It is ironic that people use the phrase “pig ignorant” to denigrate stupid people or people who are acting stupidly. Arguably the people who use this phrase are being stupid themselves because pigs are smart. The late Stanley Curtis, a US professor of animal sciences, said: “Pigs could be as smart as chimpanzees and other nonhuman primates”. They just don’t communicate it because of a stiff neck ?.
Studies dated 2011 and 2020 in the journal Animal Cognition concluded that pigs “possess a well-developed, large brain [and] are more persistent than dogs in trying to solve [challenging problems]”. Other studies have found that they have excellent spatial memories which helps them to find food and they’ve outperformed dogs when using joysticks to control a cursor on a computer screen.
So, there is an equivalence between dogs and pigs in terms of intelligence and their ability to be an excellent pet. It is also, therefore ironic, that pigs are seen as livestock and slaughtered in their millions but that is another topic.
It is believed that pigs were domesticated about 9,000 years ago. Dogs were, incidentally domesticated, it is believed, about 20,000 or more years ago. I wonder whether this is significant and a reason why pigs are less good at communicating with their human caregivers?
Despite being considered as one of the cleverest species in the world with “cognitive abilities similar to adults and young children” (study in the journal Scientific Reports), they do not interact with each other or indeed with humans using visual social signals in the way that dogs, primates, horses, cats, dolphins, wolves and even kangaroos do.
And they don’t follow human visual clues. Regrettably, they are less responsive to human facial expressions. This is something which dogs are very good at.
Despite almost 10,000 years of domestication pigs simply haven’t overcome these barriers to becoming a successful companion animal to people.
And one reason for this is that they’ve got a stiff neck! The scientists have put this down to “anatomical restraints such as the rigidity of their neck”. This prevents pigs from reading human signals and indeed producing their own signals towards a human. In short, the stiff neck is a barrier to communication between pig and human.
I also suspect – and this is not part of the study reports that I have read – that their size must be a factor. They also have a very poor public profile or image because we see pictures of them wallowing in mud. We also regard them as livestock. This would seem to devalue them.
Also, ironically, the dog is seen as livestock in China where they are brutally abused in dog meat factories and also where they are stripped of their pelts. It’s a cultural thing it is said.
And I guess, too, it is a cultural thing that the pig is not seen as good a pet as a dog despite their intelligence which may even be superior to that of a dog. The dog has developed great communication skills. They know how to get their way with their human caregiver.
Perhaps the bottom line is about successful interactions with humans which in turn depends upon great communication.
For example, dogs can signal to their owners that they want help in accessing food in tests. Whereas the researchers from Eotvos Lorand University in Hungary found that pigs don’t look to their owner to try and solve problems but they try and solve the problem themselves.
Winston Churchill aptly and perhaps wisely said that: “Dogs look up to you, cats look down on you. Give me a pig. He looks you in the eye and treats you as an equal.”
Perhaps we should give pigs a second chance.
Below are some more articles on pigs.