How to Train Your Showpig

We got several questions after last weeks post about holding pigs back if the entrance gate is open and pigs running, so we addressed those in the video. However, all of that goes back to training your pig.

This is a pretty short explanation of how we train at our house. Just like anything, there are different ways to train, but this is what works best for us. The main takeaways are:

I’m not sure it would be possible to start too early in the training process, but they MUST be gentle where you can easily approach them, brush them and rub on them in the pen before you ever get them out (We talk about the one week rule in our barn in the video.)

2- Teach them the “commands” they need to know first:

To slow down: Most pigs are going to be pretty fast when you start training, so be sure and have two whips and use them under their nose to slow them down. The higher their head the slower they will go, just like pulling the reigns up on a horse. This will be new to them at first and will take a couple of times maybe for them to understand what you are wanting them to do. Don’t ever tap too hard, start by very softly tapping them and increasing that some if needed. Like we say in the video, DON’T tap down on their forehead or in between their ears/poll to make them go slower or stop. That teaches them to put their head down which is the opposite of our end goal.

Go button: To make them go, use your whip on their side (never, ever, ever, ever on their ham). Tapping on their ham makes them drop their tail and hunch up their back, which makes them look horrible…the opposite of what we are trying to achieve. I don’t think there is anything wrong with tapping them on their top to make them go if they respond to that better and some will. It is a common misconception that you aren’t suppose to tap them on the top because people used to think it would bruise the loin muscle from a meat quality standpoint. It definitely DOES NOT do that! Pigs that are higher in their top line actually need to be tapped on their top to look more level in their design. If you are in a showmanship contest its probably safer to just tap them on the side to make them go if you don’t know for certain how that judge feels about it. Unless you happen to be showing to me and you have a high topped pig, I want you to make the pig look their best and it would make a great impression to me if you recognized that and tapped them on their top 🙂 but anyone that knows me well knows that when I judge a showmanship contest I want the best “grand drive” showman and the normal “showmanship rules” don’t apply when I’m judging, but that could be a completely separate blog post. 🙂

To turn: Move your whip up to the side of their face, closer to their eye, with your body and whip being on the same side. Don’t ever have your body on same side that you are trying to turn your pig into. Be sure you move your whip up to the side of their face, don’t continue to tap underneath when trying to turn.

Head up: You will have started this some on the fast ones by using your whip underneath to slow them down; however, walking consistently with their head up is the last thing we emphasize in teaching them. Be sure you are using two whips or have them up against a fence to train them to go straight and use your whips right under their nose, not back under their chin or on the side of their face. It is very helpful at times to use one whip under their nose and the other whip on their side, to teach them to walk at the right pace while having their head up. Always remember, they can’t walk with their head up if they aren’t walking! Make them go and then worry about their head!

3- Start in a small contained area, then move to a larger space or outside in a pasture/etc once you have good control.

4- Don’t EVER let them run out of their pen, using two whips at the beginning will help you control this, but to the best of your ability don’t let them run out, always be showing them. If you need a parent or someone to stand in front of the gate when it opens to help “catch” them with a whip or board then do that on the really fast ones.

5- Use the right kind of tools.
We use a 36 inch Weaver dressage whip. It’s the right length and not real flexible which is great when training. It is really hard, for us at least, to get pigs to respond to longer, flimsy whips. I mention in the video how some pigs need a firmer feeling when training so a pipe or Sullivan’s Head trainer is good to use on those. Every now and then we will have pigs that don’t respond as well to the dressage whip and so we will try a different whip until we find the one that they walk the most comfortably with.

6- Don’t train for too long at one time.
We used to be harder headed and extend our training sessions until we made the pig do what we wanted them to do. We learned that we were giving the pig a bad experience so obviously, he or she wouldn’t really want to cooperate as well the next time. So now we do short 1-3 minute sessions a day and make sure that we put them back in their pen before things start going south and they start fighting us too much. We talk in the video about conditioning them the last 30 days working up to around 15 minutes.

This is solely my opinion, but I think training, mainly when your kids are young, needs to be handled by the parent or an adult. Kaden is 11 and just now getting to the point where he can start training them. You take the chance of setting the pig and child up for failure if the child is not pretty experienced in animal handling and training. I do realize that some of you reading this may be a first year family where no one is real experienced with it and that’s ok! Just realize that a parent or adult will probably have a firmer handle on the whip and be able to handle the pig quit a bit easier than a child would be able to. Those are my two cents, this is a FAMILY project around here, so we all pitch in and play different roles to make it as good of an experience as we can for Kaden and Kamlynn.

Just like people, every pig is different, so you have to adjust and adapt to each pig with your training methods. One of the most frequent questions I get is “How do I get my pig to walk with its head up?” The majority of the time, the exhibitor isn’t tapping in the correct spot under their nose (they tend to tap way too far back underneath their jaw or on the side of their face instead of underneath), they are using a whip that the pig isn’t responsive to, or they aren’t tapping with the right amount of pressure. Some pigs respond to very soft taps and some respond best to a little harder/firmer tap. Some people use marshmallows, treats, etc to try and train their pigs to get their head up. If that works for you that’s great, its just not something that we have ever tried here for me to recommend that.

Training is somewhat of an art, the best trainers are very patient and have a lot of experience handling animals. But that doesn’t mean that a first year showman, with enough time and effort, can’t get their showpig trained to show perfectly. It just takes a lot of patience and time to get the hang of it!

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