Many people ask us if it is possible to train their llamas themselves. The simple answer is "yes, you should be able to" providing of course that you have lots of time, tremendous amounts of patience and the ability to read and understand your llamas body language. The one thing that I will add to the above statement is that, if you are a naturally nervous around large animals or have little patience or a short fuse, then I would advise against trying to train your llamas yourself, because even though the llamas may be trainable, you may not have the right temperament you need to train llamas and you may end up causing the llama more harm than good. Over the years we have seen some people trying to train llamas when it is quite clear that they do not actually understanding the llamas themselves and getting things wrong, but instead of changing the way they are doing things they just persist and at the end of the day they wonder what is wrong with the llama and why it will not learn what is being taught! When things are not working, stop and look at yourself and what you are doing and how you are doing it …it is not the llamas fault.We have spent years training untrained llamas and sometimes we have had to re-educate and then train abused llamas that we have rescued and who have built a terrible fear of humans because all they can equate humans with is pain and suffering. We would never advocate an inexperienced person try and train a llama from such a background. They are big and tremendously strong animals and if you do not know what you are doing you could end up hurting both yourself and the llama you are trying to train. We train llamas on a daily basis and for those who wish to try and train their own llamas we offer the following little bits of advice:Training facilities & safetyOne of the key things you will need to consider is, where are you going to start training the llama(s). We recommend that you have a catch pen into which the llamas will happily enter and where they can be held safely and securely (We are fortunate enough to have purpose built llama stables and training areas). Then you will need a small area (training pen) in which to place an individual llama so that you can start initial halter training . We use an area 6' x 6' as this provides enough room to catch the llama and manoeuvre them within it safely. We use a double gate system which allows me to steer an individual llama into the training pen and then secure the gate. Also using the above system we can create an even smaller triangular shaped pen with a lot less room which allows me to stand outside the pen and handle the llama if needs be. Note how all the halters and leads are close at hand so that I can easily access everything I need for that session without ever having to take my concentration off the llama I am training. It also means the the llamas are used to seeing the halters and leads whenever they come into the barn every day.Of overriding importance for the training pen is the safety of both the llama and yourself. Make sure that there are no really sharp edges on which you or the llama can catch and potentially injure yourselves or items in which either of you can become entangled. Also of overriding importance is the need to be able to set the llama free quickly if something goes wrong (always be prepared for the unexpected).Whenever you are in the training pen with the llama remember a good strong llama is a powerful animal and can deliver an extremely quick and painful sideways kick (An accidental touch to a non-desensitised llama resulted in my being kicked on the hand which broke 2 of my fingers...I must add that this was entirely my fault and not the llama who was just reacting naturally to a slight touch in a place he was not expecting...we all make mistakes and making mistakes is ok providing that you learn from them and the llama does not get injured in the process. Also remember that llamas are very good jumpers and on more than one occasion I have had a llama suddenly spook for no apparent reason and jump out of the training pen. I just get them back in, calm them down and start again making sure that I evaluate what it was that I did (or what it was that happened outside the pen) that caused the llama to spook and jump in the first place.EquipmentMake sure you have the right equipment with which to train your llamas. You will need as a minimum, a halter that fits correctly and a good lead rope to fix onto the halter. There are other items which are desirable but not essential such as a stick to help guide the llama to where you want he or she to go, a small bag to hold some hard feed for rewarding, etc. Now you can spend a small fortune on this equipment if you so wish and you have money to spare, but exactly the same results can be achieved using simple and cheap items such as a small bamboo cane to help guide llamas around , a cheap £3 bum bag or shoulder bag from Amazon for holding hard feed. Remember it is how you use the equipment that counts and not how much money you spent on it!!!Bond of TrustSpend time getting to know your llamas and letting them know that you are not a threat and will cause them no harm. When you start training your llamas they will quickly form a bond-of-trust with you. You will find that they come to trust you and look to you for guidance when they are confused because they do not know what it is you want them to do or afraid. If you are afraid then they will be afraid, if you are nervous they will be nervous, if you are angry they will be frightened. When you have formed that essential bond-of-trust with your llamas it can last a lifetime or until the moment you destroy that trust.Body languageI am afraid that I and many other experienced llama owners could probably write a whole book just about body language but unfortunately I do not have the time. However, probably one of the most valuable skills you can possess for training llamas (or owning them) is the ability to read their body language and understand what they are telling you. Your llama will communicate with you using a range of body postures and sounds, get to know what they are telling you and your job will