By Ranny Green
Photos by Shibaguyz Photography
When Amy Trotter came to a six-week Puppy Manners class at Family Dog Training Center in Kent this fall with seven other dogs their owners smiled and the puppies embraced her as one of their own.
Upon graduation in November and before starting a third-level competition obedience class in early December, owner Lori Stock, of Frederickson (Pierce County), smiled and said, “Amy has been the most trainable ‘dog’ I’ve ever worked with. As long as I give her clear instruction and I keep my handling precise, consistent and clear, she follows my lead perfect.”
Welcome to the wonderful world of dogs Amy, a 3½-months-old, 25-pound mini pig (one-half Juliana and one-half miniature Kunekune) that is wowing everyone with her fluid-moving, quick reactive skills alongside real dogs, of course.
“I didn’t do any serious pig ‘shopping’ until I contacted Kathy Lang (Family Dog Training Center owner and lead instructor) to ask if species other than dogs could attend classes there. If she would have said no then my quest to be a pig owner would have stopped right there. Kathy relayed to me that a few years ago someone had brought a goat through both her basic and advanced home obedience courses. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘a pig would be welcome.’ “
Amy was born in early September, one of 12 in the litter, and hasn’t sit still since.
For Stock, a longtime dog owner, this is her first pig. Her interest was sparked by a former co-worker who owned a pot-bellied pig. Before bringing Amy home she contacted him for some pig pointers. His repeated advice: “Child-proof all locks on the kitchen cupboards.” And he added this quote from the late, great Winston Churchill: “I like pigs. Dogs look up to us. Cats look down to us. Pigs treat us as equals.”
After taking several dogs through multiple levels of classes at Family Dog Training Center, Stock had her eye out for a new challenge, but said adamantly, “I swore to myself that whatever I chose it had to be on the Top Ten Smartest Mammals list.” One of her other considerations was a horse but it did not exactly meet the criteria for living in the house and sleeping on the bed. The other was a parrot, which she was concerned might outlive her.
Initially, she deferred from serious pig shopping because of her two-story home and her uncertainty if a porker could do stairs. That question was answered quickly and with certainty – yes on YouTube!
“What I found is that piglets are more like mountain goats – very agile and investigative – which may not be the best combination for young Amy when left to her own devices. Amy loves to explore through the house and the securely fenced backyard. She especially likes to seek out higher ground. Her jumping ability at eight weeks of age landed her on the couch and various end tables.”
Stock has taken classes for years at Family Dog Training Center with what she characterized as “the perfect cast of misfit dogs.”
“Because I have worked with good examples of Marley-type canines and through Kathy Lang’s excellent ability to give her students the skills needed for training their own dogs, I felt I acquired enough training tools and techniques to give me the confidence to pursue training another species.”
She has found that those training tools have been easily transferable to Amy.
So it wouldn’t be a shock to her and Amy’s puppy-training classmates, instructor Jayne Bosch asked Stock to bring Amy to an orientation session where the others were not accompanied by their dogs. Near the end of class, Bosch announced that the piglet would be attending class alongside their puppies. At that point, Amy emerged from a crate alongside Stock and on-leash circled around the room once and returned to her crate.
“Until then,” she recalls, “I don’t think any of our classmates realized it was a pig in the crate. There were no objections and when we returned the following week to see smiles from the others I knew we had won acceptance.”
That approval was maintained throughout subsequent classes as Amy and Stock worked alongside the puppies and their owners one exercise after another. “I am so focused on Amy in class that I am oblivious to the others. Admittedly I do hear an occasional whisper from the sideline as we walk past and word heard most often is ‘cute.’ ”
One class dealt with controlled walking, sit for greeting and down from sit.
“Controlled walking went great. Amy caught on right away that she needs to keep me within her field of vision. If she forges ahead, I slow down and she self-corrects immediately,” said Stock. “At the beginning of class she’s gung-ho for practicing controlled walking but towards the end when we revert back to the exercise again, she is so much slower. Could it be she’s still such a little squirt and she’s tired?”
