Sunday, September 29, 2013

Alpacas at Hum Sweet Hum Blog: Schubert is In A Good Way

Alpacas at Hum Sweet Hum Blog: Schubert is In A Good Way: I knew Schubert was going to have a special role in life from very early on in his life.  He was unique from the first days on this earth.  ...

Schubert is In A Good Way

I knew Schubert was going to have a special role in life from very early on in his life.  He was unique from the first days on this earth.  He was so curious and unafraid of people.  He was actually too unafraid.  As he got a month or two old, I had to start setting consistent boundaries.  He thought we two-leggers were alpacas and would do the foot biting and wanting to neck wrestle and chest butt thing with us that is typical mostly male behavior.  Most of my normal techniques to get an overly friendly alpaca to be more respectful didn't work.  I was worried about him becoming what they call a berserk male alpaca syndrome where once the hormones kick in, the male goes crazy on you without notice and can be very dangerous.  I even spoke to the vet about gelding him at a younger than normal age.  However, the consistent training and setting of boundaries worked.  The one thing he did love so much were visitors especially young children.  He was very gentle with them.  I was very watchful and careful during visits but he was always so gentle.  I knew if I could train and get rid of the undesirable behavior and keep the wonderful qualities he showed, he would become a great ambassador and possible therapy alpaca for someone. 

Schubert was a young boy when he met Teddi from In A Good Way.  This organization and non-profit is such a great group helping men that have various challenges and they teach farming skills and mentor these men.  They are located now in Oklahoma.  When Teddi came to visit, she was still seeking their farm and I was politicking for them to come to Oregon.  However, they found the perfect spot in Oklahoma and I told her when she was ready for her place, Schubert would make a great ambassador for them.  It took a couple of years for it all to come together but this summer, Schubert and Tecumseh, a friend from another farm, left for Oklahoma. 

Rocky is one of Schubert's first clients.  Rocky has a traumatic brain disorder and is now coming to the farm to visit Schubert and learn various farm skills.  I was sent the picture of Schubert and Rocky and my heart filled with such joy and pride in Schubert for his the job and role I knew he could do.  It has been such an honor knowing Teddi, Greg and In A Good Way.  I'm humbled with the amazing work they are doing and growing into.  I can't wait to hear what more good work Schubert will be doing. 

Schubert (black alpaca) looking intently at Rocky (two-legger) and becoming fast friends.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Alpacas at Hum Sweet Hum Blog: Planting the Seeds of Clicker Training

Alpacas at Hum Sweet Hum Blog: Planting the Seeds of Clicker Training: I've had so many wonderful comments and feedback on my new book, Alpacas Don't Do That .  I was asked how I got started with my clic...

Planting the Seeds of Clicker Training

I've had so many wonderful comments and feedback on my new book, Alpacas Don't Do That.  I was asked how I got started with my clicker training and alpaca adventure.  I can actually pin point the catalyst that led me to where I am right now.  I'm sure there are many, but this particular moment caught me on the clicker training path.  When I got my dog Wiley, he was quite the handful as a puppy.  I knew it would be imperative to get us into classes.  This puppy was smart and for both our survival, he needed to have that smartness directed into doing good behavior or else he'd find his way into mischief very quickly.  I went to a local Petsmart to shop with Wiley and had him in the cart as we looked around at toys and dog food when the store instructor came over and greeted us.  She informed me about the classes she held and if I was interested.  She'd love for us to join in the puppy training class.  I took a handout and calendar and signed up as soon as Wiley was old enough.  I admit to having some misgivings about using the Petsmart training since I wasn't sure how good it was going to be.

I happened to land into a class with one of the best dog trainer's one could ever ask for.  Liz had incredible experience and she used this clicker.  I was amazed what she could get the dogs to do.  I was all thumbs in the beginning and I was not convinced that this little toy that clicked was offering any more than me saying good.  I was not an instant believer in the system and methodology.  But, I did see what Liz could do and was impressed and because I saw what she could do, I was willing to be open about what this little clicker could do.  I listened to her advice and tried the training at home when we practiced.  Wiley certainly responded to it a lot better than me constantly tell him "No."  He actually thought his name was "WileyNo!" for the first few months of his life.  It was in teaching Wiley to walk nicely and heel on our walks that I became a clicker training convert.  I had been reluctant to trying the clicker when we went for walks.  It was awkward and I couldn't get the coordination going myself and I just wanted to go for walks.  But our walks turned out to be about me not getting my arm yanked out of its socket than a walk.  I was frustrated by the end of our walks until I decided to give the clicker a try.  Suddenly, Wiley got what he was being asked to do and I was becoming more consistent with what I asked of Wiley.  In days we progressed more than all the weeks of me trying without the clicker.  I saw Wiley's attention and eyes light up as he finally got what I was asking of him and he was so eager to please once he understood what it was I was asking.  The clicker told him when he was doing it right and he loved getting that feedback and praise.  Suddenly our walks became fun.  I was sold on the clicker.

I took every class Liz offered and I wanted to learn more.  She told me about a Clicker Expo in Los Angeles area and I signed up to attend.  I went to workshops for dogs and for the fun of it, went to a workshop for equine clicker training.  I didn't own horses but I was curious to see how they did it.  It was fascinating and the instructor had one of us be the horse and the other be the human trainer.  We didn't get to practice on a real horse in this setting, but it I learned techniques in that seminar that I use today with my alpacas.

It was during this period of my life that I was counseling children too and I was bringing Wiley into our sessions.  My goal was to get him trained as a therapy dog to help me work with these children.  That goal was derailed a bit by life circumstances, but it opened up another aspect to clicker training.  I discovered TagTeach which is a fantastic method working with children.  Such a positive, exciting and effective way of teaching.

Learning clicker training and handling my dog using this positive reinforcement way, created the path for my becoming an alpaca farmer, and it became a philosophy and way of life.  That chance meeting with Liz in Petsmart was that moment that presented the opportunity for something amazing and huge.  It led to the greatest passion of my life with my alpaca farm.  That is the power and beauty of positive reinforcement energy.  It can plant a seed that we don't know if, when or how it will grow and what it will produce.  As the teacher of this method, I may never know what impact it may have on those learning this new skill.  When I was interning to become a therapist, I worked mostly with children and I would often feel so helpless with some of the overwhelming issues these children faced.  My supervisor would offer these words of comfort and advise.  She spoke of us planting a seed and and that we are showing these children there is a different way of being.  That short little snippet of time could be planting that seed of hope that perhaps years down the road will lead them to healthier choices and life.  We, as therapists, would never know if that seed every would grow.  All we could do was hope and nurture that seed as best we could for the time we had with our clients.  So it was with Liz planting that seed of information on clicker training.  Those seeds grew into this new life with alpacas, writing books and blogs on positive reinforcement and having it as a life philosophy and way of being.  I could never say thank you enough to Liz for planting that seed.  All I can do is hope to pay it forward.

