Lassie vs. Babe
There are good reasons why some people keep pigs as pets: When given the chance, a pig is capable of relating to a human guardian with the same degree of loyalty, playfulness, and regard as any dog. In a natural, nonthreatening environment, pigs are able to learn and respond to their own names, and they can be trained to do just about anything a dog can do. The producers of the movie Babe (where a pig learns to herd sheep) didn’t have to use CGI—they just taught the pigs how to do their own stunts.
Even studies funded by the agribusiness industry have shown that pigs are highly intelligent animals: Stanley Curtis, who is an industrial animal scientist at Penn State University, trained pigs to play a video game using a joystick that they could manipulate with their snouts. Despite the physical difficulties of the task, the pigs were able to learn the game faster even than chimpanzees.1 Pigs have been observed not only working out how to open gates to escape from a pasture, but working together in pairs to accomplish this task,2 and one study showed that pigs are capable of adjusting thermostats to keep the temperature to their liking.3
Perhaps more striking even than these abilities themselves are the vast differences in behavior between pigs on factory farms and those who are raised in a more natural environment. Pigs who are not subjected to intensive confinement exhibit a complex level of social interaction that includes using body language to indicate when apparently aggressive gestures are part of a game,4 and using different grunts and calls to signify when it’s time to suckle and when they have become separated from their babies.5
When they are happy and have room to do so, pigs will bound, roll on their backs, and play chase—but the vast majority of pigs raised for food nowadays are kept in such cramped conditions that they barely have room to move.
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- 1. Lisa Duchene, “Probing Questions: Are Pigs Smarter Than Dogs,” Research Penn State, May 2006.
- 2. ibid.
- 3. "The sow is mightier than the pen," The Globe and Mail, February 25, 1984.
- 4. Mark Bekoff, The Emotional Lives of Animals (Novato, CA: New World Library, 2007): 97.
- 5. Humane Society of the United States, “About Pigs,” http://www.hsus.org/farm/resources/animals/pigs/pigs.html.