Taming & Bonding With Your Guinea Pig
It can be challenging to tame a skittish guinea pig when they're bolting away and hiding every time you enter the room. Teaching your guinea pig to trust you can take some time and patience, but bonding with your guinea pig is worth every moment. Tame guinea pigs are so cute and make amazing pets. They can learn tricks, come when you call them, and wheek happily when you walk in the room. A super tame guinea pig can be almost dog like in personality, and can even learn to follow their person around like a little 2 pound puppy. 🙂
The best way to tame your guinea pig is to simply spend lots of time with them in a positive manner. Talk to them in a happy voice and hand feed them their favorite veggie treats. Sit down on their level and let them come to you. Avoid sudden movements and sit quietly so you can show them there's nothing to be scared of. Create positive associations by hand feeding treats frequently. These positive food associations will help your guinea pig to overcome their fear of you and associate you with good things rather than just being scary. Spending time with your guinea pig positively and consistently is key to forming a strong bond and having a sweet and social guinea pig.
Find Your Guinea Pig's Favorite Treats
The best way to a guinea pig's heart is often with food! Therefore, a good first step to taming a skittish guinea pig would be to find treats that your piggy absolutely loves. Vegetables are the best treats for taming your guinea pig because they are healthy and can be fed in higher quantities than store bought treats. You can find a list of good veggies to use for training or taming on our Guinea Pig Training Treats page.
When introducing new foods to your guinea pig, they may not eat them initially. This doesn't necessarily mean that they don't like the treats. Often when guinea pigs are unfamiliar with a new food, they don't really recognize it as food right away and will hesitate to eat it for awhile. Keep offering it in their food bowl every day. Eventually, they will decide to try it out. Put a few different veggies in their bowl and take note of which ones disappear or get nibbled on most often.
Hand Feed Your Guinea Pig Their Favorite Treats
Once you have some veggies that your guinea pig likes, try offering some food from your hand. I like to start with bigger pieces (like a leaf of lettuce or a full size carrot) so they can nibble on the food without needing to come too close to your hand at first. Hold the piece of food still and let your guinea pig nibble on it while you hold the other end.
As your guinea pig becomes more comfortable eating from your hand, use gradually smaller pieces of veggies. This encourages them to come a little bit closer to you each time. Eventually, your guinea pig will be able to confidently walk right up to your hand to take a smaller treat from you.
At first, you'll probably have to hold the food close to the entrance of their bed or hidey house so they'll feel comfortable enough to eat in front of you. Try to break up your hand feeding sessions into short 5-10 minute periods a couple times a day.
Once your guinea pig is comfortable eating the food from inside their hidey hut, start holding the food just an inch or so outside of their house so they need to poke their nose out a little bit to eat the food. Don't try to lure them out at this point, just hold the food and wait for them to poke their head out and eat it. The more time you spend hand feeding, the more your guinea pig will start to relax in your presence and begin to form positive associations with you approaching their cage.
Put Treats in Your Guinea Pig's Cage Throughout the Day
Many skittish guinea pigs will run into their hidey house as soon as you open the door or approach their cage. You can change this reaction by changing your guinea pig's mindset about what happens when you approach their cage. A simple way to do this is by putting a piece of your guinea pig's favorite veggie treat in their cage and walking away. Do this a couple times throughout the day, without interacting with or handling your guinea pig. Over time, they will come to associate you approaching the cage with bringing them a treat, and will be less likely to spook and run away every time.
Avoid Acting Like a Predator
As a prey animal, guinea pigs are naturally cautious of any strange or loud noises, sudden movements, shadows, and anything coming at them from above. The more nervous your guinea pig is, the more sensitive they will be to these things. Guinea pigs also have poor eyesight and tend to spook easily.
Whenever possible, try to move around quietly and slowly. Avoid looming over your guinea pig and stay as still as you can whenever your guinea pig is approaching you or eating food from your hand. Talk to them in a quiet, calm tone so they get used to hearing your voice.
Floor Time With Your Guinea Pig
Floor time is a great way to bond with your guinea pig. Floor time is basically where you set up a guinea pig safe area (a foldable exercise pen is great for this purpose!) and give the guinea pig time to free roam outside of their cage. This is also a great opportunity to sit with your guinea pig closer to their level and bond with them. To learn more about setting up a floor time space for your piggies, check out our page on Guinea Pig Floor Time.
At first, your guinea pig may not want to move around or leave the security of their hidey house. This is totally normal! Guinea pigs usually take a bit of time to adapt to a new environment or routine. Stick with it, and eventually your guinea pig will feel comfortable enough to start exploring. Scattering some veggie treats around on the floor sometimes helps encourage the guinea pig to venture out of their hiding place.
Sitting quietly with your guinea pig on the floor is a good way for them to learn that you're not a threat. You can get the guinea pig used to your presence simply by sitting near them and reading a book or scrolling social media. Have some veggie treats ready to offer the guinea pig for when they start to venture out and approach you.
