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October 8th, 2003 . Cushing In Protest


Alpaca Training
Last year I purchased a female that tends to "cush" every time she is handled.  She has never been halter trained.   This makes her very easy to handle for maintenance, but the only ways to move her are to herd her, drag, or carry her.   Her daughter is taking on the same tendency.  We are new to this and are at a loss.  We'd like to halter train them, but what do you do if they just lie there?

Alpaca Training
Alpacas that cush do so for a number of different reasons. Your alpaca may be cushing for one or more of the following reasons: 

1. She feels overwhelmed and doesn't understand what is being asked of her.

2. The halter doesn't fit and she feels as if it will slip off of the nose bone and suffocate her.

3. She has been dragged around by the head in the past and is now withdraw by cushing whenever she is attached to a person by a lead.

4.  Her mother told her to cush when ever she feels frightened.

Dragging these alpacas, trying to pull them up by the head, or lifting them up from the back is usually not successful.  

The following plan will address these issues and will get your alpaca up and walking on her own:
(Please know that this is a very involved question and I am giving you a very abbreviated answer. My book offers much more detail about how to make each of these techniques work for you.)

Work in a catch pen, use a rope attached to a wand (lightweight pole) to catch her from a distance, approach her from behind her eye leaving her an escape route within the pen and put her into balance rather than restraining her. I bet you will see a big difference.  If she cushes as you are haltering, you can just proceed while she is laying down.  If she puts her head down, it is important to ask her to bring it up.  Use an intermittent upward signal to get her head up and take pressure off when the head is up. If she lowers it again, repeat the process.  Steady upward pressure will only cause her to push down harder with her head.  

Ideally your training pen is located so that it opens out to a long narrow area like a barn aisle way.
Once the halter in on, use a very long lead and clip it to the side ring on the nose band of the halter. 

Halter fit is a very important aspect of solving the problem (for more information on halter fit see the article on my website "Solving Major Behavioral Problems in 30 Seconds").   I use a halter that is designed to fit well up on the nose very close to the eye and features rings on the nose band.  I use the ring on the nose band for solving leading problems.  Leading from under the chin will cause your alpaca to tilt the nose up, if you pull steadily this posture make the alpaca uncomfortable and increase the likelihood that she will lay down.  I use an extension lead that is about 17 feet long for this purpose, the lead has a fastex buckle in the middle so that I can unclip the extension and it becomes a regular lead.  The long lead is important because it changes the leading dynamic.  

Alpacas with this difficulty are accustomed to laying down as soon as the person is within 6 feet of them.  A long lead gets you far enough away that the alpaca feels confident enough to get up, this gives you a second chance to explain what you want without the alpaca withdrawing from the process as soon as you attach a lead rope to the head.   

Open the door to the catch pen and get as far away from the alpaca as you can.  At this point your alpaca will most likely get up and you can begin teaching her that signals on her head are actually meaningful and are an indication for her to take a step.  To do this, think of your hand as a ratcheting device.  Offer a very light signal on the lead with a partial release (imagine you are leading a butterfly), followed immediately by another signal and a partial release.  Look at your alpacas feet, your signals are intended to shift her balance until she has to take a step.  It is important to continue giving the signals until she takes the step this helps the alpaca make the connection between the signals and their meaning.  When she takes a step release totally and begin again.  Most alpacas will make the connection between the signals on the head and the movement of the feet after about 8 or 10 steps. 

Use the long lead until your alpaca is walking nicely and gradually shorten the lead until you no longer need to be so far away.  Happy Leading!  

~ Marty McGee Bennett



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