HOW WE'RE DOING
March 2015: The Story so far: The boys are far better than the girls! All six boys know their call and promptly respond to it. I must confess that when I give an individual call I still often get more than one camelid respond, but I kid myself that this is the herding instinct not my weak training!!
My alpaca comes bounding over when I give his call,
Mary-Ann is beginning to come when called ( a year ago she would have run in the opposite direction!) Maggie has not responded as yet, indeed to catch her I'm still mostly at the bribing stage . I have an awful feeling things will always be this way.
THE METHOD I'M USING
It goes without saying that if you are to train a llama that you have out there in your field, you have to catch it first. Believe me, there is no way of actually catching a llama, at least, not by running after it. All but the most elderly and infirm llama could outrun a human. So..you are left with one or two options:
You could bribe your llama to come into your training pen by rattling his bucket of feed, or leaving it down and then shutting the gate behind him. This, to me, is quite a legitimate method of catching and doesnt usually take all day.
You could find a friend to "herd" the animal into the pen with you, by means of 30 or so feet of rope. This should be held at either end about 3 feet from the ground . Your llama should hopefully move away from the length of rope and, with a bit of practice, it can be driven into the training pen.
Both the above methods are, to my thinking, legitimate ones. I still resort to the bucket with one of my recalcitrant girls.
But here's another method. Believe me, in the long term it's a great time saver. And it's so easy and fun to teach.
It is extremely useful to have any animal come when it is called and this is true of llamas. It is so easy to teach to most (but not all) llamas. Young males are probably the easiest.. I have found it particularly useful when trekking and allowing a llama to run off-lead. If I see a dog approaching, I call my loose llama in (often to the astonishment of the dog-owner.)
In training the llama to come, I feel that the food reward factor is important; infact I do not believe that it would be possible, in the first instance, to train a llama or alpaca, to come when called without a food reward. Others might disagree; I would be interested in their method. It is the association between arrival and something pleasurable, promptly delivered, that is the underpinning factor. I decided on a "Come-to-me-call" for each animal as I acquired it, similar to a dog-whistle, and made sure I was consistent with the call as regards tone, pitch etc. At first, the llama merely had to come a couple of feet across the catch/training pen, where almost all my work starts, but the distance gradually increased, beyond the pen, step by step, to earshot distance.
When first training the camelids to come, I was rewarding every arrival. This became less necessary as time went on...but I must confess to hating to disappoint, so I tend to give a small treat each time.
It is also very useful to be able to single out and call an individual animal by name.
I have found that in training camelids to come individually, it is important to have calls which are very phonetically different.. and also different from their actual name.( Eg Oscar's call is "Oss Oss" !) The really, really hard part, though, is to resist rewarding the animal that has responded to another's call, particularly when it has galloped, flat out, from half a mile away. But that's the whole point of training,
Sadly, I have now lost both my girl llamas, Mary-Ann and Maggie at the ages of 22 and 10 respectively.
Now, as a result, I have no llama to singly walk out with, the boys being so herd-bound that no-one will leave the farm singly.
So, I now have a girl on trial, to see if she will fill the role of walking with me. (I do need to walk these days!) I have had to take on a teenage llama who, if she proves suitable, will be with me permanently, will not outlive me!!! I'm no chicken!
Unfortunately, I can't even catch her. I have tried every trick I know, and lots beside, over the past few weeks but she hasn't changed one iota. Sadly, it looks as though she will have to go back. I should have known better: a llama who is uncatchable at 14 years of age is unlikely to change, lovely animal though she is.