How to Train Your Guinea Pig – Ultimate Beginner’s Guide
This page serves as a complete guide for guinea pigs that are new to training. If you’re just getting started or interested in learning how to train your guinea pig, you can find all the information you need below to start teaching your guinea pig tricks.
This guide covers which treats to use for training your guinea pig, how to teach your guinea pig to take food from your hand, follow a lure, respond to their name, and how to choose the best tricks to train your guinea pig first.
You will also find information on where to get training equipment, the best training methods to use, clicker training for guinea pigs, how long it takes to train your guinea pig, plus so much more. Let’s dive right in!
Which Treats Should You Use for Training a Guinea Pig?
Since guinea pig training is mainly based on food, the logical first step is finding your piggy’s favorite treats. For training, it’s best to choose vegetables rather than any store-bought treats.
Store-bought biscuits often contain sugar or other additives that make them best as an occasional treat. Training treats should be healthy, easy to break up into small pieces, and safe to feed in larger quantities.
Some of my favorite treats to use are green leaf or romaine lettuce and bell peppers. Sometimes I’ll use shredded carrots as treats for training. However, carrots are a little higher in sugar than most veggies, so be careful not to go overboard if you decide to use them.
Guinea pigs all have their preferences when it comes to treats, so take a bit of time to experiment and try different vegetables to find your guinea pig’s favorites. If you can discover two or three veggies they love, you can rotate between them for training sessions to give your guinea pig more variety.
Check out the Guinea Pig Training Treats page for a more detailed list of veggies you can use for training.
Teaching Your Guinea Pig to Take Treats From Your Hand
Once you’ve found your guinea pig’s favorite treats, the next step is to teach them to take small pieces of food from your hand confidently.
If your guinea pig is new to this, you should start with a relatively large piece of food (for example, a leaf of lettuce or a full-sized carrot).
Begin with a reasonably large piece of your guinea pig’s favorite veggie treat. Hold the food out to your guinea pig, and let them nibble on it while you hold the other end.
If your guinea pig is quite comfortable with this, you can try breaking off some medium-sized pieces and letting them nibble on a smaller piece while you hold the food. Once they’ve gained confidence with that, you can begin breaking off tiny bite-sized pieces and feed them to your guinea pig one at a time.
If your guinea pig is hesitant to approach you or seems a little spooky while they’re nibbling on the food, give them a little more time. Try not to rush past the point where they’re comfortable.
They must be able to take food confidently from your hand while training, so take as much time as they need to get to that point. It’s totally normal to spend a few days or even a few weeks on hand-feeding to build up enough trust and confidence.
Teaching Your Guinea Pig to Follow a Food Lure
After your guinea pig has learned to take small pieces of their favorite foods from your hand, you can train them to follow a food lure.
Luring is the easiest and most common way to teach your guinea pig to do tricks and navigate various obstacles, so following a food lure fluidly is a crucial skill for them to learn.
When training a guinea pig to follow a lure, the most important thing is to take it one step at a time. Literally.
Many people will try to lure the guinea pig several steps right off the bat. Unfortunately, this teaches the guinea pig that food is elusive and hard to get. Guinea pigs can be lazy, so if they think that following the food around is hard work, they won’t be as willing to follow it.
At the beginning of training, it’s a good idea to lure just one step and reward, one step and reward, etc. Practice this as many times as it takes until the guinea pig eagerly follows for one step with no hesitation.
Once they’re good with one step, you can start luring a few more steps at a time. It’s a good idea to also reward randomly after one step once in a while, so they never really know when they’ll get the treat.
You can also try luring them in different directions, to the right and left, a semi-circle, or even a full circle if they’re following it well. If your guinea pig gets a little slow or hesitant to follow at any point, start rewarding them more frequently again.
You can also challenge your guinea pig by luring them over or around various obstacles. For example, you could lure them in both directions around a plastic cup on the floor or over a small baton or a low miniature jump. You can also put your hand flat on the ground and lure their front paws onto your hand.
