Targeting may seem like a pretty silly little trick, but it’s enormously useful, and leads to lots of other great tricks and behaviours, like retrieving. Besides that, it’s very easy to teach and lots of fun to watch his lips stretch out to touch your hand when he doesn’t really want to bother coming any closer!
COMEBEFORES – He’s going to have to be comfortable taking treats from you.
START HERE – In a round pen or haltered. You’ll need a bag of treats.
AIM FOR THIS – You put your hand out. The llama reaches out and touches it with his nose.
HOW TO TEACH IT – Offer the llama a treat in your hand. Let him take it. When he’s finished eating it, offer him another. Offer the next one in such a manner that he’ll hit your outstretched fingers just before he gets to the treat. Repeat this three or four times. Repeat another three or four times, but this time cup your hand around the treat so he can’t quite see it before he touches you. As soon as he makes contact, open your hand so he can easily get at the treat.
Now, a little trickery. Hold your cupped hand out just as you did before, but this time your treat is in your OTHER hand. He doesn’t know that, of course, so he touches your cupped hand as he did before. Drop your cupped hand, and immediately offer him the treat from your other hand.
Play around with this. Present your hand to one side of his head, and to the other side. Hold your hand further in front of his nose, and finally ask him to take a step or two to get close enough to touch it. When he decides it’s silly to keep trying to touch a hand with no treat in it, put your treat back in that hand for a couple more repetitions, then take it out again.
IN OTHER WORDS – This will go faster if you’re using a clicker. Click at the exact instant his lip touches your hand, to tell him what you’re paying for.
ADDING A CUE – My hand cue for touching is to hold my hand out, fingertips touching and pointing up. My voice cue is “Touch”. Start saying the word as the llama is approaching the hand to touch it.
USING IT – Hand targeting is a lovely, elegant behaviour to ask a skittish llama for. Having something to do helps him calm down. Turning your hand into an object to be manipulated gives him confidence in you. Targeting is also a good behaviour to ask for when you need something quick just to stay in touch. When I have a group that wants to get out of the barn, for instance, I’ll stand in the doorway and ask each one to touch my hand to “earn passage” out the door.
KISS – At a farm fair many years ago, I noticed that all the llamas were standing at the back of their display pens, looking like they wished they were at home. Not a great way to present these wonderful animals to the public! I started letting kids feed them a treat. That helped a bit, but once I hit on the idea of having the llamas give people a kiss on the cheek to earn a treat from me, it really took off.
Soon the llamas were poking their heads out through the bars of their pens, hoping for a stray cheek to wander by so they could get another treat. Much better publicity! In fact, the Kissing Llamas have become quite famous.
To teach kissing, hold out your target hand for a couple of warmup touches, then start bringing your hand closer and closer to your cheek. Be careful to hold your cheek out for him, and don’t look directly at him. When he doesn’t mind coming very close to your face to touch your hand, dodge your hand out of his way at the last second and let him touch your cheek. If you’re clicking, click the exact instant his lips touch your cheek. Bring the treat up in your other hand as quickly as you can.
To get him kissing other people, get a helper to sit in between you and the llama so he won’t be tempted to go for YOUR cheek. Have him touch your hand a few times, then hold your hand near your helper’s cheek just as you did with your own.
The body cue for kissing is just turning your head to the side and presenting your cheek. My voice cue is “Give Us A Kiss”. I also say “Give HER A Kiss”, but I’m quite sure it’s my hand gesture toward another cheek that makes the kiss happen rather than the voice cue, and pretty soon just the sight of an upturned cheek will be enough to get him kissing anybody he possibly can!