All alpacas should be halter trained - the process of teaching them how to walk on a lead. This is so important for their safety and for our safety. We need to walk them on a lead to take them to the vet, to move them from pens, to do herd health, and if desired to take them to an alpaca show or event. I have seen extremes either way, of farms that do not halter train and their alpacas are difficult to work with. I have also seen the opposite extreme where alpacas are treated almost as animals that do tricks. We try to keep a balance ~ allow them to still be alpacas with their herd, but also know that was can halter and lead them somewhere safely whenever needed. Our goal is for them all of them to safely walk on lead.
In order to halter train it is very helpful to have a training buddy. It's easiest to halter an alpaca if there are two human to get the halter on. My halter training helper is my 10 year old son, Zack. Zack is a creative guy and he often comes up with new and different halter training ideas.
This past weekend Zack and I worked on halter training our 2012 cria.
Here is Berry:
While Berry did lots of pulling and trying to resist us, she was way more cooperative than Night, who decided to avoid us entirely:
Sorry Night but we've seen the drop to the ground thing before, been there, done that, and we still will get you halter trained.
Zack and I have a step method.
The first session is just getting the halter on and leaving it on for about 5 minutes. We are there the entire time, but we may leave the alpaca on lead, tied to a post for that time. We are always nearby so that there is no worry of harm to them (alpacas breath through their nose and if the halter isn't on exactly right it can cause breathing issues). But, we find sometimes if we are too close they are so focused on resisting us they don't really get the idea to work with the halter.
At the end of those 5 minutes we will see if they will take a couple steps and if so, then end the session.
Always end on a high note, this is so important.
I am so adamant about this there are times I tell the alpaca until they do something right, we are not ending this session.
The next session might be a repeat of the first session, depending on how they did during the first session, or we might move onto the next step. The next step is getting them to walk in a circle. This is the easiest next step because if they are standing and you pull them slightly to the side, they will feel off balance and take a step - that's when I get them, walking on the lead. Some alpacas move right into walking on the lead, they just start walking. Others feel you change to walking in a straight line and fall to the ground or pull back. This means more circle training, then moving to walking in a line.
Sometimes each step takes several sessions, other times the first session they will walk in a straight line on the lead. They all have different personalities and different willingness to cooperate.
Once we get them to walk in a straight line, then we start the next phase. This next phase is getting them used to standing and being touched - essential for the show ring but also for herd health days and vet exams. Alpacas do more standing on lead than walking so don't ever forget to practice standing (a step I missed the first couple years I halter trained).
Once they have walking in a line mastered and are used to standing and being touched and handled, then we move into the master stage. This is where we walk them into unknown areas. Zack and I will take a walk with them down the driveway, completely outside of their pasture. This is where they really need to walk well and trust you in order to follow you. We haven't practiced getting into and out of the trailer but last year Zack and I decided that we would add that step.
Of course each year we have a stubborn alpaca who needs extra attention in certain areas. This is actually Zack's favorite part ~ coming up with new and different halter training ideas to work on a specific problem. You have to get creative sometimes because they come up with some wacky stuff.