Any guinea pig parent will tell you that it is important to hold your guinea pig and get them used to human touch. This act will make the guinea pig experience more enjoyable for both the parent and animal. Alfalfa’s first parents did not handle him as much as was needed to get him used to human touch. Also, he was a pet for a pair of small children that were very rough with him when they were ‘playing’. As a result, he does not like to be picked up and cannot stand having anyone touch his belly.
Alfalfa’s dislike and fear of being held was something that was causing bonding issues between us when I first adopted him. I thought that I had to hold and pet my guinea pig each day to love him. When this was not happening, I sought advice. Again, I turned to the internet. The general consensus was to make him like being held by picking him up and holding him until he calmed down. The goal was to desensitize him to the bad experience.
I tried the technique. I picked him up, waited for the calm, and put him down with a reward. After he finished his reward, I would repeat the process. Alfalfa hated it. I hated it. After trying this for a week, I gave up. I could not continue to torture my guinea pig. He was starting to nip at me each time I went to pick him up. He succeeded in biting me a couple of times. Alfalfa’s fear and discomfort were breaking my heart.
Again, I turned to my vet for assistance. During a visit, he saw how much Alfalfa did not like being held. I broke down in tears and said that I didn’t know what to do. I admitted that I was contemplating put him back up for adoption. The vet was not surprised to hear that Alfalfa wasn’t an ‘idea’ guinea pig. He talked to me about the problematic behavior. His solution was to give it time and patience. He told me that Alfalfa may never come around to being held and cuddled. However, he explained that through rewards and lots of patience I could make handling him a less traumatic experience for both of us.
So, the painful process of catching, picking up, and rewarding Alfalfa began. This time I only did it when he was in a calm mood. Even with the decreased frequency, we were both miserable. When Alfalfa was in a calm mood I would try to bond with him. He slowly got used to me picking him up. Clearly he did not like it. Alfalfa would sit on my lap and stare back at me. It seemed like he was counting the minutes until I put him back down. He did not want to be pet or cuddled. His maximum time on my lap was five minutes.
I wish I could end this story with a tale of my success with Alfalfa. However, it is an ongoing process. I think too much of his negative behavior was established by his previous parents. He does not try to nip me when I am holding him. That alone is major progress. He will sit on my lap for about five minutes without complaining. Alfalfa does let me pet his face between his eyes and let me gently stroke his back sometimes.
I cannot stress the importance of establishing positive behaviors with guinea pigs at an early age. In fact, that is important for any pet. Many people are not as tolerant or willing to deal with a willful pet with negative or unwanted behaviors as I am. A small amount of time at the start will pay off in the end. I am committed to Alfalfa. He is not an ideal pet but I love him for that. My life has been enriched and challenged by him. I have learned a higher level of patience, a new way to love, and found an inner peace with my pet. I love him and will work to make his life better. I will work to make our lives better. He is awesome. He is adventurous. He is Alfalfa.