Today I'd like to write about hedgehog personalities because it's related to bonding as a topic. I owe the basic types to Kimberly Goertzen from her book on hedgehogs, That book got me thinking about hedgehog personality, since they can vary quite a bit. I wish there was a hedgehog enneagram out there somewhere, but there isn't. So I'm starting one with Kimberly's basic types and I'll go from there.
Hedgehogs will generally fall into one of these "personalities" types: Cuddlers, Explorers, Loners, Huffers (Goertzen 2012), Busy, Shy, and Difficult (This last category is going to show up in neglected hogs such as hogs who have been abused or mostly unhanded.)
A good breeder will start handling baby hedgehogs as soon as possible. The more handling they have at a young age the friendlier they will be no matter what their personality type. However some babies will just naturally be more happy to be handled and more curious, some will tend more towards shyness.
Any personality type can make a satisfying pet, but difficult or neglected hogs should not be the choice of a first time hedgehog owner. Just because a hog tends towards Huffy or Shy does not mean it's unfriendly or won't become more friendly if you give it time.
A particular hog might have a mix of these characteristics or be extra affected by time of day (like always huffy in the day and cuddly at night) So use these as guidelines to psychoanalyze your hedgehog, and help you choose a plan of action that will help you handle your hedgehog, structure their activities, and befriend them.
So lets look at the general characteristic of each type of hedgehog, I'm starting from high need level to easiest to work with. The first four types are the less desirable in a pet (Difficult, Shy, Huffer, Loner). Busy is a mixed bag in some ways but generally the last three are the kind you want, especially as a first time or inexperienced hedgehog owner (Busy, Explorer, Cuddler)
THE DIFFICULT HOG:
It is likely that the difficult hog has not had much handling or had a hard start in life. The picture below is from 2009, hedgehogs for the exotic market in pet stores and expos. I chose a picture that you could actually look at (I had more graphic choices as you can imagine). Many of these hedgies get badly injured or killed due to fighting, Sick due to neglect, or pregnant due to mixing of sexes. It is clear that these poor hogs started life as someones merchandise.
This is why you should not buy a hedgehog from a pet store or expo. The problem is you are only encouraging the cycle that will cause more hedgies to come from this environment.
For first time Hedgehog owners, there could not be a worse choice.
Hedgehog breeders often see stories of hedgehogs that come from this environment being injured or coming home and having a litter at a very young age.
These hedgehogs are more likely to have a very unsocial demeanor.
If you have a difficult hog expect balling, Huffing, Popping, clicking, and hissing. You might also have biting. Extremely agitated hogs will sometimes shake and vibrate.
*If you have obtained this kind of hedgehog a thorough vet visitation is first on your list. Make sure any medical issues are dealt with.
*Be extremely patient with this hog. Just put it in a blanket or towel in your lap every day. Give it a tee shirt of yours to sleep with. If it unballs when it is on you YAY! just let it explore, reaching out will likely just make it ball again.
*When the hedgie starts to explore give it stimulation by filling a small kiddy pool or bin with fleece, let it root around. Make sure it has a wheel.
This hedgehog may never become super friendly but remember, it can still learn to trust again and become an interesting and enjoyable pet. Because of the difficulties involved it is best to leave this kind of hedgie to a more experienced owner.
or better still we should stop the production of this kind of hedgehog by not indulging in an impulse buy or buying them to "save" them.
OK THAT IS THE ONLY KIND OF HOG THAT GETS A SOAPBOX HERE ARE THE REST:
THE SHY HOG:
This Hedgehog is likely to take a long time to unball when you first take it out to handle it. It's not particularly huffy nor particularly interested in exploring. You might get one pop but generally the shy hog isn't really into aggression. They have a lot in common with loners, in the sense that they don't particularly enjoy human interaction much. Like a difficult hog the moment they begin to explore and you try to interact with them POOF you have a ball again. Not an angry ball, just an introverted ball. Like all hedgies shy ones benefit from bonding time. you might feel weird with what feels like a softball in your bonding bag all day, but that is a shy hogs jam. Of course with consistent handling your Shy hog will become more outgoing but he or she is not likely to ever love handling overmuch. This is the hedgehog introvert. Finding stimulating activities they enjoy is a good way to spend time with this kind of hog. If they love a certain kind of bug, that might be the way to their little hedgie heart.
