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Pig intelligence



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.




Pigs Prove to Be Smart, if Not Vain




Published: November 9, 2009



We’ve all heard the story of the third Little Pig, who foiled the hyperventilating wolf by building his house out of bricks, rather than with straw or sticks as his brothers had done. Less commonly known is that the pig later improved his home’s safety profile by installing convex security mirrors at key points along the driveway.


Well, why not? In the current issue of Animal Behaviour, researchers present evidence that domestic pigs can quickly learn how mirrors work and will use their understanding of reflected images to scope out their surroundings and find their food. The researchers cannot yet say whether the animals realize that the eyes in the mirror are their own, or whether pigs might rank with apes, dolphins and other species that have passed the famed “mirror self-recognition test” thought to be a marker of self-awareness and advanced intelligence.


 To which I say, big squeal. Why should the pigs waste precious mirror time inspecting their teeth or straightening the hairs on their chinny-chin-chins, when they could be using the mirror as a tool to find a far prettier sight, the pig heaven that comes in a bowl?


The finding is just one in a series of recent discoveries from the nascent study of pig cognition. Other researchers have found that pigs are brilliant at remembering where food stores are cached and how big each stash is relative to the rest. They’ve shown that Pig A can almost instantly learn to follow Pig B when the second pig shows signs of knowing where good food is stored, and that Pig B will try to deceive the pursuing pig and throw it off the trail so that Pig B can hog its food in peace.


They’ve found that pigs are among the quickest of animals to learn a new routine, and pigs can do a circus’s worth of tricks: jump hoops, bow and stand, spin and make wordlike sounds on command, roll out rugs, herd sheep, close and open cages, play videogames with joysticks, and more. For better or worse, pigs are also slow to forget. “They can learn something on the first try, but then it’s difficult for them to unlearn it,” said Suzanne Held of the University of Bristol. “They may get scared once and then have trouble getting over it.”


Researchers have also found that no matter what new detail they unearth about pig acumen, the public reaction is the same. “People say, ‘Oh yes, pigs really are rather clever, aren’t they?’ ” said Richard W. Byrne, a professor of evolutionary psychology at the University of St. Andrews. “I would recommend that somebody study sheep or goats rather than pigs, so that people would be suitably impressed to find out your animal is clever.” His feigned frustration notwithstanding, he added, “if you want to understand the evolution of intelligence and social behaviors, it’s important to work on animals like pigs that are not at all closely related to us” but rather are cousins of whales and hippos.


So far, and yet so near. Last week, an international team of biologists released the first draft sequence of the pig genome, the complete set of genetic instructions for making the ruddy-furred Duroc breed of Sus scrofa. Even on a cursory glance, “the pig genome compares favorably with the human genome,” said Lawrence Schook of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, one of the team leaders.


“Very large sections are maintained in complete pieces,” he said, barely changed in the 100-million-plus years since the ancestors of hogs and humans diverged.


 Dr. Schook is particularly eager to see if the many physiological and behavioral parallels between humans and pigs are reflected in our respective genomes. Pig hearts are like our hearts, he said, pigs metabolize drugs as we do, their teeth resemble our teeth, and their habits can, too. “I look at the pig as a great animal model for human lifestyle diseases,” he said. “Pigs like to lie around, they like to drink if given the chance, they’ll smoke and watch TV.”


Pigs have been a barnyard staple for at least 8,000 years, when they were domesticated from the wild boar in Asia and Europe. Domestication was easy, given that they loved to root around in dump sites. “The pigs were hard to hunt, but if you put the garbage out, a lot of them would be drawn out from the woods,” Dr. Schook said. “After a while, people realized, we don’t have to hunt them. All we have to do is put a fence around our garbage.”


Pigs were tireless composting machines. “They fed on our scraps,” Dr. Byrne said. “Everything we produced, they turned into good meat.” Pork is among the world’s most popular meats; in many places, pigs are a valuable form of currency. “In parts of New Guinea, they’re so important to villages that they’re suckled by people,” he said.


Of course, pigs aren’t always handled so lovingly, and these researchers denounced factory farms. “I’m German and I love sausage, but I would never eat pork that isn’t free range,” Dr. Held said.


Even in domesticity, pigs have retained much of their foreboar’s smarts. Dr. Byrne attributes pig intelligence to the same evolutionary pressures that prompted cleverness in primates: social life and food. Wild pigs live in long-term social groups, keeping track of one another as individuals, the better to protect against predation. They also root around for difficult food sources, requiring a dexterity of the snout not unlike the handiness of a monkey.