I prefer to be around people who believe I can and stay away from those who say I can't.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Having Lots of Tools For Alpaca Training

In my previous blog on the subject of working with Johnny Be Good, I wrote about having to break my rule of waiting for cria to be curious and start trusting me before I work with them.  My instincts and observations with Johnny were showing that he was going to stay aloof and he was displaying a behavior I didn't want to encourage.  He was kicking at me when he thought he was getting away from me and if I did have to catch him for his well baby checks, he had even landed a kick or two.  It maybe cute as a baby, but not cute as they get older!  I wanted to modify that behavior while he is still young.  Behaviors are easier to modify often at this age.  That behavior hasn't been reinforced over time so not as strongly imbedded.

If an alpaca isn't clicker trained yet, not food oriented, then what?  That is when having more tools in the box is really nice.  Having TTouch, Reiki, Healing Touch for Animals and using my intuition becomes more important and very handy.  Catching Johnny Be Good yesterday and doing TTouch and using deep calming breathing techniques with him, showed again the value of these other positive, gentle and respectful methods.  Johnny did not leap away from me nor did he kick at me.  I held him gently and used TTouches at the notch of his ear and gently massaged his neck right at the base of his scull.  I could feel his body relax somewhat.  Then I did several deep calming breaths.  He relaxed even more after he felt the calming breaths.  As soon as I felt his body shift, I let him go before he decided to squirm again.  I do my best never to release when they are squirming and trying to get away.  I want calm and quiet releases with good manners to the end.  I don't want to reward the squirm especially after he already has learned that jumping and kicking at me has worked to get away before.  This builds trust between us even without the food motivation and reward.  Although the catching is unpleasant and he doesn't like to be held, nothing else bad happens to him.  He feels something that feels actually kind of good (even though they are often loathe to admit it!).  And in just a few moments, when he relaxes, he is rewarded with being let go. 

We are going to get more practice in being held soon.  The time to begin our oral Vitamin D regimen is about to begin.  I dose my cria every two weeks with Vitamin D.  Since our days are growing short, we don't get much Oregon sunshine in the winter, so these nicely dense alpacas must get the supplement.  Many like the taste however, I suspect, Johnny Be Good may join his buddy Charango in the drama award for taking his vitamins though.  Time will tell! 

Calvin Loves His Vitamin D.  He comes back asking to lick the syringe!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Bad to the Bone's Johnny Be Good: Teaching Him To Be Good

Johnny Be Good in the back and Lady Marmalade in the front
 My first cria of the year is a cute suri who lives up to his name of Bad to the Bone's Johnny Be Good.  When I have a cria, I like to minimize how much I handle them in order to gain their trust.  There are the essential tasks I must do such as weights and his well-baby checks.  But unless I need to do more, I hold off handling them much.  It is really hard to do because they are adorable and so incredibly soft.  Johnny Be Good is a goofy guy who loves to play and run but is not warming up to me.  My other cria, Lady Marmalade is becoming more social.  She is curious and will come and snuffle my face and hair.  She will even let me pat her lightly.  She is getting more used to it and doesn't run off.  But Johnny still keeps his distance and jumps if I move towards him even if I'm not doing anything with him. 

The other day I had to do a well-baby check on them and as I let Johnny go, he kicked up and gave me a little swat with his rear leg.  I decided that some behavior modification work was required because I was inadvertently reinforcing his bad behavior of kicking at me every time I let him go or he thought I was going to catch him.  He was doing this kick behavior too regularly near me.  This is not behavior I want to encourage or have with any of my alpacas.  So, I broke my rule of what I normally do of being patient and going their speed to gain their trust.  My being pays off probably 95% of the time but once in awhile I get an alpaca that never warms up to being around humans and I have made the mistake of waiting too long and not showing them that even though they don't like being handled, it doesn't have to be scary.  If I wait until I have to handle them and do something unpleasant, then it proves in their mind that they were right to be wary of me.  However, if I handle them and all I do is some light TTouches and breathing energy work with them and then let them go quietly, at least they know that not all handling is awful. 

I had Johnny in a good place where I could catch him a couple of times.  I touched his legs and body lightly and gently.  I waited until I felt his body relax and released him when he stopped squirming.  When I released him, he gave me the kick routine but this time missed me.  Still it wasn't the behavior I wanted and he was still in the spot that was easy for me to catch him up.  I caught him a second time and repeated touching his legs and body lightly and did a little TTouch on his neck to quiet him.  I took several deep breaths to help calm him further.  I felt his body relax and I let him go.  This time, he walked away without a kick.  I rewarded him by walking away this time.  His ears were pinned back and he ran to his momma and stood on the other side of her looking at me warily. 

I caught Johnny again this morning before he went out to the big pasture for the day.  He was not happy about it but I repeated touching his legs and body.  He didn't squirm as much and when I released him, he walked away nicely.  I'm being more patient with Lady Marmalade and touching her lightly when I have the opportunity.  She is already eating pellets so I know it won't be long before she and I are best buddies playing the clicker game and I can follow my normal training methods with her.  I haven't seen Johnny eating pellets yet so he may take after his daddy who is not a super interested in treats.  Johnny may not look like Bad to the Bone but he definitely has his temperament.  Hopefully, Johnny will learn to like his pellets more like Mom, Grandma and Lady Marmalade so I can be more effective in teaching him the clicker games.  In the mean time, he is learning at least not to be such a goofball when caught.  No kicking allowed.  I much rather say, Good Boy Johnny than Johnny, Be Good!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Alpacas at Hum Sweet Hum Blog: Knowledge Speaks, But Wisdom Listens: Ideas for R...

Alpacas at Hum Sweet Hum Blog: Knowledge Speaks, But Wisdom Listens: Ideas for R...: I just had a brainstorm how using alpacas to host business team-building training camps.  It would be great way for business to learn import...

Knowledge Speaks, But Wisdom Listens: Ideas for Running Business Teambuilding Training Using Alpacas

I just had a brainstorm how using alpacas to host business team-building training camps.  It would be great way for business to learn important interpersonal skills.  Managers and supervisors as well as employees could learn a lot by working with alpacas for a day or two.  If a survey is done in most companies, I'd bet money that the first item that would be identified as needing worked would be "Communication."  I love that term.  It is so ambiguous yet everyone thinks each other knows what the other is talking about, yet we rarely grasp the true intent of what is being said.  That old "telephone" game comes to mind where one person whispers a sentence or two in someone's ear who then whispers it to the next person and so on.  The statement comes back as something totally different by the time it comes back to the original person. 

