How far is the older llama trainable?

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How far is the older llama trainable?

Post  Terry on Thu Feb 04, 2010 8:42 pm

Today I received, via my website, a question from Nth Carolina. It concerns training three older llamas (youngest is 5 years) to act as caddies on a golf course. Apparently these male llamas have had no previous human contact. I am asked how trainable they are likely to be!
I have no experience of starting with an older llama; all mine started training at a few months. Can anyone help? Has anyone taken on and been able to catch, halter, lead, groom, desensitize etc a never-been-handled older guy?

Terry Crowfoot

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Re: How far is the older llama trainable?

Post  mlonghurst on Sun Feb 07, 2010 9:20 pm

Hi,

We regularly train older male llamas (5 years and upwards) that have had very little or no direct human contact prior to arriving here. My experience is that older llamas are extremely adaptable and can be trained to do everything that a younger llama can, but there are some things we have to do differently first in order to gain their trust and to allow them to understand that us 2 legged beings are not a threat and do not mean them harm. The older unhandled llama will also display a tendency to revert to instinctive defensive flight behavior far more rapidly than a handled llama that is used to having human contact.

I would be more than happy to either explain on the forum our approach (this could be fairly lengthy) or if provided with a Telephone No, I could contact (we get free calls to the USA) the individual directly and explain to them in person the process we use to train llamas.

Kind Regards,

Mike Longhurst

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Please post here, Mike!

Post  Terry on Sun Feb 07, 2010 9:57 pm

Hi Mike,

It would be great if you could post here on the Forum. I, for one, would be very interested in your approach. And I'll copy and paste to the questioner in Carolina, if that's okay.

Terry

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Re: How far is the older llama trainable?

Post  mlonghurst on Mon Feb 08, 2010 6:37 am

No problem. I will post up this evening as we are roofing our new llama stables today, so fingers crossed for no rain, snow, hail, high winds or arctic tempratures. Smile

Rgds, Mike L

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Re: How far is the older llama trainable?

Post  mlonghurst on Tue Feb 09, 2010 6:06 am

Ok here goes, this is how we start off training llamas that come to us that have had very little or no interaction with humans. Please bear with me and accept the fact that I use basic language and call a spade a spade because it is my way and my customers find it easier not having to learn a whole new language when learning how to handle their new llamas.

Firstly, we always isolate all llamas arriving at our farm for 1 month quarantine, during which time they go into a large training stable. This enables us to:

a) monitor them and ensure that they are disease and parasite free before introducing them to our other llamas,

b) identify any particular personalities, traits or herd hierarchy if any have already been established (often the llamas do not come from the same breeder)

c) intervene quickly if there are any violent disagreements.

If you do not have a suitable building in which to house them then please try and create a sheltered area within a field for them (ideally away from any other llamas) and then create a small catch pen within this area.

I use the first week to allow them to get used to the sight, sound and smell of humans. I achieve this by spending all day every day in the stable with them, with a small tub of hard feed always at hand. Also, for the first week I wear exactly the same clothes every day (same ‘T’shirt, Jacket, hat, jeans and boots) and I do not wash using any smelly soaps, wear aftershave etc. I want the llamas to identify me and not become confused with too many different sights and smells to quickly.

One the first day, I sit down and place the tub of hard feed at my feet and simply sit there looking at them, but not staring directly at them, and wait for the first llama to approach me, I never approach them, I allow them all the time they need. After all I must look and smell really strange to them when they first arrive.

Normally after the first few hours the llamas start to get curious and approach me, but the slightest movement will send them jumping backwards. However, by the end of the first day, they have normally started approaching me and sniffing my boots and trousers. The more adventurous will eventually pluck up the courage to approach the nice smelling stuff in the bucket and then the others soon start to take their lead.

As soon as the llamas are approaching me and eating out of the tub quite happily, I then move it closer and continue this until the tub is sitting on my lap. At no time during this phase do I attempt to touch them.

