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October 18th, 2003 . Discouraging Kicking


Alpaca Training
How do you teach an alpaca not to kick? 

We have an intact male, 4 1/2 years old, who routinely resists any attempts at routine husbandry by swiftly kicking out with his rear legs. I've tried de-sensitizing by working with him in a training pen using training wands to gently stroke his legs and rewarding him with a treat (sweet feed) when he allows me to do so. This approach hasn't been successful. 

Background Info: We purchased this male from a large herd when he was 9 months old; he's always been "skittish"; will only tolerate minimal handling; has another male herdmate -age 3 1/2- who was born to our farm, and who we've handled without difficulty since birth.

Your advice is greatly appreciated! 

Alpaca Training

You really can't teach an alpaca not to kick. You can only work with him in a way that makes him not feel the need to kick.  

Believe it or not the way you move around your barn and particularly the way you catch him is probably the biggest change you can make that will encourage him not to kick. Cornering and grabbing the neck when you catch will definitely perpetuate the kicking.   

Catching in a catch pen is critical.  Whenever you catch your alpacas herd them into a small area such as a 10 x 10 catch pen.  Attach a rope to a wand
(Photo A) and use the wand to get the rope around his neck.  Once you have the rope around the neck you can keep him in balance and approach the head with out getting kicked. 

  Photo A:  Using a wand and rope to catch an alpaca.

Photo B:  A body wrapped alpaca.

I would encourage you to try a body wrap on this fellow
(Photo B). A body wrap is a simple figure 8 device that brings attention to the alpacas body in a different way.  Put the body wrap around the front end of the alpaca so that the front half touches the alpaca on the shoulders, put two or three twists in the wrap, stand at the shoulder stretch out the back loop and place it over the rear end and step away.  The alpaca may kick once or twice in reaction to the wrap but will quickly settle down (for more details about how to put on a body wrap and how it works see "The Camelid Companion").

Based on your description of this fellow it sounds as if he is kicking without thinking- more a reflex than a thoughtful response.  He will feel the body wrap when he begins to think and can then decide if it is really necessary.

I would discourage you from your current path of stroking with wands and using a food reward.  When using a reward technique timing is crucial and you may very well be inadvertently teaching him to kick. Stroking with the wands in an attempt to de-sensitize often does the reverse and makes the animal more sensitive.  You must address why the alpaca is kicking and in my opinion it is likely because he feels threatened by your approach to catching him or he is kicking without thinking.  Hope this helps.

~ Marty McGee Bennett


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