..or "the statue game"


Desensitisation is one of these words I keep seeing in llama books and, so far as I can tell, it simply means "the llama allowing itself to be touched without protest". This is something which is highly desirable for all parts of the animal as it helps so much in, for example, nail-clipping, shearing, haltering, packing... oh the list in endless.
Do llamas like being touched? I'm not sure. Sometimes I suspect they never really get beyond passive acceptance or tolerance. But really, why should they like it? Camelids do not stroke each other .The mother does not even lick the newborn cria!

My method for desensitising has always been this:

It is best to work somewhere where the llama cannot be disturbed by others. The catch pen is probably the best, but I never feel the need to tie.

I handle those parts that are already acceptable as often as I can and gradually... maybe over a period of weeks... work along to the sensitive areas, with much praise and frequent treats, so that the entire process becomes as pleasurable to the animal as possible.

It's the VERY sensitive areas which are the problem and this is where I play my "Statue Game". (I borrowed the name from Jim Krowka of Lost Creek Llamas.) It has convinced many-a-person looking over the fence that I am completely and incurably eccentric...for it goes something like this:

Putting my hands on, or perhaps actively handling a sensitive part, such as the ears or under the tail, I begin to recite the words "Quite still". Initially, I'll probably only get the "Qu.." of "Quite" out, before the llama shifts, but this small moment of stillness is rewarded. (It is hard using a clicker with your hands full of llama, so I quite often "click" with a vocal signal followed by the treat.)

"Quite still!!"

Gradually, over maybe fifty steps, I'll repeat the exercise in exactly the same spot, each time asking for a little longer stillness before the reward is given. As things progress, I ask the llama to freeze and hear "Quite Still" for a slowly increasing number of times before the click sounds. Get me?

But there is one thing I should say: from my experience with my own llamas and from what other owners (at least the more honest of them!) have told me, there are animals out there who are so sensitive to having certain parts of their bodies (usually rear feet or heads) handled, that it is extremely time-consuming attempting it. I have found this with David's head.. and I must have worked at it, over the years, for hundreds of hours. I only persevere because it interests me and there has been no sign of it souring our relationship. But really, for someone who has less time to devote to training than I have, it would be impractical to work at a "David" problem unless there was special reason for needing to touch his head. Haltering can replaced by neck-collaring in most situations.

If you can add anything to my work or have any questions or comments, please e-mail me.

Video of Oscar playing his Statue Game



January 2017

This isn't so much a desensitization exercise as a duration one. But I've been playing the Statue Game with my alpaca on a dailly basis to see how many "Quite Stills" I can recite before he ends the game by jiffling. I reached thirteen today without him interrupting, though I can hear the regurgitation in his neck as he prepares for the spit. Charming! Any interruption or spittingresults in my just walking away. If he stands still until the click, he gets pony nuts. I vary the timing a lot, sometimes just clicking after two or three "Quite Stills"..but as I say, I've reached thirteen now. I think he's learning the rules!






April 2010 : The story so far: I can touch Dillon and Thomas anywhere now. David remains extremely head-shy but is fine elsewhere. Mary-Ann, an animal that would kick me if I tried to handle her in the first four years I had her (and on whom I gave up) will allow me to handle anywhere except back legs, though this is coming . Oscar and Toby can be handled anywhere but their back legs, but I'm working at it! Maggie, whom I've had since Nov 07 as a potential driving llama is still difficult. I tend not to work with her as it's an uphill climb and neither of us enjoy it.

I can touch the alpaca anywhere except the rear legs.