COMEBEFORES – Walking on a lead. Huh? Isn’t that the same thing? Well, yes, it should be, but there’s so much that can go wrong with the idea of a loose lead that it needs its own section!
Castaway, at 2 weeks, isn’t enjoying his walk with that huge halter pulling him around.
That’s better! Cass is happy to go for a walk this way.
START HERE – Outside. You’ll need something boring behind you (your house, maybe, or the middle of a field) and an attractive and interesting goal in front of you (other llamas, for instance).
AIM FOR THIS – You take a stud from his pasture and walk him toward the breeding pen. He sees a lovely lady waiting for him. He gets very excited but all the way across the yard he walks politely beside you on a lovely loose lead. He waits quietly with the lead loose while you open the gate, and then he gets down to business. Bliss!
HOW TO TEACH IT – It’s going great. He walks well in the barn. He walks well in the yard. He walks well in the house. Suddenly he spots a couple of other llamas in a pen over THERE, and he turns into an untrained idiot. He’s pulling so hard on the lead that you feel like a water skiier. This CAN’T be right!
The key to a loose lead is paying attention. You must never, never, never, NEVER allow the llama to drag you ANYWHERE. The llama does what he gets rewarded for, and dragging you around is very rewarding. He satisfies his freedom reflex (pull against something) AND he gets to go where he wants to go. You’ve arranged a training area with one interesting thing maybe 50′ in front of you, and only boring stuff behind you. You’re standing still with the llama on a loose lead beside you.
Take ONE step toward the interesting thing. If the lead is still loose, take another step. If the lead is still loose, take another step. Continue all the way to the interesting thing, and reward him by letting him look at it, talk to it, or eat it (depending on what kind of interesting thing it was).
Yeah, right. Like it’s THAT simple! OK, take one step toward the interesting thing. He charges out to the end of the lead and tries to pull you toward his goal. Nyuh uh, sorry.
Tight leads go the opposite direction. The instant you see the lead about to tighten, back up. Back up, and keep on backing up, until he’s following you back across the yard on a loose lead. Give him a treat at this point, and take ONE step forward again.
An important thing is happening here. You’re asking the llama how close he can be to that interesting thing and still have the brains to give you a loose lead. If he takes that one step forward and keeps the lead loose, that’s GREAT. Give him a treat and take another step forward. You can do this without treats if you have to, because moving toward his goal IS a reward. If you take that one step forward and he hits the end of the lead trying to get to the goal, you’re still too close to it.
Back up again until you have the lead loose. And KEEP backing up every time the lead tightens. Sooner or later you’re going to be far enough away from the goal that he’ll give up on it and let you have your loose lead.
Forward when the lead is loose, one step at a time. Backward when the lead is tight, all the way back until it’s loose again. When he gets to his goal with the lead loose, let him have it, eat it, talk to it, sniff it, look at it, whatever.
IN OTHER WORDS – Clicking and rewarding the llama frequently for having a loose lead will make this explanation much clearer and faster.
GETTING BETTER – Loose Lead gets better the more you pay attention to it. If you’ve ridden horses a lot, your hands can probably watch for a tight lead without much guidance from you. For most of us, though, teaching a llama to walk on a tight lead is a LOT easier than teaching him about loose leads. Not worth it, though. Definitely not worth what you’ll pay later!
ADD A CUE – Loose Lead is a “default behaviour”. There is no cue for it other than wearing a lead. If the lead is attached to a llama, the lead is loose.
TRAINING TIP – Start this exercise with a goal that isn’t TOO attractive. Stud to open female = Bad Idea, unweaned cria to mom = Bad Idea.. MUCH too attractive. Llama to treat pan, that’s probably a good goal. Cria to other crias, that sounds good too.
TRAINING TIP – The lead doesn’t have to be guitar-string taut to be “tight”. A good rule of thumb is that if the lead snap is hanging straight down, the lead is loose. If the snap isn’t hanging down, the lead is tight.
TRAINING TIP – Most llamas are bigger than you are. You have a bit of an advantage because you’ve put the halter on his head his weakest part. You’ll need more help than that, though, if he decides to go THAT way and take you with him. If you have any martial arts training, you already know the back stance. Stand with your strongest leg forward and your other leg back, your toes pointed out a bit. Lean back onto your rear leg. Hold the lead in both hands and keep your hands tight into your belt buckle. If you maintain this position, the strongest llama can’t pull you around. If he gets your hands away from your stomach, or gets your weight forward, you’re going on a trip, honey!