t want your furry friend to overeat either. An hour a two after a meal is a great time for training.
Where to Train Your Guinea Pig
The location you choose to train your guinea pig will have a big impact on your success. Guinea pigs are skittish animals, and they can be very distractable, although this will vary depending on the personality of your particular guinea pig.
The best place to train your guinea pig is an area where they are comfortable and that doesn’t have distractions, places they could hide, or safety issues.
Things to Keep in Mind:
- Use a room that they visit regularly, either the room where their cage is kept or a room where you allow them to play freely or in an exercise pen.
- Exercise pens are great for allowing your guinea pig space to roam while still keeping them contained and out of harm’s way.
- If you use fleece in their cage, then you should also use it in the exercise pen for consistency. Otherwise you can lay out newspaper under the pen in case they have an accident.
- Avoid training outside because your guinea pig will likely become distracted by all the sights and sounds, and they may even become skittish if they see or hear new or unexpected things.
- Choose a location that you can access easily. Training should be done daily, and if you can’t access your training area easily and often, it will be hard to get that training session in.
- By choosing a location that you can access daily, your guinea pig will begin to associate that area with training and will be ready for it.
How to Ensure that Your Guinea Pig is Happy While Training
There isn’t a guinea pig owner in the world that wants training to be a stressful, scary experience for their guinea pig, but in an effort to teach a guinea pig a new trick, we could accidentally make the experience less than fun for our furry friend.
In this section, I will share training practices you can use to ensure that your guinea pig is having as much fun as you are when training.
The most important and first thing you should do before you even begin to think about training your guinea pig is to establish a relationship with it. Your guinea pig needs to trust you and associate you with protection and love. Without this bond, training will be terrifying for the guinea pig.
Tips to Help You Establish a Positive Relationship With Your Guinea Pig:
- When you first get your guinea pig, do not pick it up. Being lifted off the ground is very scary for guinea pigs, especially if they are in new surroundings with people they don’t know.
- Get to know them without picking them. Put your hands in their cage and let them approach you. Talk soothingly to them so they can get used to your voice.
- Offer your guinea pig food that is long from your hand so that they do not have to come too close to eat it. Slowly decrease the length of the food until they are willing to take small pieces from your hand.
Use Positive Reinforcement
Positive reinforcement means that you reward good behavior without punishing negative behavior. Guinea pigs are highly motivated by food, so you would typically reward them with a yummy treat, but they are also social and will respond to praise once you have formed a bond with them.
Negative reinforcement is usually using a negative tone to show your displeasure with your guinea pig. This is a counterproductive practice when training guinea pigs and will cause them to associate your training time with negativity.
Short Training Sessions
Training sessions should be short, especially when you are first beginning to train your guinea pig. When you first start training your guinea pig, start with short 5 to 10 minute sessions.
Daily 10 minute sessions offer plenty of time to teach your guinea pig a variety of tricks over time. If your guinea pig really loves training, then you can spend more time training him, but 10 minutes is a sweet spot for most guinea pigs.
Break Down Large Tasks
Whether you’ve been training your guinea pig for a long time or a short time, if you’re introducing a new trick, you will need to start at the beginning of that trick. Break down each component of the trick into smaller pieces and teach them in a way so that they build upon each other.
For example, if you want to teach your guinea pig to play fetch with you, you will first need to teach him how to pick up the ball. Then, you will need to teach him to pick it up and put it in your hand, and so on. You would not be able to start by tossing the ball and expecting your guinea pig to retrieve it and bring it back right away.
Expecting your guinea pig to do too much too fast will just stress him out and confuse him.
How to Train Your Guinea Pig to Do Tricks
Training your guinea pig to do tricks takes practice and patience, but it is a great way to bond with your guinea pig and most guinea pigs find this kind of challenging activity fun and prevents boredom.
Teach Your Guinea Pig to Come to Their Name
Teaching your guinea pig to come when you call it is one of the earliest tricks you can teach it. It is useful, and it can help keep your guinea pig safe as you can call it back from danger.
