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Alpaca Training


September 22nd, 2003 . Stubborn With The Lead


Alpaca Training
I am an avid fan of your methods, and we offer a free copy of your Camelid Companion book to new owners who buy from us, BUT, I must say, I'm having lots of trouble with the leading training.

All 4 of the animals I've used it on end up stretching their necks out to the end of the lead before moving an inch. The result is very poor composure, out of balance animals who hang on the end of the lead line and won't move unless I'm at the far end of it. When I change from being at the end using the tug-release in front of them to getting closer, they just pull their necks down and away. It's getting very frustrating. I have even resorted to a rope around the rump to encourage forward movement if no response from the front with no better luck. 

I am experienced in horse training and this is driving me nuts. They can be as responsive as heck in the beginning, taking baby steps with me at the far end of the line, but won't progress to actually leading along side me with a loose lead. 

The oldest one will lead into an arena, but I have to keep a hand on his neck to keep him from hanging out at the end of the line. No matter what I do, he moves away until there's a ton of tension. I've tried walking him along a fence, which works fine until we turn around (in the showring the animal is away from the rail) and he goes right back to the end of the line and his butt swings towards the center. 

We are off to a show with young males next month and this needs changing!

Alpaca Training  
Thanks so much for your support. I so appreciate breeders offering information as part of their sales program. I can tell you that it means a great deal to new owners. I hear good feedback from newcomers to the business all the time about those kinds of extras!

It would seem to me that since you seem to be having the same problem with a number of animals we should look first at your technique. Anytime anyone asks me a question about leading difficulties I always ask the person to double check their halter fit and then try leading from the side ring of the halter instead of the ring under the chin. The combination of a halter that fits really well up on the nose bone and a signal given to the side ring rather than the ring under the chin can really make the difference and can really make leading go a lot easier. 

I also suggest that initial leading be done in a long narrow pen so that the new "leadee" only practices following the handler, walking in a straight line. In a long narrow pen there is not much chance to practice un-wanted behaviors. 

It also seems to me in reading your letter that you could benefit from getting a bit lighter with your leading hand. Pretend that you are leading a butterfly. Alpacas have tiny heads at the end of a long stalk and it requires a great deal more lightness than when leading a horse. Imagine that you have balloons under your armpits and eggs in your hands. Give signals ever so lightly and think of the purpose of the signals as one of changing the balance-the signals are given as to mimic a very gentle ratchet or come along. Give a signal, offer a partial release, and follow with another signal until the animal moves one foot. Then give a total release for just a second and begin again. The description of the way your animals behave on the lead makes me thing two things... a heavier hand that is needed and a lack of total release between signals.

This is very difficult to describe in words and a large reason that I didn't write myself out of a job. A clinic is the easiest and best way to learn about how to use your hands to work with an alpaca's balance. If you haven't been to a clinic think about it, and if you have, think about coming back. Many people tell me that the second and even third clinic is more meaningful than the first. Particularly for leading issues. 

The leading and balance exercises that I outline in my book are a good place to start. As you have already found a butt rope is not a big help. I have not found this technique useful with camelids as they simply lean on the rope and throw the weight to the rear.  Good luck and I hope this helps. 
~ Marty McGee Bennett



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