THE METHOD I'M USING
I'm not sure how useful this page will be to anyone. If you're a breeder, presumably you will have trained young crias to lead many times already, before passing the young llama on to its next owner. And if you're a new owner, by the same token, it's usually already done. Hopefully anyway. And if you've trained a young puppy to lead, I would think there are great similarities. (If you have had experience of both, please do e-mail and tell me!)
And because I am not a breeder, but a "buyer inner", and I've never owned a dog, I have very little experience of this training. However, I have a little bit. I bought in pregnant Mary-ann who subsequently gave birth to Thomas, whom I trained...and I also bought Toby aged five months who was sold to me as "completely unhandled" due to the breeder's having being unwell for some months.
I should perhaps begin by saying that Bobra Goldsmith, in her excellent video on llama training made in the 1980's, covers the learning-to-lead side of training, exhaustively. The video, now available in DVD format, is hardly Spielberg stuff and borders on the tedious with so much repetition, but it is a thorough introduction to training. Though my basic methods are very different from Goldsmith's , I nevertheless return to her video frequently and always feel I have learned something from so doing.
I will describe my method for basic leading of the llama, viz in conditions where the animal should be expected to be fairly relaxed. It can be a very different ball-game if you want to walk him in unfamiliar areas or traffic, or with a complete stranger for example. And many animals are most reluctant to walk away from their buddies on their own, the herding instinct being so very pronounced in some camelids.
My method begins with getting the camelid halter-trained and not only that, but comfortable in my company. Also, if possible (as it was with Toby), clickerwise.
With Thomas I began lead training, believe it or not, the day after he was born! I had a little halter, made of soft yarn, around his head and I had a piece of string tied under his little chin. It was all so easy! My husband slowly led his mum round the field and Thomas wanted to follow. I dont think I really ever taught him to lead; it was a skill caught rather than taught: Thomas found out that the pressure on his nose lessened if he "obeyed" the pull of the string, and vice versa. Oh..I do recommend an early start if poss!
With Toby, it was different. Toby was a balker...you know, the llama that, feeling even the slightest pressure of the lead rope under its chin, goes into a blue funk, dances all around you and rears up. Hysterics! But I had a slight advantage over the training of Thomas, for Toby was weaned and had leant what treats were!
My final aim- and it's always a good idea in training to have a final goal -was to get Toby walking, with a loose ("washing-line") rope, and on my right with his left eye about a foot from my right. So here goes!
I began in the small pen, where most of my training starts. I spent a few, brief sessions getting him used to something being attached under his chin. At first it was just a snap clip, then a light rope with the end dangling across his back. When he was comfortable with that, I decided to attach myself to the other end. Remember, the aim was a loose rope. I would be the "tightener", Toby would be the " loosener". I began by facing him about three feet away and tightened the lead rope. Panic! I click/rewarded (C/R) the moment he was still. Repeat. Repeat.The real progress came when he made a step towards me! Not only was there the C/R, but the reward of pressure being released from around his noseband. He had made the first step in more senses than one. Much repetition followed and I increased my distance from him.
But, of-course, I didnt want to have to walk backwards with him for the rest of my life. I had to gradually change the criteria from Toby's stepping towards me to his stepping in the direction of the rope, held directly infront of him. This meant his going in a slightly different direction, from straight towards me. It also meant that I wished my arm was longer. Bit by bit, Toby was having to change direction to release pressure and earn C/R. Finally we were both facing the same way. I had turned counter clockwise through nearly 180 degrees. Then we both stepped forward, Toby to loosen the lead rope.
It was a matter of time before Toby realised that if he stepped with me, there was no pressure from the lead rope.
All this had taken several ten minute sessions over two or three days.
I then wanted to walk a greater distance than my pen allowed and I set myself for success by putting Toby in a situation where he wanted to walk. I had other llamas walking ahead of him..and we went on from there.
Incidentally, I said earlier that the goal was to have the camelid walking on my right, a foot away, eyes level and a loose lead. This is the ideal and my experience of llamas is that it is rarely achieved and even then, not for very long. I have watched llama owners walking their animals around show rings. I have watched lines of llama trekkers out on the trail. Invariably, or almost invariably, the animal, whilst under control, is invariably pulling ahead or dragging behind, distracted or attracted by something around him. For this is the nature of an animal of prey. It really seems to me that it is only with the most laid-back, if not dopiest, of animals that this goal is achieved.
Feb 26th 2011
I have been experimenting recently with Toby, an animal that is very reluctant to walk away from the Farm with me alone, ie without another llama. The aim is to get him to walk with me alone and willingly. I have had limited success. Some days he is very willing, other times it is stop-start-stop-start. I think I may be trying to do the impossible viz overcome a basic instinct, which is why I am not really succeeding. We have tried trailering him out into unknown territory.This has proved surprisingly easier, though he has never been relaxed.
April 19th 2014
Three years on and I can report that Toby has not changed one iota!
Despite all the years working with me, the instinct is still to stay with the herd and I realise that nothing I can do will diminish that instinct. And really, why should it: it is this instinct which has ensured the survival of the species over the thousands of years. It is stronger in some llamas than others. Surprisingly, I find my two females easy to lead away from the farm ( which makes them cart-driveable) despite their being far less friendly to me.
June 29th 2014
Llamas have been described as "very stubborn" and I can see why! If a llama, even one that ordinarily leads very easily, really doesn't want to go anywhere, it will freeze, back legs often apart and really dig in. Short of dragging it, lifting it (difficult!) or transporting it with something on wheels, there is no way it can be moved forward. The answer ...well there really isn't one. If one can find out, and remove, whatever is deterring the animal from being lead, then obviously this is the answer. but so often this is not possible. (Such an instance might be leading a llama into the shearing shed where it had a prior traumatic experience.)Sometimes, if it's "stop-start-stop-start", progress will happen, albeit slowly. At other times one has to give up!
I was reading what I wrote in April 19th 2014 (above) about the difficulty of leading Toby (also Dillon, Banksy and Oscar) away from the herd. I can report that nothing has changed. It's that herding instinct of course. And the girls still leave the herd by themselves, individually,with no problem..
Have tried again with Toby, leading him away from the herd wiuth a GREAT deal of encouragement and numerous treats, but very little improvement on the above experience last year. I wonder if there is a way? Or am I trying to go against what is, after all, a very basic instinct, the instinct which has ensured the survival of the species over the centuries?
If you can add anything to my work or have any questions or comments, please e-mail me.