When I was working in an office setting and had to go through effective communication classes, most of the exercises involved learning how to make better statements.  Learning how to be assertive is all valuable, but I was struck that I rarely experienced any training on the other very important element of communication.  Listening is as important a skill or perhaps more so than saying something clearly.  We are a society of terrible listeners.  That skill is becoming more and more absent with technology it seems.  I remember a leader at the place I worked who defined being a good listener as making sure the employees listened to us managers when we communicated with them.  Argh!  It was funny yet sad because I ventured to say that many others interpreted the definition of listening that way.  No wonder communication is always what comes up as needing to be worked.

How would working with alpacas help someone learn to communicate better?  Alpacas can't speak English last time I checked.  They hum and although I can interpret some of their hums, it wouldn't help with business communication issues.  But, because they don't use the English language, people can't use their words to communicate with an alpaca.  If I had an exercise of having two or three workers from supervisors to worker bees having to collaborate together WITHOUT using any verbal or written communication to move an alpaca or herd from one place to another, how would they go about it?  They'd have to use their body language.  Not only would they need to use body language and learn to listen more carefully to each other, they would have to observe and listen to the alpacas' body language.  The participants would start recognizing signals from each other.  Is someone irritated because they weren't being listened to?  Is someone that would normally be overbearing in their words become on more equal footing because they have no words to drown out the others?  So much could be gleaned and discussed afterwards in helping that so important yet deteriorating skill of listening by working with alpacas.  I know my listener has improved dramatically by working with them. 

To enhance listening even better, teaching people how to catch and hold an alpaca using my positive reinforcement techniques would be very valuable.  First, learning to catch means being respectful of the alpaca being caught.  I use catch pens and because I know that an alpaca can't get very far away if they are in the catch pen, I let them "get away" from me until I can tell they are starting to relax.  Then I use my body language to steer the alpaca to a corner.  Some have a favorite spot they prefer to be caught.  I want them to know they can escape if they need to in the beginning and after a few laps circling about, they realize the gig is up and they stop.  I can walk up quietly and calmly, gently touching their neck to hold them.  Once caught, I would show the business camp attendees how to hold the alpaca and maintain the alpacas balance.  When one is the holder they have several jobs.  One is to make sure the person trimming nails or performing the treatment is safe.  Second, they are responsible for keeping the alpaca calm.  The main way to do that is to keep the alpaca standing in balance.  They also need to feel the alpacas body to know how stressed they are and work at breathing and staying calm themselves.  The alpaca being held will feel that and calm too, but if the person holding is scared, stressed, and not fully breathing, that information is being communicated to the alpaca and what the alpaca hears is that it should be scared.  As managers and leaders, if you are needing your employees to follow you, wouldn't you need to follow the example of the alpaca holder to get your employees to feel your confidence in what you are communicating to them? 

If nothing else, if people just learned that listening is a really good skill to learn.  It would improve the workplace settings plus it sure wouldn't hurt in other interpersonal relationships!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Emmy's and Alpacas

I'm not much of a television watcher.  I don't know who most of the actors or shows that are nominated.  I got to thinking though, if my alpacas were to win an Emmy, who would win and for what category.

For Best Actor in a drama, the winner is Charango!  He makes such a fuss after getting his Vitamin D or any other oral treatments.  He is very dramatic about coughing and sputtering.  
For Best Comedy, the winner is Aria.  She knows how to have a hay day.
For Best Song, the winner is Misty Morning singing "Humbody To Love"
For best action show, the winners are Schubert and Bad to the Bone.
And for Best and Cutest in Shows, the winners are Charango, Calvin, Speirit Light and Jujube

Saturday, September 21, 2013

New Toy For The Alpacas: The best $4 Investment

Carrots in the dog toy

Walking down the aisle of the grocery store the other day, I came across this dog toy.  A flash of inspiration hit me.  Those holes are the perfect size to put carrots in them and I can hang it on the fence and let the alpacas have fun trying to get the carrots out of the toy.  It will be a carrot puzzle!  It wasn't very expensive and I figured if it didn't work at all, the dogs would get a new toy.  I tossed it in my cart and picked up more carrots to go home with and try my experiment.

Olivier, Calvin and Mowgli like this new toy!

As you can see from the above picture, the dogs are not going to enjoy this toy!  It was a hit.  What is great about it now, is that I see the boys going over to the toy without carrots and still nibbling at it and trying to figure out where the carrots are.  They have some mental stimulation and something to do whether there are carrots in there or not.

I love when one idea leads to more ideas.  After feeding the gang the other night, I saw Olivier hanging out near the toy.  I had a little bit of pellets left in my bucket and I had the idea of trying to teach the boys to touch the toy with their noses.  I went in with my bucket.  I didn't have my clicker handy but I used my tongue to make the click noise instead.  I lured Olivier to the toy with a handful of pellets so he would touch the toy to get to the pellets.  I clicked my tongue and gave him a few pellets.  Calvin saw what was going on and I lured him over and did the same.  As one chewed, the other came over to touch the toy.  Calvin caught on quickly and would bounce the toy he was so eager to touch it.  Both boys were having a blast touching the toy and they were catching on quickly.  Mowgli came over too and I tried teaching all three the game.  It was a bit crowded to get a good position for all three so Mowgli had to wait a bit which was good training for him in learning patience.   I spent no more than 5 minutes with them playing the game and ended before they got tired of it.  I still had a few more chores to get done and it was starting to get dark.  As I finished the remaining chores, I walked past the boys and noticed that Mowgli and Olivier were still standing at the toy staring at it.  I burst out laughing because they looked as if they were still waiting to see how the magic pellets would come out of it.  That game was a hit!

Last night, I worked with Olivier more on the touching the toy game.  The others were still in the stall so it was just the two of us.  I was able to be more patient with my lures to see if he could figure it out without luring.  It wasn't but a few clicks that I saw the light bulb go off in his head and he knew what I was asking him to do and he started to consistently touch the toy with his nose when asked to touch it.  I didn't need to lure him anymore.  He knew touching the toy meant click and treat.  More ideas of how I could use this simple toy floated in my mind.  I can send the boys to touching the toy.  I'm standing at the toy for now, but once they learn the cue, I can start moving further away.  The benefits of teaching them to go touch a target from a distance is immeasurable.  If training to load in the car or transport, you could hang the toy in there and teach them to go touch the toy which is something they know and enjoy doing.  It's a game so going into something scary or different may be lessened because of knowing this game.  The toy becomes the lure instead of the pellets.  For catching, if I have a toy hanging where I like to catch them, I can send them to the toy and target to stand.  I'm sure there are lots of other ideas this can be so beneficial but haven't thought of them all yet.  Best of all, it is something they enjoy doing and giving the boys some mental stimulation helps reduce negative behaviors.  If they are bored, the fighting and other undesirable behavior tend to pop up. 

My $4 dog toy investment was well worth it!  The boys and I are having a blast and we are learning new things that will make life easier on the farm.  If something will do that, I will spend $4 any day!

