How to Teach a Guinea Pig to Play Basketball

Basketball is a cute and pretty amazing trick to teach your guinea pig. It’s also a great trick to teach if you want to teach your guinea pig to play fetch. You can teach different variations of this trick, ranging in difficulty from fairly easy to very challenging. Dropping the ball in a bowl is the easiest version of this trick, whereas learning to place the ball into a small miniature basketball net accurately takes more time and dedication to teach.

How Long Does it Take to Teach Your Guinea Pig to Play Basketball?

Basketball takes longer to teach than most other tricks. The basic version of learning to drop a ball in a low bowl can take at least a week or two of dedicated daily training. Some guinea pigs require more time than this. Teaching them to put the ball in a smaller, higher net can take several weeks.

I usually like to split up basketball training into a couple of weeks of basketball and then a couple of weeks of working on other tricks. I’ll keep taking breaks and coming back to the basketball trick every few weeks until the guinea pig learns it completely. I find this better than trying to teach it in one go, as guinea pigs usually get tired of working on the same thing for weeks on end.

What You Need for Training

To teach your guinea pig to play basketball, you’ll need your guinea pig, some of their favorite veggie treats, and a safe enclosed space that is free from distractions.

You’ll also need a small slotted ball that is easy for the guinea pig to pick up (these ones are my favorite) and a low bowl. I like to use collapsible silicone pet bowls for this purpose. They are quieter when the guinea pig drops the ball in them, and they also have an adjustable height that you can raise higher as the guinea pig learns.

If you plan to teach your guinea pig to dunk a ball in a net, you’ll also need to make a miniature basketball hoop. These can be as simple or complex as you want to make them.

Choose vegetables that are low in calcium and well-loved by your guinea pig. My piggies love green leaf or romaine lettuce, cucumber, radicchio, bell peppers, and carrots the most. Once you have some favorite treats, break them up into small pieces to use for training.

You’ll also want a quiet environment to train your guinea pig. Choose a space that is familiar to your guinea pig. A room that you use for your guinea pig’s floor time is usually a great option. It’s a good idea to block off a smaller area of the room, so there are fewer distractions. If you have multiple guinea pigs, it’s a good idea to separate one at a time for short training sessions.

You can do both of these things with a foldable exercise pen. Personally, I love to buy a pack of wire grids and zip-tie them together to make a pen in the exact size I want. The wire grids also fold like an accordion for storage, as long as you don’t zip-tie them too tightly!

It can also help to have a waterproof floor mat to protect your floor or carpet from messes while your piggies are running around. My favorites are these waterproof splat mats made for kids. They are washable, easy to sweep clean and do a great job of preventing any pee from seeping through.

How to Teach a Guinea Pig to Play Basketball (Video Tutorial)

The following video shows my guinea pig Ace demonstrating the steps to take to teach your guinea pig to play basketball. Keep in mind that Ace had learned this trick before recording the video, so a completely untrained guinea pig will need a lot more time on each step.

How to Teach Your Guinea Pig to Play Basketball – Step by Step

Follow along with these steps to get your guinea pig on the track to playing basketball. Keep in mind that this trick requires time and patience to teach. Some guinea pigs may breeze through a couple of these steps, but many will require a few days minimum on each step.

Always go at your guinea pig’s pace, and only move on when they are completely confident at one step. If your piggy falls behind or starts getting super distracted, don’t be afraid to go back a step for a couple of minutes. Going back to where your guinea pig was previously successful is one of the best ways to get them back on track.

1. Teach Your Guinea Pig to Pick Up the Ball

The first step is to get your guinea pig to pick up the ball. You may need to stuff the ball with lettuce (or rub some food on the ball, so it smells like food) to entice your guinea pig to nibble at it. Place the ball in front of your guinea pig, and give them a treat from your hand if they pick up or try to nibble at the ball at any point. Keep refilling the ball with lettuce until the guinea pig is picking it up frequently.

Once the guinea pig is picking up the ball with lettuce inside, try placing the ball on the floor without lettuce and give a treat from your hand if the guinea pig nibbles or picks up the ball at all. If they lose interest, try holding the ball in your hand and reward the guinea pig for touching or sniffing the ball. Give a jackpot reward (extra treats and praise) whenever they nibble or chew at the ball (even just slightly at first.) Practice until they are picking up the ball consistently without lettuce inside.

2. Teach the Guinea Pig to Put the Ball in Your Hand

It is often easier to teach your guinea pig to put a ball in your hand first. Because of this, it can be a good idea to spend a bit of time practicing with your hand before introducing the bowl.

