Sunday, March 27, 2016
6 steps to building trust in our fuzzy little friends, the alpaca.
A tiny bit of back story.. I used to be a hard core horse person. I have ridden horses and have been around horses my entire life. I have been kicked and bit and thrown off. I have ridden in parades and on cattle drives and trail rides and western shows. when I was 16 I worked all summer to buy a 6 month old filly (baby female horse). she had never been haltered and had very little experience with humans. I brought her home and started gently working with her. In a few weeks I not only halter broke her but I was leading her all over the small town I lived in. by the time she was two she had already been in two parades and I started breaking her to ride. she taught me more than I taught her and its something that I have been able to incorporate into my alpaca adventure.
Sometimes I forget when I'm handling alpacas that they aren't like horses, they don't want to snuggle and they don't want to be scratched and petted (at least Most alpacas don't, there are exceptions) Often times I think back to when I first brought my little filly home. I sat in her pen with a bucket of grain quietly talking to her but never offering to touch her, eventually she came and touched me and then our bond began to grow in leaps and bonds. I have found this same method works great when working with alpacas!
Step 1. I found a touch Tupperware bowl that I use every single time I go out to see the alpacas. (its the same every time so they are familiar with it and they know it means treats) I always start with something that I know they like such as; Alfalfa, apples, carrots, pellets etc.
Step 2. I walk out into the middle of the pasture and sit down(sitting makes me smaller which poses less of a threat) with the bowl about 6 inches away from my lap ( alpacas are extremely curious animals they will come check out to see just what the heck you are doing out there) my neighbors probably think I'm really weird because I go out into the pasture the same time every day and sit or lay down in the middle of all these alpacas. ( I go to the middle of the pasture so that there is no confined areas)
Step 3. once the alpacas come up and check out what you are doing and notice you have treats they will all take turns spitting and yelling at each other about who is going to get the treats. let them. talk softly tell them that you have treats for them. at this point (I know its hard) I never try and touch them. they need to be confident that' you aren't like the rest of the big scary humans your cool and wont touch them they do not like to be touched'! I do this every day at least once for about a week.
Step 4. This time when you go sit in the pasture keep the Tupperware in your lap but continue the "no touch" rule. they can come eat from the container sometimes they might brush you with their ears or even step on you (it doesn't hurt) they are beginning to trust you very well. I do this step for another week or so.
Step 5. Now when I walk into the pasture I still have my Tupperware but they have to eat from my hands if they want treats. (my tupperwere has a lid or I sit with my legs over it so they cant get to it) I do this for about a week or at least a few days before moving on to step 6 however they are probably eating from your hands at the fences or at regular feeding time as well as your daily treat time.
Step 6. At this point they are confident enough around me that I don't even have to sit for our bonding time. now in order for them to get the treat they have to touch me. * note I said "they have to touch me" and not" I get to touch them"* I put one hand out offering treats and the other hand stretched out so that in order to reach the treat; the top of their head, or the side of their face, or maybe their neck has to touch my hand. I do this step for as long as it takes to get them to trust when I touch them I'm not hurting them. Some take longer than others. I have a few that will push on me and I have to make them back off and I have others that still don't really like to be touched.
One of the biggest rewards for my patients here has been when I go out into the field and everyone gets their treats and are full and happy they all lay down, 12 boys will all lay down around me some within arms length of me. I bought a herd of girls in September and then the weather turned for the season so I haven't been able to do these steps with them as long but just in the 2 weeks I have started this spring I already have one girl who lays down with me in the field.
Bonus step. By always using the same Tupperware container I can introduce new foods to them and they are less likely to reject it. for example when I first got my boys they would not even look in the same direction of an apple. and now will lay in my lap for one.