Because monkeys had been shown to use mirrors to locate food, Donald M. Broom of the University of Cambridge and his colleagues decided to check for a similar sort of so-called assessment awareness in pigs. They began by exposing seven 4-to-8-week-old pigs to five-hour stints with a mirror and recording their reactions. The pigs were fascinated, pointing their snouts toward the mirror, hesitating, vocalizing, edging closer, walking up and nuzzling the surface, looking at their image from different angles, looking behind the mirror. When the mirror was placed in their pen a day later, the glass-savvy pigs greeted it with a big ho-hum.


Next, the researchers put the mirror in the enclosure, along with a bowl of food that could not be directly seen but whose image was reflected in the mirror. They then compared the responses of the mirror-experienced pigs with a group of mirror-naïve pigs. On spotting the virtual food in the mirror, the experienced pigs turned away and within an average of 23 seconds had found the food. But the naïve pigs took the reflection for reality and sought in vain to find the bowl by rooting around behind the mirror. No doubt the poor frustrated little pigs couldn’t wait to get home, crack open a beer and turn on the TV.



This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:


Correction: November 19, 2009

The Basics column on Nov. 10, about recent discoveries from the study of pig cognition, misstated the species of a wild boar. It is Sus scrofa, not Sus scrofus.


More Articles in Science » A version of this article appeared in print on November 10, 2009, on page D1 of the New York edition.



Pigs are wise ... and clean

Science on NBC News article


Here's the dirt on pigs: They are perhaps the smartest, cleanest domestic animals known - more so than cats and dogs, according to some experts. But pigs don't have sweat glands, so they roll around in the mud to stay cool. A sign of their cleverness came from experiments in the 1990s. Pigs were trained to move a cursor on a video screen with their snouts and used the cursor to distinguish between scribbles they knew and those they were seeing for the first time. They learned the task as quickly as chimpanzees.



No. 6 - Pig

Despite a reputation for gluttony and poor hygiene, pigs are actually highly intelligent animals. Both domestic and wild species are known for their ability to adapt to a variety of different ecological conditions. They seem to be at least as trainable as cats and dogs, and certain domestic pigs have become a favorite pet in the U.S. Pigs are also extremely flexible. Unlike most other ungulates, which are strictly herbivorous, pigs and their relatives are omnivores with a diet that sometimes includes worms and small vertebrates. Where they have been introduced around the world, pigs tend to out-compete the native species. Though devastating to the native species, this trend is yet another strong indication of pig cleverness




Sunday, February 24, 2008

Just how smart are pigs?

You may have had someone tell you pigs are pretty smart animals. If not, you could be surprised to learn that some think their intelligence rivals that of dogs. In any case, what follows is an interesting link and a video showing a pig in action.

Let's start with the video. This pig is called Mudslinger and you'll hear the trainer saying it's less than a year old. It'd be fairly amazing to see a child of 12 months doing what this animal does, let alone a baby pig.




Penn State University conducted research between 1996 and 1998. They showed that pigs can be taught to maneuver a modified joystick to move a cursor on a video monitor.


For rewards of M&M's, Skittles or Reese's Pieces, the pigs moved the cursor over to a target, then used the cursor to distinguish among scribbles drawn by the researcher's grandchild.


The pigs were shown one scribble, then a few seconds later shown the same scribble along with a second. They used the joystick and cursor to distinguish between the scribble they had seen before and the one they were seeing for the first time.


The pigs learned these tasks within 5 to 10 attempts, "very quickly, as quickly as chimpanzees", said researcher Stanley Curtis, then professor of dairy and animal science and now an adjunct animal sciences professor at the University of Illinois.


For more on this research, click here.


But are pigs smarter than dogs?


Both pigs and dogs are quite smart, says Brenda Coe, adjunct assistant professor of animal science, who helped Curtis in the initial stages of his work and also teaches dog behavior in a canine management class. But "intelligence" in animals is typically defined in a limited way, as the ability to learn what people try to teach them.


The point of discussing pig intelligence is that when you consider that the animal which can distinguish between drawings or learn to push a soccer ball into a goal on command is no different from the one trapped in hellish circumstances in factory farms you're left with an inescapable conclusion: The pigs are smart enough to think, suffer and feel miserable.


We eat factory farmed pork without realizing what it truly equates to. The life-long suffering of intelligent, gentle animals.

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