Few things can be more discouraging than reaching out to pet your guinea pig only for them to run and hide. You’re only trying to show them affection! In this article, we’ll cover some of the reasons why your guinea pig might be running away from you, and some suggestions on how to address this behavior.
Reasons your guinea pig runs away from you may include:
1) Your guinea pig is a prey species.
Your guinea pig’s wild ancestors evolved the behavior to run and hide at the first sign of a predator. This behavior kept them safe from being another animal’s dinner! Any guinea pig that had this behavioral advantage likely lived longer and could reproduce more often, passing on this behavior to their offspring.
Even though guinea pigs have been domesticated for a few centuries now, as a species they have been hard-wired over time to run and hide when they’re uncomfortable or anxious. Any situation that feels unfamiliar to your pet can trigger the instinct to flee. A behavior that’s been passed on for countless generations can be hard to change!
2) Your guinea pig isn’t used to affection.
Whether your pet is young and needs some socialization, or your pet is older and didn’t receive enough socialization in their early years, one of the biggest reasons guinea pigs run away at the sight of hands is that they’re simply not used to them. It will take time on your part, but it is entirely possible to get your guinea pig used to being pet, and even being picked up.
3) Your guinea pig may not entirely trust you.
While this can be hard to hear, an important step to building a trusting bond with your pet is knowing that they don’t fully trust you at this moment. It could be because you haven’t worked with them enough yet to establish a strong bond, or maybe you have tricked or deceived them a few times (more on this in the second section!).
4) Your guinea pig might be a bit of a diva.
If you’ve had your pet for a long time and they aren’t always receptive to being pet, this isn’t necessarily a failing of yours. Some guinea pigs are more “sassy” than others, and will only allow affection on their own terms, and sometimes only from their favorite people.
If your pet is a diva, rather than feeling frightened or unsure, they might not run away—your pet may simply dodge your hand by taking only one or two steps back, rather than hiding all the way in the back of their enclosure. Some guinea pigs with an independent personality just need their space, and that’s okay!
Ways to work around this hard-wired behavior:
1) (Healthy) food is the way to your guinea pig’s heart.
Guinea pigs are one of the most food-motivated animals out there. Especially if your guinea pig is a new member of the household, offering food to your pet multiple times throughout the day can go a long way to building trust.
Each time you offer them food and the interaction is positive, the connection between “you” and “receiving food” is reinforced in your guinea pig’s mind. The food you give your guinea pig doesn’t have to be a treat, either—seed heads from hay can be a favorite offering. To accelerate bonding, you should set aside time every day to offer individual fortified food pellets by hand, rather than pouring their food into a bowl and leaving your pet to eat by themselves. Fresh greens that are appropriate for guinea pigs, such as cilantro, are also huge motivators.
2) Keep an engaging, somewhat predictable environment.
While new guinea pigs benefit from calm environments as they’re adjusting to their new home, guinea pigs that are more accustomed to their families can benefit from observing the regular activity of the household. Keeping your guinea pigs in a central area of the house, such as a family room, lets your pet learn the various sounds and smells of the home. This also gives them the chance to study their humans and their behaviors. While they may run away when encountering new stimuli at first, you’re likely to find that they’ll become accustomed to your daily schedule when they realize these regular sounds, sights, and smells don’t pose a threat. Your guinea pig’s improved acclimatization to the unfamiliar, paired with their new location in the house, makes it all the easier for you to give affection to your pet every time you walk by their enclosures.
3) Don’t trick your pet!
While it can be tempting to use food to trick your pet into picking them up, try to avoid doing this unless there’s an emergency such as a natural disaster.
Providing food first, and then picking up your pet (something many prey species instinctively don’t like), will eventually change the association in their brains that food from you might mean an unenjoyable interaction is soon to follow. It takes lots of practice, but over time you will learn your pet’s specific idiosyncrasies, making it easier to pick them up. Always make sure that the unenjoyable interaction of being picked up comes first, with food provided after to make the experience end on a positive note. Learn about how to properly hold small animals here.
As with all exotic species, the investment of your time is essential to building a healthy bond with your pet. Armed with the understanding of your guinea pig’s behavior, in the coming months you should see that your pet sticks around a moment for some affection.