Willow’s Dream: Trick Guinea Pig
Straight From Willow’s Tunnel
Did you know that all those animals you see in TV shows and movies are trained? Mom says some are CGI. I’m not sure what that is, but she said it means they aren’t real. They seem real to me, but apparently they aren’t. The other animals though? They are real and very talented! Plus, I learned from my mom when she interned at a zoo that zoo animals are also trained by positive reinforcement. It’s what mom does with my training! (But animals at the zoo still aren’t cuddly. It’s important to remember they still have a bit ‘wild’ and ‘unpredictability’ in them. But, some animals are really well trained and mom said she got to see them at Universal Studios – a place she didn’t take me… I still am a little mad at her about that one.)
So, it got me thinking and I asked mom if I could learn more tricks to compete with the TV stars. I mean, wouldn’t it be so cool to be like a TV star and know the tricks they know? Mom said it’s almost as if she went and took karate and then said she was Bruce Lee or Jackie Chan. I asked her what she was talking about, but she just sighed and told me not to worry about it. Whoever Bruce Lee is or Jackie Chan, I suppose they must be pretty awesome (though I don’t know if mom would be that great as them).
My mom looked up dog tricks and was trying to find a way to modify them when she came across a website called “Do More With Your Dog” that actually has a thing called a “Title Holders List”. It puts down the breed of dog, name of the trainer, name of the dog, what title was earned, and when. BUT! Looking through the list, mom realized that guinea pigs were on there along with a bunch of animals that weren’t actually dogs.
She turned to me and asked if I wanted to join the list. How could I say no?
Figuring Out the Tricks
Luckily I already knew plenty of ‘tricks’ since she’s trained all her pets, and I told mom we wouldn’t have to work too hard for it. After all, being litter trained had to count for something! Or wheeking when I hear the fridge? Perhaps coming when I’m called, or responding to my name! I could do a turn, jump, and run home to my cage!
I was set up for disappointment because mom said some of those didn’t count. She printed out the list and together we went through the list of what I could and couldn’t do. Some tricks absolutely stumped mom on how they could work for me, but a friend introduced her to Ace’s Amazing Tricks last year during the summer to help come up with ideas and to talk to another guinea pig trainer. She also came up with a few adaptations on her own, so it all worked out.
Note: I would highly recommend checking out Ace’s Trick Youtube channel because they are super talented pigs right there! Plus, Jenna Symons has also trained some other animals as well.
So by the end of August we had our list, we were well on our way, and we set the deadline for the end of November to December to submit an application. Mom told me that she thought I was pretty clever and could make it in that time since I could already do the majority of tricks needed for the first level anyway. We were working every day and I worked really hard on my tricks. Mom gave me carrots as a reward and to help keep me motivated. Carrots are like mom’s coffee, though she didn’t want me to say. It’s our little secret, okay?
Some tricks were really hard for me to get. Mom would say one thing and I’d do something, but then she’d shake her head. It took a lot of work and practice. I won’t even talk about when she started to just use hand motions or gestures for me to do tricks! What gives, mom?? But apparently that’s part of the tricks too!
There were some tricks that I learned faster and some of them took me a long time to learn. Other times mom would say a word or do a gesture and I’d just sit there wondering what the heck she wanted me to do. I’d do something, but then she’d shake her head. Sometimes it took 2-4 different types of words or gestures for me to be like, “Oh! That makes more sense!”
If mom ever wanted to pull out her hair in frustration, I can say she never did it with me nearby. Even when I refused to do the certain trick, she’d let it go and never got mad at me.
Injury: Hitting a Snag
In September I injured my front paw which really stunk. Not only did it hurt to walk on it, but mom also limited my cage space and I wasn’t allowed to do more training. Talk about boredom. I called out for mom often and she’d come, snuggle up against the cage closest to her so she wouldn’t forget me, and sometimes she picked me up and let me sleep on her desk. I was stuck in that tiny place and bored for about a week and a half, but it felt like forever.
I’m not saying that my set up was terrible, it wasn’t…! And mom put in some toys, but I really just wanted to walk around and sleep my mom’s foot. She never let me though that whole time.
Even after my paw healed, mom said to take it slowly. Before I felt fully myself though, we hit another bump in the road.
Mom’s Meanness: A Snag That’s Her Fault
Of course, once we started to get training up and running again, mom had her best friend over. I love it when she has friends, but not when mom suddenly disappears for a wheekend! I know she wasn’t on vacation because she came in for mornings, for dinner, and at night to say goodnight, but the training was minimal and I was mostly just wandering around on my own.
She told me how she went to the mall, the Zoo, a bakery, walks, and had a really fun time. She left me behind all weekend to spend it with this friend and I didn’t like it. She should have at least taken me to the zoo. I saw the picture of a beaver and prairie dog, but since I wasn’t there I couldn’t ask them important questions like why Mr. Beaver eats all types of trees and not just Willow wood.
After that weekend, mom came back and hung around. She thought things would be fine, but I told her I hated her. She said I was off in personality and clearly mad which is good! At least she figured it out after I pooped on her foot. I only do that when I’m really mad so I’m glad she got that.
That whole trick set back until the next week? That’s her fault. AND she ran out of carrots! It just wasn’t a good week.
Getting Back on Track
By November we were back at it and Mom and I were doing 5-10 minute training sessions. She got Alistair to be the witness for the tricks and when I’d do well, he’d put a check mark next to the successful trick. In November I had down these following tricks :
Note: Some videos are older than others and not all tricks have videos posted here.
- Perch on hand and object
- Jump over leg
- Jump through arms
- Jump over arm
- Jump through hoop
- Go through a tunnel
- Pick the treat from the correct hand
- Go home
- Go around an object and come back
- Up on hind feet
- Hit nose to target fingers or taps on the ground
- Silent Tricks of: circle, perch, nose to target, jump over leg, jump over/through arms, and up
Silent tricks means that mom gives me a hand gesture and I go do the trick. I’m working on the other ones too, but sometimes I need a word prompt or two, so mom doesn’t count it.
I only need 15 tricks to get my Novice level, but mom wants to get at least 20 so if any don’t qualify for whatever reason, I’m backed up!
Plus, then I’m on my way to knowing intermediate tricks!
Big Dreams for a Small Little Potato
I don’t know how far I’ll get, but mom said she’ll love me no matter what. It would be so great and fun to see my name on the website after all my hard work. It’s a big dream, but big dreams are the best ones, aren’t they?
I know that a lot of the other pigs that go for it are younger than me, I’ll be 4 years old in February. Let’s show them that seniors can be just as awesome!