Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Alpaca Clicker Training: The Halter Game

A fun way to teach alpacas about halters and make halter training easier is to play what I call the Halter Game.  I typically start training weanlings (about 6 months of age) about halters and start teaching them to walk nicely on halter and a lead rope. I can start the halter game as soon as the alpaca takes food from my hand.  I don't put the halter on them but I use the technique of "luring" to get the alpaca to stick their nose through the halter's nose piece.  What is great about this is that it gets them used to having the halter on their nose and they are choosing to stick their nose into the halter.  I typically will start with a larger halter than they would wear (The larger size is just to play the game.  It is important to have a properly fitted halter when it comes time to actually putting one on an alpaca).  I like to use the Zephyr or Sopris halters and I will use an adult size that has a larger opening to play this game initially.  It is larger for them to stick their nose in and not feel like it is tight around their nose.  In the beginning, I may have the halter up on my arm just so they can see it and get used to it dangling about.  I click and reward them for coming near the halter.  Once they get used to that, I slip the halter further down until I can hold it in the hand that I have my clicker in.  I use my other hand to hold the treats in and lure the alpaca encouraging them to stick their nose through the halter to get to the hand with the treats in it. 

The hardest part of playing this game is getting the coordination of holding the clicker on a side piece of the halter and holding the halter up, clicking at the moment the alpaca stick its nose through and feed with the other hand.  You kind of have to be like an octopus and grow more hands when doing some of these exercises but it can be done. 

By playing this game with your cria and weanlings prior to actual halter training, the alpacas get so used to seeing the halter and seeing it as something fun.  When it comes time to putting the halter on, it is no big deal to them.  They are already used to it on their nose which is typically the most frightening part for them.  If you think this game will take a long time to teach them, you're wrong.  I can usually get an alpaca to stick their nose through a halter for the first time in a matter of minutes if they are comfortable taking treats from my hand to begin with.  That is always the biggest hurdle in clicker training your alpacas.  Get them to take food from your hand and the rest is relatively easy. 

This game can be played with adult alpacas too.  Even experienced alpacas that have been trained to walk nicely on the halter can learn to enjoy the halter more by teaching them this game.  It will make life easier in catching and haltering the adults as well as the youngsters.

What is really fun and cute is I will train several alpacas this game at the same time and I will have 2 or 3 trying to stick their noses in the halter at the same time!  They have such a good time with that game that they literally will push each other out of the way to get their noses in the halter.  Teaching the halter game isn't just about having fun.  For those of us that are making a living at this alpaca breeding business, time is money and it takes less time and energy to halter train an alpaca if I take the time up front and teach them the halter game.  Try and it see if it doesn't work for you.  I'd love to hear from folks to see what they experience!

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