Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Alpaca Chest Scratches Teaching Patience

I so do love my alpaca boys.  They are a joy most days.  Not that they can't also be a pain in the derriere too but most days, they just light up my world.  I was out raking up their beans the other day and Calvin walks up to me.  His ears are pinned back on his head and the look in his eyes said he was not a happy boy.  He tentatively walked up to me and I saw on one side of his face a huge green wad of spit.  He had been given "quite a what for" by someone.  He was definitely not happy about his situation and looking for some sympathy.  I exclaimed, "Oh Calvin that does not look like a happy situation."  I bent down a tad to make myself non-threatening and he walked closer to me.  I asked if he would like a chest scratch and he stood closer yet so I could give him a nice rub on his chest.  He pursed his lips and wiggled them as I scratched the good spot.  He was becoming more cheery as I scratched away.  Mowgli spied us and saw someone else getting "His" chest scratches so he walked over and threatened to push Calvin away.  I told him "no" that they both could get a chest scratch but Calvin was there first so either he can share or not get his chest scratch.  Yes, I talk to them that way.  I never know how much they understand and I do believe they see pictures and by verbalizing it myself, it helps me picture what I'm thinking to them.  Whether or not that is what he heard out of me, I don't know except that he stopped pushing Calvin out of the way and accepted taking turns with getting his chest scratched. 

I went back and forth between the two of them telling them which one who's turn it was.  It was teaching them patience and by being patient they were rewarded with their chest scratch.  I watched their feet for signs of them being more antsy and I would quickly change to the one running out of patience.  Knowing when to reward to keep them "winning" is so important.  You don't want to wait until they fail.  You want to reward them before they have a chance at failing.  For example with Mowgli and Calvin, the behavior I was working on was patience.  Their reward for patience was a chest scratch.  How I would know if they were out of patience was if they moved.  So by seeing the small sign of a foot being ready to be raised, I'd know to quickly say it was so and so's turn and start scratching the one that was almost ready to move.  That kept him in place and I'd see his leg relax and stand still again.  It was great watching this method work so beautifully.  They stood like that for nearly 5 minutes as I went back and forth rubbing their chests.  They were so enjoying it and I was too.  I saw Donatello and Djembe come over and watch us.  They still aren't quite sure about this chest scratching stuff but they were certainly curious over why Mowgli and Calvin were standing there on their own free will accepting these touches from a two-legger.  Djembe came close enough to sniff my hand and head but said that was as far as he was willing to go for now.    

I started the chest scratching with Calvin when he was a cria.  I discovered he liked it and realized that they would since they can't reach that spot with their legs or by rubbing it the fencing or rolling on the ground.  If you have ever had an itch that you can't reach and you find someone or something that can help reach it, boy does that ever feel good.  Teaching the alpacas about my ability to reach that spot for them has been tremendous in socializing some of them.  It often takes time for them to allow me to touch them on the chest but after a few times, they realize, "oh, I like that!"  I am careful with the boys to keep good boundaries when I teach them about the chest scratch.  It is based on mutual trust and respect and the key there is "Mutual."  All my training is based on that concept.  Having healthy boundaries allows me to do more with my alpacas than what you would think normal or possible.  They aren't spoiled or allowed to get away with things because of the positive reinforcement work I do with them.  As a matter of fact, they get away with less.  I don't reward bad behavior.  I reward good behavior.  And when the good behavior feels as good as these chest scratches, I'm rewarded with really sweet, easy to handle boys. 

Mowgli giving me a raking break to give him a chest scratch.

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