Step by Step Instructions for Teaching Your Guinea Pig to Come when Called:
- Bring your guinea pig into your training space and keep it in its exercise pen so that it will stay close to you.
- Sitting near your guinea pig, say the guinea pig’s name and when you get its attention,give it a treat. It clearly isn’t responding to its name yet, but your teaching the guinea pig that when it hears its name, a treat will follow.
- Continue doing this. Eventually the guinea pig will begin to look to you (for food) when you say its name.
- Increase the distance between you and your guinea pig. At first, you will want to increase the distance only by a foot.
- Say your guinea pig’s name again and reward when it moves toward you.
- Gradually you will increase the distance between you and your guinea pig until the guinea pig will come to you from several feet away.
- Once your guinea pig has mastered this skill, you can slowly start doing it without using a treat.
Teach your Guinea Pig to Stand
Teaching your guinea pig to stand is another simple trick that you can teach early in training. This skill will be useful when trying to teach your guinea pig to do other tricks.
Step by Step Instructions for Teaching your Guinea Pig to Stand:
- Bring your guinea pig to the training area and sit with it.
- Hold a treat in front of the guinea pig at a high that it would need to stand to get it, but not impossible high.
- When the guinea pig lifts its front feet from the ground, give the command and then the treat.
- If your guinea pig is hesitant or nervous about lifting its feet from the ground, reward even a partial attempt until it gains confidence.
- Continue practicing and giving the command until the guinea pig is consistently standing to get the treat.
- Now attempt the command without the treat being visible. If the guinea pig stands, you can give the treat. If not, go back to what using the treat to entice the guinea pig to stand.
Teach Your Guinea Pig to Push a Ball
Teaching your guinea pig to push a ball is cute and fun for the guinea pig, and it is a very easy trick to teach when you are just starting out.
Step by Step Instructions for Teaching your Guinea Pig to Push a Ball:
- Bring your guinea pig to the area where you do your training, ideally in an exercise pen.
- Use a ball that is not too big or too heavy. The guinea pig will need to be able to push it easily with its nose.
- Place a treat or two like a few small pieces of romaine lettuce under the ball so that the guinea pig can see it.
- When the guinea pig pushes the ball with its nose, give it a small piece of romaine from your hand and allow it to eat the lettuce it found.
- Anytime the guinea pig pushes the ball, reward it with another treat.
- Once your guinea pig has this down, place a piece of lettuce under the ball so that it is hidden. Reward the guinea pig when it pushes the ball out of the way.
- Next you will try this without placing a treat under the ball. Reward the guinea pig as soon as it pushes the ball. Continue this until it is working consistently.
- Once the guinea pig is successfully nudging the ball once, you can hold on to the treat until he nudges the ball twice and then rewards him.
- Gradually increase how many nudges he must complete before a reward, but occasionally surprise him with an early reward. This will help keep him motivated.
How to Train Your Guinea Pigs Behavior
Training your guinea pig can be used for more than just doing tricks. In fact, one of the first things you may wish to teach your guinea pig is to use a litter box.
Train Your Guinea Pig to Use a Litter Tray
Most guinea pigs will take to using a litter box over time if you train them. Some guinea pigs may struggle with litter box training, but if you are persistent, then eventually you should see some measure of success even if it isn’t perfect.
- Small litter tray that your guinea pig is capable of getting in and out of
- Hay rack (optional)
Setting Up the Litter Tray:
- Line the litter tray with newspaper. This will make cleaning the litter box easy.
- It is best if you do not place the same bedding in the litter box that you use in the cage.This will help prevent the guinea pigs from getting confused about which areas are for relieving themselves and which are not.
- Place the litter box in the area of your guinea pig’s cage where it usually goes to the bathroom. Some guinea pigs don’t have an area like this, but most will.
- Place some fecal pellets in the litter tray to give the guinea pig the right idea.
- You can place a hay rack on the outside of the cage next to the litter tray. Guinea pig shave no qualms about eating and pooping in the same location. The hay rack will encourage the guinea pig to get into the litter tray. You could also just put some hay in the corner of the tray.
