Pigs are remarkably intelligent animals, with cognitive abilities comparable to dogs and even some primates. Yet there is a persistent myth that pigs are unable to look up at the sky. In this comprehensive article, we’ll get to the bottom of this puzzling claim and explore whether it holds any truth.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: pigs have the physical ability to look up, but they tend not to do so without reason as their natural behavior is to forage with their snouts to the ground.

We’ll look at the anatomy of pigs and how it enables them to look in all directions. We’ll bust some myths about why pigs supposedly can’t or won’t look up. And we’ll reveal some fascinating facts about pigs’ intelligence, behavior, and abilities that show they can indeed gaze skyward.

Pigs Have the Physical Ability to Look Up

Contrary to the popular phrase “when pigs fly”, pigs do in fact have the physical ability to look upwards. Here’s an overview of why domestic pigs can look up:

Pigs Have a Wide Field of Vision

Pigs have a panoramic field of vision of around 310 degrees. This allows them to see in almost every direction without needing to move their head (1). Their eyes are positioned more to the sides of their head, giving them great peripheral vision.

So even though their snout points downwards for rooting in the dirt, their eyes can still see upwards.

Pigs’ Necks Allow for Upward Movement

Pigs have a good range of motion in their necks which enables them to tilt their head back and look upwards (2). Their cervical vertebrae and loose skin around their neck make it easy for them to lift their head and snout towards the sky if needed.

Domestic Pigs See Directly Above Them

While pigs don’t spend a lot of time looking straight up, they are physically capable of doing so. Researchers have found that domestic pigs have a visual field that extends nearly 90 degrees upwards from eye level (3).

So when standing normally, pigs can see practically directly overhead without any obstruction from their snout.

Pigs’ field of vision 310 degrees (panoramic) (1)
Pigs’ upward vision from eye level Almost 90 degrees (3)

  1. https://www.lsuagcenter.com/profiles/lbenedict/articles/page1573272985258
  2. https://thepigsite.com/articles/do-pigs-have-necks
  3. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1751731113000318

Why the Myth Persists that Pigs Can’t Look Up

Pigs Naturally Root and Forage with their Snouts Down

Pigs have evolved as natural foragers, using their sensitive snouts to root around in the dirt for food. This behavior leads them to spend much of their time with their heads down, focused on smelling and snuffling out edible roots, fungi, and insects.

It’s an incredibly useful adaptation for a scavenging animal, but it also reinforces the misconception that pigs are unable to look up.

In the wild, wild boars (the ancestors of domestic pigs) rely heavily on their sense of smell and keep their snouts low to the ground as they search for food. This natural foraging behavior persists in domestic pigs as well, even when they don’t need to root for every meal.

As a result, people observing pigs in farms or other controlled environments often see them with their heads down and assume they are physically unable to look upward.

Pigs Lack Reasons to Look Up in Farm Environments

Another factor contributing to this myth is that domestic pigs generally don’t have reasons to look up. On most commercial pig farms, the animals live in indoor pens with low ceilings. Their food is placed in ground-level troughs, and their environment lacks interesting sights overhead.

Under these conditions, pigs simply don’t need or have motivation to gaze skyward.

In contrast, if allowed to roam freely outdoors, pigs will readily explore their surroundings and observe what’s happening above them. When provided enriching environments and stimuli, their natural curiosity leads them to look up frequently.

But in typical industrial farming settings, there’s little incentive for them to break their downward gaze.

Selective Breeding May Affect Tendency to Look Up

Some animal experts speculate that generations of selective breeding may contribute to modern domestic pigs’ tendency to focus their attention on what’s in front of their snouts. Farmers have long favored pigs with the best rooting ability and appetite to maximize efficient weight gain.

This selective pressure could potentially have decreased motivation in domestic pig breeds to spend time looking up and around.

There are no scientific studies confirming this, but it provides an interesting hypothesis. In contrast, wild boars must remain vigilant of their surroundings for predators and other threats, meaning they regularly scan their environment – both low and high.

