Cria halter training
Alpacas instinctively do not like to be touched so training must overcome this. Essentially it is a matter of desensitisation, a process that involves repeating the same action until the animal is comfortable with it. It always takes many short, calm sessions and lots of patience. As with all animals, some alpacas are brighter than others and therefore easier to train. This must be allowed for and our experience is that assertive crias do take longer and training males is easier than females. All breeders will have their own techniques for this training and a review of YouTube cria training videos has shown a wide range are used - some much gentler than others. We want our cria to develop trust with us and over the years have found the following to work at our farm.
From an early age, our practice is to start handling them when they are with their dams in the shelter. Initially, this is simply touching and stroking the neck - this leads to running a hand down their back and after a number of sessions, there is a level of trust and the cria can be caught and gently held. Catching and holding is needed early on to inject vaccines, vitamin D etc, discussed on this website in Alpaca Welfare. Touching and rubbing the head, lips and ears can then begin and it’s sometimes possible to discover that the cria has a particular spot they enjoy being rubbed! Being able to touch all parts of the head is important, not only for halter fitting but also should a vet need to examine the eyes or the mouth. If the animal is taken to a show, the teeth to hard palate alignment will be assessed by the judge so you must also be able to part the lips.
When this point is reached, the halter can be introduced to the cria. We start with simply allowing it to see and smell the halter but in later sessions we touch it against the nose and face without actually fitting it. Only when there is no avoidance of the halter is it placed over the nose - raising it from beneath the cria's head rather than lowering it from above. If the cria is calm when the halter nose band is rested on the upper nose, it is buckled up for a short period otherwise more sessions will be needed. The halter must be appropriately sized and correctly adjusted - if it is not and restricts nasal breathing, the cria will panic and then be fearful of the halter. It is advisable to re-check the tightness as thicker fleece behind the head may give the impression that the halter is correctly fitted. However, the neck band may settle into the fleece and the halter will loosen off.
The touching and rubbing of the crias body should eventually extend to down the legs to the feet - this is useful as it makes examination of the legs and future toenail trimming much easier. By six to eight months, your cria should be easy to halter and be comfortable standing still on a lead.
Horse owners might recognise the following technique for teaching an alpaca to walk comfortably on a lead, a similar method works very successfully on this farm. Once again, a calm manner, a quiet voice and lots of patience is needed and many short sessions are better than fewer long ones. Each session should finish on a successful note as this will make the following one easier.
Training starts in a small pen, ideally 3 x 3 metres and with other alpacas nearby. Once your cria is haltered and on a lead, you should stand to the animal's side and with half a metre of lead between you and the cria, gently pull the lead which will cause the cria to step sideways in order to maintain its balance. The process should be accompanied by a clicking sound and on moving, the reward for the alpaca is the immediate relaxation of the tension on the lead. Returning to the cria's side will allow you to repeat the process and this should be done from both sides. At the end of each session, the halter is gently removed but the cria held for a few seconds before release.
Most cria will resist your attempts to make them move and will kush or even roll in protest! In all cases, getting them to quietly stand again on the halter is essential. Once this can all be done easily, the next step is teaching forwards motion.
For this, a larger enclosure can be used (if you have one) otherwise somewhere close to their herd. Once haltered and standing by the side of the cria facing the direction you want the animal to go, the following is suggested:
- Make a clicking sound,
- Gently pull the lead. Some will naturally take a step but most will resist so starting with the off-balance moves as above may be needed.
- Relax the lead when a step is taken. Some crias will be obstinate and gentle pressure on their rear quarters can provoke movement - occasionally they may jump around.
- Wait 5 - 10 seconds before repeating. Obviously, as the cria starts to understand what is wanted, more stets should be taken before a longer lead is given.
It is important that each time the cria takes a step, the lead is relaxed - this is the cria's reward for the required behaviour, not being stroked or being spoken to. In all cases, resist the urge to pull hard on the lead, being haltered and expected to guide on a lead is a lot for a youngster to take in. Short sessions are much better than longer ones and after a few the cria will grudgingly understand what is required. Further practice will overcome their reluctance and walking on the halter and lead will be second nature for them. Once learned, alpacas do not forget how to walk on a lead.
It has been our experience that trained boys are much more curious and adventurous than girls and can readily be introduced to walking across new surfaces, such as smooth concrete, gravel, carpets and veranda boards and into to unfamiliar places such as buildings. We have also taken groups of boys for road walks
which they really seem to enjoy. Exposure to different places and stimuli is always valuable and excellent preparation should you want to take the animal to show where the noise and penning areas are unfamiliar.
Back to the top
Quick page links: