When dogs wag their tails, it usually means they’re happy or excited, but why do pigs wag their tails? Is it a way that they show affection to humans, or is it a sign of distress? Let’s find out!
The other day, I noticed my pig, Hamilton, wagging his tail, and it made me wonder if he also used this method to express delight or whether something very different was going on.
So, in this guide, we’ll talk more about why pigs wag their tails. We’ll also discuss how to figure out if your pig is happy or not and talk a little bit about the similarities between pigs and dogs. So, let’s get down to the facts and find out if pigs wag their tails to show affection to humans or if they’re trying to tell us something else.
Why Do Pigs Wag Their Tails?
Pigs wag their tails when they want to express emotions. Pigs may wag their tails when they are they feel threatened, are excited, or are in pain. They may also wag their tails to swat pests.
It’s easy to observe pigs wagging their tails when eating, and many people assume that a pig’s wagging tail indicates happiness or contentment the same way it does in a dog.
Because my pigs always wag their tails during mealtimes, I used to think that it always meant they were happy and excited. After all, we all get excited when it’s time for dinner!
However, the reason pigs wag their tails is more complicated than most of us think, according to scientific studies.
The research still isn’t 100% conclusive whether or not we realize the full extent of why pigs wag their tail, but it seems that pigs use this behavior to express both negative and positive emotions.
For example, I recently read an excellent study from Wageningen University in the Netherlands. The study analyzes tail posture as a possible emotional state indicator. The study found a correlation between negative social behavior and tail wagging. So, in some cases, a pig may wag its tail when it feels threatened or aggressive.
We also found one fascinating pig study that says pigs wag their tails when experiencing physical pain. (We’ll reveal more details of the study later in this article.)
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So, if pigs aren’t always displaying affection to humans or happiness when they wag their tails, what does it mean?
What Does It Mean When a Pig Wags Its Tail?
When a pig wags its tail, it means that it is alert and active. Pigs may wag their tails out of nervousness, excitement, aggression, or any other state of heightened emotion. However, science suggests that tail wagging is a symptom of stress.
A pig’s tail posture and motion communicate social information about the pig’s experiences and emotions.
Like other animals, pigs use their tails to swat away irritating pests. Still, they also use them to communicate effectively.
After studying 96 different pigs’ behaviors, Jordy Groffen concluded that pigs usually stand with their tails curled or hanging between their legs. This finding proved that the posture of the pig’s tail largely depends on the pig’s activity level.
A pig at rest generally has its tail hanging in a relaxed position, whereas an active pig will keep theirs in more of an upward curl.
Also – pigs tend to curl their tails while eating or drinking. During these times, a pig is alert, active, and engaged in something, so its body is ready to move.
However, pigs being pushed around or bitten by others engaged in intensive tail wagging.
This tail-wagging suggests that pigs wag their tails during negative social behavior or manipulation rather than happiness.
Some evidence suggests that pigs in food-frustrated situations wag their tails more. In addition, pigs who have recently undergone a surgical procedure wag their tails more.
Other studies indicate that tail wagging in a pig may reflect pain or discomfort. Piglets with tail damage or skin irritation were seen intensely wagging their tails more frequently than others.
Here’s an eye-opening analysis of pain management for pigs. The best sources we could find say that piglets may wag their tail excessively when responding to great pain – like during tail docking and castration. (YIKES!) The piglets also trembled, huddled, scratched their rumps, and went stiff when exposed to pain.
Researchers have also found that pigs curl their tails when happy or content rather than wag them.
Tail Biting and Tail Docking
On the other hand, a piglet that has its tail permanently tucked between its back legs could be the victim of tail biting.
Tail biting is an abnormal behavior that often occurs in pigs housed in suboptimal conditions. To alleviate stress and boredom, pigs will bite and chew on the tails of others, causing significant pain and injury.
Piglets exposed to this behavior often tuck their tails underneath their bodies to keep them away from other pigs. This posture has become synonymous with an outbreak of tail biting.
You can help prevent tail biting by giving your pigs plenty of space, water, entertainment, treats, and food!
If you want to learn more about how you can keep your pigs happy and comfortable, you might want to read about our cheap fencing ideas for pigs. Putting up fencing to expand your pig’s space can give them access to more food and freedom, which will ward off boredom and unhealthy habits like tail biting.
I’ve heard of pig farmers docking their pig’s tails to prevent this behavior. Docking the pigs left the pigs with stumps that no longer curl or communicate the same range of emotions.
