Sometimes raising guinea pigs can seem like one-sided love especially when we would do anything for our guinea pigs. But you should not be discouraged! Guinea pigs love is shown differently from other pets. The fact that guinea pigs are prey animals, who have built-in run and hide in DNA, also leads many humans to misunderstand how much our guinea pigs actually love us.
The following list may be deemed as milestones and quests to win over a guinea pig’s heart. Try to evaluate where you are with your guinea pigs, and apply the different methods to help guinea pigs gain trust and display more affection toward you.
So here are the signs that your guinea pigs love you!
1. How to know if guinea pigs like you? Simple! They don't run or hide from you
Guinea pigs are instinctively cautious and always on alert. As a new owner, when a guinea pig runs away the moment you get closer to their cage, you may start to think that your guinea pigs do not like you. However, guinea pigs running away does not necessarily mean they do not like you. It is just their survival mechanism.
Though they no longer live in the wild, guinea pigs still retain some of their wild instincts. For instance, guinea pigs still scurry to safety whenever they hear a strange noise or see a possible threat. When something approaches, their DNA kicks in before they start thinking and assessing the situation. This mechanism helped them survive for thousands of years. So, you shouldn’t take it personally if they run and hide, no matter how long you have them as a pet.
Over time, your guinea pigs may react less strongly when you approach. They may only scurry away a short distance or quickly come out of hiding once they realize it is you. If your guinea pigs approach you voluntarily, it is a sign that they trust you and see you as a protector, a guardian, a friend and a provider.
Bonding Method Part 1: Make Their Habitat Feel Safe
(Making your guinea pig's habitat feel safe is the first step to allowing them to open up to you)
Remember when I said guinea pigs react to “strange” sounds and possible threats? When you first adopt guinea pigs, they are in completely new surroundings. New sounds, smells, temperature, lighting, etc. To guinea pigs, it may be equivalent to being dropped into a jungle with predators with no clothes, house, food, water or tools. The level of fear could be tremendous, especially if the guinea pig is still young (less than six months old).
As a new guinea pig pet parent, you must do everything you can to make sure they feel safe. Once they feel less threatened by their surroundings, then and only then will guinea pigs start thinking about developing their bond with you. Spend time setting up their habitat, and do your best to meet or exceed guinea pig housing recommendations.
Here’s what your guinea pigs need in their cage to feel safe in their environment:
- 24/7 accessible unlimited amount of grass hay
Unlimited access to their main food source puts them at ease. Just think, when you’re hungry, you get antsy too, don’t you?
- Clean water
Just like food, having 24/7 access to water is important to make the guinea pig feel at home. Thirst can increase their instinctive reactions, making them more skittish.
- Soft and safe bedding.
Hard surfaces may make the guinea pig feel vulnerable. They will feel like they can’t run and hide easily, which will make them react more to possible threats. Click here to read about different types of bedding and the best bedding for guinea pigs, like GuineaDad Liner.
(Providing a hidey like the Crunchy Condo will provide guinea pigs a ample place to feel safe)
Guinea pigs need a go-to place where they feel safe. Place their guinea pig hideout in a location in their habitat that is easy to get to. Also be sure to put guinea pig fleece liner or bedding in their hideout so they feel snug and safe.
Bonding Method Part 2: Adjustment Period (two weeks recommended)
While guinea pigs get used to their surroundings, refrain from touching or holding them for at least a week or two. This is the period of time we call the Adjustment Period. During this time, you need to make sure they do not see you as a threat. If you have already had your guinea pig for more than two weeks, do not worry. It is not too late. You can still follow the following Adjustment Period Plan for the next two weeks to help your guinea pig feel safer.
Tip 1: Minimize Sound
Make sure the guinea pigs' cage is away from any loud sounds (TV, refrigerator, washing machine, street traffic, etc.) We can slowly convince the guinea pigs to think of their new surrounding as a safe environment, instead of a dangerous jungle. Their little ears are always on high alert. So, you want to minimize the amount of threatening noise your guinea pig is exposed to on a regular basis.
Be sure to explain this to your children, if you have any. Stress the importance of staying calm and quiet while the guinea pigs adjust. Gradually, your guinea pigs can get used to more and more noises.
