Ah, the elusive llama retrieve! Don’t be ridiculous, you can’t get a LLAMA to RETRIEVE!
Actually, you can. The good news is that it really isn’t that difficult. The better news is that you’re well on your way already if you’ve done your ComeBefores!
What can a llama retrieve? Anything that will fit in their mouths. My llamas have retrieved mitts, hats, shoes, whips, sticks, small dog dumbells, Kleenex, doggy rope toys, halters, lead ropes. The list is limited only by the size of the mouth, and your imagination.
COMEBEFORES – Your llama understands the use of the clicker or a word that serves the same purpose. He eagerly eats treats from your hand. He understands Zen, and knows how to target both your hand and an object.
START HERE – You can teach retrieving anywhere you and the llama have time to work and are able to concentrate. I most often work on this in a pen in the barn with no other llamas present, but I’ve also done a lot of work on it in quieter times in the pens at farm fairs and shows, usually sitting on my walker. In a private space, you can work off-lead, but working with the llama haltered isn’t a problem.
AIM FOR THIS – You drop your glove on the ground and the llama picks it up and hands it back to you.
WHAT YOU NEED – Something to retrieve. Something light, strong, small enough to fit in the llama’s mouth, and not icky – that is, not plain metal, especially if you’re working on a cold day. A light twig comes to mind. A plain stick-type ballpoint pen. A light glove. A sock.
HOW TO TEACH IT – Well, first, in order to reward the llama, you need to get a behaviour, and not the WHOLE behaviour. That’s asking too much. Start with a little bit of the behaviour and build it up as you go.
Start by getting the llama to reliably and cheerfully touch your object. Then, whether it’s a pen, a dumbell, or whatever, you’ll need to shape him to touch it where you want him to – touching a dumbell on the end won’t lead to retrieving! Be sure to remember that you can’t fling an object up in front of a llama’s nose. He can’t focus his eyes on it in that position. If you want to show it to him before you ask him to touch it or take it (and it’s a good idea to show it to him first), bring it up on the SIDE of his face so he can see it clearly with one eye.
When he’s touching it regularly (touch, click, reward; touch, click, reward), after maybe five repetitions, do nothing. Simply stand when he touches it and pretend he didn’t. He has two choices now. He can think “Well, I guess we’re not playing ‘touch’ anymore” and quit If he does this, you need to work your targets more. He needs to have absolutely faith that touching that thing will make the click happen and get him his treat. His second choice is to think “HEY! STUPID! I TOUCHED IT! Weren’t you paying attention? Where’s my treat?”. If you get this “hey stupid” reaction, he’s going to touch it again, a bit harder to make sure you see it this time. That’s exactly what you want – a harder touch. From here you just have to play around with the behaviour until you see a lip twitch over the edge of the object. Be SURE to reward that!
Madrid having a little difficulty figuring out how to get both sides of his prehensile upper lip over the bar of the dumbbell. Yes, he DID figure it out, as well as how to retrieve mitts, oat scoops, whips, leashes, and scarves.