After the first day I take a CD player into the stables and introduce the llamas to my style of music, orchestral music played softly at first but by the and of the month I play some pretty loud rave music. They seem to enjoy it though!!!

After a couple of days, whenever any of them stick their head in the bucket I use my fingers to softly brush their head, the normal reaction is the standard jerk backwards but after a short while they stop jerking back and just continue eating once they realize that the light touch is not actually hurting them. Once all the llamas are quite comfortable eating from my lap, I get rid of the stool and stand up and then start the whole process again. Generally I find that they will quite happily approach and eat from the tub now and so I will then start to slowly walk around the stable. Some of the llamas will follow me and some will back off as soon as it looks like my path will cross theirs. By the end of the third day the llamas are normally quite happy for me to enter the stable, walk amongst them and eat from the tub or indeed from my hand.

Once I am happy that the llamas are reasonably settled and know I am not there to harm them, I switch to getting them into my small training pen (6’long x 4’ wide x 5’ high). Two of the gates are hinged and have a long piece of rope attached so that I can open and draw it shut with ease using one hand, in my other hand I have my “magic herding wand” (a 4’ length of bamboo) which I simply use to steer (never actually touching the llama with it) a particular llama into the training pen which I then slowly swing shut and the bolt it shut. I start off by standing at the front of the pen with my back to the llama simply taking quietly or humming softly, then after 5 minutes I open the gate and let him go. I repeat this exercise about 10 times with each llama by which time they seem quite calm with me in such close proximity. Once I am happy, the next time I get one in, I stand level with their head and gently place the back of my hand on their neck, sometimes they will jerk back but most times they allow me to just leave my hand there, then I will start to gently stroke their neck just a couple of inches at a time and then let them go. Once they are happy with me doing this I introduce the halter to them on a lid with hard feed also placed on it, generally they will sniff the halter but go for the hard feed. Again after a couple of times of doing this I will attempt to put the halter on. I use a slow movement using both hands (one on the halter and the other round the back of the neck) and place the halter over the nose. If the llama jerks back I very swiftly pull the halter into place (but you have to be quick) and then place the strap behind their neck and simply stand there until they settle (I very rarely get a llama that goes berserk at this stage and many will accept the halter quite easily). I then remove the halter and repeat the process, once I have finished with that session (approx 5-10 minutes), I leave the halter on the llama and release him from the pen. I do the halter exercise at least twice per day.

Once the llamas happily accept their halters (normally by day 4 or 5) Sue (my wife) will also start to come into the stable and feed the llamas and just walk around. We also encourage anyone that visits the farm to go and stand at the stable gates, offer the llamas some treats (carrots, apple etc) and chat with each other, but never enter the stables. At this point we normally allow the llamas access to a field which can be reached directly from the stables. Being animals of routine, as soon as the llamas hear the sound of the feed bucket they all come into the stables for feed.

Now, I switch to lead training which I again achieve by using the training pen. The only difference is that we only keep 2 llamas in the stables at a time and the rest of kept outside in the field. I steer the llama into the pen and once the lead is attached I open the pen and wait for reaction, often I find that a llama will simply follow me (as I still have the small hard feed tub) with the lead attached, but there is always the llama that wants to play tug of war, I never play this game as I found out a long time ago that I will always lose. So for the llama that decided he just wants to stand there, out comes my magic wand and I slowly place the wand behind his neck above his back (never actually touching him with it) and as soon as he moves I say “walk on”, as soon as he stops, I say “Stop”. Each time they get it right, they get a small treat, if they don’t, no treat. I continue this exercise right through the day using different llamas.

Once I am happy that a particular llama is doing well, during one of the walks round the stable, I simply open the gate and we go for a small walk outside the stables (I make sure that all our dogs are inside and no traffic or other distractions are around. After 4-5 minutes we go back into the training pen, off lead, reward and back out into the field.

