Introducing Awesome Oscar!
(Photos courtesy of Life With a Mini Pig)
I have been following Oscar for several months now on Facebook and would highly recommend that you check out Oscar’s FB page, which is called Life With a Mini Pig. However, in addition to this, Tamara, Oscar’s mom, also maintains a fantastic blog, http://lifewithaminipig.com/ . Really, truly, if you are interested in pigs as pets and especially if you are contemplating getting a pig for yourself, check out this website. It’s amazing!
Now I would like to pause here for a sec and talk about the term “mini pig.” This topic has received an awful lot of negative press recently and comes with a warning: if you are considering a pig as a pet, you must do your homework! I have mentioned this in previous posts. You may think you’re getting an adorable little piglet that will not exceed 40 or 50 lbs when fully grown, but you may well end up with a 250 lbs pig. Esther the Wonder Pig, for example, is now a whopping 700 lbs and they thought she was going to remain small! In Oscar’s case, Tamara states very clearly on her blog that she was indeed not only aware of this but was completely prepared to keep Oscar, regardless of his full grown size. Towards the end of this post you’ll also hear her emphasize the need to research and get informed. She also provides a link to find pigs that are being re-homed after being abandoned. Please, please do your homework!
Now back to Oscar! There are so many milestones that I have enjoyed watching Oscar reach over the last few months. We’ve seen him devour new types of food and learn so many skills. However, one or two things really stand out for me. First, in a post called “Mini Pig Noises With Sound Recordings,” we get to actually hear how Oscar communicates. Tamara explains that he communicates with quite a variety of “squeals, oinks, and grunts.” Some of these are soft and adorable; others come with a warning to turn down the volume! His language development is quite fascinating. Here is the link if you would like a listen: http://lifewithaminipig.com/mini-pig-noises-with-sound-recordings/ I think you’ll agree that he communicates quite clearly! 🙂
Another more recent post focused on how to curb pig dominance or aggression with a technique called “Move the Pig” (MTP). This involves literally moving the pig to establish its place in the family hierarchy. In Oscar’s case he was nipping and whipping his head around in warning, and while he wasn’t seriously attacking anyone, Tamara knew she had to do something to curb the behaviour.
While explaining the technique on her blog, she emphasizes that she is not an expert but describes MTP as follows: “My very basic interpretation of Move the Pig is that it’s a technique that allows us to communicate to a pig that we are the top of the hierarchy. Pigs are very hierarchical, and they need to know their ranking within a hierarchy. Their aggression often results when they decide to challenge someone for their spot in the hierarchy in order to move up…” The premise is that you are communicating to a pig in his own language: “Move the Pig uses the same types of movements that pigs use with each other to communicate hierarchy and allows us to mimic those with our pig.”
This brings me to me interview with Tamara in which she further explains their success with the MTP technique. However, before we get to the interview, I would like to share with you some little pictures I have done of Oscar and his doggy siblings, all done in ink washes with charcoal overlay. The one on the left is of Liam, who sadly passed away in the fall. The next one is of Rylee, a little Boston Terrier who is an absolute sweetheart. Then of course there is Oscar! I sure loved painting that little snout. Following the interview, I have one more little painting of Oscar done in ink and paint.
- It is very clear that you absolutely adore Oscar. Had you always wanted to get a pig? What motivated you to become a piggy-mom?
I haven’t always wanted a pig, mainly because it just never occurred to me that I could have a pig as a pet. Growing up, I only thought of cats and dogs as pets. Surprisingly, my husband is the one who always wanted a pet pig. He grew up in rural Kansas and had more exposure to farm animals, and he decided when he was young that he wanted a pig someday. Since I was an animal lover already, I was completely on board with having a pig and, once I started researching pigs as pets, I was extremely excited about becoming a piggy-mom.
- It’s been the better part of a year now since Oscar joined your family. What has been most rewarding for you? What has been the biggest challenge?
The most rewarding part has been Oscar’s cuddles. With a pig, you have to earn their love in a way that you don’t with dogs. Although this can be really challenging at first, it’s incredibly rewarding once a bond has been established and you’ve earned their trust. With that trust comes the most amazing cuddles! Oscar likes to snuggle in tight and insists on cuddling every evening, and I love that about him. The biggest challenge has been the emotional highs and lows that come with owning a pig. I love Oscar to pieces, and he drives me absolutely insane some days. Oscar can test my patience in a way I haven’t experienced with any other pet. When he was more aggressive and trying to bite, I would get really upset and have to walk away to calm down. Within minutes, he would come find me and snuggle up next to me, and I would just melt again. He can make me so angry one minute and then remind me why I love him so much the second. It’s amazing and exhausting at the same time!
- Has anything really surprised you about having a pig?
Yes, the biggest surprise has been the work that goes into having a pig as a pet. Of course, the physical work of taking care of him is part of it, but the emotional work is what I didn’t expect. I am acutely aware of how smart pigs are and, while that makes taking care of Oscar fun and rewarding, I worry about him all the time. Am I spending enough time with him? Is he happy? Is he bored? Is he lonely? Since I know he has the capacity to feel and experience so many things, I worry about his needs being met. Part of that is my personality, but the other part is wanting to be a good pet parent. I made the choice to bring him into our family, and I want to provide him with a happy and content life. With my dog, I feel like I can easily keep her happy by throwing the ball, giving her treats, or going on a walk, but keeping Oscar happy is more complicated, and I worry a lot about that.
- On your blog you mention that one big difference between a pig and a dog is that a pig doesn’t need to please the way a dog does, that in fact a pig will generally do what he wants. Are there any specific examples you can remember where you learned this first hand?
