Proving that dogs and cats don’t have a monopoly on pet trick records is a porcine prodigy who makes an appearance in Guinness World Records 2020.
Joy from Iowa, USA – whose owner has described as a “bit of a diva” and “not your average hog” – showed off her diverse repertoire on 16 January 2018 to claim the record for most tricks by a pig in one minute: 13.
Among the myriad skills on display were classics such as "sit" to more involved techniques such as playing a toy piano. The full set of tricks completed were:
- Shake hands
- Leave (ignore treat)
- Go ahead (take treat)
- Honk horn
- Play the piano
- Remove a ring
- Knock over a pin
- Pick up
- Roll a ball
Two additional tricks had to be disallowed as one was performed before the command was issued ("unroll the rug") and another fell outside the allotted time ("ring the bell").
"People are really surprised to see pigs are so intelligent and can do tricks," said Joy’s owner, Dawn Bleeker (USA), who's been a lifelong fan of all things with trotters and curly tails. "A lot of them walk away saying, 'Gosh, my dog doesn't even do that!'"
In fact, Joy's introduction to tricks began with methods typically used on more "traditional" house pets.
"Not having an indoor pet before, I asked a puppy trainer to come work with my family," Dawn told us. "We had three private sessions at my home. The trainer was amazed at how quickly Joy caught on.
"Joy knows that she’s achieved success through verbal praise and treats,” her owner continued. “We know when she understands from her tail wagging excitedly and her eyes lighting up!"
"Because Joy really loved doing tricks, we just kept on introducing her to new ones," Dawn Bleeker, owner of Joy the pig.
Some of the elements in her record-setting routine were harder to teach than others. "Having Joy learn how to take off the stackable rings (and then put them back on) was the hardest trick," explained Dawn. "We had to teach her how to put something in her mouth and not clamp down on it too hard. In the beginning, she would bite so hard that her tusk would get caught in the ring!"
This gifted porker's record-breaking abilities aren't the only string to her bow, as she has also become something of a local celebrity in her Iowa hometown of Newton. But her path to glory hasn't all been plain sailing.
When the Bleeker family first decided to look into adopting a piglet back in 2011, they discovered that the animals were banned as pets under a Newton bylaw that classified all swine as "dangerous".
Undeterred, the Bleekers set about trying to secure an exception for miniature pigs, gathering research, getting neighbours' signatures and generally aiming to change hearts and minds. They approached the City Council, but their initial petition was denied.
Bleeker's husband and three daughters took the denial as a setback, but for Dawn it felt as if her dream of owning a pet pig was slipping away. Eventually, the Bleekers returned to the council, and the vote swung their way: 6-1 in favour. A few days later, Joy flew from Texas to her new home in Iowa.
Joy's rise from banned hog to the darling of the community began with the local movie theatre going bankrupt, when she was aged around six months. To avoid their downtown neighbourhood becoming a "dead zone", Dawn (who already worked part-time at the cinema) decided to take over the venue.
Not wanting to leave "part of their family" out of this adventure, Joy has become the much-loved mascot of the Capitol II Theatre. She can sometimes be found welcoming movie-goers and showing off her tricks outside the cinema, and inside she even has her own special "dressing room", complete with costume rail and chaise longue where visitors can see her chilling out and meet her under supervision.
"Joy is what separates us from other theatres," Dawn told us proudly. "She is our identity. Sure, there's a big, new movie theatre with recliners in Altoona [a city 25 miles west of Newton], but we have something special. We have Joy."
"People come in, and they are just excited to see her," Bleeker continued. "To see their expressions and catch them talking to her, it just brings a smile to my face. I like to think she brightens up people’s lives, if only for a few minutes."
Newton resident Kari Kennedy confirmed the appeal of this loveable if unorthodox mascot: "Seniors, kids, everyone knows Joy. And there are people who come down to see a movie, or who come to this theatre instead of another, just to see Joy."
Asked how it feels for Joy to be starring in GWR 2020, Dawn enthused: "Being in the book is pretty amazing. Joy is part of our lives, so we get to enjoy her awesomeness every day. Now she'll be in a book in some child's room or some adult's house, and they'll get to see a glimpse of how special Joy is." (Joy isn't the only talented pet in GWR 2020 – you'll also meet her equivalent record holders among dogs and rabbits – see videos below.)
For anyone considering getting a mini pig of their own, Dawn had a few words of wisdom to offer: "I think more people should be open to accepting that miniature pigs do make good pets. But it definitely takes a certain type of person to own a miniature pig.
"They are extremely rewarding, but also very time-consuming. Because of their intelligence, they need mental stimulation or they can become bored and destructive.
"Miniature pigs are emotional animals who bond strongly, so owners need to be ready to commit to owning their pig for 15–20 years.
"Size is also something to consider," Dawn added. "Like with people, the end size is hard to tell. A person needs to be ready to love and keep a 300-lb [136-kg] miniature pig as they would a 60-lb [27-kg] one."
And the secret to trick training for anyone with ambitions of setting a record with their own home hog? "I would say the key is finding the right treat that will get your pig’s attention and make it worthwhile."