Tips from the "Llama Whisperer"
Those of you
that know me may not be surprised to hear that a veterinarian and good
friend of mine recently nicknamed me the "llama whisperer." I am quite
flattered. I don't know how it all began, but looking back, I would
have to say it started with my first llama, Dakota. He is my
"kissing llama," a wedding gift from my husband, Gary, and the first llama
love of my life. We even named our farm (Dakota Ridge) after him.
He arrived at
my farm at eight months old. He was wild-eyed, shaking and absolutely
scared of everyone and everything. The only handling he had received
was the trip to my farm. He had never even worn a halter.
At the time I
received Dakota, I did not have any reading material on training, so I drew
from my past experience of training horses. He was so terrified of me
that when I would go into the stall with him, he would run to the furthest
point away from me and stand there shaking. I started by talking to
him and eventually touching him gently on the neck. I kept the
sessions with him short and sweet, but did them as many times a week as
training him took some time. By leaving the halter in his feed bucket
and making him eat his grain through the halter, he soon came to learn that
the halter was not the "rope thing from hell." Then I put grain in my
hand and held the halter just above my hand, he would stick his nose into
the halter in order to eat and I would buckle it. After he became
accustomed to being haltered, I would use the grain every other time, then
not at all. He learned to almost put the halter on himself!
The halter had
become something that is okay and not associated with a bad experience.
I have found that llamas that are only haltered to be vaccinated or wormed
will soon come to realize that haltering is not enjoyable. I
feel it is a good idea on a regular basis to halter your llamas/alpacas to
take them out to graze or for a walk and make being haltered a good
experience for them. Then they will feel that when you approach them
with that "rope thing from hell," that you are going to do something
comfortable and fun instead of afraid of doing something unpleasant.
As soon as
Dakota was willing to trust me I was able to progress with his training by
touching him beyond his neck. He did not like being brushed and would
lie down whenever I attempted it. To solve that problem I would make
him stand up as soon as he would lay down. (I would gently pull his
lead rope to the side to get him to stand up again.) He will now stand
quietly while being brushed, vaccinated or touched on his back and sides.
participating in birthday parties, grand openings, parties, parades, etc.
He is a real sweetheart to be around and can be very lovable and cuddly.
He will go out of his way to kiss each and every stranger he meets, whether
they are in a wheelchair, on a bicycle, or just standing in front of him.
I have trained
him to kiss and kush on command, take treats from my mouth and carry a pack.
His latest trick is to rear up on his hind legs and take a cracker either
from my hand or my mouth when I am standing on the back deck of my house.
I hope these
tips will be useful to you in your llama training days ahead.