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!

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