COMEBEFORES – Loose Lead Walking.
START HERE – Anywhere you have a safe, solid, llama-nose-height ring or bar to tie him to.
AIM FOR THIS – You’ll tie him to the side of your trailer, to the top bar of a pen, to the barn wall. He’ll stand safely, comfortably and quietly, without fussing, until you untie him.
HOW TO TEACH IT – Waiting rooms, bus stops, checkout lines… are we there yet? Moving is great, but a lot of life involves standing around waiting. Standing still on a lead is definitely a skill llamas need to learn. Tying a llama to a wall is a time-honoured way of teaching this, and, with some caveats, I recommend it.
Do as much work as possible teaching the llama to give to lead pressure with the lead in your hand. Tying him to a wall shouldn’t be a terrifying experience, just a learning opportunity. To start youngsters, I sit on my barn chair with a book to read. Every page, or couple of pages, I give them a treat if they’re standing nicely. Because my hand has more give than the wall, they’re less likely to get scared, but they still learn that fussing isn’t going to get them anywhere.
When I think they’ll be OK, I move them to the barn wall, but I don’t tie them with the lead. I use a marvelous invention – stretchy crossties for horses. These are about 18″ long, very heavy rubber, and unbreakable in my experience. The llama won’t be hitting a solid lead, but can only stretch the crosstie out. And the harder the llama pulls, the harder the crosstie pulls. It’s easy to lean all your weight on a solid lead, but you need muscle power to keep a crosstie pulled out. The reward of no pressure is automatic. When the llama stops pulling into the pressure, the pressure goes away. Tie him up, count to five, untie him. Tie him up, step back from him, step forward, untie him. Tie him up, walk around him to the other side and back, untie him. Tie him up, go get a treat, give him the treat, untie him. Play with it, increasing the time he stays there gradually as he gets better able to handle more time.
POSSIBLE PROBLEM – He could try to lie down. That’s a pretty normal solution to the problem of being tied up to something in a boring place. It’s not what we want though. We need him standing. If you tied him correctly, on a short lead, he’ll be pretty uncomfortable trying to lie down with his nose in the air and his neck stretched. Note that this isn’t dangerous, it’s just uncomfortable. Give him a minute, he’ll figure it out and stand back up. Reward him when he does.
POSSIBLE PROBLEM – He could get cranky. In fact, he’s probably going to get cranky sooner or later. Don’t leave him tied up too long, especially in the beginning. Ten minutes is a pretty good length of time for an accomplished cria. An adult can stand without difficulty for half an hour. If he starts fussing, you know you left him tied for a little longer than he could handle. Try to keep it a bit shorter next time and build your time back up as he can handle it. In the meantime, do NOT release him when he’s fussing. Remember, reward what you WANT, not what you don’t want!
TRAINING TIP – When you tie a llama, tie the line as close as you can to nose height, and 12 to 18″ long. Don’t think you’re doing the llama big favours by giving him a lot of line when he’s tied. A lot of line can mean enough line to get tangled, enough line to get a good run at really hurting himself when he hits the end, and enough line to think he’s being rewarded for fussing.
TRAINING TIP – You can reward him for standing quietly by releasing him, by untying him and walking him around for a minute, or by giving him a treat.
TRAINING TIP – If you want to teach your llama to relieve himself when you tell him to (which is a pretty handy behaviour for keeping your trailer, house, hospital, school or golf course clean, as well as keeping him from messing in a show ring), this is the time to do it. When he’s been tied up for any length of time, take him directly to the dung pile and let him use it. For more information see the chapter on Using The Dung Pile.
TRAINING TIP – Once your guy is comfortable tied to the wall, make a habit of tying him frequently while you’re doing barn chores. When I’m lead training crias, after the first week or so, I’ll have some waiting in a pen, some on the wall, and one working on walking. They rotate through the stations, and when we’re done they all get a little extra treat to make them eager to come in again the next day.