Julie Taylor-Browne of CamelidSense writes: In part one of this article described how to identify a berserk camelid, and the preliminary steps of clicker training (positively reinforcing) the behaviour you want, such as turning their heads away from you. If they are looking away from you, aggressive animals are much less likely subsequently to spit at you, rear up or barge through you. They should also have learned about the benefits of reward based training, which promotes the release of dopamine, one of the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitters.
In this article I would like to focus on how to take more control and become your alpaca’s leader. I will also cover how to build on your newly opened channels of communication with your previously confused alpaca and how to teach it new skills, such as being haltered, led and worked over obstacles. Although it sounds unlikely, we can turn their desire to be with humans to our advantage and it is perfectly possible to have a well-trained, people focused alpaca – although I would never recommend creating a berserk alpaca in order to get one! There are much easier ways for example, see my article on Raising Babies on my website, www.carthveanalpacas.com.
At the end of the last article, we had reached a stage when we had trained our alpaca through positive reinforcement to turn its head away from us, thus significantly reducing the chance of unwanted behaviours. I had also stressed how important it was to set up a small pen, for example 1.5m x 1.5m (5 ft x 5 ft) so that you are able to interact with the alpaca within ‘protective contact’ i.e. a safer environment.
To get the animal into the pen I prefer to use bribery i.e. tempt them in by putting feed into a feeder
To get the animal into the pen I prefer to use bribery i.e. tempt them in by putting feed into a feeder. You can time your training sessions to coincide with feeding time. Feed them in their pen and whilst they are eating you can shut them in. It may take a few times of feeding them in the pen with one side of the pen open, for them to feel comfortable with you moving near them shutting them in. You may take your dustbin lid into the field whilst you do this (see part 1 for an explanation of why and how to use it).
So what is next? Although you may be satisfied with your improved safety and your animal’s better behaviour, it might be a shame not to use this great opportunity to progress further. If their early experiences have led them to want to be with humans but they haven’t yet learned the rules of being around them, I suggest that you take them through a training programme to teach them these rules.