Hanging the toy so it bounces make it more a challenge.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Overcoming Fear to Becoming An Alpaca Farmer

When I was studying for my Master's Degree, we had to read the book, Denial of Death by Ernest Becker.  The one thing that struck me and sunk in from reading this book was that fear is really the fear of death and dying.  Fear serves an important purpose.  When we were hunters and gatherers, a healthy dose of fear of dying kept us alive and being vigilant and aware of dangers lurking, waiting ready to eat us if given the chance.  Even though most of us don't need to live in that kind of state of fear, that innate emotion and function is still there.  We use it still to protect us from danger, but we humans have evolved and fear emotion represents more than the fear of death.  Yet in the unconscious, or in Jungian depth psychology terms, in the shadow of our mind, when we feel fear, it is often that same aspect and memory trigger that says we are in survival mode.  That is what stops us from moving ahead.  We have that clang like the train crossing alarms that we need to stop and be safe.  I felt that kind of fear many times when I was hunting for property.  I would find a place that was a possible locale and I'd get this gut wrenching knot in my stomach and felt absolute and abject  terror.  It would leave me shaking and shaken.  It was so bad a few times that I questioned if this dream I had was really what I wanted.  Was it just the fantasy of having a place?  The moment it seemed to become a reality, the fear was as if I was facing something that was going to kill me.  It was that same fear state. 

I would come home dejected and depressed thinking that my desire to find acreage and my own farm was just a folly and fantasy.  But, then I'd go out and be with my alpacas where I boarded them.  I'd sit with Jamilah and sort through what it was I was so afraid of.  My left brain would kick in and I'd have those basic concerns of could I really take care of my animals all on my own?  What would happen if someone took sick or injured and I had no one to help me?  Could I make a living doing this?  Could I take care of a farm and that much property?  I've tended a small yard and lived in the comfort of a city and all its services, so what was I thinking that I could tend 5 or more acres?  Did I want to leave all my friends and this life that was comfortable, easy and known?  What I was looking to do was completely unknown.  I had my fantasy of what it would be, but what would happen if reality was totally opposite of the fantasy?  The list of questions and concerns were overwhelming.  And although those were all healthy and normal fears and concerns, they didn't fit with that gut wrenching fear I was experiencing.  There was something beyond my cognition that was driving it.

Then one day, I was meditating and got out of my left brain.  I allowed myself to feel the emotion of fear and not the dialogue and self-talk that went with it.  I knew this feeling because I had it before, so I allowed myself to bring back the memories of other times I had that kind of fear.  I started to remember many unpleasant times including the one that probably started that emotion. When I was eleven years old, I saw my father pass away suddenly.  That was raw emotion and fear.  It was true fear of death.  Not only fear for the one that I loved so dearly, but fear of what that meant for me, my mom and sisters.  I stayed with that feeling for awhile and then took another deep breath to ease the discomfort of the memory and then brought up how we survived and went on living.  We didn't stop growing and building a life for ourselves.  We moved forward even with the large hole in our hearts that was left by my dad's passing.  We moved on for ourselves and for him. 

It took nearly a year of sorting through and experiencing that deep and raw fear before I fully understood where it was coming from.  Once you can bring to the consciousness the real memory triggering that fear state, then it creates a paradox.  I became aware of what caused that dear in the headlight, frozen fear state and with it being understood, I had to choose if I wanted to stay frozen or make the move.  It became a conscious and willful choice.  After I became aware, the choice became easier.  I still felt anxiety and fear but it was more normal and manageable amounts.  It wasn't that primal fear that something was out their lurking ready to eat me up. 

I imagine we have all experienced that primal fear state.  It is what holds us back and limits us.  It can serve a purpose, but it can also keep us from living life to the fullest.  It is definitely not easy looking into those scary shadowy parts of our psyches.  However, I for one, am glad I did.  And as I look out at my pastures and alpacas, waiting for my next cria to arrive any day now, I picture my dad whom I miss as much today as I did when I was eleven.  I can smell a whiff of the tobacco pipe he used to smoke and I know he would be proud of me and love my alpaca farm.

My family: (from left to right) Ilene, my dad Julian, Sally (back), Mom Katherine, Hannah and me sitting on mom's lap

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Alpacas at Hum Sweet Hum Blog: Press Release for Alpacas Don't Do That

Alpacas at Hum Sweet Hum Blog: Press Release for Alpacas Don't Do That: It is official and the book is out and being marketed.  It is such an exciting time.  Yesterday, the press release was picked up by Alpaca C...

Press Release for Alpacas Don't Do That

It is official and the book is out and being marketed.  It is such an exciting time.  Yesterday, the press release was picked up by Alpaca Culture Magazine's website.  If you like what I've been blogging about, I would so appreciate folks sharing the information on finding my book.  I'm so passionate about training and doing energy work with alpacas.  It has been the most rewarding work of my life.  I hope people enjoy the stories in my book, Alpacas Don't Do That.  My book can be found on Amazon and for those in Europe, Amazon UK

Working with alpacas has been such a life altering, improving, crazy, fun, heart-wrenching, scary, amazing, stupendous, wonderful plus a ton more adjectives kind of experience.  If someone had asked me 10 years ago I'd be living on a farm taking care of a 40+ alpaca herd, I would have told them they were crazy.  Yet, here I am doing just that and loving each and every day including the really hard ones.  I have one main goal I live by.  If I am true to that goal, I don't need other goals because they will happen automatically.  That goal and aspiration is to get to that moment right before I take my last breath on this earth and be able to look back and say to myself, I have lived without having regrets.  That is my goal - to have as few regrets as I can when I reach the end of my life.  That doesn't mean I live life safely.  As matter of fact, it means the opposite.  It means that when I am deciding on whether to go after something, whether it is a career, friendship, trip to someplace, buy something, etc, I will go through a decision process and ultimately the deciding factor is "will I regret doing or not doing this?"  If the answer is I will regret not doing it, then I go for it and I go for it with the best of my abilities.  If I succeed, that is awesome.  If I "fail," I do my best to learn from it and know that I gave it my best shot and I am happy I gave it a try because I would have regretted not doing so.  I rather fail at something knowing I tried than wondering about the "what if's." The ultimate motivation to building my farm was that fear that I would forever regret not trying.  Because I took that risk and chance, no matter whether I make a financial success of this business or branch off into other work someday, no one can take away the last few years that have been one heck of a ride and have led me to believe that I can set the bar pretty high in going after my dreams.  The limits are what we impose on ourselves. 

