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December 24, 2004 . Sudden Aggressive Behavior


Alpaca Training
We loved
your workshop last year at Navasota. Our Marty School Graduate, Margarita, is now one of our sweetest and most manageable alpacas.

Current Question:  What do I do about a very pregnant older dam who has suddenly decided it's fun to run and jump on us when our backs are turned -- NOT FUN!   The first time this happened, I landed in the poop pile and was NOT AMUSED.

This girl has always been the sweetest and gentlest of our alpacas, and I've been distraught trying to figure out why this was happening. The best we've been able to pin it down to so far is that it's when we're in the process of feeding and she's impatient -- "Feed me NOW!"   We've upped the pellet rations in this cooler weather with poorer pasture, but nothing seems to satisfy her.

We try to keep an eye on her, but she's very careful -- waits for that split second when we look away, and then rears way up and comes down on the innocent back.  It's mainly me she gets (because I'm the usual feeder), but she's gotten everyone on our farm one time or another.  She has never behaved like this before, and we'd sure appreciate help in knowing how to handle this situation.

Alpaca Training

First of all I am so glad that you enjoyed the clinic and that you have had success with Margarita.  Now this new issue is a perplexing one!  When I first read the email I thought we were dealing with a spoiled over handled female who grew up into a brat with no boundaries.  That is often the case when people describe alpacas as sweet and gentle... they are really pushy and do not understand boundaries.  But having been to a clinic I bet you understand the difference between a truly friendly and sweet animal and one who doesn't respect a humans space.  The other thing that doesn't fit is the fact that she is older.  Usually alpacas who become pushy do it as they attain sexual maturity not after.

You could be spot on with the food theory but the only one who knows is your female.  I don't know for sure why it is happening but I do know for sure that it is much better to arrange things so that she can't do it rather than punishing her when she does.  If the behavior occurs just prior to or in the process of feeding my suggestion is to close all of the alpacas out of the barn, deal out the food, and then open the door and let the alpacas in.   If you are vigilant about changing the way you feed so that she can't practice the misbehavior, then there is a real likelihood that she will forget it and it will stop. 

If she is in the habit of nibbling on your clothes, following you too closely, sticking her nose in your face, or trying to intimidate barn visitors, she should be corrected for these behaviors as well.  My suggestion it to give her a good bip on the nose with a frisbee.  This correction is given right on the edge of what you determine to be your personal space and does not have follow through.  Think of it as your alpaca running into your force field.  Once you have gotten your alpacas attention with the frisbee, punch a hole in the frisbee and wear it around your neck as a reminder when you are in the barn.  The bip on the nose should be forceful enough to startle her and a firm ‘stay back’ as the correction is given. This will help to make the point.  I would not use the frisbee when food is involved.  The messages are too mixed.  The food is naturally going to lure her over and it wouldn't be fair to correct her for approaching.   More information about dealing with a spoiled animal is available on my website in an article entitled "The Novice Handler Syndrome."





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