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BASIC TRAINING

Your new guinea pig is adorable, playful and cuddly - just darn cute. She's also chewing on everything in sight - like the antique furniture - and hasn't quite learned where the litter box is kept. Even the most perfect guinea pig comes into your home with a few habits that you won't necessarily appreciate. Part of that is being new, and part of that is simply her innate urge to chew anything that looks good to her. Before you resign yourself to misbehavior, consider some basic training.

Training Importance

Everyone knows you can train a dog, but it's not widely known that guinea pigs are trainable too. They are not quite on the same level as a dog, cat or rabbit, but they can be litter-box trained and taught where it's not appropriate to chew. Your guinea pig will learn to recognize the sound of your voice as well as your scent, and you'll be able to train her to come to you when called. Training a guinea pig takes time, patience and a commitment on your part; you'll need to set aside at least 30 minutes a day to devote to her training. If you get in the habit of working with your guinea pig every day, and you are consistent, you may have very good luck training her.

Like dogs, guinea pigs are social animals, used to living in large groups in the wild, and there is a guinea pig hierarchy similar to a dog's. But much of your guinea pig's natural behavior will depend on her personality, age, reproductive status and gender.

Younger guinea pigs (less than four months old), are naturally more energetic and it's not uncommon for them to dart here and there around your house. These vivacious youngsters are also the most notorious chewers, selecting a wide assortment of objects to gnaw on, from the leg of your favorite sofa to the vacuum cleaner cord. She doesn't mean to be destructive; chewing is just another way for her to familiarize herself with her world, and it strengthens her jaws while wearing down her teeth.

Once your guinea pig has been around awhile and she learns the lay of the land, she'll be less likely to chew on the furniture. Hey, she's been there, done that. She'll gradually slow down as she gets older, but the sooner you begin to train her, the better your chances of success. Training your guinea pig when you first bring her home is also a good way to develop a strong relationship with her. In order to train her, you need to spend time with her, and if you reward and praise her lavishly for each thing she does right, she will begin to see you as someone who loves her and is worthy of her attention.

Training Options

The kinds of training being discussed here have nothing to do with cute pet tricks, but will form the foundation of a harmonious home life for all involved. Training your guinea pig in the following areas will protect you both.

Litter Training

Even if she spends most of her day happily occupied in her cage or hutch, every guinea pig needs (and is entitled to) some out-of-cage, stretch-out-your-legs-and-explore time. The safest environment you can provide her for this activity is a well guinea-pig-proofed home. Allowing her free access to roam the house, for any time period, also means litter box training is essential. Guinea pigs who don't use their litter boxes leave unappealing messes where you least expect them and that's a habit that's both unsanitary and unattractive.

Acceptable Indoor Behavior

Guinea pigs have a long and deserved reputation for scratching, burrowing and chewing. However, guinea pigs are undeservedly accused of trying to wreck a home when all they're doing is acting on their natural instincts. The key here is redirection -- train your guinea pig to use your choices of digging and chewing materials, like in her nest box, and chew toys instead of the living room rug and the dining room table. Your home will be left unravaged, your guinea pig will have outlets for her very real instincts, and you won't be in the middle of a battle zone.

Once you've succeeded in training your guinea pig to adapt to the limits you want to set, you'll find you've accomplished something besides good manners. You'll have created a model with which to gauge her health, since one of the first indicators of a medical problem is often a change in behavior. When your well-trained guinea pig suddenly starts acting erratically, don't wonder if it's guinea pig adolescence - call your veterinarian. But best of all, a guinea pig that's been trained firmly but lovingly will be a more secure, loving guinea pig, and your days together will hum along like a well-oiled engine.

The Importance of Routine

Remember your prey animal is naturally suspicious (You would be too!), and developing a routine is the best way to earn your guinea pig's trust and to train her. Setting up a routine also means you won't forget to do the important things, like feeding her and making sure she has water.

A routine also appeals to your guinea pig's social needs. In the wild, guinea pigs live together in complex guinea pig societies, so it's important that her daily routine includes plenty of time with you. Bonding time can occur at the same time you are exercising and training her.

You'll also keep your guinea pig healthy by establishing a routine. As you train her and spend time with her on a routine basis, you are more likely to notice when she isn't feeling well. When she just isn't behaving normally you'll want to discuss the change in her actions with your veterinarian.

Achieving a routine is best accomplished by developing her schedule very early. The key is to do the same things, at the same time, every day, as much as possible - such as giving her fresh water and food every morning, or letting her out to run around every afternoon. Just be careful not to get her so set in her ways that she becomes stressed at the least change in her environment, or becomes so bored she's lethargic. Varying her diet with fresh goodies and treats and giving her new toys to play with will keep your guinea pig flexible and stimulated. Time spent grooming, playing with you, or the post-dinner cuddle and digestive session - these are all examples of things you can incorporate into a daily routine for your guinea pig, things you'll both come to expect and look forward to.

Stress

Be aware that disruption to her routine can cause stress for your guinea pig. A well-trained guinea pig who lives comfortably with an established routine can be jolted by the loss of structure in her day, just as humans can be.

Guinea pigs are sensitive by nature and even the most adaptable guinea pig can react to a disruption in her routine. That disruption could be something as small (to you!) as not getting her food bowl filled at the regular time, or it could be something as major as a change of homes or a serious illness or death in the family, whether pet or human. Guinea pigs can't discuss their feelings or ask for your support during a difficult time. But just because they can't tell you they're stressed doesn't mean they don't feel it.

The most common symptoms of stress in your guinea pig include changes in her health and behavior, such as a loss of appetite or diarrhea, or any changes from her normal routine. As usual, any of these symptoms should be checked out by your veterinarian to rule out any medical problems, but if your guinea pig is in good health, look more closely at her environment and behavior for clues as to what's going on.