One or Two Observations on Spitting in Llamas


Spitting in llamas has been a topic that has been interesting me a lot during the years that I have been training them. It is also something that frustrates me more than a little, because my training method is unashamedly food-reward based and I frequently waste much time waiting for an animal to recover his ability to eat after being involved with spitting. All llama-owners will be familiar with the grotesque, bizarre, hung-jaw expression of an animal that has recently spat .. but what is causing the jaw to hang? Is it just spitting?

Until recently, I accepted the frequently-given explanation that the llama spits and then has "to air its mouth out because the taste/smell is so vile". Then one day, I happened to get some spit on my sleeve and walked away from the culprit, a distance of 75 yards, to another three llamas. One by one they smelt my sleeve and one by one their jaws dropped, needing some twenty minutes to recover. These animals had not spat!

And it's not just the hung jaw that makes for impossible eating. I find that if I have the slightest suggestion of spit on me, even from the fine vapour that is often propelled ten feet and more, then hand feeding is impossible for a while, even though the llama shows no sign of hanging its jaw.This is even true with very hungry animals being offered their favourite treat. It's as though the smell of spit dominates all, which is frustrating in a situation where food has to smell good rather than look good, the olfactory sense being so pronounced in the camelid.

I have tried many ways of speeding up the recovery period in the affected animals, using alcohol hand rubs, etc. but all to no avail.

Curiously, I had a female llama in for training recently and she could spit for England, with amazing accuracy! I had her for only a limited time and was pushing the training hard,( something which I do not recommend). Consequently I was often coated in green slime.But something was working in my favour: that animal never once hung her jaw or refused food after a spitting session. Amazing! I could not understand it.

And another observation. I have a gelding that has a "thing" about tall human males. I cannot understand it- he will go up to the man/teenager, sniff around in a friendly fashion and then ... spit. One friend of ours (reading this Dean?!) is quite besotted with this spitter and it is a bit embarrassing to see my llama's response to his friendly overtures.

So why do llamas spit?

Let's be honest, llama-owners.We really dont know, do we? No more than we really know why cats purr.We are fairly certain it's an expression of "I'm-not-terribly-happy", but beyond that...?

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