Friday, June 28, 2013

Teaching Alpacas To Take Turns: Clicker Training Isn't Just Training Tricks

In my last blog, I wrote about the steps needed to train an alpaca to touch your hand with their nose.  Once they have this behavior down, I use the hand touch to lure the alpaca into learning other new behaviors like taking a bow.  I have been training Mowgli and Olivier to take bows in unison.  The idea happened rather accidentally.  Some behaviors, I wind up teaching the alpaca come from the alpacas themselves who spontaneously perform a behavior that I think is cool and then I work on repeating it.  For the unison dual bow, Mowgli and Olivier both bent down together to take their bows and I was able to click them simultaneously and then they both ate out of my hand together.  I thought that was cute that they both bowed together and I loved that they both politely ate from my hand together.  With little effort, I was getting them to repeat the behavior.  The one thing I had to figure out was to get them both to start with their heads looking up so they would both follow my hand that was luring them downward and hope that they'd do it together.  I did the behavior a few times that first time and then walked away.  I saw that I needed to figure out a few things as the trainer to get them learn the behavior correctly so it was better that I stop and think before continuing on.  I walked away and went to my raking. 

The boys came over while I was raking and instead of going back to teaching them the unison dual bow, I worked on them doing hand touch and learning to take their turn.  It was actually the opposite of trying to teach them to do things in unison.  I wanted them to individually touch my hand when I asked the one to do the behavior.  This exercise is a very good one to work on with your alpaca.  It teaches them patience especially for those that are piggier and pushier, it teaches them their name and they do learn to take turns. 

Training positively doesn't mean being a pushover.  Setting boundaries and expecting appropriate behavior is important.  When food is involved with an alpaca, some get very excited and protective wanting it all for themselves.  The result can mean spit being launched.  I, personally, do not enjoy being hit by alpaca spit.  It is very nasty smelling and unpleasant.  I do not reward spitting behavior.  I will walk away and end the clicker game if I cannot get that behavior under control.  If the spit perpetrator continues after several clicker lessons, then I separate them out temporarily.  I will work with them on their own away from the others but I don't want them interfering and their behavior is not conducive for any of us working well together.  It can also become a negative re-inforcer.  If I allow the spitting behavior to happen, the alpacas being hit with the spit, will see clicking as unpleasant because it leads to spit fights.  So it is a behavior, I want to manage and control as best I can.  I usually know which alpacas has the tendency to spit and I try and be prepared for their body language and noise that warns me they are ready to launch.  I raise my hand and place it right in front of their nose so it is almost touching it or may even lightly touch their nose.  This movement typically startles them and they normally back off and it also usually stops them from spitting.  And if it doesn't, then it is my hand that gets nailed and not the rest of me.  I try and feed the one that I am working with and if the pushy alpaca comes back, I repeat placing my hand right up to their nose.  I then position myself so that my back is to the rude alpaca.  I try and become the barrier between the alpaca I'm working with and the rude alpaca.  The rude alpaca usually gets this body language and will finally stay behind me.  The rude alpaca is rewarded for its behavior of staying behind me with the pellets that are dribbling to the ground from the one that I have been working with.  Allowing them to pick up the remnants places their head down low and in a more submissive position and they are happy to get some treats and I am happy because they are not being rude! 

It may take a few sessions to get the rude alpaca to be more polite but if I am consistent in not engaging and rewarding their bad behavior, they usually start becoming more polite and standing a few feet behind me.  When they are polite and I'm done training the other alpacas, I will turn, acknowledge the once rude alpaca and give it a treat from my hand, but just one bite and then walk away.  Once the rude alpaca is hanging back politely regularly, I will begin clicking them and playing the hand touch game where we take turns.  I will go from one alpaca to the next saying one's name and saying it is their turn and then I click that one alpaca when they touch my hand and reward them.  I go to the next alpaca and say their name, do the hand touch and reward.  I can have several alpacas standing around me and I will turn and face the one I am working with and say their name, it's their turn and click and feed.  This teaches them their name, how to take turns, and to be patient until it is their turn.  If one tries to horn in on someone else's turn, I turn my back on them.

One other trick I learned for the pushier and spittier alpaca is to feed that alpaca around their chest area and I make them take a step back.  I will hold the treat right at their chest so if the alpaca wants to eat from my hand, they must take a step back.  This sets a boundary and provides me some personal space.  It places the alpaca in a submissive position and with their head pointing downward and they rarely spit in this position.  Head tilted back is their body language for spitting.  Head down is submissive.  So multiple important behavioral issues are being worked by doing this exercise.

Does this lesson stop spitting?  Not completely I must admit.  But it does help get those that are frequent spit offenders to learn a different behavior that is more rewarding for all of us.  To get to this point, it means that I must be consistent in not rewarding the bad behavior and maybe having to take a few spits to get them to learn what I do want.  So, although some of my clicker training is for fun teaching tricks, there are some lessons that are very valuable for having socially acceptable alpacas that are more pleasant to be around especially during treat time.   In my next blog, I am going to write about a new behavior I'm working on that I want the alpacas to learn that will be useful in the show ring. 

The boys learning to bow together

Alpacas At Hum Sweet Hum
Alpaca Sales

No comments:

Post a Comment