How to Start Training Your Guinea Pig Video Tutorial
Guinea pigs should be able to confidently take food from your hand and know how to follow a food lure before you attempt to teach tricks. Once they learn a few foundation behaviors, trick training becomes much easier and a lot more fun! The video below outlines the first steps to take before you begin teaching your guinea pig tricks.
How to Train Your Guinea Pig to Respond to Their Name
Guinea pigs can learn to recognize and respond to their name with a bit of practice and repetition. Simply say your guinea pig’s name in a happy tone of voice and feed them a treat right after. Do this 5-10 times in a row. Repeat this every day for a week or so.
By the end of the week, they should be able to respond to their name. Teaching your guinea pig to respond to their name is an excellent prerequisite for training other tricks. It gives you a way to get their attention easily and encourages them to come to you.
The Best Tricks to Teach Your Guinea Pig First
When you have a guinea pig that can confidently take food from your hand and follow a lure, you can begin teaching tricks! To keep your training fun and successful, you’ll want to start with some beginner-friendly guinea pig tricks that will help lay a solid foundation for more unique and advanced tricks down the road.
Listed below are some of my favorite foundation behaviors for new trick guinea pigs.
You can find tutorials for each of the tricks above by clicking on the highlighted links, or check out our page 10 Easiest Tricks to Teach Your Guinea Pig for a list of all the beginner-friendly tricks in one place.
If you want to see the very first tricks (in order) that one of my guinea pigs learned when he was new to training, check out his YouTube playlist, Ace’s Trick Count. This playlist starts with his first five “baby tricks” and follows his progression as he learned more than 50 tricks. These videos give you a good idea of the best types of tricks for young guinea pigs and those new to training.
What You Need For Training
Besides your guinea pig and some yummy veggie treats, there are a couple of things that are useful to have for training your guinea pig. Some of these items are things you can buy at a store, but many can be handmade or re-purposed from things around your home.
Foldable Exercise Pen or Playpen
Exercise pens are foldable fences that can be easily set up and then folded back up when not in use.
I use them mostly to block off areas that are not piggy-proofed and temporarily separate my guinea pigs for training sessions.
They can also be used as a circular playpen for floor time and training sessions if you don’t have a safe place to let your guinea pigs run around.
I like using rabbit or puppy playpens because they usually have more space than the shorter ones made for guinea pigs and other smaller animals. You can also buy a pack of wire grids and zip-tie them together to make your own foldable playpen in any size that you want.
Waterproof Floor Mat
Waterproof playpen mats (pictured above with the playpen) go hand in hand with the exercise pen suggestion above. If you have carpet, wood, or another type of floor that you want to protect from piggy messes, a mat is an excellent way to keep it safe and clean.
It also makes cleanup a lot quicker when it’s time to put everything away. I just soak up the pee with paper towels and dump everything on the mat into the garbage.
The best mats that I’ve found are waterproof splat mats made for kids. I’ve tested them with both my rabbits and guinea pigs, and the pee just sits on top of the mat and doesn’t soak through, even if it’s left for a few hours. They’re also machine washable on a delicate cycle.
Jumps, Tunnels, Target Sticks, and More
Several guinea pig tricks involve different obstacles or props. Common training items include hoops, tunnels, jumps, target sticks, and small balls that the guinea pig can pick up. Some of these things are items you can find lying around the house, and others can be made from a few simple materials.
You can find some DIY tutorials for things like cardboard jumps, target sticks, and hoops if you scroll down on the Guinea Pig Training page.
My favorite type of tunnel for training is the Fun Tunnel by Ware Manufacturing. These tunnels can be shortened, extended, and curved in all different directions. This is great for training as you can start with the tunnel short and gradually expand it to increase the challenge as the guinea pig learns.
The ability to curve it in different directions also gives you more variety to work with and makes your agility courses more interesting if you decide to teach your guinea pig agility down the road.