To do this, move your hand under and catch the ball every time your guinea pig picks it up. Give them a treat every time the ball lands in your hand. Repeat this several times so the guinea pig starts to understand that the ball is supposed to land in your hand.

3. Teach Your Guinea Pig to Drop the Ball in a Bowl

This step will take the most time and patience. For this, you’ll need a small shallow bowl. I like to use collapsible silicone dog travel bowls because the sound of the ball dropping in the bowl is quieter and less likely to spook the guinea pig.

Keep the bowl close to your guinea pig and encourage them to drop the ball in the bowl. You can do this in a couple of different ways. Try holding some food over the bowl to tempt your guinea pig to turn their head in that direction.

You can also try moving the bowl underneath as you did with your hand in the previous step. This can spook your guinea pig or turn them away from the bowl in some cases, though, so watch your guinea pig’s reaction.

Another thing you can do is use a barrier like your leg on the opposite side of the guinea pig. This can encourage them to turn towards the bowl because there would not be much space to comfortably swing their head towards your leg.

You can give your guinea pig a smaller treat if they turn their head towards the bowl but miss getting the ball in. However, every time they get the ball in the bowl, give them lots of extra treats and praise, so they know that’s what you’re looking for. Practice this until the guinea pig is putting the ball in the bowl more consistently.

At that point, you need to move the bowl to the other side of the guinea pig and do the same thing on the other side. It often takes quite a bit of time for the guinea pig to be able to accurately place the ball in the bowl from both sides, so patience is necessary. Don’t try to rush this step!

4. Use a Higher Hoop

Find a hoop or similar object and hold it just above the ground. Practice at a lower height with this new hoop and gradually raise it higher as the guinea pig gains confidence. Practice moving the hoop to different sides and angles as well.

5. Teach Your Guinea Pig to Dunk a Basket!

If your guinea pig catches on quickly to this trick or you want to add more of a challenge, you can use a higher and narrower net to complete the “basketball” effect.

Find or make a basketball net (approx. 3-5 inches high and a net diameter of 2-3 inches.)

Tilt the net at first to make it easier for the guinea pig to reach. Reward whenever the guinea pig gets the ball in or close to going in the net (the ball doesn’t necessarily have to land in the net 100% of the time.)

Gradually raise the net into an upright position as the guinea pig’s accuracy improves. Remember to practice from different sides and angles.

You can also try rolling the ball a short distance away and gradually increasing the distance so the guinea pig learns to fetch the ball and then dunk it in the net.

Additional Tips For Teaching This Trick

  • Help your guinea pig understand what you want them to do by giving them jackpot rewards (extra treats and praise) every time they pick up the ball with more enthusiasm or when they get the ball in the bowl/net on the first try.
  • Be sure to give the guinea pig lots of time to practice each step before moving on. It takes time for guinea pigs to improve their accuracy and learn how to control where they want to put the ball. Keep sessions fun and rewarding without trying to rush through too quickly.
  • If you are finding one step difficult, don’t hesitate to go back to the previous step and take more time on that before moving forward.

If Your Guinea Pig Isn’t Getting it

This trick can be hard, and you’re bound to run into some challenges here and there. The first thing you can do to set your guinea pig up for success is to practice the first step longer than you think you need. Once the guinea pig is picking up the ball, you may think you’re good to move on.

However, building some reinforcement history with picking up the ball can make them less likely to give up when this trick gets harder. I usually spend two or three sessions just rewarding every time the guinea pig picks up the ball. If, at any point in the future, your guinea pig gets distracted or tries to give up, just go back to rewarding for picking up the ball for a couple of minutes.

Try to end the session on a positive note every time, even if that means going back a step. Other than that, be patient! This trick requires skill and coordination on the part of your guinea pig, so it will likely take longer to teach than you think it will. Take your time, and don’t be afraid to take a break to work on something else for a while. Keep coming back to it periodically, and you’ll see progress over time.

What’s Next?

I hope you loved this basketball tutorial! If you’ve successfully taught this trick, congratulations! Guinea pigs that have mastered this skill can often learn to play fetch much easier if you are interested in teaching that next.

You can also check out this list of 7 coolest tricks you can teach your guinea pig. This list can give you some more tricks to work on, whether you’ve finished teaching this trick or taking a break in the middle. You can also check out this list of the 10 easiest tricks to teach if you want some quick successes to conquer with your guinea pig.