become 100% easier. I strongly suggest you spend as much time as possible just watching your llamas and noting how they interact with each other in different situations. Whenever you are near your llamas just watch very carefully how they behave when you do certain things and ask yourself why they are reacting the way they do. Also remember that different llamas may react differently to a range of situations.As important as understanding your llamas body language is acknowledging the fact that your llamas can also read your body language and this will influence their behaviour towards you as you are trying to train or handle them.Be patient and don't rush things One of the biggest mistakes many people make when trying to teach a llama to do something is that when they find they start to make a little progress they feel all elated and suddenly try and rush things and end up undoing all of the good work they have done already. It is important to remember that llamas (just like us humans) have different personalities and metal capabilities, some will be quick learners and some slow. Read their body language correctly and you will quickly get to know how very different they are.Don't lose your temper in front of your llamaNever ever lose your temper and let the llamas know about it. If you get frustrated (and oh boy you will, I promise you that now), do not lose your temper in sight of the llamas or with the llamas...if you really must let off steam, then stop the session, go somewhere where they cannot see you and shout and swear and hit the wall but never ever lose your temper with or vent your wrath on the llama. If you do this and start to shout at them, hit them or gesticulate wildly you will instantly break the bond of trust that you have worked so hard to form and you will now have a llama that fears and mistrusts you.Repetition, Repetition, RepetitionNo matter what particular training exercise you are performing with your llamas, be it haltering, leading, desensitising, brushing, trekking, fitting a pack etc, the exercise must be repeated over and over again until the llama fully understands and accepts what it is you are trying to get it to do (and that it will not be harmed in the process). If you find something is just not working then you need to stand back, assess where the problem lies (the problem may be with you and not the llama) and then re-evaluate how you will now re-approach that particular exercise. In many cases you may find that the llama simply does not understand what it is you want it to do and as such cannot comply properly. Don't forget that llamas will have off days when they just won’t get it right, just stop the session and switch to doing something else, if you try and persevere you will gain nothing...remember llamas can also be quite stubborn when they want to and if you ever try and get into a tug of war with a large male...he will win. Keep sessions short and simpleKeep your training sessions short and simple to start with. We tend to keep training sessions down to 15 - 20 minutes at a time when we start with a new trainee llama. It is tempting if things are going well to just keep pressing on with the session and move to the next step, but remember that the llama is learning something which is totally alien to him/her and need time to assimilate what he/she has learned. Devote the right amount of timeWe are very fortunate in that we have the time to devote to training llamas every day and when we start out training llamas we spend roughly 6 hours a day, 5 days a week training and we keep this up constantly for 3 or 4 months (don't forget that each exercise has to be repeated over and over again with each llama. We realise that not everyone has that amount of time on their hands to spend training their own llamas, so if you are doing your own training remember that it is no good during the early stages to teach a llama something and then expect to start off where you left off 7 days later with no interaction in between.Read, ask and ask some moreThere is a wealth of good information regarding various training methods available on the internet and through other experienced llama owners. As previously mentioned, many have different training ideas and methods that they employ to achieve their end goal. We are always receptive to new ideas and suggestions regarding llama training and constantly look at other web sites and see how other trainers are doing things, if it sounds good we will always give it a try, if it works great, if not then we just don't do it again (remember that their method may be good but we may have been applying the method incorrectly, but no one is perfect). Recognise failure, recognise and reward successTraining llamas can be long, hard and frustrating work. You will try some things which fail and it is important to recognise that this particular approach failed and try a new approach. However, when something works and you see progress, it is important to recognise that success and congratulate yourself and more importantly congratulate the llama on its success in mastering a particular task. The word "Good boy" or "Good Girl" will be something you will want to be repeating over and over again during your sessions. There is nothing more rewarding than standing watching the llamas happily grazing in the field and thinking to yourself "that was a really good training day".Have funTraining llamas day after day is hard work, but it can also be a lot of fun. If training starts to become a chore it is time to re-evaluate what you are doing and why you are doing it. Use the time constructively and enjoy what you are doing. I really enjoy love watching the different behaviours and characteristics of the llamas I am training and noting how they change as the training progresses. I find nothing more relaxing and pleasurable than taking the llamas out on a training walk a sunny day and watching them relax and start to enjoy the walk, their heads turning and watching all the things that are happening around them.For those of you who do decided to train your llamas yourself, we wish you every success and lots of fun.
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