When we talk about training alpacas we are not talking about teaching them to fetch the morning paper or do tricks. The training needs of alpacas are much more basic. Our goal is to train ourselves and our alpacas in such a way that we develop a secure trusting relationship. This means that when we need to give shots, move individual animals, shear or train them for the show ring, we can do it in a way that causes the least amount of stress for the animal and ourselves.
The first and most important thing to consider when starting a training program with alpacas is that, unlike dogs or cats, they are prey animals and as such are naturally alert and cautious. From their point of view humans are potential predators. For this reason we must work with them in a safe and respectful manner thus encouraging trust and understanding that the tasks we are asking are not dangerous or threatening. We try never to put our animals into a situation in which they feel vulnerable.
While visiting farms to research alpacas, we were exposed to the "Corner, Grab, and Hold" method of catching and restraining. We knew immediately that this was not an acceptable approach for us. From past experience interacting with untrained dogs and cats, we've learned that working with animals that don't trust you or can't understand what you are asking, is not only frustrating for everyone involved but can be dangerous. We have come to the realization that the most valuable asset for any trainer is patience.
On one of our early farm visits we had the opportunity to see a wonderful example of a positive relationship between owner and alpacas. While we were in the barn the alpacas were comfortably milling around and allowing us to pet them. Our discussion with the owner revealed that she used the Camelidynamics method created by Marty McGee Bennett. We immediately ordered a copy of her book, The Camelid Companion, and found it to be an excellent guide, especially if you want to get into more complicated training.
Zephyr Halters were developed by Marty McGee Bennett specifically for training alpacas and llamas.
Below is a list of tips for training alpacas that we have gathered through "field" experience:
This is the catch pen we use when needing to confine our alpacas to a small enclosure. For example, breeding, preparing our animals for shearing, vaccinating, etc. It is approximately nine feet square and the sides are formed by using our regular fence, the barn and portable fencing with a gate for moving our alpacas in and out. The design was inspired by advice from The Camelid Companion.