Associate professor of zoological medicine at LSU School of Veterinary medicine, Javier Nevarez, suggests putting their guinea pig cage in a room that’s visited regularly but doesn’t have constant traffic. That way, there isn’t too much noise but they also get used to regular activity in your house.
Tip 2. Introduce Your Smell
Choose a piece of clothing that you have worn for a day and not washed yet. Hang it on the cage wall or put it near their guinea pig hideout. If you have GuineaDad Liner, I suggest putting the clothes inside the pocket so they will comfortably learn your scent while they are hiding.
Also be mindful of other smells nearby. If you have another pet, like a dog, cat or bird, their smell can frighten the guinea pig. Be sure to place their habitat away from your other pet’s main living quarters. Eventually, you can introduce your guinea pig to your pet’s smell in the same way as yours. But, during the adjustment period, limit the amount of threatening smells as much as possible. Be sure to always take extra measures to keep your guinea pig safe around other pets.
Tip 3: Introduce Your Hand
(Enticing guinea pigs with pea flakes helps to get them to eat out of your hands!)
While they are in their guinea pig hideout, like the Crunchy Condo, try to put your hand nearby so they could see and smell the hand. Make sure your hands are not so close that guinea pigs feel uncomfortable. Keep your hand in a safe position for a couple minutes, every couple hours during the Adjustment Period. This will help them learn that your hand is not a threat.
Tip 4: Introduce Your Voice
Every day, spend as much time as possible talking to them in a soft gentle voice. Try to talk to them especially when they are in their guinea pig hideout. The guinea pig will slowly start relating your voice to the feeling of safety and comfort.
Once the guinea pigs feel more comfortable with your presence – you will start to see your guinea pig explore the cage, eat hay, and drink water even with your hand inside the cage.
Tip 5: Establish a Routine
Guinea pigs don’t like surprises- it goes against their prey nature. So, you can help them feel safer by establishing a routine. When implementing any of the tips in this article, try to do them at similar times during the day. It would also help to do them in the same order. For instance, talk to them gently, then introduce your hand, and then (once you reach later stages), give them treats followed by floor time. If you put your hand in before talking to them, you could scare them and lose some progress you’ve made.
Tip 6: Use Your Other Guinea Pigs as Examples
(Using snacks such as pea flakes help with the bonding process)
If you have other guinea pigs, you can use them to show your new guinea pig that you can be trusted. If your new guinea pig sees you interacting with your tamed guinea pigs, they will lower their guard more quickly. You can use this tip even more as you progress to the following stages.
The Animal Humane Society recommends keeping a new guinea pig in a separate cage from your current guinea pigs during this adjustment period (two weeks). And, be sure to wash your hands between touching the different guinea pigs. This gives you time to identify if your new guinea pig has any health issues that could affect your other piggies.
So, if using Tip 6 during the adjustment period, keep your “example” guinea pig on the outside of your new guinea pig’s cage with a healthy distance in between.
Plus, this time apart will help you get to know their personality better before physically introducing them to your other guinea pigs. More aggressive or spunky personalities may need more controlled introductions. You can turn to our 6 Tips to Introducing New Guinea Pigs for advice.
Tip 7: Be Patient
If you have reached the two-week mark but your guinea pig is still uncomfortable, it’s okay. You just need to be a little more patient. Continue following the above tips until you notice a positive change. Some guinea pigs, just like humans, are more shy or nervous than others. Reassess their cage and guinea pig hideout location, the comfort of their habitat, and make sure everything is as comfortable as it can be. Remember, consider lighting, noise, smells, and more.
Older guinea pigs may take more time to adjust, too. Some people say older guinea pigs can’t be tamed, but that’s not true! They just require a little more patience and commitment from their guinea pig parent. Make sure their habitats feel extra safe with plenty of Timothy grass hay and cozy guinea pig fleece liner, like GuineaDad Liner.
If your guinea pig is exploring its cage in your presence, Congratulations! You have hit a big milestone! Now, we can move on to the next step.