- Hang a piece of fleece around the litter tray to create a little tent. Guinea pigs like to feel safe when they use the bathroom. Creating a hiding place where your guinea pig can use the bathroom is ideal.
- If you’re struggling to get your guinea pig to use the tray, you can remove all other hiding places from the cage until he starts using the tray.
Training Your Guinea Pig to Use the Litter Tray:
- First teach your guinea pig how to get into the litter tray. If you’ve already been training your guinea pig to do simple tricks, this shouldn’t be too hard. Simply hold a treat in your hand inside the litter tray to encourage the guinea pig to get in it.
- If your guinea pig is hesitant, reward even small signs of progress.
- Once your guinea pig can get into the tray, you’ll have to play the waiting game. Wait for your guinea pig to do its business and then promptly reward it with a treat. It will help if you do this after a meal or a lot of drinking.
- Reward your guinea pig whenever you catch it going to the bathroom in the litter box.
- If your guinea pig goes to the bathroom in the wrong location, remove the fecal pellets and put them in the litter tray.
- Once your guinea pig catches on, it will likely happily accept the extra treats for going to the bathroom in the litter tray, but most guinea pigs will still have the occasional accident.
- Be sure to clean the tray out regularly so that your guinea pig will continue using it.
- If your guinea pig is still struggling, you can try using multiple litter trays in the areas where they commonly go to the bathroom until they start to get the idea.
How to Stop Your Guinea Pig from Biting
Guinea pigs, especially domesticated guinea pigs, are normally very docile, friendly creatures. They do not usually bite unless there is a good reason for it.
Some guinea pigs will “mouth” your fingers or hand. You might think it is trying to bite you, but it isn’t. You will know it is mouthing because it does not hurt at all. A guinea pig may do this because of the enticing salt on your hand.
Guinea pigs will bite for a variety of reasons including excitement, fear, pain, improper handling, or inadequate housing. If your guinea pig is biting, the first thing you need to do is figure out why as it is very rare for a guinea pig to bite without reason.
Remember biting is a form of communication for guinea pigs. Your guinea pig is trying to tell you something with that nip. Stopping a guinea pig from biting isn’t so much a matter of training as it is a problem to troubleshoot.
Tips for stopping your guinea pig from biting:
- Be sure you are handling your guinea pig properly and supporting its feet when you pick it up.
- Make sure you have developed a trusting and positive relationship with your guinea pig.
- Avoid feeding your guinea pig when it is overly exciting as it may mistake your finger for food. This is generally more common with younger guinea pigs.
- If your guinea pig starts biting out of the blue and with no apparent cause, take it to a vet. It may be experiencing a health problem that is causing it discomfort or pain.
- Make sure your guinea pig isn’t bored or depressed. Give it plenty of attention and exercise. Use an exercise pen to allow your guinea pig more room to roam and teach it tricks to keep it stimulated.
- Make sure your guinea pig has something to chew on in its cage. Guinea pigs need to chew to keep their teeth from growing too long. If they do not have an outlet for this instinctual need, they may be more likely to bite you.
- Pay attention to your guinea pigs cues that it wants to get down. It may need to use the bathroom or be tired of being handled, and if you aren’t paying attention to the cues it gives, it may nip you to let you know.
- If your guinea pig bites you while you are handling it, you should not put the guinea pig down right away as it will begin to see it as a way to be left alone.
Do guinea pigs like to be held?
Guinea pigs are social creatures and they usually enjoy being held and played with, but guinea pigs do not like being picked up. This is a frightening experience for them, especially if you do not put your hand under their feet.
Do guinea pigs know their owners?
Yes! Guinea pigs can recognize their owners by sight, sound and scent. They form bonds with their caretakers, and they will respond differently to different people. This bond is fostered by spending a good amount of time interacting with your guinea pig.
Do guinea pigs need a wheel?
No. They don’t need a wheel in their cage. In fact, a wheel can be dangerous for a guinea pig. Guinea pig anatomy is very different from that of your typical small hamster or mouse. Using a wheel can cause a guinea pig to injure its back. Instead, allow your guinea pig to roam in an exercise pen.