Do miniature pigs ask for help from humans like dogs do?
Since you’re here, I know you are a dog lover. How about a miniature pig lover? Even though pigs are often thought of as a livestock animal, miniature pigs are becoming more popular companion animals living similarly to dogs with families indoors. How does communication between miniature pigs and humans compare to dogs and humans? Do pigs engage in behaviors that indicate they can ask a human for help? Or is this behavior more unique to dogs?
A recent study by Fraga and colleagues (2021) tested young pigs and dogs, about 7 months of age, on an unsolvable task experiment (see our previous Unsolvable task post for more details about this experiment). In this study, the researchers incorporated a baseline period of observation before the problem-solving phase. They wanted to see how the pigs and dogs interacted with their owner and experimenter without a problem to solve. Interestingly, the young dogs and pigs oriented towards the humans at similar rates during the baseline period. But, during the phase when they were presented with an unsolvable problem, the pigs and dogs behaved differently. The dogs looked towards the person sooner and more often, and they oriented their attention between the problem and the humans more often. During the unsolvable problem phase, the pigs took longer to orient towards the people, and the number of times they looked towards the people was less than the baseline phase. Pigs also vocalized more in the baseline period when compared to the problem-solving phase. If the vocalizing or looking behaviors were to communicate their need of assistance, they would have occurred more during the problem-solving phase.
When faced with a problem they can’t solve, dogs reliably engage in behaviors that may represent help-seeking communication, and this occurs beginning from a young age. This study suggests that miniature pigs may not have a predisposition for requesting help from humans but are predisposed to persist with problems more on their own. The behavior of miniature pigs may be more similar to that of domestic cats, who have also performed more independently than dogs on unsolvable task studies.
Above is a photo from Fraga et al (2021).
Reference: Fraga, P. P., Gerencsér, L., Lovas, M., Újváry, D., Andics, A. (2021). Who turns to the human? Companion pigs’ and dogs’ behaviour in the unsolvable task paradigm. Animal Cognition, 24, 33-40. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-020-01410-2