Marcet-Rius, M., Pageat, P., Bienboire-Frosini, C. et al. 2020. The provision of toys to pigs can improve the human-animal relationship. Porcine Health Management 6, 29.
It is now widely recognised that a positive human-animal relationship is beneficial not only for farm animals’ welfare but also for productivity and the quality of products. A better understanding of animal emotions is an important goal in disciplines ranging from neuroscience to animal welfare science, but few reliable tools exist for measuring these emotions. In this study, whether the provision of toys to solicit play behaviour in pigs is associated with a change in the human-animal relationship and the emotional state of pigs was investigated. We involved a group of sixteen mini-pigs housed in an experimental setting and the use of a preliminary test called the ‘strange person’ test. After a Control and a Play session (with medium-sized dog toys, balls with ropes), the strange person test was performed. During the test, a person wearing a colourful overall, a hood, a mask, gloves and boots (unknown person with an odd appearance) entered the pen, where 2 mini-pigs were housed, for a 2-min video recording. The strange person test results after the Play and Control sessions were compared. The results showed that the latency to approach the person (duration in seconds) and the duration for which the pig was distant from the strange person (duration in seconds) were significantly lower after the Play session than after the Control session (Degrees of Freedom =30; Statistic of the F test =39.1; p < 0.0001 and Degrees of Freedom =15; Statistic of the F test =54.3; p < 0.0001, respectively). The duration of direct contact (duration in seconds) (Degrees of Freedom =15; Statistic of the F test =14.8; p = 0.002), the need to separate the pig from the strange person (frequency) (Degrees of Freedom =30; Statistic of the F test =9.3; p = 0.005) and the duration of tail movement (duration in seconds) (Degrees of Freedom =15; Statistic of the F test =12.6; p = 0.003) were all significantly higher after the Play sessions than after the Control sessions. Overall, the results suggest a change in the human-animal relationship after the Play sessions: the pigs seemed to be less fearful and more inclined to interact with the strange person, showing a more positive emotional state. This preliminary study suggests that the provision of toys, and more precisely, the opportunity to perform object play behaviour, and sometimes, spontaneously, social play behaviour, can improve the human-animal relationship. Additional research to explore this topic thoroughly may yield interesting results because a positive emotional state of the animals and a good human-animal relationship are essential to ensure good quality of life of farm animals.