2. What does it mean when a guinea pig licks you? Why does my guinea pig lick me?
Click Here to watch How to Make Your Guinea Pig Love You: Episode 2 (Includes Sign 2 and 3)
Many wonder what it means when your guinea pig licks you. When you have built enough trust with your guinea pig, the guinea pig will approach your hand to give you a lick. This is a method guinea pig showing affection and trust. To them, licking is like a small guinea pig kiss! When they lick themselves or their fellow guinea pig companions, they are grooming their fur and providing comfort.
Some of you who have gone through the Adjustment Period successfully, might have experienced your guinea pigs licking your hand already. If so, congratulations! If not, no need to worry. In both cases, below Vegetable and Treat Method will help you build trust and gain guinea pig love.
Bonding Method Part 3: Vegetables and Treats Method
The fastest way to win a guinea pig’s heart is through a guinea pig’s tummy. Hand feeding has been proven to be an effective way to support human-to-guinea pig bonding. During the Adjustment Period Plan, you made efforts to ensure guinea pigs do not see your hand negatively (as a threat). Now, it is time to help the guinea pig recognize your hand as something positive (a provider).
(Using GuineaDad supplements such as Marigold or Dandelion will help with this process)
Guinea pigs should always have free access to guinea pig hay, like Timothy grass hay. But you can use their daily dose of vegetables and other treats to help bond with them.
For this bonding method, prepare some fresh, guinea pig safe vegetables. (If you are not sure how much of what vegetable you should feed your guinea pig, please refer to the below video)
Try cutting them in small pieces – bite size for guinea pigs. This will ensure that guinea pigs come closer to your hand to get every bite. The number of feeding sessions will also increase because there are a greater number of pieces.
Now that you have successfully gone through the Adjustment Period Plan, they will be willing to take vegetables off your hand. Try to give them one piece every couple of seconds so they wait a bit between each bite. During this wait time, the guinea pig will get a little nervous and try signaling you that they want those vegetable pieces coming faster. In many cases, they will lick you finger or gently nibble at it. When they lick you, give them the vegetable pieces faster. Perhaps give two as a sense of reward.
(Pea flakes is a excellent choice to help with the bonding process. Guinea pigs love them)
Pea Flake is one of the most popular guinea pig treats around the world. It may take a couple of tries for a guinea pig to get used to the taste, but it could help you build trust faster. As a precaution, you should feed pea flake and other treats in modest amounts. Each guinea pig should be given no more than two to three pea flakes per day.
3. Freely crawls onto your hand and lap
When the guinea pig gets more comfortable with you, they might even start to crawl on your hand during the Vegetable & Treat Method as they grow a bit impatient. However, what is more rewarding for guinea pig parents is when your guinea pig trusts you so much that they start crawling on your lap and body. When they climb onto you, you can feel their warm and fluffy belly which will make all the worries and stress of the day go away. To reach level 3, you can try the Interactive floor time below.
(The 2x1 GuineaDad Liner is a perfect liner for lap time)
Bonding Method Part 4: Interactive Floor Time
Like all furry pets, guinea pigs need exercise, and floor time provides an excellent opportunity to bond with you guine pig. The best way to provide floor time is to ensure guinea pigs have access to soft flooring – which could be a carpet or rug. If you are worried about guinea pigs peeing and pooping on the carpet or rug, or if you have a hard floor, you can lay down some GuineaDad Liners. While guinea pigs come out to explore, I suggest that you sit right in the middle of the GuineaDad Liners where they will feel most comfortable. Remember, we are trying create a connection between your presence and positive sensations.
Just like the Vegetable & Treat Method, prepare vegetables and treats. Lure the guinea pig close to you and onto your lap. Some guinea pigs will be adventurous enough to climb onto your leg right away (if your guinea pig is anything like my Peanut). However, if they are more like my Tofu, you can help your guinea pig feel safer to voluntarily climb on your lap by putting smaller sized GuineaDad Liner onto your lap. GuineaDad Liner will also service as a protection for you from vegetable juice, pee and poop (you know guinea pigs poop the most when they eat, right?). I personally do not mind either, but for those who do, GuineaDad Liner could be a life saver 😊.
Now that you passed the level 3, it is time for you to continue on!
