Touch a target is an easy and straight forward behavior to teach. It also sets an excellent foundation for teaching many other tricks. You can teach your guinea pig to target your hand, a target stick, or both. Once they understand the basic idea of touching the target, you can then teach your guinea pig to follow the target around.
How Long Does it Take to Teach Your Guinea Pig to Follow a Target?
Guinea pigs generally pick up on this trick very quickly. They often understand the general idea of touching the target within a day. Teaching them to follow it around reliably may take a few additional days of practice, depending on the guinea pig.
What You Need for Training
To teach your guinea pig to follow a target, you’ll need your guinea pig, some of their favorite veggie treats, a safe enclosed space that is free from distractions, and a small target stick. I have a tutorial on how to make your own target stick here.
You can also use another small object as a target, or teach them to target your hand instead. I usually use two fingers held together for a hand target, as it’s much smaller for your guinea pig than targeting the palm of your hand.
Choose vegetables that are low in calcium and well loved by your guinea pig. My piggies love green leaf or romaine lettuce, cucumber, radicchio, bell peppers, and carrots the most. Once you have some favorite treats, break them up into small pieces to use for training.
You’ll also want a quiet environment to train your guinea pig. Choose a space that is familiar to your guinea pig. A room that you use for your guinea pig’s floor time is usually a great option. It’s a good idea to block off a smaller area of the room so there are fewer distractions. If you have multiple guinea pigs, it’s a good idea to separate one at a time for short training sessions.
You can do both of these things with a foldable exercise pen. Personally, I love to buy a pack of wire grids and zip tie them together to make a pen in the exact size I want. The wire grids also fold like an accordion for storage, as long as you don’t zip tie them too tightly!
It can also help to have a waterproof floor mat to protect your floor or carpet from messes while your piggies are running around. My favorites are these waterproof splat mats made for kids. They are washable, easy to sweep clean, and do a great job of preventing any pee from seeping through.
How to Teach a Guinea Pig to Touch and Follow a Target (Video Tutorial)
The following is a video of Ceico demonstrating how to teach this trick. To read the written tutorial, keep scrolling below. I also have a few more tips and tricks near the bottom of this page.
How to Teach Your Guinea Pig to Follow a Target – Step by Step
Follow along with these steps to teach your guinea pig to touch and follow a target. Remember to stick to your guinea pig’s pace. Some guinea pigs will be ready to move on to the next step quickly, while others will need more time. If your guinea pig gets distracted or confused at any point, don’t hesitate to go back a step to where they were previously successful. Oftentimes this is the fastest way to get them back on track and progressing quickly again.
1. Reward for Sniffing the Target Stick
Start by holding the target right in front of your guinea pig. Most guinea pigs will be curious about this new object and immediately reach out to sniff it. Give them a treat as soon as they do this.
Continue to give your guinea pig a treat each time they sniff or interact with the target stick in any way. Practice this several times, until they solidly understand that touching the target stick results in food.
2. Hold the Target a Short Distance Away
Once your guinea pig is reliably touching the target stick in front of them, try moving the target just an inch or two away. The guinea pig should have to take about one step to go and touch it.
Repeat this a few times, giving a treat each time your guinea pig touches the target. If they are hesitant to follow it, move the target a little closer again.
You can also start to vary the directions that you move the target stick. Hold it to the side of your guinea pig to encourage them to turn to the side to touch it.
3. Increase the Distance
Once your guinea pig is comfortable taking a step or two to touch the target, it’s time to increase the distance. Do this gradually so the guinea pig doesn’t decide it’s too hard and give up.
You should also start varying the directions that they follow the target stick even more. Slowly increase the distance and amount of time that the guinea pig follows the target. Eventually you can even start leading your guinea pig around in large circles or back and forth with the target stick.
Additional Tips For Teaching This Trick
- Remember to teach the guinea pig to touch the target from different angles and follow it in different directions so they learn to be completely confident in following the target anywhere.
- Be sure to reward periodically even after the guinea pig gets better at following the target. Reward at random times to keep them guessing when the reinforcement will come. For example, you may wait until the guinea pig has followed the target in a big circle one time, and reward after just a couple steps another time. This keeps them focused on following the target at all times, since they never know when they’ll get the treat.
- After you teach your guinea pig to touch and follow a target, try practicing with actual tricks to make sure your guinea pig has fully caught on. For example, you can try leading your piggy around in a circle using the target, or guiding them through a hoop. This will work best if your guinea pig has already learned these tricks/obstacles that you are practicing with. If your guinea pig still readily follows the target while working with familiar obstacles, you can start to use the target when teaching new behaviors.
If Your Guinea Pig Isn’t Getting It
If your guinea pig just isn’t getting this trick, you most likely need to make the steps smaller or build your guinea pig’s confidence in another way. Spend more time holding the target in front of your guinea pig and just rewarding every time they touch it. Make things as easy as possible for them.
Guinea pigs that are hesitant to touch a stick or other object will often target your hand much easier, so try teaching the target behavior with your hand first. If your guinea pig doesn’t want to move at all, check out the pages on how to start training your guinea pig and how to tame your guinea pig. You may find some tips there that help address these types of problems that come up when teaching tricks.
I hope you found this tutorial helpful! Following a target is one of the easiest and best tricks to teach your guinea pigs first. You can also use your new target skills to teach so many other types of tricks. Check out some more awesome beginner friendly tricks on our page 10 easiest tricks to teach your guinea pig first.