Make a Blanket Fort For Your Guinea Pig
You can also make your guinea pig feel more comfortable around you by giving them a place to hide when they're hanging out with you. This is especially helpful to start bonding with guinea pigs that won't eat veggies in your presence at all. Try draping a blanket over yourself and onto the floor so the guinea pig can hide beside you underneath the blanket and feel secure.
This gives the guinea pig a place to hide and feel comfortable while also getting used to being near you. You can also put your guinea pig on your lap with a blanket or towel that they can bury themselves in to feel safe. Another thing you can do is sit with your legs up, and cover your legs with a blanket or large towel to create a tent or blanket fort for your piggies to hide in. Put some veggies under the blanket with them. When they start eating, you know they're beginning to feel more comfortable around you.
How to Get Your Guinea Pig Out of Their Cage Without Chasing Them
It can be challenging to get your guinea pigs out frequently for floor time when they're panicking and running away as soon as you reach in to pick them up. This is normal for guinea pigs. They have poor eyesight, and when a large shadow reaches over them, it's their instinct to run and hide from a potential predator.
My favorite way to move my guinea pigs to and from their cage is using the carrier method. All you do is take a small pet carrier (a little soft sided carrier works perfectly) and place it in their cage. If you don't have a carrier, you can also use a closed bed or cuddle cup and just pick them up in their bed (be sure to cover the entrance so they don't try to jump out in midair!) To get your guinea pig to go in, show your piggy some of their favorite treats, and then put the food inside the carrier.
If your guinea pig is too skittish to follow the food into the carrier, you can place the carrier in their cage and take all their hidey houses out of the cage. A nervous guinea pig will quickly gravitate to the carrier. Draping a blanket partway over the carrier door can also make it more inviting for a skittish guinea pig.
All of my guinea pigs run straight into their carrier as soon as I put it down in their cage or on the floor. Super easy, and so much less stressful! The carrier also makes it really easy to get the guinea pigs back in their cage when floor time is over.
Keep Your Guinea Pig in a Playpen
Something I like to do with most of my new guinea pigs is keep them in a guinea pig proofed space in a playpen or exercise pen full time. I usually do this for at least a few weeks, and sometimes a couple of months until I feel like they're pretty comfortable around me and less skittish.
I set up their playpen like I would a cage, with a couple hidey houses, food bowl, water bottle, a waterproof mat to protect the floor, and some fleece blankets. I find this to be the easiest way to bond with my guinea pigs. It's easy to spend time with them throughout the day without the hassle of setting up a free roam space and getting them out of the cage every time. They also get used to me walking in and out of the room, around their pen, etc. All of my guinea pigs are comfortable with me walking around the room with them and stepping over them carefully when needed, and I'm sure that's mainly because of their bonding period in the exercise pen.
Routines and Consistency
Guinea pigs thrive on routines and consistency. They quickly begin to associate times of the day with activities. For example, my guinea pigs always start squealing half an hour before feeding time every night. They also wait at the front of their cage to come out for floor time in the evening. Creating a routine for floor time or hand feeding can be helpful, especially when taming skittish guinea pigs. When they know what to expect, they're more likely to relax faster and settle into the routine.
While it's not necessary to pick the same time every day, it may take more time to tame your guinea pig if there's not a set routine. I found this to be true with a guinea pig I had in the past that was very skittish. Getting him out at sporadic times didn't work very well for him at all. Once I started being more consistent about getting him out every evening around the same time, he started settling into the routine. He seemed more prepared for our bonding session each day and was able to start nibbling on the food right away. Before that, he would often need time to adapt and survey his environment from inside his hidey house before he would feel comfortable enough to eat.
Patience Pays Off!
Some guinea pigs come out of their shell quite quickly, whereas others may take several weeks or longer. I've been there with one of my guinea pigs, and I know it can be frustrating sometimes. He would bolt as soon as I entered the room, hide at even the slightest noise, freeze every time I moved even 2 inches... However, he ended up turning into one of my sweetest and most loving piggies, making all the time and hard work worth it. Have faith, get them out every day, hand feed as much as you can. You will get there! :)
Baby Guinea Pigs Tend To Be Skittish
Age often plays a factor with skittish guinea pigs. Baby guinea pigs seem to be especially jumpy and kind of wild sometimes. This is pretty normal in my experience, and they usually chill out quite a bit by the time they're around a year old.
As a baby, one of my guinea pigs would bolt into her house as soon I walked in the room, took no interest in taking treats from my hand, just wanted to run and popcorn all over the place like a little wild child. However, by the time she was a year old, she was so much calmer, loved being pet, and became the biggest foodie ever! As a baby, I couldn't picture her being any of those things. So if your guinea pig is still young, there's a good chance they'll calm down some more with age and maturity.
Reduce Stress and Limit Negative Experiences For Your Guinea Pig
Try to keep the interactions with your guinea pig as stress free as possible for them. Choose a quiet, familiar environment to get them out of their cage and bond with them. Don't carry them around too much or show them off to your friends. Bond with them one on one and build up trust with your guinea pig. You want your guinea pig to feel as comfortable around you as possible. After all, if every interaction between you and your guinea pig is stressful and frightening for your pet, they will be unlikely to enjoy spending time with you.