Should all pigs have their tails docked? That question is controversial among some farmers – many now believe that docking negatively affects the pig later in life.
Still, tail docking also makes it more difficult for the owner to use tail postures and motions to establish the physiological well-being of their animals.
(Some farmers also think it’s inhumane! But – opinions vary on this topic.)
Pigs are intellectually curious creatures, and they need mental stimulation to stay happy. This pig activity mat will keep them busy for hours. Tuck a few of their favorite treats into the fold for endless entertainment.
How Do Pigs Communicate Happiness?
So, if a wagging tail is associated with a negative emotional state, such as frustration or restlessness, how can you tell if a pig is happy, and how do pigs show affection to humans?
You can tell if a pig is happy by noises and body language. Pigs use various vocalizations to communicate their emotions. Their voices and tones are often more reliable than watching their tails.
Hamilton’s favorite thing in life (after food) is a belly rub! If you start scratching him behind the ears, he’ll soon slump to the ground and roll over, panting and uttering quiet, satisfied grunts as he does so.
Before he flops to the ground, you can see his previously curly tail relax and unfurl until it’s hanging loosely behind his hind legs. His body will also begin to relax, and his eyes soften or close.
He usually opens his mouth in what appears to be something akin to a decidedly slobbery smile and increases his panting until it almost sounds like laughter.
Not every panting pig is giggling, however, and on a hot summer’s day, a panting pig is probably hot rather than joyful!
Similarly, pigs show affection to humans by producing many different grunts and vocalizations. Observing these sounds and their body language will give you a good idea of how they feel.
According to another study from the University of London, pigs use sound to convey their emotional, motivational and physiological state.
They may squeal in excitement, or fear, whereas grunting seems more associated with foraging and letting their pack know where they are.
So, a pig’s tail behavior can give us a basic overview of how a pig is feeling. But vocalizations provide a more detailed impression of individual personalities, social behavior, and group dynamics. These sounds and behaviors are the best ways pigs can express affection to humans.
These are my favorite treats for my pigs, and they're the pigs' favorites, too. Giving them treats they like will help them trust you, allowing them to live stress-free lives. They're also wonderful for teaching your pigs tricks!
Finally, Anna has some insight on how pigs are very similar to dogs!
6 Ways Pigs Are Exactly Like Dogs
What many people don’t know is that pigs have many characteristics similar to dogs. You may imagine a 200 lb muddy animal curled up on your lap, but that’s not exactly what I mean.
While they won’t get as attached as Fido, and you definitely won’t want them in your lap, their mannerisms are similar to those of the canine species. It can be pretty comical if you’ve never been around pigs much.
Reasons Why Pigs Are Like Dogs
When my husband and I first got pigs a couple of years ago, we came home with two from a county chicken swap. We weren’t sure what to expect, even after watching hours upon hours of Youtube videos. Here are a few of the things that surprised us.
1. Pigs Love to Be Petted (and May Do Tricks)
One of our pigs’ favorite things is to be petted by someone, just like dogs. When you scratch them behind their ears, their grunts of pleasure will make you laugh! It does take them a bit to warm up to you, though.
Their tricks may not be as elaborate as a dog’s, but they are tricks nonetheless.
My husband got one of our pigs to lay down on command. He would pet this pig on her head, tell her to lie down, and then most of the time, she would roll on her side so my husband could rub her belly.
2. Pigs Are FAST
You would not think a sizeable short-legged animal could move quickly, but pigs are extremely fast. I would argue that the pigs we had our first year were as fast as a dog. The main things they ran for were food and while playing with each other.
Pigs can run up to 11mph, so I was a little off about Wilbur outrunning Fido. That’s still pretty fast, though!
They are difficult to catch if they get out, especially as piglets. Take it from me…
When we brought the last round of pigs home, there was a hole in the paneling of our fence, and the first few piglets we dropped in found it right away. Talk about a pig chase!
3. Pigs Are Social
Pigs are social animals, so you shouldn’t get only one. While you can just get one pup, they bond with you and your family, forming their new pack. Pigs in the wild live in groups of multiple sows and their offspring. Sound familiar?
Wild dogs and wolves also live in groups. From an evolutionary aspect, this is all about survival for both species. The need to be around other pigs is in their DNA. Our pigs love coming to greet us – whether that’s because they think we have food or because they like us, I’m not sure.
