BASIC TO EVERYTHING !!
I think, from what I read of other trainers' methods, that there seems to be one thing we all agree on : it's the importance of the small pen.
Looking at the list of things I have achieved with the boys, I think it is true to say that whilst with experience I can now train in the open field provided there's not too much grass to distract the student, almost everything began in the small pen. It might well not have progressed onwards there, but it certainly began there. Yes, that even includes retrieving, where the llama is running freely away from me in the field and also football where we are both moving across the paddock together. And "Coming on Call" certainly began for me and each of my llamas in the small pen; I was calling across all of four feet initially!
So what is a small pen? And why is it so useful?
The small pen is about closer restraint. In a sense, a llama in a paddock is already restrained by the perimeter fencing, but the smaller the paddock the closer the proximity to the trainer and, in theory anyway, the more focussed the animal is on the human, because in relative terms the latter is taking up a larger proportion of available space.The small pen is also a useful means of separating, but not isolating, the student llama from his friends for lessons. For anyone wanting to train using a clicker, this separation is, to my mind essential. (And whilst I'm on the subject, I should mention that my methods, ever evolving, have extended Jim Logan's "30feet rule", whereby you avoid clicker training a llama within 30feet of another, to a thirty yard rule. That's three times the distance if you're unfamiliar with yards.)
Most of us are limited to a rectangular shape if we are making a small catch pen and I think a pen of about 12ft x 12ft is the optimum size, though I have used smaller. It can be built of anything that will keep the llama in, but hurdles or fence panels seem to be the best material. I've never had the chance to make a round pen, but for some things they are even more useful than a rectangular one. For a start, they disallow the trapping of llamas "in the corner" which one is tempted to do when catching a reluctant animal, an action which is best avoided in the long run.(Excuse pun)
Whilst the advantage of the small pen is basically that the animal cannot escape from close proximity with the trainer, at the same time a 12ft x 12ft pen allows some distance.
One of the most useful things that can be achieved in the small pen is catching, or should I say "allowing approach and handling". Yes, ideally it can, and maybe should, be achieved in the open field but it is very time consuming. Life is short! The pen can be useful for teaching a newly acquired, terrified-of-humans, camelid that, although artificially thrown together, there is nothing scary about us. I can recall sitting in my small pen with David, my first llama. I used to sit with a coffee, reading a book and ignoring him. It was a long process as he was such a nervous animal and unapproachable for touching even in a 12ft x 12ft pen, but we got there eventually, something that I would possibly never have achieved in the open field.. In retrospect, it would have been better to have started with a much larger pen and gradually reduced the size. Hindsight is a useful thing!
The other thing useful with the small pen is that the supply of food can be controlled. This is particularly important in clicker-training which is invariably food-reward based.
Checked and updated July 2014