The best balls I’ve found for teaching guinea pigs tricks like fetch and basketball is a slotted ball typically sold as a cat toy. These balls come with bells inside, but since there’s a bit of flexibility to them, it’s relatively easy to pop the bells out before using them with the guinea pigs. You can find slotted balls on Amazon, and I’ve also seen them at some pet stores.
Join the Guinea Pig Tricks Newsletter!
In the form below, you can enter your email to join the Guinea Pig Tricks email list. When you join, you get access to a 7-day guinea pig training email course, which includes new training tips every day for seven days, plus seven exclusive trick tutorials that are not available on our website.
Some of the trick tutorials include high five, jumping through your looped arms, bowling a strike, and more. You’ll also find many great beginner-friendly tips each day. These tips include choosing healthy and safe treats for training, teaching tricks to a guinea pig that gets easily distracted, and some of my favorite taming tips.
Join the Small Animal Training Community on Facebook
We have a private group on Facebook called the Small Animal Training Community. You can request to join by going to the group, clicking the join button, and answering three quick questions (these are in place to keep bots and spam accounts out of the group.)
This group was created for small pet owners to ask questions, share their guinea pig’s training progress, and connect with like-minded people. There is also a new Trick of the Month every month to work towards with your small pet.
A Tame Guinea Pig is a Trainable Guinea Pig!
A strong bond with your guinea pig is an essential foundation for training. If your guinea pig isn’t entirely comfortable around you yet, I would recommend focusing on that before jumping into trick training.
A tame guinea pig will learn much quicker and be much easier to train than a nervous piggy. Guinea pigs that are calm and happy in their environment also show their personalities more and are much more curious about people.
Check out the Taming and Bonding page for more information on how to bond with your guinea pig.
When To Train Your Guinea Pig
When choosing a time for your training sessions, consider your guinea pig’s daily routine – for example, their meal times and floor time.
If your piggy is energetic and easily distracted, it might be a good idea to have your training session after your guinea pig runs around a bit. This gives them a chance to explore and use up some of their excess energy beforehand.
It’s also a good idea to pick the same time every day for training sessions, as guinea pigs thrive on a set routine.
Your guinea pig’s meal times also play a role. Although most guinea pigs would happily stuff their faces again right after eating, it’s not good for guinea pigs to consume vast amounts of food all at once. Try to plan your training sessions at least a couple of hours away from the times they get fed (except hay, as guinea pigs should always have free access to unlimited grass hay.)
If you always feed veggies at a specific time every day, that would be a perfect time for training, as you can use their daily ration of veggies for training.
Find a Suitable Space to Train Your Guinea Pig
A suitable place for training your guinea pig is an area that is quiet with few distractions.
It’s a good idea to stick to the same room in which the guinea pig’s cage is located or the area where they are let out to roam for floor time. This way, the guinea pig will already be comfortable with their surroundings.
If the room you have chosen to use is big, has a lot of distractions, or has shelves/cabinets the guinea pig can get under, you may want to consider purchasing an exercise pen or blocking off an area of the room for your training sessions.
Common Guinea Pig Training Questions and Answers
Are Guinea Pigs Easy to Train?
Guinea pigs are generally very food motivated, which often makes them very easy to train. However, guinea pigs that are nervous of people are much harder to train.
If your guinea pig is skittish, it’s a good idea to work on taming your guinea pig and teaching them to trust you first. Once your guinea pig is bonded to you and feels comfortable in their environment, they will learn much faster and enjoy learning tricks.
How Long Does it Take to Train a Guinea Pig?
It only takes five minutes a day to teach your guinea pig to do tricks. The key is to do this consistently every day. Animals need time to process what they’ve learned, so training for long periods doesn’t help them learn faster.
If you want your guinea pig to learn tricks faster, you can do two or even three training sessions a day. Just make sure the sessions are five minutes or less and spread out evenly throughout the day.
It usually takes a few weeks of daily training sessions to teach your guinea pig about ten relatively easy, simple tricks.