Ah the Huffy Hog, they are really kinda cute in their own angry ball of spikes kinda way. I also call this the grumpy hog. Unlike the shy hog who will just hang out in a ball the huffy hog is going to pop and hiss and jump. Like the difficult hog, this personality type is not a good choice for a first time hedgehog owner. They are hard to interact with, can scare the pants off you when they suddenly decide to pop a few times after chilling out for a bit. This is a very unsocial hog. You are going to need lots of patients and likely a drink (if you partake) to work with this hedgehog. Not a good choice for first time owners, But my first hedgehog was a huffy sort and I love her anyway. Keep expectations reasonable & make sure your huffy hog had stimulation time.
As I mentioned in my bonding blog hedgehogs don't really need or want friends. Some hedgehogs take that really seriously. The loner just doesn't care that much about you, human slave. A loner may be a nice pet, again you can set up activities for them and just enjoy their normal hedgehog antics. They will tolerate handling. They are just not going to be the kind of hog who enjoys sleeping on you while you read a novel. They MIGHT do it, but then again they might be thinking about their wheel while they are hanging out with you.
Here is where we hit the Middle of the road, the turning point if you will - These next attributes are the ones most hedgehog owners adore and want in their pet. Again I'll remind you a hog might be a mix of say shy and cuddly or a loner and explorer. so that said lets talk about...
THE BUSY HOG:
This hedgehog is usually friendly and a ball of energy. Literally, I mean you can't keep your hands on them. It's not that they won't be handled, as I said often they are quite friendly but they are just so darn BUSY! They are like the explorer hog who drank too much coffee today. I have one extreme busy hog if I hear a hog running during the day, I know darn well who it is. If I take her wheel away to try to get her to rest, she laps her bin. Busy Hogs have a body type you can recognize they look like a runner. While most hedgehogs are pear shaped they are lean and streamline. Busy hogs make great pets because they are just so much fun. Activities? Let them at it. You hide some bugs in a bin of fleece add a busy hog and watch the fun begin. But if you wanted a cuddler, your busy hog might frustrate you a bit. You have them in the bonding bag and they are scrabbling around in there on a mission. Your best bet for quiet bonding with this kind of hog is during the day, because even a busy hog has to take some downtime.
This is the Hedgehog that is going to use you as a human playground. They are going to be in your hair, pulling your shirt sleeve, or constantly sniffing the air with a happy snuffling. They Like your smell, they like everything! They are a step down from the busy hog but still plenty active. They are likely to be friendly and amusing. Of course it's all fun and games till somebody poops in your hair. Of course they are just as likely to fall asleep in your hair and that's why you love them.
THE CUDDLER: This is the unicorn of the hedgehog world. You go on Instagram and see some video of a hedgehog cafe with a person giving a hedgehog a belly rub and your like, "why can't my hog be like that?" well it can! If you have a friendly people enjoying hog, handling and more handling will give you a cuddler. It's a combination of a personality that really enjoys people and you handling this very friendly hog A LOT. This is the hedgehog that hardly every balls or puts its spines up. It's just a lump of love. This is the perfect hedgehog for a first time or anxious owner.
I personally own 12 hedgehogs. With the exception of the difficult or abused type I have a hedgehog who kind of exemplifies each of these types. I'd like to leave you with these final things in mind:
1) no hedgie is 100% true to any personality type
2) Handling is the key to bonding with any personality type
3) Good Breeders work hard to handle hoglets from a young age so you get the best start!