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November 13th, 2003 . Genetic Component to Behavior?


Alpaca Training
I've read your previous article on kicking (October 2003 - Discouraging Kicking), but wonder if you've encountered a situation like this: 

A Chilean import, who is a kicker, has had 3 crias on my friend's ranch. All 3 crias kick, one as early as Day One (the day after she was born), and sometimes at empty air, with no possible threat nearby. From this I conclude there must be a genetic component to this behavior (or they just like the feeling), and wonder if the same methods of modification are likely to be effective?

Alpaca Training

I think you are right, behavioral tendencies do seem to have a genetic component.   I have worked with many alpacas that seem to kick for no reason at all and often the sire or dam exhibits the same behavior. In my experience kicking is either a learned behavior as in a defensive maneuver when the animal feels threatened or it can be reflexive.  

Animals that kick reflexively really don't think about it, the kick just happens similarly to our "knee jerk" response.  Noise or sudden movement may trigger kicking of this sort or it could be a result of body tension.  Because this type of kicking is not premeditated it would be unfair to punish the animal.  My approach to any type of kicking is NOT to punish the animal but it would be particularly unfair in this case.  The best approach in my experience to the problem is a body wrap.  

A body wrap is a simple elastic wrap that goes around the body as illustrated in the photo.  It connects the front and back half of the body.  It draws attention to the body as the animal tenses in preparation to kick at which point the animal can decide if the behavior is warranted.


  Photo A:  Using the clip wand with a body wrap.

Photo B:  Placing the wrap around the body.

This means that in conjunction with the body wrap the handler must pay attention to his behavior and make sure that the alpaca doesn't feel threatened.  A body wrap is a good tool for dealing with animals that react instinctively in other ways as well.... alpacas that bolt or can't settle down and think.  Putting a body wrap on an alpaca that kicks is best accomplished with a clip wand.  Use the clip wand to get the wrap around the neck.  Attach the velcro to the appropriate size, making sure that the velcro opening is at the front, stand at the shoulder and put two or three twists the wrap and stretch it over the rear quarters.  Some animals will kick when the wrap goes around the rear end but most don't.  Leave the wrap on as you work and remove it at the end of the session. The wrap is removed exactly opposite from how it goes on stretch out the back half by pulling against your own hand, and lift off untwist and unhook the velcro.  

The Camelid Companion has more specific information about using the body wrap and how to put it on and take is off.  

~ Marty McGee Bennett


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