The Hidden Lives of Pigs
President Harry Truman stated, “No man should be allowed to be President who
does not understand hogs.” Most people know very little about these
fascinating animals. In fact, pigs are curious and insightful animals
thought to have intelligence beyond that of an average 3-year-old human
child. They are smarter than dogs and every bit as friendly, loyal, and
affectionate. When in their natural surroundings, not on factory farms, they
are social, playful, protective animals who bond with each other, make beds,
relax in the sun, and cool off in the mud.
Since most people are not that familiar with pigs, you may be surprised to
learn that they dream, recognize their names, play video games more
effectively than some primates, & lead social lives of a complexity
previously observed only in primates.
People who run animal sanctuaries often describe pigs with human
characteristics, because they’ve learned that, like humans, pigs enjoy
listening to music, playing with soccer balls, & getting massages.
What the Experts Say
Professor Stanley Curtis of Penn State University found that pigs play and
excel at joystick-controlled video games. He observed that they are “capable
of abstract representation” & “are able to hold an icon in the mind and
remember it at a later date.” Professor Curtis says that “there is much more
going on in terms of thinking & observing by these pigs than we would ever
have guessed.” Pigs are much smarter than dogs, according to the research,
and even did better at video games than some primates. Says Dr. Sarah
Boysen, Curtis’ colleague, “[Pigs] are able to focus with an intensity I
have never seen in a chimp.”
Pigs form complex social units & learn from one another in ways previously
observed exclusively among primates. For example, pigs use clever ploys to
try to outsmart each other. Pigs often learn how to follow others to food
before snatching it away. Those who are tricked learn to change their
behavior in order to reduce the number of times they are deceived. Dr.
Mike Mendyl notes that pigs can signal their competitive strength & “use
this information to minimize overt aggression during disputes about social
ranks,” just like many primates (including humans). He explains that “pigs
can develop quite sophisticated social competitive behavior, similar to that
seen in some primate species.”
Pigs communicate constantly with one another. More than 20 of their oinks,
grunts, & squeals have been identified for different situations, from
wooing their mates to expressing, “I’m hungry!”
Pigs have a very long memory. Dr. Curtis put a ball, a Frisbee, & a
dumbbell in front of several pigs & was able to teach them to jump over,
sit next to, or fetch any of the objects when asked to & they could
distinguish between the objects three years later.
Scientists at the University of Illinois have learned that not only do pigs
have temperature preferences, they also will learn through trial & error
how to turn on the heat in a cold barn if given the chance & turn it off
again when they are too warm.
Professor Donald Broom of Cambridge University Veterinary School says,
“[Pigs] have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so
than dogs & certainly three-year-olds.”
Suzanne Held, who studies the cognitive abilities of farm animals at the
University of Bristol’s Centre of Behavioural Biology, says that pigs are
“really good at remembering where food is located, because in their natural
environment food is patchily distributed & it pays to revisit profitable
Newborn piglets learn to run to their mothers’ voices, & mother pigs sing
to their young while nursing.
Pigs are actually very clean animals. If given sufficient space, pigs will
be careful not to excrete near where they sleep or eat. Pigs don’t “sweat
like pigs”; they are actually unable to sweat. Pigs like to bathe in water
or mud to keep cool.
Like dogs, piglets learn their names by 2 to 3 weeks of age & respond when
Pigs prefer water to mud. One woman developed a shower for her pigs, and
these astute animals learned to turn it on & off.
Pigs appear to have a good sense of direction & have found their way home
over great distances. Adults can run at speeds of up to 11 miles an hour.
Author John Robbins notes that “unlike dogs, horses & humans, they will
never dangerously overeat even when given access to unlimited food.” The
pork industry, however, has wreaked havoc on this healthful habit with a
drug called Hog-Crave, which causes pigs to overeat so that they will grow
faster & will thus be more profitable to those who kill them.
Pigs have been known to save the lives of others, including their human
According to The Daily Telegraph, “a pet piglet called Pru was praised by
her owner … after dragging her free from a muddy bog.” The owner said, “I
was panicking when I was stuck in the bog. I did not know what to do & I
think Pru sensed that. … I had a rope with me that I use as a dog lead & I
put it around her. I was shouting ‘Go home, go home’ & she walked forward,
slowly pulling me out of the mud.”
Like dogs, pigs have done many heroic deeds. Babe’s real-life counterparts
have rescued human & nonhuman companions, stopped intruders in their
tracks, & even saved themselves from slaughterhouses. In addition to the
previously mentioned piglet Pru, who dragged her human companion from a
muddy bog, there is also Priscilla, who saved a young boy from drowning;
Spammy, who led firefighters to a burning shed to save her calf friend Spot;
and Lulu, who found help for her human companion who had collapsed from a
heart attack. A pig named Tunia chased away an intruder, & another named
Mona held a fleeing suspect’s leg until the police arrived. A pig in New
Jersey jumped off a truck en route to the slaughterhouse, while in England,
a stone carving of a pig named Butch was placed upon a historic cathedral
after Butch & his friend Sundance escaped from a slaughterhouse & roamed
the country for several days before being captured. Fortunately, a national
outcry against slaughter allowed Butch & Sundance to go to a sanctuary.