Do Pet Pigs Interact With Their Owners Like Dogs?

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Dogs and pigs are surprisingly similar. Both are four-legged, social, and inarguably cute. Moreover, as omnivorous critters, their domestication storylines began with the same humble beginnings, lurking around human settlements eating leftover food. But while dogs ended up cuddling with humans near the campfire, pigs ended up roasting over it.

Pork is now the most widely eaten meat in the world. At the same time, owing to the creation of novel, smaller breeds and the publication of studies attesting to their remarkable intelligence, pigs are increasingly living with people as pets.

Amidst this backdrop, animal behaviorists from Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary launched the Family Pig Project (FPP) in 2017, with the aim of raising pigs in a similar environment as family dogs so the two species can be properly compared in experimental research.

In a recent study published to the journal Scientific Reports, scientists Paula Pérez Fraga, Linda Gerencsér, and Attila Andics brought similarly-raised, four-month-old piglets and puppies into the lab to investigate how they interact with their human caregivers. As the researchers described:

"We presented the [animal] subjects with a preference test, in which the owner was either paired with an unfamiliar person or with a familiar object. We measured the approach and proximity seeking of both piglets and dog puppies. We hypothesized that family pigs would exhibit preference for their caregiver similarly as family dogs do."

Experimental setup of the preference test. Su subject, C caregiver, S stranger, O object, SP subject’s starting point. (a) Caregiver–Object condition, (b) Caregiver–Stranger condition.

The authors were broadly correct in their hypothesis.

"Both family pigs and dogs seek for the proximity of their caregiver in unrestricted neutral contexts, as reflected by the similar total time spent and preference for being in direct vicinity of them," the researchers found.

There were some behavioral differences between the puppies and piglets, however.

"Neither species preferred their owner over the stranger, but for seemingly different reasons," author Linda Gerencsér said. "Dogs preferred to stay near both humans over being elsewhere, whereas pigs rather stayed away from the social partners, which might reflect slight fear towards the unfamiliar human."

Pigs also interacted more intimately with their owners. "Pigs needed more physical contact," researcher Paula Pérez Fraga described. "They touched the owner with the snout, in a similar manner as they do with conspecifics, and they climbed to the owner's lap."

"To sum up, we found that after intense socialization juvenile pigs, as family dogs, displayed proximity seeking behaviour towards their caregiver," the researchers concluded.

Source: Pérez Fraga, P., Gerencsér, L. & Andics, A. Human proximity seeking in family pigs and dogs. Sci Rep 10, 20883 (2020).

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