Use an Older & Confident Guinea Pig to Set an Example For the Skittish Piggy
If you already have an older and more confident guinea pig (for example if you are bonding a new baby guinea pig with an older piggy) you can use the older guinea pig's confidence to your advantage. Feed your older guinea pig some treats right in front of the hidey house where the young guinea pig is hiding. This will often pique the interest of the baby guinea pig and encourage them to venture out as well. Seeing another guinea pig eating and approaching you without fear sets a good example and shows the baby that there's nothing to be scared of.
Even if your guinea pigs aren't bonded yet, you can still use this method with a fence or cage between them. Move the hidey house of the skittish guinea pig close to the fence, and feed the older guinea pig right beside the fence on the other side. If the skittish guinea pig pops their nose out, offer them a treat through the bars.
Bond With Your Guinea Pig By Teaching Tricks
Once your guinea pig is at the point where they can approach you and take treats from your hand, you can grow your bond with trick training! Teaching tricks is a fun way to spend time with your guinea pig and increase their confidence. Start with some easy, beginner friendly tricks such as spinning in a circle or putting their front paws up on your hand. Also check out our page on how to train your guinea pig for a video and more tips on how to start training your guinea pig.
Teach Your Guinea Pig to Enjoy Petting
Some guinea pigs seem to enjoy being pet, while others just naturally don't like it very much. However, most guinea pigs can learn to love petting with a little bit of patience and positive reinforcement. I have an Abyssinian guinea pig who absolutely hated being touched when he was young, even though he was pretty tame and would follow me around. I started pairing treats with very soft, gentle petting. Since he was so focused on eating his veggies, he tolerated the gentle petting. Over time he became more and more comfortable with being pet. Now he actually truly enjoys it, even without any veggie treats.
Also take note of what your guinea pig likes and doesn't like. If your guinea pig has a spot that they don't like being touched (maybe head, sides, etc) try to avoid that area and pet them only where they seem comfortable being touched. Pet them gently and be careful not to spook them by swooping your hand over them first. Bring your hand up to them from the side so they can see you coming.
Socializing Your Guinea Pig With New People
Once your guinea pig is comfortable with you, another thing you can do is introduce them to different people. This is not a necessary thing to bond with your guinea pig, but it's a good way to show them that all people are safe and friendly, not just the person they're most familiar with.
Guinea pigs are often shy around strangers and take some time to warm up. Give the new person some veggie treats to hand feed to your guinea pig. Some guinea pigs will come running out right away, whereas others may need more time and coaxing. Usually if the same person comes back multiple times, the guinea pig will warm up to them quicker each time. The more people you introduce to your piggy, the more confident they will be when approaching new guests.
Exploring New Environments
Guinea pigs are often very skittish in new environments, or anywhere outside the immediate space that they live in on a day to day basis. A new environment for a guinea pig could be the hallway right outside the room that they're housed in. The living room, a new bedroom, kitchen, bathroom, and hallways are all places you can get your guinea pig used to over time. You can also take them outside (supervised) when the weather is nice, in a safe enclosed space such as an exercise pen.
I would caution against moving them around until the guinea pig is tame and comfortable in their own space first. If they are still quite skittish, they will be overwhelmed in a new, even scarier environment and will be unable to form any positive experiences in the new place.
To expose them to new rooms and environments, set up a guinea proofed area with some hiding places, plus food and water if they're going to be in there for awhile. Leave them to their own devices for awhile, to survey the new space and investigate when they're ready. Scattering some of their favorite veggie treats on the floor often helps encourage them to explore.
They will likely need several outings to that same room to become completely comfortable there. However, the more rooms you introduce them to, the quicker they will adjust to each new place. Start with the small, quieter rooms at first, such as a bathroom, hallway, or spare bedroom. Once they're comfortable in these types of areas, you can then introduce them to bigger rooms with more activity, and start bringing them outside.
10 Best Ways to Tame Your Guinea Pig
- Find their favorite veggie treats and hand feed your guinea pig as much as possible.
- Avoid making sudden movements and loud noises that may startle your guinea pig.
- Get your guinea pig out for floor time and sit with them on their own level.
- Create a blanket fort so your guinea pig feels more comfortable hanging out with you.
- Bond with your guinea pig by teaching tricks.
- Create positive associations and limit negative experiences for your guinea pig.
- Use an older, tame guinea pig to set an example for the skittish guinea pig.
- Keep your guinea pig in a play pen full time to make bonding easier and faster.
- Be consistent and stick to a routine if possible.
- Be patient!
It can take a lot of time and patience to teach your guinea pig to trust you, but it is totally worth the effort! Tame guinea pigs love to greet you with excited wheeks when you enter the room. They can also learn tricks, recognize their names, follow you around and learn to come when called. Guinea pigs can be such fun and enjoyable companions when they're no longer skittish. I call my little piggies my puppy pigs because they're always underfoot and following me around like little puppies. 😍 It truly is the most adorable thing, and I hope everyone gets a chance to experience that with their own guinea pigs! I hope you learned a thing or two from this page that helps you to develop that strong bond with your guinea pig. Once you've earned a guinea pig's trust, they are one of the sweetest and most amazing animals!