The first time I noticed this was trying to get Oscar to come inside the house last summer. I was outside with Oscar and our two dogs, and I was ready for all of us to go in. I called everyone, and my two dogs ran immediately to me, but Oscar just kept eating grass. Oscar knew the command “come” already, but he wasn’t budging. I kept calling, and he completely ignored me. He simply didn’t want to go inside, so he didn’t. I quickly learned that Oscar only obeyed commands if something was in it for him (mainly food). As a general rule, Oscar doesn’t ever obey commands unless he has an incentive. For pigs, the incentives aren’t love or pleasing their owners, they are food or belly scratches. I really struggled in the beginning with Oscar being so different from my dog, but the key was just accepting him for being a pig. He is extremely stubborn and does what he wants which is frustrating, but it’s also amazing when he chooses to cuddle or be near you and you know that’s exactly where he wants to be.
- Recently Oscar had his first experience with snow, and he didn’t like it! Does he like water? Can you bathe him? (Of course, I’m thinking of Emmett from Piggylicious Life and his great aversion to all things wet!)
No, Oscar is just like Emmett in that he absolutely hates water. For Labor Day last year, I bought Oscar a little plastic pool and put some water in for his first pool party. I let the water heat up so it was comfortable, and I was so excited to put Oscar in the pool and let him enjoy the water. He hated it, and that’s the first time I realized he hated water. I couldn’t bathe him for a long time because he would panic and try to jump out of the bathtub. Just in the past month, we figured out a system to bathe Oscar; I bathe him while my husband distracts Oscar with a constant flow of peanut butter on a little spoon. If the peanut butter stops for a second though, Oscar remembers he’s in water and all bets are off!
- I’ve noticed that Oscar froths a lot. Is this related at all to teething?
Some of it is related to teething, but most of it is food related. Oscar froths more if he’s in the kitchen while food is being prepared or if it’s his meal time. Basically, any time he anticipates or wants food, he froths. I give Oscar Cheerios in order to get him to stay still for pictures, so he’s almost always frothing in his pictures. He knows I have Cheerios, and the anticipation of getting them makes him froth a ton. I liken it to people salivating when they think about or anticipate food, only in a much more obvious way!
- Oscar’s doggy-sister, Rylee, is absolutely adorable. Can you tell us a little about her too?
Of course! I had one pet growing up, a cat named Kat (we weren’t very creative) who hated pretty much everyone, so I didn’t like pets much when I was younger. When I was in graduate school, I spent a lot of time by myself working on projects and homework, and I decided I wanted a dog to keep me company. I picked Rylee because of her energy and personality, and I quickly fell in love. She was nine weeks old when I got her, and now she is 10 years old. She was my constant in life before I was married and settled, and I discovered my passion for animals because of her. Getting her was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made!
- Your two posts about the ‘Move the Pig’ technique were fascinating for me. You mentioned that since first doing it that you have seen a decrease in Oscar’s aggression. Have things specifically improved with regard to Rylee? Will the technique become part of your regular routine?
Move the Pig has been so helpful for us! It’s definitely part of our regular routine now. A few times each day, I walk up to Oscar and move him, and that seems to be enough maintenance to remind him who’s boss and keep his aggression down. With Rylee, things initially got worse for her when we started Move the Pig with Oscar. I think Oscar felt like he was losing his spot in the hierarchy with the humans, so he was fighting to hold on to any hierarchy he could and chose to battle with Rylee instead. However, after a few weeks of Move the Pig, he slowly stopped initiating battles with her. It’s almost like he just settled into his spot in the house and wasn’t interested in battling any more. They still have small “checks” with each other now and then around food, but the checks don’t escalate like they used to. Most importantly, Rylee doesn’t seem scared of him or stressed like she was; she is calm and comfortable around the house again.
- Do you think you would ever have a second pig, or is one just fine!?
I go back and forth on this all the time! I think I would like a second pig someday, but I don’t feel like I’m ready for another one quite yet. My husband and I try to be very cautious and calculated in how we spend our time and energy, so adding a pet to our home is a big decision for us. We want to make sure we aren’t overextended and also that we can give a pet the time and attention it needs. Now that we know how much energy and love a pig requires, we want to make sure we are ready if we add a second one. That being said, I think a lot about how a second pig would affect Oscar. I’ve read that there is no guarantee that two pigs will get along, so that scares me. However, I would love for Oscar to have a pig friend in his life for companionship, and I think about that a ton. Hopefully someday we’ll be ready to take on another one!
- Finally, is there anything else you would like us to know?
It’s so important to research before deciding to get a pet mini pig. They are absolutely adorable, but they are also a ton of work. We have had an overall positive experience with Oscar and wouldn’t trade him for the world, but we also researched for several years before deciding to finally get a pet pig. The biggest piece of advice I would give to anyone who wants a pig is to make sure everyone in your home is 100% on board. Pigs can be very noisy and disruptive to an environment, so it’s extremely important that every member of a home makes that decision together. People often don’t consider how giving up a pet affects the pet, and it breaks my heart to see people give up pigs for reasons that could have been avoided with some quick research. But, for people who have researched and are ready to bring a pet pig into their lives, pigs can be amazing pets and bring a ton of joy and love into a home.
Thank you so much, Tamara! You have a beautiful family, and I enjoy reading about Oscar and Rylee so much each week. Here is a final little painting of him. He’s just so darned cute that I didn’t want to stop 🙂 I look forward to more of his adventures on Life With a Mini Pig.If you would like to join the discussion, either leave a comment below or on the Facebook page for The Painted Hoof