SET UP FOR SUCCESS – It stands to reason you can’t teach a llama to be caught and haltered if he’s in a 10-acre pasture. Trying to catch an untrained animal in a situation like this is setting up for failure. Besides starting with him in a small catch pen, here are other less obvious ways to ensure success. Be ready to train when you approach the llama. Every single thing you ever say to him is part of his training, so don’t go near him until you’re ready to teach him good things. I’ve seen people trying to teach females to go into a barn – with several pens of screaming studs right beside the barn door. Trying to teach a llama to lift its foot on a slippery floor. Lead training in mud. Set yourself and the llama up for success before you start training. In many cases, you can get the behaviour you want automatically if you set the situation up correctly.
REWARD WHAT YOU WANT – First you need to have a clear idea of what you want. Then you have to have some way of rewarding it when it happens. Food is an obvious reward, but time alone, personal space, opening a gate can also be used. Petting and hugging don’t usually count as rewards for llamas until they’re very used to you.
NEVER MISS A GOOD CHANCE TO SHUT UP – Llamas speak with their bodies, not with their voices. When you start teaching something new you want him to be focused on learning the behavior NOT what you are ultimately going to use for a command. For example, if your goal is to have the llama stop and stand still when you say “Stop”, don’t start the training by babbling “stop, stop, I said stop. Pay attention and stop.” When you talk, you want the llama to listen, so you have to keep meaningless chatter to a minimum. When you start putting a “command” on a behaviour, you’ll be telling him what the behaviour you want is called AFTER he’s giving it to you regularly and exactly the way you want it. Just putting a label on it, not asking for it. That way, when he’s heard the word a hundred times, he’s done the job correctly a hundred times (well, 95, anyway!). THEN you can test his understanding by asking for it when he wasn’t thinking of giving it to you anyway. When you change ANYTHING about the behaviour – where you want it, how many times you want it, how far he has to go to do it – stop using the word until you’ve got what you want again.
TRAIN TINY THINGS – When you ask the llama to touch your hand with his nose, you have a good chance of being successful. When you decide you’re not going to reward him until he’s standing on his head, playing a harmonica and juggling three balls, you’re liable to be disappointed. You can teach llamas an amazing variety and complexity of behaviours, but you’ll get further, faster, and with less frustration for both of you if you learn the fine art of breaking behaviours down into tiny, trainable pieces. This is one of the hardest things to learn about training an animal and probably the most important thing you’ll learn in this book. You’ll definitely get better the more you practise.