Sunday, April 22, 2012

Haltering the Untouched Llama

By Gary Kaufman, Roads End Llamas, Reprinted from the SELR Newsletter, Vol. 2 Issue 3, June 2008

One of the hardest processes I have to deal with is trying to define any given llama's spatial 'comfort zone' during any training session. If you have the ability to, create a large space, round, square, or any shape you can create fine. It's not the shape that's important at this time, just working within a space.
Time is your friend, and llama time and people time are not the same thing. The other thing that is surprisingly critical is that you keep breathing and BE CASUAL. These guys live and die by understanding the nature of body language, and anything that is interpreted as threatening will be. If you move around in your regular life briskly during tasks, keep that same pace when with him; if you are a 'slow mover' then move slow when you are with him during training. Be consistent.
So... llama is in big space with YOU in the center. Angled facing towards his head, just behind his ribcage off his flank and he should walk forward or angle away from where you are standing. Keep distance and don't chase, just 'move him out' with your body. Angled facing towards his head a bit but more off his front shoulders and with the right space between you and him, he should stop moving. Do it all slowly and from a reasonable distance. The minute he stops moving, start watching his feet, say a command ["AND STAND"] BEFORE he shifts his weight or moves a foot, then take a half step backwards, turn around and walk away. Remember the distance that was between the two of you, go get a cup of coffee and give him a very small amount of something he likes to eat in a bowl. Come back after your coffee, but BEFORE he starts stressing about being confined, and do it one more time. See if that space of his standing can shrink a bit. If it doesn't, oh well, if it does COOL. Walk away, feed him a bit more and call it a day, unless you think he is ready for more. Each time, shrink that space until you think you are close enough to touch him. When you can reach out and touch him, that is literally all you do; reach out touch him with a quick stroke and walk away. I wouldn't do it all in one day by any stretch of the imagination, but I've seen it done in under an hour with some pretty wild guys. At some point during the process, he will eventually turn into you when you turn your back and start walking away. That is a good sign. You are building a relationship of trust and leadership.
When you get to the point where he is willing to let you be within a 10 foot area, you could certainly shrink the space a bit and keep on going. The objective is to make him a willing partner in the process of being touched and handled. Then you deal with the halter.
Time, time, time and being consistent are going to be the allies in your partnership. I'm not sure I would even make this an everyday thing, but every time you have the opportunity to just "touch him" take it. You aren't trying to do any-thing. Just walk by, reach out and brush some part of his body without even stop-ping to breath.
It's hard to explain verbally, but if you ever watch horse training shows, you can apply this to that process. When you watch, listen or attend a Cathy Spalding clinic, John Mallon clinic, or Marty McGee-Bennett clinic, the single common thread you will find in all of them, although they all call it different stuff, is your positioning and placing yourself in a location of control of the space, AND using your body to assist the animal in understanding what you want him to do. That is decidedly different from what you DON'T want them to do. I suggest that you check out your local llama association. They have a lending library for members I assume, but will also probably be able to assist you with someone who is a member and might live nearby.

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