Selectively breeding pigs to be complacent may have led to caring less about what’s happening overhead.

Pigs Have Surprisingly Advanced Cognitive Abilities

Pigs Outperform 3-Year-Old Humans on Some Cognition Tests

It may come as a shock, but numerous studies have shown that pigs can outperform 3-year-old humans on cognition tests of their memory and ability to learn. In one university study, pigs were taught tricks and tested on their ability to remember which trick earned them a treat.

The pigs were able to learn the tricks quickly and remember them even weeks later – something young toddlers would struggle to do.

Researchers have discovered that pigs have excellent long-term memories, perhaps even better than our closest primate relatives. Their advanced cognition gives them the ability to solve complex problems and even learn from watching each other.

Given their high level of intelligence, pigs kept in captivity require ample mental stimulation to thrive.

Pigs Have Excellent Long-Term Memories

Pigs have shown exceptional performance on long-term memory tests. In multiple experiments, pigs demonstrated the ability to remember objects, locations and learned behaviors for over 3 years. Their impressive recall allows them to learn and adapt quickly to new environments.

According to Dr. Lori Marino, a senior lecturer in psychology at Emory University, “pigs possess complex ethological traits similar, but not identical, to dogs and chimpanzees.” They have sophisticated social skills as well, recognizing other pigs they previously interacted with even after long periods apart.

Pigs Can Be Trained Like Dogs

Due to their high cognitive abilities, pigs can be trained much like dogs. Using positive reinforcement training, they can easily learn commands, do tricks and master agility courses. Mini pigs in particular tend to be quite trainable and attached to their owners.

The nonprofit organization Pig Placement Network has produced over 50 “certified helper pigs” to assist people with disabilities. These special helper pigs are able to perform important tasks like retrieving items, turning on lights, opening doors and activating life alert systems.

So the next time someone uses the expression “sweating like a pig”, you can set them straight that pigs are actually quite smart and adaptable creatures. With their excellent cognition and long-term memories, they are far more similar to us than we may have realized!

When Pigs Do Look Up: Behaviors and Examples

Pigs Look Up When Alerted by Sounds

Pigs have excellent hearing and a great sense of smell. When they hear an unusual or alarming sound, their natural reaction is to stop what they’re doing and look up to visually identify the source of the sound.

This allows them to quickly detect potential threats or interesting stimuli in their surroundings. For example, the sound of an unfamiliar animal, vehicle, or even a strange squeak from a gate opening may cause pigs to temporarily gaze upwards.

Sows Look Up to Check on Piglets

Sow pigs make very attentive mothers. When lying down to nurse their young piglets, mother pigs will frequently lift their heads to peek at their litter. They use their strong sense of hearing and sight to keep close track of the piglets’ location and check that they are settled and content.

This vigilant monitoring behavior is vital to ensure the piglets remain safe and cared for.

Pigs Will Gaze at Planes and Birds Overhead

Pigs are quite intelligent animals and can become curious about visual stimuli above them, such as low-flying aircrafts or soaring birds. According to a 2013 study, pigs have demonstrated the ability to visually track aerial objects, just as dogs, cats, dolphins and other perceptive species can.

When provided enrichment and space to roam outdoors, pigs will commonly look upwards to watch airplanes passing by or follow the flight patterns of birds. Their innate curiosity and awareness helps them learn about the world around them.

While pigs don’t routinely gaze skyward without reason, they are physically capable of looking up and will do so when alerted by sounds from above or interested in overhead activity. A pig tilting its head upwards is simply exhibiting natural watchfulness, intelligence and perception.


While the notion persists that pigs are unable to gaze skyward, their anatomy and abilities clearly show they can physically look up. Pigs tend to root with their heads down as they naturally forage for food.

But they will readily look up when alerted or interested by sights, sounds, or needs of their piglets overhead. Given their impressive intelligence and trainability, there’s no doubt that pigs have full range of motion with their heads and necks to look up at the sky and all around them when they choose to do so.

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