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November 10, 2005  Can Alpacas Be Trained To Do Tricks?


Alpaca Training

Can alpaca's be trained to do tricks? Also, is there any enrichment toys that they like to play with?

Alpaca Training

Alpacas are extremely bright and can be trained to do lots of things that could be considered tricks.  I think most people make the mistake of confusing a lack of intelligence with a lack of motivation.  Most domestic animals with the exception of many dogs are not particularly interested in making their mission in life pleasing us ‘two-legged’.   

Cats are a great example. They are really smart but not particularly motivated to please.  Alpacas are very cat-like, ironically not only are they cat like in their temperament but share many physical qualities as well.  I wrote an article comparing cats and camelids back in the early 90's that has appeared in several magazines in one version or another over the years and is available to members in the Camelidynamics Guild Library. 

So the problem becomes making our agenda important and relevant to the alpaca.  Alpacas that are food motivated would be much easier to train for this reason.  Clicker training would be my first choice for teaching tricks.  Amy and Jim Logan have done a wonderful series of videos about clicker training for camelids that are available from several different sources.  The major focus of my training is teaching the two-legged to be better handlers rather than actually teaching the alpacas various behaviors.  In most management situations we really want the alpaca to do NOTHING so the thrust of my work is to teach the humans to behave in a way that the alpaca finds non-threatening. Taken together the two types of training are very compatible.

As far as enrichment toys go I think you could let your imagination run wild.  In my experience the very best toy for alpacas is a mound of dirt in the pasture; it doesn't have to be very big but the bigger the better.  Alpacas will spend hours playing king of the hill.  Balls and dangly things can be good fun particularly for young alpacas.  As long as the toy doesn't pose a danger, the sky is the limit.  I think having things for young alpacas to do is very important, particularly if they don't have a playmate their own age.  Beware of becoming a toy for your alpacas.  In my opinion it is not a good idea to allow young alpacas, particularly males, to use you as a source of amusement; allowing your young alpacas to pick at your clothes, shoelaces, or to rub against you. This often leads to running at the human or bumping the human from behind and can get dangerous when the baby grows up.





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