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August 3rd, 2003 .  Why Won't My Alpacas Come to Me?


Alpaca Training
Why won't my alpacas come to me and let me pet them?

Alpaca Training
Here is the short answer… Alpacas run from things that they are afraid of. 

When you feed them, take care of them and love them like crazy why do they insist in putting you in the category of things that they are afraid of?  Ahhhh now that takes a bit more time to answer.  Most alpacas have been cornered and grabbed around the neck.  This method of catching is expedient, popularly accepted by many in the breeding business and is very tempting.  After all, that neck is just sticking up there like a handle for goodness sakes.  That alpaca neck fairly screams to the handler, “USE ME TO CATCH THE REST OF THE BODY PLEASE!

I did my share of cornering and grabbing in the early days of my camelid career which now spans, gad-zooks, over 22 years! The day my llamas were delivered my camelid coach puffed himself up and gave me the facts of life with llamas, “Well little missy, llamas don’t like to be touched on the head.  These animals will never get close to you. When you want to catch ‘em, wave your arms around and haze them into a corner, cut ‘em off don’t let ‘em run by you, show ‘em who’s boss and grab them around the neck. And don’t you let go no matter what! “  That is the way you catch camelid and that is that. 

I did this more or less successfully (a few wild trips around the pasture hanging on for dear life and a few unceremonious landings in the dung pile) for about five years until I happened to meet a remarkable horse trainer Linda Tellington –Jones (inventor of TTEAM and the TTouch).

I attended one of Linda’s clinics to learn how to train my huge and crazy thoroughbred stallion- that I did not- (thank you very much) grab around the neck!  The llamas were only an excuse to get Linda to my farm.  Back then llamas were very unusual and worthy of a private visit from a world renown horse trainer - my mere horse would never have helped me pull that off.

Ironically, I didn’t really expect much from Linda’s work with my llamas she was a horse trainer and I already knew all there was to know about llamas.

Linda did some very simple things with my llamas… massaged their heads and mouths and wait…they liked it!  My wildest llama closed his eyes and almost went to sleep as Linda gently worked with his lips and gums.  “No this can’t be true” I gasped,  “these animals hate to be touched on the head and you certainly can’t touch their mouths!”

Linda and I didn’t talk about how I caught my llamas that day but what I began to understand was that I was the one limiting my relationship with my animals.  Of course my llamas didn’t come up to me.  I was forever cornering them and grabbing them. Any sane llama would steer clear of my arms. I began to see that my llamas behavior was a reflection of the way I behaved instead of a fact of nature.

I began my studies with Linda Tellington-Jones that day and my life was forever changed.  I attached myself to Linda like velcro and a few years later co-authored my first book about training llamas with Linda.  

How you catch your alpacas is the key to their heart.  Learn how to approach them, get your hands on them and touch them in a way that they can enjoy and you are on your way.

Photo A:  Note in this photo the handler is standing behind the eye in the center of the pen.
A catch pen is absolutely necessary.  Your catch pen should be convenient, safe, sturdy and comprise an area no larger than 10 x 10 feet. Square is the best shape.  I have written many articles about barn design and herding strategies for purposes of answering this specific question I will begin with handler and alpaca already in a catch pen.

Humans and four-leggeds get better at what they practice.  What are your alpacas practicing when you chase them into a corner?  They practice running away from you that’s what!  This behavior won’t change as long as we perpetuate it with the behavior that caused it.. We must figure out a way to catch an alpaca without provoking the flight response and teach the alpaca to remain standing as we approach.

Try this very simple catching method with your alpacas and see if you don’t see a difference in just a few days:

Attach a lightweight rope about 10 feet long to a pole about 4 feet long a lightweight wooden dowel will work.*You can use a rubber band to attach the rope to the stick.  Enter the catch pen and do your best to stay behind the eye of your alpaca and in the center of the pen.  When your alpaca moves change your position to maintain this relationship of you behind the eye and you in the center of the pen.  Reach out with your rope using the stick as a guide and put the rope over top of your alpacas head and bring the end of the rope that is tied to the stick back to your hands.  Remember to maintain your position behind the eye and in the center of the pen. Undo the stick and put it aside. As you become more adept with this technique you should be able to bring the rope over your alpacas head without provoking any movement.

Photo B:  In this photo the alpaca has been caught and the handler now has both ends of 
the rope and can use the rope to balance the alpaca and make an approach.

Next, use the rope to keep your alpaca in balance as you approach.  I have written reams about balance and how to use balance to make animal’s feel safe but the basic idea is to use your rope to help keep the animal’s weight distributed equally over both front feet.  Look at the feet and use the rope to shift the weight to the leg that is not carrying its share (usually the leg closest to you). Look at the feet!  The animal’s feet tell you about where the weight is.   Use intermittent signals on the rope and remember to release all pressure on the rope after you have shifted the balance.  You will probably have to remind your alpaca several times to shift his balance to neutral as you walk up to him. Resist the impulse to use your rope to hold your alpaca.  The rope is for balancing and is not simply a substitute for your arm around the neck. 

Consistently catch your alpaca this way a dozen or so times and you should find that very soon you can walk up to your alpaca and hand yourself the rope and proceed from there.  Once your alpacas begin to believe that you will no longer grab them around the neck they will begin to relax and allow you into their space. 

For more information about this and other techniques that will improve the relationship you share with your alpaca visit or read my book “The Camelid Companion”.

*  I use specialized equipment for this method but you can experiment with these simple substitutes.

Do you have a question regarding alpaca training that you would like to see answered?
If you have a question concerning the handling and training of alpacas, please send your question via email 
to Ask Marty McGee Bennett

All questions will be presented anonymously and will be selected based on order received and commonality.  Look for Marty's answers to your questions weekly!


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