It is ironic in some ways that coming to Oregon broke free a limitation I was living by.  I had the safe career and was existing just fine but had no passion in any of it.  I was just living each day but there was such a sense of emptiness.  I knew something was missing but didn't know what.  Then alpacas came into my life and that feeling of emptiness went away and was replaced with such a full heart and passion.  Yet, being human, and loving routines and getting into ruts, I was back going through the motions of running the farm.  The restlessness started to set in again because the activities I was working on to market my business were what was expected but not who I really am.  They weren't those things that make my alpacas and my farm unique and fit my personality.  And then I decided to finally finish this book that has been in the making and writing for years.  Because of that, my passion for alpacas and my farm has been re-ignited and I'm even more in love with it than before.  Thanks to writing the book, I was able to look back at what I so enjoyed doing and made me fall in love with this business in the first place.  I haven't gone BACK to where I started, but moved FORWARD taking what I had started with.  I sense such a huge change coming in my business and life and just as I wasn't sure what to expect when I arrived in Oregon, I'm not quite sure where this is all leading me.  I suspect I will need to buckle my seat belt because it could be a real fun ride ahead.  And that is ok, because I am not living with limits or regrets!

My wonderful Hum Sweet Hum Herd

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Bully Behavior in Alpacas

I read an interesting article written in Psychology Today that discussed bully behavior in animals.  This article described how it was observed how a monkey was beaten and chased terribly when it ran from the more dominant members in its group.  It was heart breaking reading how this sweet, gentle monkey was ostracized and treated so meanly by others in its group and it started because it ran away when it was first challenged.  Not only did the one that was first challenging the sweeter monkey beat him up, but others followed the behavior of the dominant monkey joining in on the beating.  The sweet monkey had to be removed for its safety.  How often do we read about such things in our schools these days.  I also see similar behavior in my male alpacas occasionally although not as vicious as this article described. 

This bully behavior quite often occurs when I introduce either a new male to the group or one that I have taken out for herd health, breeding or taking out for visits and walks.  They can be gone only minutes and the other males will want to re-establish their hierarchy.  I'm quite aware of the potential for fighting when I bring back a male into their group.  I have found with my males, if I distract them immediately upon the re-introduction,  I can often avoid the chasing and fight routine.  I earlier did a spit test with one of my herdsires.  When I brought him back, he was still amped up since he was just spat at and didn't get a date so he was also frustrated.  I knew I had the recipe for a real confrontation when I brought him in.  Sometimes, I offer the male I am bringing back a goodie or a hosing down to cool him off and give him something to enjoy.  Today, I just wanted to see what would happen though.  I have been quite consistent when bringing a male in with my routine.  I bring the male in the gate and I watch his backside.  The others want to sniff his butt, however I don't allow that.  I wave off any male that wants to sniff or get interested in jumping on the male I have haltered.  He is in a vulnerable position and it is my job to watch his back (literally and figuratively).  I feel this builds a bond of trust when the male I have haltered and on a lead rope knows that I won't let anyone jump on him.  I'm protecting him.  I want the removal of the halter to be quiet and easy and it won't be if he has to be afraid of someone jumping on him and needing to protect himself.  He will want to bolt out of that halter as quickly as possible.  So it is imperative that I maintain control over all the males in the group with my body language and position and how I position the male I'm holding to keep him well protected.  Today, the re-entry went smoothly.  I waved off the ones that were interested in sniffing the butt and waited until it was calm and removed the halter and lead rope.  No one made a move to check anyone out and it was all good.  I quietly walked out of the pasture, pleased with the behavior of all the alpacas. 

For my more aggressive males, I keep the hose handy.  Sometimes the distraction of the hose will keep them from engaging with each other.  I do the same thing of getting the male I'm bringing back in a position of protecting him and placing myself so when I take the halter off, I can step into the other males' space.   When I take the halter off, I sometimes will distract the other male(s) with the lead rope twirling it in their faces and continue to back them off and away from the male I just brought in.  I want their attention on me and whatever distraction I can offer them.  If I have pellets, then I distract them with pellets.  Whatever I can find that is distracting.  Once distracted long enough, they often forget the other male was just brought in and all is peaceful and good.  Not all my techniques and tricks work but it sure is nice when they do. 

Observing this dominant, fighting, bully behavior in the male alpacas is interesting when I think about how human bullies behave.  I often wonder if it is similar parts of the brain that is engaged and if we understand how and why animals bully each other, can we get a clue of how to stop bully behavior in humans?  And, can we find some techniques of modifying and changing that behavior by trying these techniques on animals?  I have observed and witnessed how bully tendencies have dampened in kids that were with alpacas.  Attention getting bully behavior was replaced with the positive attention received by the alpacas who would only be around the kids if they stayed quiet and calm, and by us adults who rewarded those kids with how well they were getting the alpacas to trust them.  Perhaps that is the key to follow the basic principles of positive reinforcement.  Determine the behavior we want changed, create a situation to distract from that behavior that is more positive and reward that behavior and reward it a lot.   

Alpaca bully behavior being demonstrated by Kaleidoscope (rt) going after Bad to the Bone (left)

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Alpaca Life: Living Outside the Box

When I worked as an engineer, I would often say that I felt like I was an out of the box person having to live within the box.  It was so true working for the government.  Nothing is more in the box thinking than working in that environment.  I was forever getting myself into "trouble" because of my thinking.  My ideas definitely didn't conform to the safe, predictable world of the government think.  Then, as I transitioned into working in the counseling world, I felt like I was starting to be able to get outside the box.  However, when you counsel, it is almost by definition of a box when you see clients in a small, contained room.  I think that is why when I was interning, I liked counseling children because they definitely are out of the box thinkers.  They haven't been fully indoctrinated into box thinking yet.  It was challenging and fascinating using their imagination to figure out their issues and how to help them.  But, even though counseling was closer to how my brain and personality works, it still was still too boxish.  I felt like Goldilocks trying on these different careers and feeling which one felt right.  Those two previous careers were a limited fit to my personality. 

Now that I run and work my alpaca farm, I can honestly say, that I am finally living outside the box.  Heck, there is no box trying to run this sort of business!  It is great and yet it is scary since there is no boundary and safe haven the boxes offer.  The last few years since starting my farm, I have gone through many transitions as I adjust my business plan.  The first two years I went back to thinking more safely.  I had seen what works in other alpaca businesses and mimicked what they were doing, but it was box thinking again and not me.  It worked ok but not great and I never felt overly comfortable doing them.  I had built a reputation with clicker training when I boarded.  I tried using that but it didn't seem as big an interest here in Oregon when I first started.  I wasn't getting the clientele I hoped for in the beginning.  And, I was so busy running my own place, it was really hard to get away to teach workshops at other farms and leave my own place.  That was a real setback in building that positive reinforcement model.  I took a bit of a break from teaching workshops, but during that time, I honed my skills and techniques on my own farm.  Now that I was running my own business, I was proving it to myself more and more how valuable those techniques are in managing my herd.  It was one thing telling people how wonderful these techniques are in saving time and energy when I was boarding, but had others taking care of their daily needs.  It was another thing having ALL the responsibilities on my shoulders.  Now, I can stand in front of clients in a workshop and KNOW from experience that Positive Reinforcement WORKS! 

