Guinea pig personalities: does breed make a difference?

19 Sep

Prospective pet owners frequently ask me, “which breed of guinea pig will make the best pet?” Like so many questions related to pet ownership, the answer is largely subjective — and unreliable, as well, because any individual guinea pig within any breed can have any sort of combination of personality traits. So choosing a guinea pig of a specific breed will not guarantee the selection of a perfect pet any more than choosing a guinea pig of a specific color will ensure that your guinea pig will like to be held while you watch television.

Nonetheless, I have in my own experience noticed that there are some generalities that seem to apply to each breed’s usual personality. Your mileage may vary, but here is what I have generally observed.

Long-haired breeds: Peruvians, Silkies, Texels, etc.

Obviously, this is where I have the most experience. Over time I’ve found that your long-haired guinea pigs are your most laid back guinea pigs — kind of like the lap dogs of the cavy world. And there’s a good reason for this trend. Long-haired breeds need to be docile enough to sit on show boards when on the show table. They can’t be skittish or excitable, because if they decide to make a run for it, there’s no show coop to prevent them from darting off the side of the table. Additionally, most require daily grooming, and few exhibitors want to wrestle with a comb and an unruly guinea pig on a nightly basis. Over time, these circumstances have led breeders to cull the more excitable animals from their long-haired lines, which has had a sort of evolutionary effect leading to a genetic propensity for calmness in long-haired breeds.

The exception to this rule is the texel. Because the texel does not require regular grooming — in fact, regular grooming of the texel is discouraged in the U.S., because it can cause damage to the coat — the texel has not seen the same effect that intentional or unintentional selection for temperament has created in the other long-haired breeds. As a result, the texel may tend to be a little more energetic than its other long-haired cousins.

Teddies, Abyssinians

Ask any breeder and they will probably relate to you the same stereotype about teddies and Abyssinians: that they are by far the most energetic and outgoing of all guinea pig breeds. As with the long-hairs, this makes perfect sense if you consider the way they are shown and the culling practices the show policies encourage. Both the teddy and the Aby are expected to “run the table” when being shown so the judge can evaluate the overall shape and flow of the cavy’s body. And like the long-hairs, these mid-length breeds require some regular grooming, but not daily grooming. This makes an energetic animal more tolerable to work with, and over time the frequent handling of the animal helps accustom each individual to human interaction, eliminating some of the guinea pig’s naturally fearful nature.

Americans, Cresteds, other short-hairs

I know by far the least about these breeds, so I will keep my remarks on them short and sweet. What I have noticed among the shortest-haired breeds is that the temperament of the animal varies greatly from one breeder’s herd to the next. Baring some other explanation, I would say that the difference is probably related to grooming. The shortest-haired breeds can be shown with minimal grooming, though some attention is obviously still desirable. Those breeders who handle their animals more often likely encourage a tamer temperament; those who tend not to handle their animals as much will have animals that are somewhat wild in nature, resulting in a cavy that is timid around humans.

For those other cavy people out there, what do you think? Have you found that breed makes a difference in temperament? What kind of observations have you made in your own herd?

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