the domestication of the vietnamese pot-bellied pig

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The domestication of the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig (Sus scrofa):

The domestication of the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig ( Sus scrofa )

History of the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig:

History of the Vietnamese pot-bellied pig As the name suggests, the pig originates from Vietnam. They were first exported from Vietnam in the mid 80’s by Keith Connell and were originally intended to be kept in Zoos. Their popularity soon grew and people began to keep them as pets. Their life span is 12-15 years, and they have only been kept as pets for approximately 30 years. So the domestication of the pig is unlikely to be due to actual genetic changes at the molecular level, and more likely to be due the learning processes of the animal.

How do the pigs learn to adapt?:

How do the pigs learn to adapt? There are two main ways the pig can be conditioned to behave in a “less wild” manner. The first is called classical conditioning. This occurs when a neutral stimulus and a relevant stimulus occur together and illicit a response. For example, Ivan Pavlov demonstrated that when a bell was rang when a dog was fed, the dog salivated. When the food was removed and the bell was still rang the dog continued to salivate as the dogs learned to associate the bell ringing with food.

Classical conditioning in the pig:

Classical conditioning in the pig To the right: My pig lying down ready for a belly rub, although I haven’t yet given an indication of doing so. Whenever I hang out the washing my pig follows and I normally treat him to a belly rub on the decking. However, sometimes if I don’t have time, I do not rub his belly. However, he still rolls over and expects his belly rubbed. He has learnt to associate me going outside and hanging up the washing with having his belly rubbed. Rubbing his belly is also a great way to calm him down if he starts to act in a bit of a wild manner.

Operant conditioning:

Operant conditioning The second way of conditioning my pig is called operant conditioning. Operant conditioning occurs when a behaviour done by the animal is rewarded. Operant conditioning can be seen everywhere, for example, children receiving “house points” for handing in their homework.

Operant conditioning in the pig:

Operant conditioning in the pig As you probably know, pigs are lazy animals! It is very important that they do not get too fat and so need exercising regularly. However, my pig needs a bit of encouragement to come for a walk with me. So after a walk (his behaviour) I treat him to some food (a reward), this way he learns that maybe a walk is worth the effort in order to get a treat. To the right; my pig picking up a treat off the floor after a walk.

Domesticated vs. wild species:

Domesticated vs. wild species The domesticated pig has many advantages as it isn’t vulnerable to predators, has a reliable and constant food supply and is given good health care etc. However, many domestic pigs are kept as a single pig. The wild species live in groups and have a social structure. Also, the wild pig engages in more “normal” social behaviour, for example many pet pigs are castrated to lessen aggressive behaviour.

Tinbergens 4 questions:

Tinbergens 4 questions Nikolaas Tinbergen composed 4 questions that he felt should be asked of any animal behaviour. 1)Causation-what stimuli are making the animal express the behaviour in question? 2)Development-does the behaviour change with age, are early experiences necessary for the behaviour to be shown? 3)Evolution-does the behaviour compare to similar species, if so, how and why? 4)Function-how does the behaviour effect the animals chances of survival and reproduction?


Causation The stimuli that cause the domestic pig to become “less wild” in their behaviour are clear. Pigs are greedy, and will do anything for food.


Development Exposure to classical and operant conditioning is required at an early age in these domestic pigs. I know from personal experience it is a lot easier to train a pig from an early age than it is later on in life. Pigs are extremely intelligent animals and when they acquire a behaviour it tends to stay with them for a very long time, with a bit of deterioration in very late life. This trajectory is comparable to that of a human.


Evolution This behaviour is not present in similar species that are wild. As mentioned before, the behaviour shown in the domestic pig is purely a result of different types of conditioning. The behaviour is more than likely not a result of genetic changes as the pig has only been domesticated for approximately 30 years and has a life span of up to 15 years. Obviously, 2 generations is not a long enough time for such changes to occur at the molecular level.

Function :

Function Obeying human commands and being rewarded with treats greatly enhances the pigs chances of survival. This is because with a human companion they have plentiful food and water supplies, which they may otherwise not have in the wild. Domestic pigs also have the advantage of health care. A pig owner will take their animal to the vets if it is sick, it may die of a similar illness in the wild. Domestication may increase the survival of the pig, but it does not increase the reproduction of the pig. The domestic pig does not have the chance to undergo normal courtship rituals. The domestic pig may never even meet another pig of the same species, thus they may never be given the chance to mate. As mentioned before, many domestic pigs are castrated and neutered to decrease aggressive behaviour, this stops and normal mating behaviour.

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