Living an Out of the Box life is not for everyone.  There are days when I say to myself, "What was I thinking doing this!"  There is something to be said making that steady known paycheck.  Yet, here I am absolutely loving what I do, working hard to make my out of the box life a working business model.  Like Goldilocks, this alpaca farm life fits me just right. 

Cindy and Jamilah enjoying our out of the box life together.
Read more about alpaca life in the book Alpacas Don't Do That now on Amazon and at Amazon UK.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Catching Alpacas like Football?

What does football and alpacas have in common?  First, it is football season and it is also my time to do my biannual herd health duties.  I invite new owners and potential owners to come during herd health to learn how to trim nails, give shots or oral de-worming meds and the other various checks I do for herd health.  It is a great chance for folks to learn how to catch and halter an alpaca if they haven't had or have limited experience doing so.  I go through my process of how I use my catch pens and how I like to catch alpacas.  I start with my more social alpacas so the people have a better chance of a success and fun experience.  But I also let them struggle a bit to find out what normal alpaca behavior is like (when I catch my alpacas, they trust me more than new folks so tend to allow me to catch them more easily).  It was during this time of watching the two-leggers missing an alpaca after it gave a quick head fake to get away that it reminded me of the football players making their opponents miss them.  I've been on the losing end of the head fake move on many occasions too.  However, I have learned an important counter-technique to the head fake.  If I keep an eye on their feet, I know what direction they are going to move no matter what their head is doing.  Their bodies are going to go where their feet take them. 

When I'm halter training alpacas, I especially watch their feet.  Positive results happen much more quickly if I'm watching their feet to see what defensive move they are going to do and I can counter the move with less pressure on the lead rope.  Hopefully, I can keep them from having their feet leave the ground.  That is my goal when I am halter training for the first time.  I want those feet on the ground and have them move their feet only when I ask them to with a little pressure on the lead rope.  Even after playing the halter clicker game, I get some that will buck away that first time with the halter hooked up to a lead rope.  Timing is key and if you are watching an alpaca's head instead of their feet, I would wager that you would be too late to make a correction.  Watching the feet is key to timing the correction and keeping an alpacas feet on the ground.   

When I haven't had to do any halter training for months waiting for the next crop of babies, to practice my timing, I play tug-o-war with my dogs.  I lie down on the ground on my side and have my dog straddle my legs.  They will want to be on one side or the other of me and not straddle my legs.  But my goal is to make the corrections so they stay straddled.  It is a fun game and they have a ball and I practice making my corrections.  You have to be fast with my dogs because they are master tug-o-war players! I often joke that football players should come and practice catching alpacas because if they figured out to watch the feet of their opponents, I bet they would make more tackles and be less likely to be taken in by the head fake! 

Down, Set, Hut, Hut.  No Head Fakes here!

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Yin and Yang of the Alpaca Business: Great Time to Join the Industry!

Like Dickens wrote, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..."  In one of my recent blogs, I wrote about looking and focusing on what is going right in my alpaca business.  It seems that with anything positive, there is a less positive trait to it.  Take for example where I live.  The good news is that I live near two highways and there is easy access to my farm and business.  I get a fair amount of drop-in visitors because of my location.  The down side of where I live is that I live near two busy highways and there is more noise and traffic than I'd care for at times.  There is good and not so good with it. 

When new clients ask me how the economy is affecting the alpaca business, I tell them the same thing.  There is good and some not so good things going on.  The good news for new buyers is that there are some great animals out there for less money.  It's a buyers market.  The downside for some of us that have been in business for awhile is that we have a lot more competition to sell our animals and have been dropping our prices to compete with many farms that are going out of business and liquidating their herds.  It has been tough surviving through those multitude of farms liquidating.  But, being positive and staying focused on what is going right, this is such a fantastic and exciting time to be in the alpaca industry.  If you are an entrepreneur and have a creative way of thinking, the alpaca industry is a great place for you.  This is the stage in this industry when small manufacturing and product development is popping up.  People are becoming more aware and loving alpacas.  They are the "in" animal these days.  When I first started in this business, you had to explain what an alpaca was and so many people thought they were emus!  Now I rarely have to tell someone what an alpaca is.  They know.  The education has been wonderful.  The public is starting to appreciate the wonderful fleece of alpaca too.  For many of us, we would love to send our fleeces to someone trying to establish a new niche in the market.  To sell alpacas, we need more people wanting to make more product!  We need more people selling product.  We need more fiber farms.  We need more mills to either make more yarn or make yarn for textile projects.  The list goes on with what is needed.  People WANT to spend money on our alpaca products.  They LOVE them.  But, like many farms out there that are one or two person operations, we need more entrepreneurs to get involved and work with us breeders.  There isn't a nice prescribed road to get these opportunities off the ground, but then that is the fun aspect of doing it.  

I remember when certain stocks went public for the first time and I think back how I wished I had bought shares in those stocks.  I'd have a nice nest egg if I had done so.  This time, I'm in the alpaca industry at the right time.  We are growing and becoming more established out there.  We are in the early stages of becoming a bigger fiber manufacturing resource.  Think how long the wool industry has been around and how well established it is.  It's been around for centuries if not millennia.  The alpaca industry began in the USA in the 1980's!  We are new and we are growing.  If you are looking for an exciting business opportunity to get into, have that entrepreneurial spirit, take a look at the alpaca world.  You don't need to own acreage to become involved in this great industry.  You just need creativity, desire, and some chutzpah to go for it! 

It's a "sign"!  A great time to become involved in the alpaca industry!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Alpaca Business and the Myers-Brigg Indicator Test

I've taken the Myers-Briggs Personality Indicator test many times over the years.  The first time I took it, I was in the Women's Executive Leadership Program run through the federal government.  It was a year that set my career in such a positive, forward motion.  My confidence was ignited during that training.  I had such amazing experiences and was able to interact and learn from some of the best in the government.  My fellow classmates were tops in their fields and the instructors were tops too.  It was during this training that I took this Myers-Briggs test and found out how my personality works.  It was so helpful to understand how my brain works and also to understand that how my colleagues and fellow students' minds worked as well.  I so appreciated that we could all look at the same problem or issue and come from such a different perspective and none of us were wrong!  It was just how we see the world.  It was eye-opening. 

I like to take this test periodically to see if my personality has shifted.  It has over the years.  That first time I took it, I was slightly introverted but had many extroverted traits too.  Now when I take that test, I am such a strong introvert.  Some may say that isn't a positive, but there is no "right" or "wrong."  It is who we are.  As I have worked on myself over the years, it makes sense that I would become more aligned with the individual indicators.  When I was in my early thirties, I was still being molded.  I certainly have the skills, thanks to my engineering career to operate in an extroverted setting, but if given the option, I will always prefer, being quieter and more solitary over being around a lot of people.  It is quite ironic that my introversion is stronger, yet, I'm having to put myself out to the public because of my alpaca business.  If you want to sell alpacas and market, you better be ready to meet and greet the public!  I have visitors stopping by my farm all the time and I enjoy it immensely and at the same time, I love my quiet space and time too.  Thankfully, having alpacas, helps me recuperate faster and recharge my batteries after being around a lot of people. 