4. Signs your guinea pig loves you? Wheeks when you come home or approach them!
Click Here to watch How to Make Your Guinea Pig Love You: Episode 3 (Includes Sign 4,5 and 6)
Another sign that your guinea pigs love you is when they start wheeking once you arrive home or call them. Wheeking is a high pitch sound that a guinea pig makes whenever they feel excited or are anticipating something. If you watch GuineaDad YouTube videos, you will often hear Peanut, Tofu and Dumpling wheek to get my attention. Whether they are excited that you are there to feed them or they just want some attention, they are ultimately happy that you are around. This sign of affection will happen sooner or later as you follow bonding methods mentioned in the previous sections. There is not a specific tip to make this happen, but this loving behavior will naturally emerge as guinea pigs consider you as a provider and a protector.
5. Sleeps around you, especially with eyes closed
When your guinea pig starts to sleep around you, especially with their eyes closed, this means that they no longer see you as a threat. It also means that your guinea pig enjoys your company and feels safe enough around you to sleep. Also, guinea pigs usually tend to be alert right when they wake up in case there are predators around. If your piggy takes their time to wake up by yawning and stretching, that means they are comfortable and in no rush to scurry away from you.
(Tofu sleeping in her favorite yellow GuineaDad Liner!)
Bonding Method Part 5: Floor Time Tent
Guinea pigs love to burrow. That is why so many guinea pigs around the world love GuineaDad Liners. We can use their love to burrow to our advantage for bonding with guinea pigs. Sit or lie down on the floor with your legs stretched out on top of a GuineaDad Liner. Make sure you have bit of a gap between your legs so your guinea pig can walk between your legs and turn around. Also try to have enough gap between the edge of the GuineaDad Liner and your foot. Think of the GuineaDad Liner as a road and your two legs as the road’s passing lane. Cover your leg with a thin blanket – hold one end of the blanket with bottom of your feet pointing up and cover your body. This will create some gap above your ankle below the blanket. Lure the guinea pigs to go under the blanket. They will start to explore the tunnel and jump over your ankle to switch lanes if there is some space above your ankle below the blanket. Once they understand that it is safe and fun inside this space, they will lie down (probably near your foot) and sleep leaning on you. This activity brings your guinea pigs’ comfort level to another level. Now you have reached level 5 in gaining a guinea pig’s trust and love. Time to move onto level 6, the ultimate level!
6. Comes to you on command
This is the last stage. If you have completed level 5, you and your guinea pigs are already at a point where there is an unbreakable mutual trust and love. Level 6 is more about them understanding you, so you can interact with them more fruitfully and continue to stimulate them to achieve the ultimate bond.
Bonding Method Part 5: High Pitch Command
If you watch GuineaDad’s YouTube channel, you will often see me say “kong, kong!” or “kong-a” in a very high pitch voice. This is my command word for Peanut (Kong, Kong-a means Peanut in Korean). I always call my guinea pigs by their name, so they eventually recognize their name. Consistency is very important, which means the pitch and intonation also needs to be the same or similar.
The reason high pitch sound works better is because it also mimics their wheeking sound, which has positive correlation in most cases. Whenever you give them a vegetable or treat, try calling your guinea pig’s name in a high-pitched voice. With enough positive reinforcement, your guinea pig will approach you on command in no time.
I hope this guide helps many people bond closer to their guinea pig and remove any misunderstanding that they might have had. Just remember to be patient with your guinea pigs and always know that you are working with a fragile creature in a jungle. If you reach level 6, that means even if guinea pigs feel exposed to the dangers of the world (as engineered in their instinct), they still feel safe and happy in your presence. That kind of bond is as strong as with any other pet.
You can always come back to this article as you check off each level. It could take some time to gain complete trust and love, but it is ever so rewarding. Providing necessities and building love are extremely important, but making sure your guinea pigs stay mentally stimulated is also crucial. Once your bond is established, there are creative ways to keep them curious and excited. If you want to take your bond to level 7, try checking out the GuineaDad YouTube channel to see all the fun activities that I do with my girls. They may even inspire you to come up with creative ways to keep your guinea pigs excited.