This varies a lot depending on your guinea pig’s personality and how tame they are. A confident, tame guinea pig can learn much faster!
It’s crucial to teach easy tricks to your guinea pig first, so they gain confidence and learn that training is fun. Once they learn those first tricks, most guinea pigs will become faster learners and catch on to future tricks much quicker.
How Smart Are Guinea Pigs?
Guinea pigs are a lot smarter than most people think! Even though guinea pigs generally don’t have the best reputation for intelligence, they are quite capable of learning many tricks and behaviors. I’ve had a couple of guinea pigs that were quite good at problem-solving and being escape artists.
One of my boys, TJ, would continually run alongside his exercise pen, pushing the fence every 6 inches or so.
As soon as he found the loosest part where the fence was clipped together, he then doubled down and pushed at this spot with all his strength to get the fence open! He escaped from a few other enclosures as well.
Eventually, I had to start securing any cage or exercise pen with 3-4 carabiner clips to keep him in. Quite the little escape artist he is!
My other guinea pig, Ace, also figured out how to open my door if I left it just slightly ajar. He would paw and bite at it to pull it towards himself, then run off into the hallway to go for a stroll! Mostly he came into the kitchen to look for food.
He also outsmarted me one day when I put the exercise pen across the room to keep him in 1 area, and he realized there was a low shelf he could walk on to get around the fence. Never saw him look prouder of himself than in that moment!
All of my guinea pigs have also learned many tricks, ranging from circles to basketball to playing cards. They’ve even earned trick titles that are typically reserved for dogs!
Overall, I’ve found that guinea pigs are very smart and capable of learning when given the right opportunity.
Some are more outgoing and more likely to be troublemakers (these are often the smartest ones!), but all guinea pigs are smart in their own way and capable of so much more than they typically get credit for.
Can All Guinea Pigs Learn Tricks?
Yes! All guinea pigs are capable of learning tricks. Some guinea pigs are much more confident and learn tricks faster than others.
Timid or passive guinea pigs are usually slower learners, but teaching tricks can help grow their confidence.
If your guinea pig is nervous, be patient and teach easy tricks first, such as putting their paws on your hand or even just following a food lure for a few steps.
Make the behaviors very easy for them to build their confidence up and turn them into faster learners in the future.
How Do You Train a Guinea Pig That Won’t Move?
This is a common question when it comes to training guinea pigs. Some guinea pigs will eat the food if you give it to them, but they won’t move around and follow a food lure.
Often, these guinea pigs need to get more comfortable in their environment and learn to move their feet around and explore.
For these piggies, I often suggest setting up an exercise pen or other piggy-proofed area on the floor and leaving them out with their food, water, and hidey houses for a few hours every day. Also, spread some of their favorite veggie treats all over the floor for them to find.
They may just spend the first few days or a week hiding in their house and leave the treats alone, and that’s fine. If you keep doing this, however, they will eventually settle in and start to explore. Once they feel comfortable and learn to explore outside their cage, they will likely be much more receptive to learning tricks.
How Do You Train a Guinea Pig That Gets Distracted?
Guinea pigs are bound to get distracted now and then, especially when they’re new to trick training.
The best way to prevent this is to make the tricks as easy as possible for the guinea pig. Break them down into tiny steps and make sure the guinea pig is entirely confident with one step before moving on to the next.
Also, make sure that you’re using your guinea pig’s top favorite treats for training. You can increase the value even more by using those particular veggies only for training.
If the guinea pig gets distracted a lot, you may need to reward them more often to keep the guinea pig engaged. Sometimes it’s a good idea to end training for the day and finish the session by feeding several treats from your hand.
Also, make sure your training environment is super boring. Block off an area just big enough for you and your guinea pig with no other food or toys sitting around to investigate. Choose a place that is quiet and familiar to your guinea pig, so there’s nothing new to startle them or take their attention away.
The following are some terms used in animal training that are useful to know when teaching your guinea pig (or any other animal) a new trick or behavior. I also included some examples for each method.
