Why do guinea pigs exhibit dominance behaviors? What are those behaviors? How do you deal with them? Let’s take a look at dominance.
Understanding Dominance in the Animal World
Dominance is a characteristic that occurs whenever there is a group of social animals that interact regularly. Normally, because the animals live together or interact regularly, they compete for the same resources – food, space, attention, sex, or any other resource. Since no two individuals want the same thing all the time, clashes will inevitably happen. One animal will want one thing, the other wants something else. There are ways to resolve the differences, such as fighting, but fighting takes energy and can cause injuries. Dominance is a solution to that problem.
When animals in a group establish dominance, or a hierarchy, they don’t need to fight anymore. If one animal has asserted that he is dominant while another has taken the more submissive role, when differences arise, the dominant animal gets what he wants and the submissive one doesn’t. The rules have already been laid down. If a conflict of interest occurs, the dominant one will usually perform some behavior that reminds the submissive one that “Hey, we’re doing what I want”.
But why does dominance exist? Well, as for any behavior, there must be rewards or benefits if it is to be used over and over again. The dominant animal, of course, gets what he wants. That’s his reward. The submissive animal also reaps a benefit, however. If he didn’t submit to the dominant one, he would most likely have to fight. Fighting causes physical and psychological injury, so by acquiescing and saying, “OK, you win”, he gets to avoid the risk of the harm that comes from fighting. It also makes daily life a bit easier, because the rules are set, and it’s predictable. Instead of the stress of making decisions and negotiating and deciding on a course of action every single time something comes up, the societal rules that are in place dictate that the decision will be made by the dominant animal. It’s stable, predictable, and certain. There is no thought or planning involved. An animal who agrees to the submissive role makes the decision that the benefits he receives from submitting are greater than the risks he would suffer if he did not agree. Of course, one day he may decide he really isn’t going to be subordinate anymore. Then a fight ensues, and the winner will be declared the dominant one, and the cycle repeats, just with different animals in different roles.
How Do Guinea Pigs Exhibit Dominant Behavior?When a guinea pig wants to exert his dominance over another, he or she might exhibit these behaviors:
- Rumblestrutting This is a behavior where the guinea pig shakes his back end from side to side while making a low rumbling sound.
- Mounting Where one guinea pig climbs on top of another guinea pig
- Baring of the Teeth
- Teeth Chattering This can mean he (or she) is about to attack
- Nipping or Biting
- Hair pulling
- Hair Standing Up Usually, the hair on the back of their neck or spine will be raised.
Should I Separate Them?Establishing dominance is a natural behavior. You have to let them work out their social pecking order. If they’re full-on fighting and blood has been drawn, remove one and tend to the wounds. But they will have to learn how to interact with other, so unless it’s a serious fight with bloodshed, I would advise that you let nature take its course.
How Long Does it Last?Sometimes, dominance behavior will only last a day or two. Then dominance is established, and peace returns. Sometimes, it takes longer. But if two guinea pigs can’t get along after a month has passed, I would consider the fact that maybe these two are not going to get along – ever. Just as some humans really cannot live with a specific human, the same goes for the animal world. Sometimes two animals just do not like each other. It’s not very common. If housed together, guinea pigs will usually come to a settlement and an order will be established. But it does happen on rare occasions.
NotesHere are some things to note:
- Make sure their cage area is big enough. If you’ve got two (or more) guinea pigs housed together in a small cage, there are bound to be disputes. Make sure their living area is big enough so that they don’t need to be in each other’s space all the time. If they have plenty of space, they can each choose a “safe” area that’s not right on top of the other guinea pig’s space. Plenty of space is important.
- When dominance is being established, watch and make sure that the less dominant one is getting food. Sometimes guinea pigs will prevent another from accessing the food. If you notice that this is the case, provide an extra food bowl and place vegetables and hay in separate areas of the cage.