4. Pigs Are Very Food Driven
Is there any animal (humans included) that isn’t food driven? I know I am. Pigs, like dogs, are all about their food and know exactly what signals feeding time.
Our dog goes crazy when we walk over to the food bag. Once the food hits her bowl, it’s like she’s on a pogo stick!
We feed our pigs with an automatic deer feeder, and as soon as it starts dispensing food, the pigs hear it and take off running. As I said, they also come to us when we walk out, probably because we feed them all kinds of leftovers. Their favorite is watermelon rinds in the summer.
5. Pigs Love to Play
Not only do piglets love to play, but the adults do too! Piglets love playing with each other by headbutting, nipping, and running around the pen.
Like dogs, once pigs become adults, they don’t like to play quite as much. However, in the right scenario, they certainly do. When we pulled out the water hose, our pigs loved running through the water, digging in the mud, and wrestling with each other.
Just watch out after they get muddy. They shake the mud and water off like a dog too!
6. Pigs Sleep a Lot
Adult dogs sleep for the majority of the day. While pigs do much more foraging during the day, they also love to get a good nap. The little piglets nap much more than the adult pigs do.
Pigs also love sleeping in later in the morning, or at least ours do. They take naps during the day and then go to bed early as it’s getting dark. What a life!
Pig Tail Wagging and Pig Happiness FAQs
We have a ton of experience dealing and interacting with pigs of all ages – and sizes. We also realize that interacting with your farm creatures, especially pigs, is tricky!
They’re such intricate, beautiful, and expressive animals, so we compiled these pig and tail-wagging FAQs below.
We hope they help you!
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Pigs show affection to humans with grunts and nudges. Pigs that trust you will also relax when you are nearby, letting their tails hang low rather than keeping them in a tight coil.
Depending on the size of your pig, a nudge can be disconcerting. Our old boar Humphrey weighed nearly 400kg and stood as high as my hip. A gentle nudge from him would instantly see me deposited on the ground. Nevertheless, if he grunted gently, I knew he was content to lie down for a belly rub once I’d recovered.
You know if a pig is happy by its body language and disposition. Happy pigs are energetic, don’t show signs of stress, and trust you. They may grunt happily, get close to you, and relax in your presence. They won’t make squealing or barking sounds, wag their tails excessively, or tuck their tails between their legs.
Hamilton often gallops down the field when he sees my husband at the gate. I’m pretty sure he’s happy when he does that. With his ears flopping around and what appears to be a big smile on his face! He certainly looks pretty upbeat. As he gets closer, he’ll start grunting quietly and nudge my husband’s legs with his snout.
By comparison, Hamilton will dash off for a few meters before stopping and spinning around if he becomes distressed or unhappy because one of the dogs is in his space. He also makes barking noises and squeals if a dog gets too close. This kind of behavior indicates fear and stress.
We don’t rely on a wagging tail to gauge Hamilton’s level of contentment, as the only time he does that is when he’s eating or when flies are irritating his hindquarters.
Pigs nudge you as a sign of affection in most cases. If you’ve ever watched a pig feed, you’ll know this is a natural behavior for them. Pigs use their snouts to move soil to access the tasty roots and insects underground. They also nudge one another to establish dominance.
If a pig pushes you, don’t move away, as this indicates that you’re backing down. Instead, respond positively and acknowledge the pig’s desire to communicate by giving a stroke or scratch.
Pigs usually have their tails curled upwards or loosely hanging between the back legs. A curled tail is associated with activity, while a hanging pig’s tail usually means the pigs are at rest.
A pig that’s wagging its tail is more likely to be frustrated or distressed than happy, even though they often wag while eating.
Pigs wag their tails for various reasons, including when they are frustrated, distressed, or intimidated. They might also wag their trials while eating or to get rid of bothersome insects.
A pig’s tail posture and motion communicate information about the animal’s emotional and physiological well-being, but a pig doesn’t use its tail like dogs do.
A pig wagging its tail may be in a state of high arousal, but it doesn’t necessarily mean he’s happy or comfortable! On the contrary, a pig whose tail is hanging limp likely feels more cheerful about life than one who’s wagging.
Rather than relying on a pig’s tail to keep you up-to-date with his state of mind, pay attention to the vocalizations your pig makes and watch his body language, which is how pigs show affection to humans. A relaxed pig grunting gently and nudging you is most probably expressing affection.
If he starts panting, there’s a good chance he’s giggling with delight, even if his tail isn’t wagging.