Training Your Guinea Pig With Luring
Luring is a method in which you use a treat, toy, or another object of interest to guide the animal into a particular position or action. For guinea pigs, food is generally the most effective lure.
Luring is suitable for teaching the early stages of many tricks. Most guinea pigs will follow a lure easier than a target stick, so a food lure is handy in many scenarios.
The most important thing with this method is to fade out the lure once the guinea pig is offering the new behavior. If the lure isn’t faded out, you’ll have a guinea pig that will only follow the food and won’t think and figure out the trick for themselves.
Example of Luring: Holding a piece of food above the guinea pig’s head to lure them into a standing position.
To fade a lure, you have to try to use it as little as possible. One way to do this is to start moving the lure slightly faster each time so that the guinea pig doesn’t rely on it entirely to complete the behavior. You can also try taking the lure away completely and only using it when the guinea pig gets stuck and needs a reminder of what to do.
As they become more familiar with the behavior you are teaching them, you can choose a cue to pair with the behavior, and eventually, the guinea pig won’t need the lure for guidance at all anymore.
Training Your Guinea Pig With Targeting
Targeting is somewhat similar to luring in that you have the guinea pig follow or touch a target to guide them through an obstacle or action.
Targeting is helpful in many circumstances where luring would not be and vice versa.
Targets can be handheld, on the ground, on the wall, or an object. You can teach guinea pigs to target an object with their nose or paw.
Check out our target training page to learn how to teach this trick.
Example of Targeting: Sitting near the tunnel and holding a target stick on the opposite end to guide the guinea pig through the tunnel. This teaches the guinea pig to do the obstacle more independently, which is helpful for them to run an obstacle course without any guidance.
Teaching Your Guinea Pig Tricks by Shaping
Shaping involves rewarding several small steps in the progression towards the completed behavior.
Most tricks you teach to your guinea pig apply some form of shaping, as most tricks need to be broken down and taught in small steps.
Shaping can be used with other methods or by itself, which is referred to as free shaping. Free shaping relies heavily on precision, so clickers are frequently used to mark the correct behaviors accurately.
Example of Shaping a Guinea Pig to Circle (With Luring): First, the guinea pig is lured a quarter of the way around the circle and rewarded with a bite of carrot. Next time, they are lured halfway around the circle before rewarding, then three-quarters of the way around, and finally all the way around.
Example of Free Shaping a Guinea Pig to Circle: Clicking to mark whenever the guinea pig looks to the right, then next time whenever he looks to the right and takes a small step in that direction, then when he takes a couple of steps in that direction, then a couple more steps, etc. until he has completely turned in a circle.
Capturing Behaviors Your Guinea Pig Does Naturally
Capturing involves rewarding behavior that a guinea pig does naturally, without the trainer’s intervention. If a guinea pig does something unique or interesting, the trainer can choose to reinforce the behavior with a treat to increase the chance that the guinea pig will do it again.
Once the guinea pig has repeated the captured behavior a few times, a verbal cue or hand signal can be paired with it so the guinea pig will perform it on cue.
Example of Capturing: Putting a ball in front of the guinea pig and giving a treat when/if they pick it up on their own.
Using Jackpot Rewards in Your Training
A jackpot reward isn’t a training method in itself, but it is a very effective tactic to incorporate into your training. A jackpot reward is an extra big reward (often extra treats) given to the guinea pig when they have a “lightbulb” moment in your training session or when they put in the extra effort you want to recognize.
For example, if your guinea pig always gets distracted and runs off halfway through doing a circle, the first time they turn a complete circle would be worthy of lots of praise and extra treats to emphasize that what they did was really good. Well-timed jackpots can significantly help speed up the training process when teaching new behaviors.
My Favorite Guinea Pig Training Methods
I tend to use a lot of luring/shaping combinations in my training, so you’ll likely see a lot of that throughout the trick tutorials on this site. You’ll see bits of other methods here and there, but the bulk of it will be luring/shaping.
