by Jim and Amy Logan
Haltering is a basic behavior that should be taught to every llama in your herd. Happily, by following a few simple concepts easy haltering can be an attainable goal for everyone. Here we cover one of the most traditional ways to halter your llama.
How Beats When
Effective haltering skills can be taught at any age. Fortunately, when you train is not nearly as important as where and how to train, so if you haven’t made it out there right at weaning time, don’t worry. First, set up a reliable, consistent training area. Make your schoolroom easy to herd your llamas in and out of. Allow your llama to settle in by himself, and once he is comfortable, you can begin. Talking to your llama is very important not only for bonding and trust building, but also for the future use of verbal commands
Start in a small catch pen around 10’ x 10’. Stand quietly in the pen with your llama until he is comfortable with you being in the pen with him. When he accepts your presence as “no big deal,” then start moving closer. If he moves, then stop, immediately give him the command “stand.” The llama must associate verbal cues with physical actions. Llamas don’t know what “stand” means; so in early training when the llama is standing, you say “stand.”
One of the most common mistakes owners make is to say the word “stand” while the llama is still moving. This makes the llama associate the behavior of moving around with the cue to “stand.” Work on getting closer to your llama, then begin the next step of slowly reaching out to him and stroking him on the neck while he stands. Then practice putting your right arm around his neck while he is standing, as if you were going to halter him. Your goal is to put your right arm around your llama’s neck without him pulling away from you. If he does, concentrate on releasing the pressure, because the more you pull, the more he will pull. Note – don’t forget to use your verbal rewards and praises. Once your llama stands, talk to him while petting him on the neck and then release him. Always try to release when the llama is not pulling away from you. Remember: to instill good catching habits you must show your llama that being caught is no big deal.
The age of the llama is important when considering how long to make each lesson. Younger llamas have shorter attention spans; 10 to 15-minute lessons are fairly basic when teaching catch and halter.
Try to catch your llama as described for several days in a row. By doing consecutive training sessions, the llama becomes more comfortable because he knows what to expect. After several days, this will create a more relaxed atmosphere. Each to the vet or for doing toenail trimming, shots, etc. In the beginning it is important to just catch and release. If you put a halter on and go to the vet every time you catch your llama, he may associate negative activities with being caught. Remember, you may know what you are going to do with your llama and where you are going, but he doesn’t!
Fits is Important
After your llama is easy to catch, you can start desensitizing the nose for haltering. Put your right arm around the llama’s neck and run your left hand up the neck to the cheek and slowly drift your fingers over the bridge of the nose. How far and fast you progress depends on the llama’s reaction as you do this. Most llamas will sier. Do this three or four times and end the lesson.
When you are ready to halter, be sure to choose a halter that is plenty big enough for your llama. You don’t want to get to the haltering and then find out you can’t even fit it over his nose! First, smoothly catch your llama just as you have been practicing previously. Stand with your right hip into your llama’s left shoulder, facing the same way that your llama is facing. Hold the halter in your left hand. Then put your right arm around the llama’s neck with very little pressure on the neck. Raise your left hand, (holding the halter) with deliberate speed upwards, parallel with the neck, just under the chin. Grasp the unbuckled strap on the halter with your right hand. Now you are holding the halter with both hands, this allows you to position the nose band so that it is upright and wide enough for your llama’s nose.
Move the halter from beneath the chin all the way up on the nose. Then take it off just as easily as you put it on. Depending on the llama’s reaction, it’s usually good practice to repeat the above procedure, including catching, haltering, and releasing three or four times before you buckle the halter. Save the buckling for another lesson. In the first session or two, we are just showing the llama that the approach, catch, halter, and release are no big deal. As soon as your llama accepts this procedure, do the approach and halter and then add the buckling.
When you do buckle it, you may leave it on for a 5 – 7 minutes, so that the llama can get used to how it feels. A proper fitting halter will not squash the llama’s nose or work up into his eyes. After the halter has been on for a few minutes, approach and release the llama.
When working with your llama, be sure to avoid the chase game. This inevitably causes more stress, making it more difficult to create a positive learning atmosphere. Limit your llama’s mobility. Smaller pens allow for more intimate interaction. If you are using ropes, bribes, or extra accessories, remember! There is nothing wrong with finding different ways to get the desired results. But all of these helpers must eventually be faded away in order to get your finished behavior, stress-free haltering.
The more you use a crutch or a bribe, the harder it will be to get rid of it later.
Keep safety in mind. While it may be easy for you to use force when working with the younger llama, physical force with an adult llama is a different story. Llamas of any age are extremely strong, it is better to use your head instead of depending on your muscles! It is important that you put in your time percur during the process.
They Have Their Reasons
This building of trust will only help you in future training, particularly when introducing new and potentially scary things. The llama with haltering problems has a reason for his behavior. His behaviors are in place today because they have worked well for him in the past. Raising a nose up high in the air to avoid the halter, flinging the halter off and running away as soon as the halter is unbuckled, or running away from you as soon as he even sees a halter, have all been effective behaviors for him to avoid unpleasant situations in his previous life. It is your job to teach him that haltering can be fast, easy, and tolerable, if not pleasant.
Again, use your environment to your advantage. Don’t get into trtable with you, and realizes that raising the nose is no longer effective, you can lower your step stool object and height until you are eventually catching a normal llama at a normal height. It just takes a little time and patience to gradually reach the desired behavior.
Use Slow Hands
For those halter-flinging llamas who love to fling their heads and run away the moment you are even thinking of releasing the halter, take it slow. Be prepared for what you have experienced in the past, you can sense and feel the muscles changing in the llama’s neck and face before he flings his head. Keep adequate pressure on while releasing the halter, and release it as quickly as possible, retaining control of the llama for just a moment after unbuckling, and before removing the halter. You know what is coming, so just start slowly, accepting a millisecond of control after unbuckling, and slowly increase the amount of time you retain control after unbuckling. Eventually, you’ll be able to release your llama and retain control for several moments after removing the halter.
So how long does all this take? The speed of your progress is directly related to your approach and how your llama responds. Most llamas can learnroaching, catching and haltering and get it down and very familiar before you progress to adding a lead rope, or going for a walk. You don’t have to put up with poor haltering habits. Show your llama that there is always a better way!
This article originally appeared in Llama Life II Issue No. 53, Spring 2000.