Perhaps even more ironically, my introverted alpacas have become more extroverted!  Thanks to clicker training and the positive reinforcement techniques I use with them, they are so thrilled when people show up to the farm.  It means goody time!  They come running when they see someone new walking through the gates.  On open farm events, I notice that the alpacas and I are very similar.  After a busy day of people coming and going, we are both peopled out and although, we are still social, the alpacas are less excited to see folks and some walk away to the back pasture to get some space.  I want to join them!  But, my duties require me to finish out my day's effort of being around people.  Yet, when that last customer leaves after a long day, I think the alpacas and I both take a deep breath and let out a sigh of relief to have our place back to ourselves. 

We are getting ready to gear up for one of those open farm events with National Alpaca Farm Day September 28th, 2013 from 11 am - 5 pm.  I will be open for the day and we will be thrilled to see anyone that is in the neighborhood!  Come out and see us at Alpacas at Hum Sweet Hum, pick up a signed copy of my newly released book, Alpacas Don't Do That! 

The herd and I ready to enjoy being extroverted for National Alpaca Farm Day

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Focusing On Success With My Alpaca Business

I just read an interesting article from Daily Good titled Switch: Don't Solve Problems--Copy Success.  Reading the examples were enlightening and validating for those of us that use positive reinforcement training methods.  It was also a great reminder for me in looking at my business model.  The economy being as sluggish as it has been for years now has made it challenging at times to stay positive.  I'm constantly analyzing what is working and what isn't.  Sometimes the challenges seem overwhelming on how to fix things especially where the economy is concerned.  So many things are outside my control.  The government doesn't seem to have any sense of urgency to get their act together and do their jobs and find solutions, the news media seems to only focus and dramatize the negative.  It is better ratings to have drama and doom and gloom.  Closer to home, it has been depressing seeing so many liquidating their farms and alpacas.  I've been tempted to advertise saying, Staying In Business Sale! 

For those of us that need to see  a positive way out of issues, what avenues do we have to find our solutions?  About two years ago, I consciously made a choice of not waiting for the government or others to make the economy better.  I had to find my own way of making things a success.  I took a hard look at my business and all the things I was doing for it.  I found I was trying to do so many things.  I got into retail and buying wholesale alpaca goods for resale, I was spinning up my fiber into yarn and trying to sell it, I was breeding my alpacas and having open farm events regularly to try and market them, I went to shows, I did so many things trying to see what might stick and bring in some good income into the farm and market my animals.  It was one of the worst years financially I've had to date too.

Reading this article helped me understand why that year was so bad.  I was acting more out of desperation and I had gotten away from what I was really good at doing.  I rarely went out to train my alpacas, I didn't talk about training, I didn't do that much energy work with them either.  I was doing my chores and saying hello to them but I was working on fumes trying to keep all the plates spinning that I had going.  After working very hard on an event and having my worst sales to date, I decided I had to regroup.  This was NOT working.  I examined all the things I was doing and asked myself is this me?  I wound up changing a lot of things and going back to what I know I'm good at and what I'm passionate about.  I started reading clicker training blogs to get myself inspired and went out working with my animals again.  My sales started to pick up.  I had one project that had been put on the back burner while I tried all those other means of creating income and I decided to make that project one of my most important, high priorities to work.  This past week, I completed that project.  It has been a life-long dream of writing a book.  It has been years of writing and editing, but it has finally been published.  Alpacas Don't Do That hit Amazon yesterday.  New doors are opening as I work on those things that are right about my business and working.  I'm not focusing on fixing what is wrong but focusing on what is right just like the article described.  It is nice having that validation and reading how others, especially successful companies are using that philosophy.  I'd sure love to see that way of thinking and doing business spread.

To encourage you to think this way, I'm going to ask you a question.  What is going right in your business or life? 

I will start.  What is right about my business is my wonderful, exquisite fleeced alpacas and my great clients that buy my animals, products and services.  What is right is that I accomplished a long held dream this week! 

Ok, your turn!

Doing Energy work with Jasmine is what is right about my business and life.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Alpacas Don't Do That

I finally got my book completed.  Alpacas Don't Do That has been in the works for years.  It has been a real amazing process.  It was a lot of writing, rewriting, editing, putting it away for a long time, refreshing and hacking away until I feel it is finally ready for release.  This book describes how I was led to Alpacas, Clicker Training and performing Energy Work for animals.  While trying to figure out how to clicker train and do my energy work on alpacas, I received a lot of life lessons.  It has been a lot of fun and hard lessons a long the way and I know there will be a lot more to come thanks to these wonderful creatures.

It took awhile to be ready to release this book because it shares so much of those inner places and intimate moments I have shared with my animals.  I wasn't completely sure I wanted to share with everyone but writing this blog and receiving wonderful feedback from it, I have decided that I do want to share these stories and experiences.

If you are interested in reading Alpacas Don't Do That, you will be able to find it on Amazon or you can contact me personally at  It has been a writing of love that is for sure.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Herding Alpacas Is Like Game of Chess

When I was a little girl, my dad taught me to play chess.  He showed me I had to think multiple moves ahead.  I had to use strategy and I had to look at all the pieces on the board and what all the potential moves they could make.  If I moved one piece, I had to ask myself what would would the consequences be for my opponent and all the possibilities they could move and how would I counter.  Could I lure the opponent into a direction so I could make a bigger move on them?  Who knew learning to play chess would be preparing me so well for catching and herding alpacas.  I see the layout of my alpacas, I know what their temperaments are like, I know which ones I can pretty much guarantee will behave a certain way and I can hopefully lure them to where I want them, and I understand my herd instincts and dynamics.  Catching them is a game of strategy. 

When I need to set up a catch pen, I take a look at where my alpacas currently are, what direction is most natural for them to want to head towards, and I look who in that group is most likely to bring the rest in with them.  I usually have at least one alpaca in the pasture grouping that loves their pellets and will come running when I call their name.  That alerts the others that something must be happening that they don't want to miss out on and follow that one.  Even when I have a more shy alpaca that wouldn't normally come into a catch pen on its own, it will usually follow the rest of the herd.  Knowing herd dynamics is so invaluable.  Like I have said in earlier blogs, I believe in setting the animals and myself up for success as much as possible.  So when I need to catch someone, I study my surroundings and situation I have to work with. 

