Despite its long domestication history, estimated at over 10,000 years, the pig is a relatively unexplored and often underestimated animal. New experiments on the intelligence of pigs show that they are really smart. Scientists believe that their cognitive capabilities, can be compared to those of some primates. Find out what this means for modern pig farming in our guide.
Are pigs smarter than dogs?
The pig can learn in a similar way to a dog. It listens to its name, learns commands such as “sit” or “come” and obeys accordingly. Researchers at the Leibniz Institute for Farm Animals conducted behavioral experiments with the bristling cattle. They taught a group of about 40 pigs names like Brunhilde or Edelgard. Afterwards, each pig was invited to eat by name over loudspeakers. And indeed, there was no crowding at the feed trough. Only the pig that was called up came to eat. All the others remained lying down. The researchers assume that pigs can learn even more commands than dogs.
Strong as a sow: intelligence of pigs
Pigs also have self-awareness and a personality of their own. If you keep pigs, you’re familiar with your animals’ characters and moods. But did you know that bristly animals can recognize themselves in a mirror, much like primates? What’s more, they understand that it’s a reflection of reality. That’s what a 2009 study (published in Animal Behavior magazine) shows. Here, researchers hid food in the barn that could only be spotted through a mirror. The pigs could neither smell the food nor find it in any other way than via the mirror. Now the astonishing thing: They did not search for the food behind the mirror. Seven of the eight test animals reached the food spied via the mirror in less than 30 seconds.
The bristly animals were recently able to demonstrate their capacity for abstraction in a computer experiment. It was described in the scientific journal “Frontiers of Psychology”. The bristle animals first learned to operate a joystick with their snouts. Two weeks later, they were joined by the computer screen. Now it was a matter of understanding the connection: The joystick moves the cursor on the screen. The pigs learned quickly. They solved tasks from monkey research on the computer despite some physical disadvantages (lack of grip skills and relative farsightedness).
A farmer in Denmark had already exploited the pigs’ cognitive abilities in the 1990s. He trained his four-legged friends to control ventilation and temperature using a joystick.
Does the pig possess a social nature?
During the joystick experiment, more was discovered. For pigs, motivation does not only go through the stomach. For when the automatic feeder broke down, the pigs were just as motivated and persistent thanks to praise and touch from their caregiver. It is clear that pigs, like dogs, are very social creatures.
Pigs have also been shown to be social in other experiments. This needs to be explored more fully. Researchers at the University in Vienna, Austria, conducted a direct test between farm animals and dogs: The bristly animals were more persistent than dogs. They solved tasks more independently than dogs and turned to their human caregiver when they encountered difficulties – but later than dogs. Pigs do care about humans. Pigs relate to humans and understand that sometimes it is better to seek human help.
Research on social behavior and communication from pigs to humans is still in its infancy. What is clear, however, is that pigs have their own language. Researchers have already identified around 20 different “oink” sounds.
At the University of Vienna, research is continuing into how the bristly animals communicate with us. Do pigs understand human emotions, for example? If pigs could tell whether you were sad or happy when you came into the barn, they would possess empathy. Just like man’s best friend, the dog.
Note: By the way, just as smart and social as the farmed domestic pig is the mini pig. In our guidebook “Mini pigs: Everything for species-appropriate husbandry at home,” you’ll learn what you need to know as a mini pig owner.
How do I engage the pig as an intelligent animal?
It is scientifically disproved that pigs are stupid. They are smart, curious and social. They love to dig and explore their environment. This is consistent with their species-typical behavior.
In the wild, pigs spend much of the day searching for and eating food. This includes:
In today’s housing system, you feed the pigs and they have eaten their food within a short time. This way, the animals do not have to spend long hours searching for food.
In order for the clever pigs not to suffer, you have to keep them busy in the boring daily routine of the barn. As a pig farmer, you have to make sure that your animals have access at all times to health-safe and sufficient quantities of occupational material.
Employment material and toys for pigs serve as an important substitute for:
the search for food
the behavior for food intake (exploratory behavior)
Pigs can occupy themselves particularly well with materials that can be changed, examined and moved, such as hay, straw, wood shavings or straw pellets. They have an inherent odor and the animals can pick them up, touch them, and chew on them. They also help the pig’s intestines stay healthy. You can add pig toys to your pigpen decor.
Toys suitable for the trunk to bite and push around also accommodate the animals’ natural exploratory behavior. Without activity and toys, intelligent animals become bored during their lives in factory farms. Then they start to develop aggressive behavior. They bite each other’s tails off and nibble each other’s ears.
If you provide attractive ways for your bristling pet to occupy itself, you greatly reduce the risk of tail biting.
Which objects are suitable as toys for pigs?
You can make a variety of toys on your own. You can also buy many products in stores. Research shows that things that roll away and don’t come back quickly become uninteresting to pigs. You should screw everything down, hang it up or attach it to chains.
Suitable items to keep pigs occupied are:
Free-hanging plastic or sheet metal bins with adjustable openings for straw or hay.
Hanging baskets or balls made of metal rods for straw or hay
Teething ball or teething ring made of health-safe material on chains to hang up
Scratching brush for pigs for fur care and to dispel boredom
The Schleswig-Holstein Chamber of Agriculture maintains a teaching and experimental center (LVZ) in Futterkamp. Here, researchers test and develop all kinds of toys for pigs. The experts there have found that bristling cattle get used to toys. Similar to our pets dog and cat, they ignore an old toy. A new toy is more interesting. Therefore, LVZ experts advise to use different toys.
If you offer your pigs different objects and materials in a changing way, they will remain attractive to the animals for a longer time.
The question “Are pigs smart?” can clearly be answered with “Yes!”. Pigs are intelligent animals that can more than keep up with dogs and primates in experiments. With a little training, you can make everyday life in the barn calmer and neater, and stimulate the pigs mentally. Materials such as hay, straw or wood shavings are particularly good for keeping the animals occupied. Toys suitable for the trunk complement the barn design, so that the smart pigs have variety in their daily routine. It is best to offer it to them in rotation. If you keep your animals successfully occupied, you reduce the risk of them biting off each other’s tails and chewing on each other.
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