Once the llamas are happily walking on the lead, we take thing a stage further and we introduce one of our border collies into the stables. We have two dogs ideal for this as they are so very calm and they are allowed in the stable and just sit there for a few minutes each day. After a while the llamas quite happily accept our dogs going in and walking around the stables. Later in their training we will get the dogs to run past them and then we wind them up so that they are all running around the llama and barking (at each other). We will also walk them between parked cars; drive the quad past them (slowly at first then faster and faster), when walking I will kick stones, drag a chain along the road, bounce a tennis ball on the ground whilst walking, suddenly shout out or sing loudly (I get some really strange looks from llamas I can tell you). Basically we use a whole range of different vehicles, toys, tools etc to acclimatize the llamas to a wide range of different sites and sound that they will come across in the real world outside the farm.

For desensitizing, I again use the training pen and slowly run the back of my hand over the llama, progressing only as far as I can without getting an adverse reaction. If the ears go back I just stop but leave my hand there, if the llama jerks back, then I remove my hand and start all over again until I do not get a reaction.

When it comes to the hind legs I find that non trained older llamas have a tendency to kick (which is quite natural), for this exercise I always use the stables and not the training pen as the llama could injure itself on the gate if it does kick out. I use an old riding crop with a small frilly bit at the end. I stand at the front quarters and gently stroke from the top of the thigh and down the leg (as opposed to starting at the bottom of the leg). If the llama kicks out I simply repeat the process and generally find that the llama soon realizes that the kicking is pointless and also the touching does not actually hurt. After repeated exercises I then replace the riding crop with my hand. When I pick up the feet I do so slowly but firmly and again only a couple of inches at a time, in the end the llama is quite happily letting me lift all legs for checking and trimming.

The thing I always say with regards to training llamas is; be patient, enjoy it, have fun, congratulate yourself and the llama when things go well, learn from your mistakes when things go wrong, never lose your temper in front of the llamas (go somewhere else and vent your wrath), llamas can have off days as well and finally, once you have built a bond of trust with your llamas, never abuse that trust, it can take an eternity to recover, if ever.

Rgds, Mike Longhurst

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Re: How far is the older llama trainable?

Post  Caroline on Thu Mar 11, 2010 5:09 pm

That was very interesting. One of my llamas is over-sensitive to being touched on his back and I find that the more I persevere, the more wound up he becomes, but at least I know how someone else would approach the problem. Stopping when the ears go back.... I tend to find that ears going back is immediately followed by the head whipping round to look over the back and I am always afraid that that may be followed by spitting!

I'll have another go, trying to stop just before the head whipping round stage. I can touch his feet with no problem, he lifts his front feet on my command and stands still for me to touch his back feet, so I don't know why his back is such an issue.
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Re: How far is the older llama trainable?

Post  mlonghurst on Thu Mar 11, 2010 7:44 pm

Our stud male "Yoda" is a kicker (he is a lovely llama but he is a kicker Rolling Eyes ) and boy is he quick and can deliver a powerful blow with those back legs (as Sue found out many years ago when one of his back kicks sent her flying 6' through the air into a wall..another story but as she admits, it was her own fault). Now Yoda does not particularly like his back being rubbed (which I do to shift the embeded straw and bits of tree in there) and whenever I do this he will try and swing round so he can kick me. I simply keep moving with him so I am allways standing just in front of his hind legs and keep my hand on his back. In the end he gets bored with this game and just lets me do my thing (he does glare at me but he does not spit). Sometimes llamas can get quite sharp objects lodged in their coat along the ridge of their spine and even slight movements of these objects can hurt them, could there be someting lodged there which is causing him a problem?

Rgds, Mike L

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Thanks !

Post  peekitib on Fri May 07, 2010 2:45 pm

Mike,
My wife an I have had our 2 llamas for over a year now, dearly loved, they are bot 18 months old. We spend many hours with them, but have never got near to harnessing them.
Your reply to the person in USA has given me inspiration, and on my return home next week (Im offshore at work) I hope to get the harnesses on.
Thanks for sharing the information.

David. Aberdeenshire.

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