I recently got a piggie for the very first time. I guess I was very lucky, and had help in selecting her (ha ha, I was told "THIS is the girl for you".)
She was just a few weeks old but VERY laid-back, and I was told that they are pretty much born with distinct personalities that don't change too much as they get older (other than mellowing out more with age), except possibly through trauma or, conversly, with lots of patient handing. She has remained a remarkable girl and continues to blossom, so I am sure he was right.
That said, I am finding that, with my second, older, more nervous girl, removing her 'hidey house' actually calms her down. (Author Peter Gurney recommends removing houses, too.) It may be that having a place to rush into simply reinforces their fear of the unknown and perpetuates timidity.
My very tame girl has hidey holes, and rarely ducks into them. The new girl gets VERY flighty when she has hers, but will allow (and seems to enjoy) gentle petting and handling, when she does not have access to one. She even becomes friendly and interactive.
I am starting to wonder if gentle, considerate, deliberate exposure to new things and events can help create a more confident and trusting pig. Kind of like "sacking out" a horse (it's called 'de-sensitizing').
Some people may get upset with me for saying this, but I adore my piggies and would never, ever cause them harm. I feel they are happier and healthier when totally at ease with us. You obviously love your pigs very much and want them to be happy, too.
So, perhaps conscientiously and gently 'imposing' yourself and new situations on your pigs might help them break out of their shells? To paraphrase, Peter Gurney says 'you can't handle your pigs too much'.
I would be interested in knowing what other people think.
I also advocate removing hidie houses but only for short periods of time. As prey animals, I think it's unfair to force them to live entirely exposed to The Hand Predator but it can absoutely help then become more accustomed to being outside the safe place. I would start with maybe 30 minutes without the house a day without any intrusions into the cage, just letting them explore and watch you and take your gut reaction from there.
What you're basicly describing in better words than I did before is desensitisation therapy. It's commonly used in humans with phobias and also with feral cats and stray dogs. It seems to work pretty darn well but it's a sloooow process, as it should be.
1. Karl, my original boy, he LOOOOOVES me and will accuatly sit on my breast/chest area and watch tv and purrrrrr and put his nose on my chin and "kiss" me and rub on me!
2. Marilyn (boy, was named when he was thought to be a girl) he SCREAMS when I try to pick him up, brush him or even look at him wrong. Thought it was mites, treated the herd, nope just doesnt like being touched. He will tolerate me rubbing up his nose but nothing else.
3. Herbie, he is a baby 16 weeks old, just like Karl LOOOVES Scritches and to ride around in my sweatshirt pocket.
4. Achilles, a rescue from a classroom pet.... he was "played" with by a bunch of little kids :*(
He doesnt mind being held but dont make sudden movements or touch him with one finger, he thinks your poking him. When I try to pick him up out of the cage he does the defensive teeth chatter and hides. If I pick him up he screams but once I support him on my arm he is fine.
Like they all say every pig is different. I find that if I have all out at once they all get stand-off ish. But if I take one out at a time, give a treat, trim nails, give cuddles, kisses, a peice of lettuce and hold them close to my chest they relax and dont mind it. I spend 10-15 with each pig. They love it. They give eachother the "hahaha I got out of the cage, and she has lettuce and now you dont!" even though they all get it, it makes them feel special.
Then whats not to like about their slave!
Everyone is right that they all have their own personalities and quirks. HRH Rodney ran from the Hideous Hand with short stubby digits and until I had him snuggled firmly protested every more. When he had his fill of mushy stuff and treats then he'd nip my collar bone for pee time.
I think of piggies as being very private little souls who give what they can to those of us who love them.
Francen runs from me with fear in his eyes like I am going to give him some real torture, he is so hard to catch. Once I get him, he calms down. After about 20 minutes of lap time, he is done with me, however.
Jenna, who I am "pigsitting" actually comes out of her hidey house to be picked up! And she was in a house where kids sometimes handled her roughly. They are just all so different.
Tristan, who is a foster, runs about frantically making funny grunting noises I've never heard any other pig make, but loves to be held.
Zack will let me pet him in his cage but backs up when I try to pick him up, but really loves to be held.
Fossil Barb, when you told how your pig nips your collar bone, it reminded me of how I always had red marks on my chest from Nevy. He loved to nip me to get his point across quickly.
Recently after the other male died, the youngest (who took on the Abby characteristics) started chirping. I would have sworn there was a bird in the house, and being we have several nests around the property, it wouldnt have been a surprise. Shes done this 3 times to my knowledge so far, waking me up in the middle of the night twice.
Both are shy and run away when I try to get them out, but eventually they stop and let me pick them up. Then they sit on my chest and talk as I pet them. I have owned Cavies since I was 5 yrs old (long time ago) and have even bred them. Even if they run away, I am sure they love attention. :)
Kimmi used to shake when we took her out of her cage to pet her. Since she had her baby she loves getting snuggled on my knee in a fleece blanket, shes a big softy now.
Tilly is still very jumpy if takes ages to get her out of the cage, I dont think she likes humans much or other pigs for that matter.
Gilbert - was a happy lap pig, especially as he got older. He would call you and demand attention. He liked being petted, he liked chin rubs.
Sully - didn't like being petted so much because he was an abby, and I suspect when he was petted, it was about as comfortable as having someone rub a cowlick on your head the wrong way. He would let you pet the top of his head and behind his ears.
Henry - has become more comfortable with being held, but he is most comfortable if he has a towel or a blankie around him, especially while being carried. (I suspect he may have been dropped at some point.) He likes having his back petted when he's standing against the side of his cage with his front feet up on the grids.
Widgit - Isn't a huge fan of being held, but he will happily let you pet him on his own terms in the cage.
Frost - Is still a skidish baby. He likes the idea of attention - he runs up to you and calls out to you - but if you look like you're going to touch him, he runs.
Tom - The ultimate cuddle pig. When I'm lying on the sofa with him, he'll curl up on my shoulder and tuck his head under my chin.
Linus - Still going through the baby phase, but he's getting more hand-tame.
I guess that bribery and corruption does work in both ways...
At any rate, our guinea pig runs away from us like we are his number one predator. You can't get near him unless you have a 6 inch carrot in hand. Even after 2+ years. The ironic part is that once we pick him up (by cornering him in his cage), he couldn't be happier. But only when you rub his lower back area (some reason he makes a satisfied squeaking sounds when you pet there).
So its true that most guinea pigs are scared of humans, it seems like they enjoy being petted...
Besides, he drops his chin on my chest, and begins closing his eyes. I'm pretty sure he is in pig heaven!
Most pigs don't like to be cornered and picked up. They are prey animals, so to them, anything bigger than them will eat them.
I've had my boy for 2 years and he still runs from me when I try to pick him up. Once I have him, he's perfectly happy. It's just the flight in the air that he doesn't like. My female would prefer that I not touch her, at all. I can pet her head, but anything more and she chatters at me, and it's angrily chattering.
What you can do is take a cozy sack, put some food in it and lure him into the sack then pick the cozy up. She will feel more comfortable as pigs don't really like human hands as ours are too bony for their liking.