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I recently rescued a guinea pig, and it has clearly been trained to understand what the refrigerator door is and that treats usually come inside plastic crinkly things.

The problem is, anytime he's active and I open the refrigerator door, or touch something wrapped in plastic, he goes off like an alarm (he wheets AKA weeks). My girlfriend is taking classes and it can be quite distracting / annoying when all I want to do is cook some toast or ramen.

I feel like it would be quite hard to separate those sounds from occasional treats, thus I'm wondering if its even possible to un-train him. Are there any examples of un-training guinea pigs?

  • @EsaPaulasto "wheeting" is a begging noise, and thus begins when it hears, or smells something that it's been conditioned to associate with food. (As of this morning, that now includes my voice! Arrghh!) – virtualxtc Feb 4 '14 at 18:40
  • Heh, thank you for that. I based my answer on thinking that the problem was the running into kitchen when I had no idea what "wheeting" really is. <facepalm> – Esa Paulasto Feb 4 '14 at 19:09
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    @EsaPaulasto I compiled this for you. – virtualxtc Feb 4 '14 at 22:38
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What your guinea pig is showing out is called conditioned behavior.

An experiment with chicken: Two cages of chickens had a similar food automatic device. The automat gave a grain of food when a chicken pecked a button next to the automat. In cage A the automat gave the prize every time the button was pecked. In cage B the automat, with no pattern, sometimes gave a prize and sometimes it did not. In both cages the chickens quickly learned to use the automatic to get the prize; the grain of food. That's conditioning with food.

The interesting part (considering your question) is what happened when the experiment had been going on for a length of time and then the automat was turned Off. In cage A the chickens gave up pecking the button quite soon, but in cage B the chickens kept on pecking the button a very long time after the automat was turned Off.

For un-conditioning your pet from its acquired behaviour the first thing to take care of is to never again offer him/her the prize right there in your kitchen when s/he comes running. (The word "wheet" is unfamiliar to me and also to those online dictionaries I searched.)

The next thing to do is to give the prize in an agreed upon (with your better half) spot somewhere in your home. A good place might be near the pet's cage. Whenever you want to give a treat to your pet, always take it to that spot. This way s/he will learn to wait there when hearing the sound of possible treats. I do this with my dogs. Any treat, like a leftover carrot when I prepare a dinner, I give in a certain spot outside kitchen. Our older dog likes a piece of carrot and goes to the right spot to wait when he hears me cutting carrots. I haven't trained any guinea pigs, but I see no reason why this might not work.

As with the chickens in cage B, the re-conditioning of your guinea pig will take time. The real hazard to the success is those accidental drops of treats that your pet has learned to wait. Accidental drops in kitchen may turn the task an impossible one.

Something to read:
Not related to this problem at hand, but otherwise rather interesting article about animal core instinct vs. conditioned behavior. Link to article. The core instinct eventually wins over conditioning.

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  • @virtualxtc - Another assumption I made was to believe you keep the guinea pig free for most of the time. – Esa Paulasto Feb 4 '14 at 19:20
  • Unfortunately, he is currently not quite litter trained and too aggressive toward our rabbits. Apparently neutering won't help – virtualxtc Feb 4 '14 at 20:44
  • I'll edit this answer in the next few days. – Esa Paulasto Feb 5 '14 at 8:27
  • Does your reference mean that I should always give the guinea pig what he wants (so he's like subject A) and then just suddenly stop? – virtualxtc Feb 6 '14 at 9:13
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    @virtualxtc - Wouldn't you agree it better not to even start with the conditioning, if the result is something un-wanted? That experiment with chickens is there to enlighten us about what kind of conditioning has taken place with this little guinea pig. – Esa Paulasto Feb 6 '14 at 10:52
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I think Esa answered the question well and thus have awarded him the answer. Nevertheless, I'm finding it impractical to move the pet every time I want to feed it (unfortunately all food is considered a reward to a guinea pig).

However, since nearly all guinea pigs hate to be picked up, the act of picking him up when her wheets seems to be a great negative conditioner.

Thus, going forward, I plan to use these same conditioning techniques to re-associate wheeting with being picked up, instead of being rewarded.

I will update this answer with results or changes in a few weeks.

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  • So how as this worked? – Rémi Dec 1 '15 at 21:12
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    It didn't stop the weeting / weeking entirely but it did curb it a fair amount. – virtualxtc Dec 3 '15 at 20:26

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