Thursday, June 27, 2013

How To Clicker Train Your Alpaca To Take A Bow

In my last blog, I talked about how great clicker training is because animals offer behaviors when they want something.  I taught several of my alpacas the fun trick of taking a bow.  It is relatively easy to teach an alpaca this trick once they learn the "touch" command.  This is usually the first command and behavior I teach an alpaca when I begin clicker training them.  Once an alpaca takes treats from my hand, I immediately begin teaching them "touch."  I have them touch their nose to my hand and I call that "touch."

The Touch Command:  I begin with the alpaca eating from my open hand holding the treats and I am clicking each time they take a bite from my hand.  After several times letting the alpaca eat freely from my open hand, I close my hand slightly just as they are coming to my hand to take a bite.  Their momentum takes them right to my closed hand that is holding the treats and their nose touches my hand.  I click as the alpaca's nose touches my hand and then I immediately open my hand for them to get their treat.  I repeat this step several times.  Sometimes, my closing my hand, startles the alpaca or they forget where the treat is and they back off without touching my hand.  If that happens, then I go back to opening my hand for them to get a bite without my hand closing.  They need a few more clicks and reminders of where the treats are.  I try again after a few clicks with the open hand and see if they are ready to touch their nose to my closed hand.  Once they are touching my hand more readily with the treats still in my hand,  I take it another step, and have them touch my closed hand and have no treats in it.  When they touch my closed hand, I click and offer treats either with my other hand or pull out a few goodies from my pouch from the hand they touched.  This step teaches the alpaca patience in getting their treat.  It provides a slight time lag between click and treat.  This step actually starts to teach them to listen to the click and where they start realizing they are doing something to create the click.  I will close my hand and move my hand to a slightly different position.  I want to see if they will follow my hand even if there is no food in it.  If they don't and seem confused, I go back to showing them where the treats are.  I may have to go back and forth between these steps a few times.  I will give the alpaca a little more time to think about things though.  Being a little patient and see if they will touch my hand is when you will really start seeing them getting the idea of the click.  They may be tentative at first but as soon as they hear click when they touch the hand and get a treat, within a few more clicks, they have it down.  Once they start getting more proficient at the hand touch, you can use this learned behavior to now lure them to other new behaviors.

Teaching the Bow:  Now that the alpaca knows how to do the hand touch and you can move your hand to new locations, you can start luring the alpaca's head down towards your feet.  Start in small steps again.  Move your hand down to maybe your waist and click when the alpaca touches your hand.  Do that step a few times and then lower your hand a bit lower, maybe to your knees.   Any time the alpaca seems to get confused and not sure of what you are asking, go back a step or two and get them comfortable and proficient in earlier steps and then add more difficulty.  Soon you can bend down and have them touch your hand at your feet.  I like to have my hand on top of my foot because then I can transfer the hand touch to my foot.   Once the alpaca is going following the hand down to the foot and getting their click and reward, I add the words, "Take a bow." I will say the words, "Take a bow" then lure them down with my hand down to my foot.  I repeat that many times and maybe the entire training session requires the luring down to the foot.  As they get quicker and seem to grasp the idea of going down to get their click, I will say "take a bow" and then wait a moment or two to see if they will do it on their own without a lure.  If they lower their head part way without a lure, I will click.  It isn't the full bow yet, but I want to click the motion of their head going down.  It is one step closer to the final behavior I'm looking for and they did it on their own without a lure.  If they start dipping their head down and me clicking them regularly, I will go back and lure them down all the way down to my foot.  I will now tell them to "take a bow, and not click for partial bows but see if they will go all the way down.  I will continue to give them more time to see if they will figure it out on their own without luring.  Any time I see too much confusion, I go back to luring.  I will maybe lure part of the way and see if they will continue down to my foot.  But now I will only click when they go all the way down.   This is step lets them think things through more and  and challenges them.  If they start to look frustrated or confused, help them with a lure but then ask them to do it on their own the next time.  They typically get it pretty quickly if you let them figure it out.  Allowing them to think it out and have them listen for the click, is where you really begin to teach them the way of the click and they begin to realize that they are doing things to earn the click.  They will try different things to get that click.  They may search out your hand because they know they got clicks for touching your hand.  Just give them a little time to try things out. The alpaca is trying to problem solve on their own how they earned that click.  But if they are totally stuck, then go back to luring.  It is a little bit of going back and forth between letting them think about it and luring them to the desired position.

Does this sound like it will take a long time to teach?  I typically get them to learn to take a bow in one training session that lasts maybe 5 minutes!  They may not be proficient but they will at least follow my hand down to my foot and more times than not, they will do it on my voice command even in that first training session!  Alpacas are very smart and eager to learn.  They really love the clicker game.  Today, I was clicker training two of my boys to take a bow at the same time.  It is tandem bowing!  Clicker training multiple alpacas at the same time has more importance than a fun new behavior.  Read about it in my next blog.

Having Some Clicker Training Fun

Alpacas At Hum Sweet Hum
Alpaca Sales

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