Monday, October 21, 2013

Cure For A Cranky Day: Clicker Train Some Alpacas

You know it is going to be a cranky day when you have deadlines and your printer jams and then breaks completely.  Nothing is more frustrating when my tools don't work especially when there isn't time to figure out how to get things working right.  I have to admit, I have no patience for such things.  As a former engineer, I get on my soapbox and grumble to anyone and no one about how poorly things are made.  It is planned obsolescence and intentionally made to break within a couple of years so you have to go out and buy a new one.  They are never worth going out and fixing.  I had to buy this printer not because the previous one was broken, but because I had to replace a computer and the old printer didn't have modern enough drivers to download to the new computer.  I was forced to replace a perfectly functioning printer.  Boy did that irritate me to no end.  When you are used to making do and using materials on the farm to make things work, I get really cranky at technology that has the opposite philosophy.  If you replace one thing, it becomes this cascading, domino issue.  Replace one item typically leads to replacing a ton of other things.  I hate waste!  Technology is amazing and we have become so dependent on it and when it works, it is fun and such an important tool to running a business, but when it doesn't work, nothing makes me crankier.

I was in a better mood by the time of feeding, but I still had a cranky hangover.  It wouldn't take much to make me grumpy again.  I went through my chores and fed the alpacas their pellets.  I have two small groups that I put in catch pens to eat.  They are the passive alpacas and one group are my yearlings that are easily pushed out of their bowls.  They need their private little eating area so they can take their time and not have the piggier alpacas come and push them away.  I had a few minutes to wait until they were done.  All the water tubs had been scrubbed and filled so I had a few minutes to play.  I had some pellets left in my bucket I use to distribute to the herd.  Olivier was standing there at the gate looking hopeful for an extra handful or two of pellets.  I decided it would be fun to go in and work with him on his touching the toy with his nose.

I walked over the toy.  Olivier remembered from last time what to do immediately.  I clicked with my tongue since I didn't bring a clicker out.  I didn't have to lure him or refresh his memory at all.  He just started to touch the toy.  His nose stayed about an inch or two from the toy so I decided he needed to back up after being clicked.  I fed him at his chest so he would have to take a step back.  Then he had to come a foot or two to the toy to touch between clicks and being treated.  This step is leading us to put more distance between the toy and my goal of sending him from up to 10 feet away or further to the toy.  Once I have him doing that well, I want to get similar toys that are different colors to this blue one.  Maybe a yellow and a red toy will do nicely because I want something quite different to see if they can see and understand that they are different colors.  I will begin putting a name to to the cue soon now that I see that Olivier really understands what I'm clicking him for.  So this one will get called Blue Toy and that will be his cue to go touch this particular toy. 

Those few minutes of clicker training Olivier and watching his eager face that was just enjoying himself and our game turned my mood around completely.  I left the pasture and finished up the chores with a big smile on my face and laughing and enjoying myself.  I was enjoying the beautiful view and colors and telling everyone in the herd to have a good night.  Clicker training may be a great way to teach the alpacas new behaviors, but one of the best side-effects is how good it makes the one training feel.  It sure cured my cranky feeling I had most of the day.  Maybe next time I will remember to go out and train an alpaca when technology strikes again!

The boys really enjoy their toy.

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