Sunday Times (Sri Lanka)

'That'll do, pig': Swine rival dogs as 'man's best friend', study shows

- By Ian Randall © Daily Mail, London

Pigs rival dogs as 'man's best friend' in the way they engage with us but are more likely to try to solve problems on their own, a study has found.

Experts from Hungary compared the behaviour of young dogs and miniature pigs in experiment­s involving recovering food from a solvable or impossible puzzle.

They found that, like pooches, pet pigs will turn to humans for support — unless they have problem to solve, when their independen­t side shines through.

While swine may not be replacing working dogs any time soon — like 'Babe', the 1995 movie about a pig that dreams of herding sheep — they do make great pets.

Like dogs, they are social animals that enjoy living in groups — and the developmen­t of geneticall­y-engineered micropigs has made the easier to keep in the home.

The petite porkers are both intelligen­t and — despite their reputation — fastidious­ly clean. They can live some 20 years as household pets and get along with cats.

Celebritie­s known to have kept pigs as pets include George Clooney, Miley Cyrus, David Beckham, Megan Fox, Mario Balotelli and Paris Hilton.

'Dogs — already as puppies — are known to be uniquely skilful in communicat­ing with us, even without any specific training,' said paper author and ethologist Linda Gerencsér of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest, Hungary.

'We were curious whether family pigs also exhibit similar communicat­ive signals as dogs, and whether they spontaneou­sly rely on human cues.'

'In the presence of food, both pigs and dogs oriented more towards the experiment­er, they touched her more often and looked at her face more frequently,' explained paper author and ethologist Paula Pérez Fraga, also of Eötvös Loránd.

'The similariti­es we found between the two species point to their similar capacities for engaging in communicat­ive interactio­ns with humans,' she added.

'As an interestin­g difference, though, only dogs and not pigs looked up at the human face when they did not expect to receive any food.' Dogs are known from an early age to look at humans in a problem-solving context to establish joint attention and initiate interactio­ns, Ms Pérez Fraga added.

The researcher­s wanted to find out if this is a behaviour unique to 'man's best friend' — or whether other companion animals would do the same.

'Similarly socialised wolves and cats communicat­e less with humans than dogs in the same problem-solving context, but maybe it is because wolves are not domesticat­ed and cats are not a social species,' said Ms Pérez Fraga.

'So we designed a study to compare dogs' behaviour with that of another domestic and social species, the pig.'

'We used the so called "unsolvable task paradigm", where the animal first faces a problem that he can solve, in our case an easy-toopen box with food inside,' explained Ms Pérez Fraga.

'After some trials, the problem becomes unsolvable because the box is securely closed.' 'When the box was first in the room, without food in it, pigs and dogs performed similar human-oriented behaviours,' said Dr Gerencsér.

'The difference­s appeared when we put food in the box — and opening it became an exciting challenge.'

'Pigs were faster than dogs already in solving the task and getting the reward, perhaps due to their better manipulati­ve capacities.'

'Then, when the task became unsolvable, dogs turned to the humans more than before. In contrast, pigs performed less human-oriented behaviours.'

The pigs, she added, were more persistent than dogs in trying to solve the task — which may reflect their predisposi­tion to solve problems independen­tly.'

According to Ms Pérez Fraga, 'species-specific predisposi­tions' might be responsibl­e for the difference­s in behaviour identified in the study.

'Dogs are naturally more dependent on and co-operative with humans. This explains their unique success in interactin­g with us,' she added.

According to the researcher­s, the study by the Eötvös Loránd University's 'Family Pig Project' — which was launched in 2017 — is the first to analyse the similariti­es and difference­s between family dogs' and pigs' interactio­ns with humans.

'The animals are raised in a similar environmen­t as family dogs from as early as 6–8 weeks of age, which provides the basis for unique comparativ­e investigat­ions between these two species,' said principal investigat­or Attila Andics.

To what extent the similariti­es between dogs and pigs are the result of environmen­tal factors — such as learning by experience — will require further study, Dr Gerencsér said.

'We think the primary difference between pigs and dogs lies in the fact the natural salience of the human as a social stimulus for dogs can facilitate learning about communicat­ive cues even without specific training,' she added.

'Furthermor­e, our results are also informativ­e with regard to the potentials of involving miniature pigs in comparativ­e [animal behaviour] research.'

The full findings of the study were published in the journal Animal Cognition.

 ??  ?? Like dogs, pigs are social animals that both enjoy living in groups
Like dogs, pigs are social animals that both enjoy living in groups

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Sri Lanka