Training Alpacas: the Key to a Healthy Relationship

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.

Llama Halter

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:

  • Always stay calm and avoid any startling sound or action.
  • Alpacas will move out of your path, so indicate where you're going and wait for them to get out of your way.
  • If you need to "herd" them, try to do so with a partner. Be sure you are both clear about the plan you have for moving them in the direction you want them to go.
  • Herding will be easier if you can use a solid guide (fence, building, etc) on at least one side.
  •  Begin herding by bringing all of the stragglers close to the main group. Alpacas are herd animals and are calmer in pairs or small groups. They do NOT like to be alone.
  • To keep forward momentum, stay between 7-8 o'clock, extend your arms, using wands to lengthen your reach, if available. Walk slowly and calmly toward your destination and the herd will keep ahead of you.
  • If you need to restrain them for shearing, giving vaccinations, etc.,  they will be calmer if you first move them into a small enclosure.
  • Use the least amount of restraint that is necessary for the task
  • Many alpacas can be  bribed and lured with food. However, don't break the bond of trust by using food as an enticement. In other words, if you must restrain them don't offer food, then quickly grab them. They will remember this next time you offer treats and may not be willing to trust you.

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.

Our Catch Pen inspired by Marty McGee Bennett

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