It is so nice when the alpacas are used to catch pens and they look at it as it is - just no big deal.  It really isn't, so why should there be drama about it all?  Today I had to catch up a few alpacas for a vet visit.  I only needed three out of about a dozen alpacas in that group.  But I like to catch them all when I can.  They can all hang out in the catch pen.  I prepared it before hand and I found it is way easier to catch before the vet and clients arrive if I can.  The alpacas are less wary.  I spread out some pellets in a half dozen bowls to give some enticement.  One of the girls being caught is very good at this chess game and if she thinks she is being caught, she is smart enough not to fall for my lures!  I  opened the gate wide open and went to their hay feeder as if I were going to fluff hay.  I didn't show any eye contact especially with the one that is a good chess player.  I walked away as if I weren't interested in that catch area at all.  I glanced over my shoulder to see if all of them were in the pen.   As soon as I saw I had the alpacas I really needed including my good chess player, I walked over to the gate and closed it as if it were the most normal thing to do.  I didn't race or rush to the gate.  It was just nice, quiet and calm.  None seemed upset with the gate closing.  My chess player alpaca, looked up and almost shrugged knowing she got caught this time and decided as long as she was in there, she might as well enjoy her pellets.  It was so nice.  They were all caught up for the vet saving on his bill since he charges by the clock.  Like my vet has said, he is reasonably priced for a vet but he is an expensive alpaca wrangler! 

Temporary panels for catch pens is kind of like fencing and gates.  You can never have enough of them!  I use 8 feet long by 4 feet high panels.  They are light and easy to move, snap together so I can make them in the center of the pasture if I need to.  I take them to events and use them for temporary quarters to market and show off my alpacas too.  They are the handiest tool you can have on the farm. 

The Herd is actually waiting for me to open the gate to catch pen.  I'm Coming!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Answering the Question of "Why Does My Alpaca Run When I Try and Catch?"

I take pride on having my alpacas be social and fairly easy to catch, halter and work with.  I really like it when I know I am selling and passing on to the new owner, a really good quality alpaca that is also a pleasure to work with.  Nothing feels better knowing that.  I also love sharing how I create that behavior in an alpaca.  Not too long ago, I was contacted by an alpaca owner asking why their alpaca was so difficult to catch and could I fix that behavior.  I asked what was going on and to describe how they catch or try to catch their alpacas.  They told me that this alpaca runs and bucks when being caught.  I asked if they were using a catch pen.  There was silence on the other end.  I asked how they were trying to catch the alpaca if there was no catch pen.  The answer was that they catch their alpacas out in the open field.  I understood the problem immediately.

Catching in an open field is usually helping to reinforce the behavior of "I can out run the two-legger and get away!"  Or, what I call the "Woohoo!" behavior to an alpaca.  Once they know they can get away from you and they know you are trying to catch them, they run past you and kick up their heels and you can almost here them yell, "WOOHOO!" as they fly past.  If you keep trying to catch them this way, that escape and runaway behavior has been well trained and established.  We so would love our alpacas to exhibit the good and desirable behavior all the time, and do it just because we are such wonderful loving humans.  But the reality is, they aren't going to do that.  We have to set them up to behave the way we want them to.  Plus, we have to maintain that behavior.  We typically train weanlings how to wear their halters and walk nicely on their halters.  But if we think that is the end of the training story, then we quite often find undesirable behaviors popping up again.

Trying to catch in an open field is asking for trouble.  I almost always take that extra step and use my catch pens when I know I need to halter up an alpaca.  I use my catch pens to feed and use it for clicker lessons and just for fun.  That way, alpacas enjoy going in there.  The vast majority of times going into the catch pen means fun and treats.  If all they ever experience in a catch pen is being caught, they will avoid it.  You have some forgiveness in using a catch pen if it's pleasurable most of the time in using it.  So, even if it feels like an extra step or an added evolution to go use the catch pen, it usually saves you an awful lot of time and frustration.  And most importantly, it helps you avoid training in that unpleasant "Woohoo" behavior.

I don't want to teach my alpacas to run away from me either.  I want my alpacas to run TO me not AWAY from me.  So if someone keeps trying to catch them out in the open field, what they are really training that alpaca to do is run AWAY from them.  They certainly are not training them to be caught.  And the more times you try and catch in the open field and they run away, the stronger that behavior is REINFORCED.  In essence the behavior reinforced is RUN AWAY. 

Even though an alpaca is well trained to be caught easily, haltered and handled doesn't mean it will stay that way if they are consistently allowed to learn something different.  Training is life long.  You have to work with them, handle alpacas consistently and not always take what you think is the easy way out.  If I catch in the field, it is usually one shot at it and if I'm unsuccessful, I walk away and go to my catch pen method.  However, if I don't catch that one time, I often have to wait longer to use the catch pen because they are onto me that they are going to get caught and less likely to run right into the catch pen.  So there are many downsides of trying to catch in the open field. 

Once I have the alpaca I want to handle or halter in the catch pen, I don't care if it runs away from me a few times.  I actually allow it and don't even try and catch the alpaca.  I want it to know it can move away from me.  It can't run out of the catch pen so it isn't going far away.  It typically takes three times of it running away that it finally realizes that there is no escape.  I can tell in its eyes that it is about ready to give up and allow itself to be caught.  They slow down and face away from me in a corner most often.  I will actually put that on a cue and ask the alpaca to "Pick a corner."  I let them choose what corner they prefer.  I like corners because it has two walls and I can position my body so once it is giving up, I can block the escape route.  I can walk up slowly and gently and I tell the alpaca to "Stand."  I like telling the alpaca what I want them to do and what I'm about to do to it.  I will even say "Touch" when I go to touch their neck just below their ears to hold them steady.  When holding them, I touch them with enough pressure to hold them still and steady.  I try not to grab.  The softer and gentler I can touch them, the better for both of us.

I had a extra large male standing stud on my farm for a couple of years.  I loved that guy.  He was huge and strong and if he wanted to, he could toss me all over the place.  But he was one guy that so appreciated being handled in this calm, gentle fashion in the catch pen.  I followed those steps I described in the preceding paragraph and he would stand as gentle as could be as I placed my hand on his neck and halter him.  During herd health days or shearing day, I made sure I was the one to catch Big Mak.  Men he would toss all over and even two strong men would have a hard time catching him because they would try and meet him muscle and macho vs macho.  No one out macho'd Big Mak!  But, then 5'2" me would walk into the catch area and make all leave and I'd do my little quiet thing of telling him to pick a corner and stand and as gently as could be, catch and halter him.  The men would be rubbing their bruises and shaking their head. 

So many times I have heard people say, "that alpaca won't win!" when unsuccessfully trying to catch an alpaca.  Watching this ego battle of "winning,"  I shake my head and then go do my quiet little method of catching.  I prefer "winning" without muscle and brawn.  I get much fewer bruises that way and the alpacas are so much more cooperative.  Who likes to be grabbed and tossed about?  Not me!  So why should the alpaca?  They don't.  Unless you are training for an alpaca rodeo, I recommend this quieter method of catching.

To Read More About Big Mak, Check Out My Book Alpacas Don't Do That