Pigs aren’t nearly as malleable as dogs, explained Stock. “I have been taking it very slow with any sort of exercise that requires hands-on.” An exercise, she cites, is the sit when helping the puppy sit by using one hand to tuck in the puppy’s rear. Multiple times daily she works with Amy on this, rewarding through treats (which is her chief focus) with one hand while Stock’s other hand cups the piglet’s rear or pushing gently on her sides.
Holding a sit position for greeting and puppy leadership exercises have proven challenging, as well. “I want Amy to continue to be an eager pupil,” added Stock, “and stay engaged in the process. I don’t want her to become bored with the routine. I need to train with a variety of exercises and not be too repetitious. I continue to try to work on some aspect of training that makes her solve a puzzle – like what’s the lever and how do I pull it to get me food?
“Amy has the drive to need to successfully work through the puzzles she’s presented. She’s a born puzzle solver.”
Stock works with Amy 30 minutes to an hour daily, some of that time focused on her accepting Stock’s hands-on interaction.
Bosch, who earned a Bachelor of Science in Animal Sciences from the University of Illinois, is a big Amy fan. “She was a well-behaved sweetheart that challenged other students. The other handlers were amazed how focused and attentive she was. You could call her a role model.”
Asked if Amy was a distraction in class, Bosch replied, “The puppies in class had no clue that she’s not one of them. The hardest distraction was the handlers. Whenever Amy grunted, snorted or squealed they were forced to refrain from laughing.”
The most challenging exercise for Stock and Amy, Bosch said, was pack leadership. “There are three positions that we place puppies into. Lori tried to elevate Amy’s front feet off the ground and out came a big squeal. Amy is very vocal about some things. Some puppy exercises are simply not meant for pigs. Lori has been working on touching and petting as positive reinforcement and Amy is doing much better with modified piggy leadership exercises.”
Many of Bosch’s Animal Sciences college classes were devoted evenly to cattle, swine, goats and poultry, including plenty of hands-on opportunities with piglets. In one digestibility research project, she handled, fed, weighed and cleaned juvenile swine on a farm, which involved observing them for eight to 10 hours daily. “I enjoyed watching their behavior and teaching them simple tricks and tasks to make my job easier,” she says.
Swine are very food-motivated, she added. “We can thus take our philosophy of behavior modification and apply it very easily to Amy. When the desired behavior is performed they receive a food reward. With enough time, patience and food, we can teach a pig to do just about anything.”
In class, Stock and Amy embarked upon yet another challenge, canine agility, a pursuit they are not totally unfamiliar with. “We worked with a variety of equipment in the obedience classes,” Stock said, “and I have some equipment at home, too. She takes to agility like a duck to water.”
In addition, Stock entered Amy in her first dog obedience match Dec. 27 at Family Dog Training Center and two more at other facilities the first week of January. “On the entry form when asked for breed of dog, I clearly wrote pig. So far, all of my entries have been accepted. At these matches I’ll be working Amy at her current level, basically a lot of ring training where I’ll be working on attention and proofing.”
Amy’s early veterinary care parallels that with puppies – a vaccination series and microchipping. There is no rabies vaccination available for pigs, according to Stock, and questions remain if annual vaccination updates are necessary.
During their Tahoma Veterinary Clinic visits Amy garners plenty of attention from others in the waiting area and the staff once she is brought in for care.
“While Amy is tended to,” added Stock, “I stay in the waiting room. Vaccinations have been quite traumatic for her because she has such thick skin. Once she is returned to me, she reverts to being her happy little self.”
Amy isn’t the only pet in the household of Lori and her husband Jim. The couple also owns five dogs – two Irish setters, two toy fox terriers, a Chihuahua — and two rats. Dog interrelations with Amy have been “surprisingly calm and uneventful,” according to Stock. “The dogs basically treat Amy as one of their own kind. When it’s nap time, they’re side-by-side on the living-room dog beds; they drink from the same water dish; and they all follow me around the house together.”
Because all of the dogs are 6 years old or older, play time isn’t at the top of their priorities any longer. So when Amy wants to crank up the activity level a bit, she typically gets the cold shoulder and is ignored. “I admit it,” says Stock, “that makes me feel bad.”
Asked what reception she has received with Amy from others in public, Stock smiled, “After meeting her, many tell me they’re not feeling much like eating ham or bacon anymore!”