As mentioned above, anytime you use a lure, it is crucial to fade it out! I like to use lures to get the guinea pig doing the behavior initially. Then I quickly switch over to shaping while fading the lure to encourage the guinea pig to fill in the blanks and think about the rest of the behavior.
Clicker Training for Guinea Pigs
A clicker is a small handheld device that makes a clicking sound when it is pressed. This clicking sound is used to mark the guinea pig’s behavior quicker and more accurately than verbal praise or delivery of a treat.
Essentially, the clicker is used to communicate to the guinea pig, “That was right. A reward is coming.”
Clickers are most commonly used when free shaping or teaching a complicated behavior that needs to be broken down into several smaller steps to be taught effectively. However, it can be used when teaching any behavior.
Teaching a guinea pig what the clicker means is called “charging the clicker.” To do this, simply click the clicker and give the guinea pig a treat. Repeat this about a dozen times or until they start to show some response to the clicker (i.e., raising their head, turning towards you). They should make the association between the clicker and reward very quickly.
Once the guinea pig has learned what the clicker means, you can start using it in your training wherever you see fit. Typical dog clickers are often too loud for a guinea pig, so you may have to get creative with how you mark their behavior.
You can use a quieter indoor dog clicker (similar to the one that Daisy is trying to eat in the photo above) and muffle the sound by holding it in your sleeve or pocket when you click it. A louder than average pen click also seems to work well, or you can always use a word like “good” or “yes.”
6 Best Tips to Train Your Guinea Pig
Remember that training is a fun, positive bonding activity for you and your guinea pig. Keep it short, upbeat, and positive at all times! Below is a list of the best tips to keep in mind when training your guinea pig.
1. Keep Training Sessions Short
It’s always a good idea to keep training sessions short, generally around five minutes. Guinea pigs can have short attention spans, especially when they are new to training. It’s always a good idea to end the session before they get bored and start to lose interest.
If your guinea pig starts to get distracted after three minutes, anticipate this and end the session after two minutes. Over time as they learn to enjoy training sessions more and more, they will stay engaged longer and be less likely to get distracted.
2. Go Back a Step!
The best thing to do when your guinea pig gets confused, stuck, or distracted is to go back a step to where they were previously successful. If the guinea pig thinks that training is hard, they’re more likely to give up or get distracted. Often, going back a step helps the guinea pig get back on the right track and quickly sets them back up for success.
3. End Every Session on a Good Note
It’s always a good idea to end every training session on a good note. Always stop while you’re ahead and leave the guinea pig wanting more. This way, they’ll remember that training was a lot of fun and they’ll be looking forward to the next session.
If your piggy starts to fall off towards the end of the session or get distracted, go back to a step that was super easy for them and do a few successful reps of that before ending your session. This way, you can always finish your sessions on a good note and leave the guinea pig with a positive impression of every training session.
4. Hand Signals Over Voice Commands
Guinea pigs seem to respond so much better to hand signals over verbal cues. I always try to use nonverbal cues whenever possible, as it speeds up their learning so much.
However, it’s important to note that guinea pigs don’t have great eyesight. Make sure the guinea pig can see any visual cues. Make sure your hand is close enough to see but not right in their blind spot (i.e., right in front of their nose.)
5. Progress at Your Guinea Pig’s Pace
It can be tempting to rush ahead of the guinea pig as soon as you think they can handle the next step. But your piggy will progress so much faster if they fully understand the first step before moving on.
They will stay engaged and focused longer if they’re not confused or set back by going a step too fast. It’s essential to be observant of your guinea pig, and when in doubt, give them a bit more time to grasp each step thoroughly.
6. Stay Positive!
Remember, training sessions should always be fun and rewarding for the guinea pig. If your guinea pig starts to lose interest, reward more often or end the session before they get too bored.
Break behaviors into small steps so the guinea pig wants to stay engaged. And most importantly, have fun and enjoy the bonding time with your piggy!