Even the wildest, least tame llama sooner or later is going to have to go in somewhere – into a trailer to get to the vet or be sold, or into a chute to have his toenails cut. A llama that WILLINGLY goes in things is a whole different ball game. Imagine taking a llama up in an elevator to visit seniors in a nursing home, then taking him home again in the backseat of your car! When I take a llama to the Vet College in Saskatoon, they always bring out the wranglers and start to open the big doors so I can drive my rig into cattle chutes. How sad! They always seem surprised when I walk one of the ladies out of the trailer politely on a halter and we go in the man-door to the examining room.
COMEBEFORES – You might be able to wrestle an untrained 300 pound llama into a trailer, but you’re going to have a lot more fun if he’s comfortable wearing a halter, likes treats, and understands how to give to the lead!
START HERE – I like to start with my scale. It’s a 4×8 sheet of plywood attached to the scale mechanism, leaving it about 4″ off the floor. Without a scale, I’d use a sheet of plywood flat on the floor, or a platform (this is a CLASS show obstacle, a good secure… 4×8 sheet of plywood, about 6″ off the ground). Obviously I want to start teaching the llama to get on and off things and in and out of things by having him walk over something large, solid, and safe with good footing. You’ve set up the situation so you have a good chance of succeeding. By that I mean that there’s a simple, safe route for the llama to follow where you want him to go, you have a comfortable, safe spot to stand or walk while you’re asking him to go there, and there isn’t anything that’s going to fall over and scare the willies out of him if he goes in the wrong direction.
AIM FOR THIS – Anywhere you ask the llama to go, he goes, calmly and willingly.
HOW TO TEACH IT – Do some giving-to-the-lead practise to get you both started. When he’s willingly going along with what you ask, ask him to walk on the board. He might actually do it. Not likely, but he might! If he does, don’t try to hold him on the board. Instead, think about rewarding him for taking that step. If you think about asking him to lean toward the board, you’ll be in a good frame of mind to reward him for leaning. If you think about asking him to put one foot on the board for an instant, you’ll click and give him a treat for that one foot, rather than being upset when he tries to escape. So, ask for that one foot on the board. Let him take it off. Ask for the foot again, and again let him take it off. Then ask for one foot but instead of letting him leave, use the lead to say simply that you need another foot. You’re not trying to pull him onto the board. You’re merely saying that he can’t get OFF the board until you get that second foot. The instant you get the second foot, release the pressure and let him get off. Ask for one a couple more times, then ask for two again. When he’s comfortable with two, ask for three, and so on. At some point he’ll notice that it’s easier for him to walk OVER the board than to back away from it. Once he’s figured that out, give him a break for a minute or two.
If he just goes along in the first place, great! Just be ready to reward him while he’s doing what you want, and remember that what you want doesn’t include skittering his rear end AROUND the board while his front end goes over it, or jumping over the whole thing, or dashing hysterically on or off it.
ADD A CUE – There isn’t a voice cue necessary here. The lead asks him to go forward, we want him to trust you enough to go forward.
MAKE IT BETTER – As always, the more you practise, the better he’ll be. The more you take him for walks, in and out of ditches, on the lawn, on cement, on pavement, on gravel, in soft dirt, the more he’ll trust you. The more things you ask him to go over or onto, the more comfortable he’ll be with following where you lead.
GOING IN TRAILERS
Going in trailers is the obvious use for “going in”. For some reason llamas have a bad reputation for fussing about trailers. Every time I walk a llama into a trailer with no hesitation, there seems to be someone watching who finds this a remarkable achievement. I’ve heard amazed conversation about our trailer habits in the park, at the vet college, at exhibitions, at demonstrations and clinics. And it always surprises me, because my llamas know how to get politely in and out of trailers about three days after I start lead training them. That is, when they’re about 10 days old. It’s a sweet, easy, and useful behaviour to teach.
The first trick for getting a llama in a trailer is to have another llama tied up in the trailer. Not necessary, but useful. Make that a llama that goes nicely into the trailer and stands politely! If your only available llama is a trailer-fusser, you’re better off without him. That other llama is a nice little perk, but not at all necessary.
Next, YOU need to get in the trailer. And then you need to get out of the llama’s way. I’ve seen far too many people try to pull a llama into a trailer while standing directly in his path, so his only choices are to run over the person or stay out of the trailer.
When you were teaching him to give to the lead and to follow the lead, you developed the skill of using the leash to say “I’m not going to force you to go THIS direction, but you can’t go any OTHER direction.” That’s the skill you need for teaching him to get into the trailer. Lead him close enough to the open door of the trailer that you can get in without losing him, but not close enough to get him panicking. Stand in the trailer and set the lead so he can’t get his head hooked around a corner. He doesn’t have to get into the trailer, but he has to LOOK into the trailer.
If he wants to lower his head to examine the floor, that’s fine. If he wants to come closer to the trailer, that’s fine too, and when he comes closer, you’re not going to try to pull him closer! HE is going to decide to get in the trailer! About the only things he can’t do are pull away or get his head stuck around the corner so he isn’t aimed at the opening any more.
POTENTIAL PROBLEM – If he gets his front legs jammed up against the trailer, he’ll bump his knees when he tries to lift them. Then he’ll get the idea that it isn’t possible for him to get in the trailer. So if he’s so close he’s going to bang his knees when he bends them, back him up a little.
Once he figures out how to get in the trailer, stand quietly with him and let him look around, have a treat, and relax a bit before you start teaching him how to get out.