THE METHOD I'M USING
Before I begin I want to say that handling llamas' feet, particularly back feet can be a complete nightmare. Some llamas are easy, many will become easier with practice, whilst some will remain absolutely impossible. And there are those that are easy for a time and then suddenly decide that their feet are off-limits to humans. I have had experience of all these things. If you are reading this and having foot troubles..you are not alone! And added to all this is the frustrating fact that invariably the llamas that hate having their feet handled the most, are the very ones that invariably grow long toenails. And the ones that never need their nails trimmed ( and there are lots of these ) are a dream.
For the llamas that I have needed to do and have had success with, my method has been a desensitisation exercise. I've literally played my "Quite Still" Statue game .Picking up the feet, so useful if you want to clip the toenails yourself, really comes with handling, if it's going to come at all. If feet are sensitive, it really is a question of starting at the nearest point to the foot (not necessarily the leg!) that the llama is really comfortable with, handling that part..and gradually working closer and closer to the foot. It can take hours, or days or even weeks. But whilst there is progress, it is worthwhile continuing. Mouth-operated clickers can be useful here! Also litter-pickers! I dont know if they use them in the States, but everyone in UK will know the long litter-picker with graspers one end and handles at the other. One can lightly grasp the lower leg of the llama with these. Here again, I've played my Statue Game,clicking and rewarding for several seconds of toleration of the grasp.
The aim with the back leg is to lift the leg up so the cannon bone is vertical and to cradle the foot, pads uppermost, in one hand whilst holding clippers in the other.
In my work I have tried to make a verbal as well as a hand-cue distinction between keeping the foot down when the lower leg is being brushed ("Standing") and lifting it off the ground ( take lower leg and "Givvus a foot").
There is another method method for toenails which I'm currently using. It is not nearly as good as picking up the feet, but when all else fails...! It really consists of clipping the nails whilst the foot is on the ground. I am using it for Oscar and Toby's sensitive rear feet. I began by using my Statue Game to keep the foot on the ground whilst I lightly tapped the nails with a stick. Much clicking and rewarding for not moving! Then I progressed to tapping the nails with the (closed) nail-clippers. From there, little by little. I began to take tiny pieces of nail away.
If you can add anything to my work or have any questions or comments, please e-mail me.
HOW WE'RE DOING
The story so far: All five llama boys and my alpaca, will readily allow all their front feet to be picked up. Thomas, David and Dillon will just about allow all four. David and Dillon are beginning to raise the front feet to verbal command. Oscar is fine with his front but I am having trouble with the rear. Mary-Ann is fine with her front but the rears are still tricky. Maggie is a nightmare! I dont think the girls would ever lift to verbal only....they're girls! The alpaca is rapidly improving with his rear feet, and a dream with the front ones.
April 19th 2011
RECENT NOTES ON PROGRESS
In October '10 I wrote:
Oh dear! What an admission! I have just had the vet in to anaesthetisise Oscar, because I simply could not get his back feet up and his toenails were curly! I have been shamed into putting in a lot of work with his back legs since then, but it is far from easy..he does not like it. And to be honest, I hate it too.
June 10th 2014
I really should keep archives because a lot has happened since I wrote the above, nearly four years ago. I have made many updates here, but I erase each time I update, so first-time visitors to this page will not have followed my struggle.
In short, now, it has been a long, slow, daily struggle,taking perhaps scores of hours with Oscar and his brother, maybe approaching a hundred separate sessions...but I think I am winning.
Basically, I've worked down the legs, touching and desensitising and rewarding as I've gone down, inch by inch.Then onto grasping the cannons just above the foot and progressing on to lifting. Much rewarding!! One of the problems I've had and still have to a lesser extent, is of llamas (both of them) leaning onto me. I understand from a horsey friend that horses do this to avoid having their feet handled.
I'm now able to cradle the upturned pads in my hand and I've even snipped a few little bits of nail from Oscar. Toby is more difficult but I've managed bits off his rear nails too. Grrrr...I hate toenails!
I am aware that there is a method around, by which the nails are actually clipped in situ, on the ground. Obviously this isn't the best method, but certainly is better than having the gait put off-true, or even lameness developing.
JUNE 29th 2014
I seem to be losing it again with Toby; I really should discipline myself to handle rear feet every day. He's back to leaning on me again, an avoidance dodge. At least he isn't struggling or kicking as he was a few months ago.
AUGUST 4th 2014
I struggle on! Sometimes it seems to be three steps forward and four back. I'm making myself handle the rear toenails every day. Sometimes he's kicking back and this is what alarms me. Toby really has an issue with rear feet. So have I. I'm clicking/rewarding after three seconds hold, if he hasn't moved at all. No snipping yet! Help, I can't get to our llama show in Newbury with nails like this quite apart from what it's doing to him!
SEPTEMBER 4th 2014
I'm getting there! Today I managed to lift Toby's back feet about twenty times (with rewards). The last six or seven, I was able to snip a bit off his toenails. I have a great sense of achievement tonight!
Jan 19th 2015
A friend came over and helped me this weekend. I need the pressure of "not wasting a friend's time" to make myself snip toenails since I do really have a thing about toenails (even my own!). I worked at the back end whilst Maggie rewarded the front. The plan was to allow Toby to eat from a held bucket all the time he was allowing his foot to be handled. The moment he resisted, the bucket was dropped. It worked pretty well and I got a few good chunks off. Mud around the nails didn't help, but Toby would not allow me to wash it off.
September 9th 2015
Oh dear. I really am struggling here. I can lift and manipulate the pads (cushions) very easily, but when it comes to the actual clipping, it all goes to rats. Toby hates it and kicks out..and then I'm back to square one as regards simply holding and manipulating the pads. I have Newbury Show coming up; I really can't take Toby with chinese toenails. Oh, it's not THAT bad but they really are curling under. Ah me..shall I get the vet to anaestheticise? It shouldn't be necessary!
I did see a demonstration of nail-clipping done on the ground at our Llama Conference. I must confess that I'm not wholly convinced. I feel it is a second best though Julie Taylor-Browne says she finds it as effective as picking the feet up.
November 14th 2015
I struggle on! Toby is getting quite easy to handle those back feet now. No kicking at all. But I'm really beginning to think that this is a vicious circle: the more I snip the nails the faster they grow!
Not a very plain photo, but I've managed (at last!) to lift and cradle Toby's rear foot in my left hand whilst holding the clippers in my right.
Note: This progress didn't last. Toby decided against it.