Moving is the most basic behaviour you’ll teach your llama. Something he already knows how to do!
START HERE – Start with a single llama in the round pen. He doesn’t have to have any tack on for this, and he doesn’t need to be willing to take your treats from you. Stand in the middle of the pen. The llama will be on the “rail” out of your personal space.
AIM FOR THIS – Your llama is in a pen. You say “Let’s Go” and/or wiggle your fingers, and he walks calmly around the pen, or out of the pen into the barn, or wherever you want him to go
HOW TO TEACH IT – The key word here is CALMLY. An animal that’s hysterically trying to escape is an animal that’s going to get hurt, whether by slipping and injuring himself or by impaling himself on something, or an animal that’s going to hurt you. We want the llama to know there is always a safe way to do what we want him to do. Stand in the middle of the pen. Turn your head and shoulders toward the llama’s tail. The llama moves forward. Keep looking in the same part of the pen let the llama move out of your “power” without you following him. You have used your power to push him forward, and relieved the pressure on him when he did what you wanted. If he doesn’t move, lean toward his tail. If he still doesn’t move forward, take ONE step toward his tail. If he still doesn’t move, take another step. If you’re doing this quietly and calmly, slowly increasing the amount of emotional pressure you put on his tail, he has lots of opportunity to escape from the pressure without getting upset and spurting forward. Then he has a moment to stand in peace before you again ask him to move forward. Work on this until you can do it calmly and the llama moves forward calmly around the pen when you put a little pressure on his tail.
POSSIBLE PROBLEM – If you’re working in a square or rectangular pen, the llama might get stuck with his face in a corner and his tail towards you. From here, he’s unlikely to move anywhere. I define very few llama behaviours as Big Sins, but in my barn, giving me butt is a Big Sin. Always assuming the llama hasn’t previously learned to kick, anytime a llama does this, I’ll tickle his inner thighs. If he’s a kicker, or if I’m concerned that he might be, I’ll either tickle the outside FAR thigh, or use my whip to tickle him between his back legs. Llamas hate this. As soon as he swings his rear end away from me, the tickling stops and I move back into the centre of the pen and ask him again to move forward. Now you know why a round pen is better than a square one!
GETTING BETTER – Once the llama is moving reliably and calmly when you ask him to, you can ask for more. Instead of using your power to push once and then stop, ask him to move, then pivot to follow his tail as he goes to drive him a few steps around the pen, then turn away. You can build up to having him go several times around the pen as you turn to follow him with your face and shoulders.
ADD A CUE – Now you can add a signal and/or a voice cue for moving. I want my llamas to clearly understand whether I’m asking them to move or whether I’m going to catch them. A voice cue or hand signal must always mean the same thing. You can’t ask the llama to move and then get frustrated because he wouldn’t stand still. And you can’t expect him to understand what you mean if you use five different words or signals at different times to get him to come to you. When I want llamas to move, my voice cue is “Let’s go!” and my hand signal is one or both hands waving a very fast Queen wave. It doesn’t matter what words or hand signals you choose, but think it through before you start and pick something that will come easily to mind so you’ll remember it and use it every time. Don’t start using a cue until you have the behaviour you want, and then use it, in the beginning, simply to PREDICT the action you want. In this case, with the llama consistently moving away from your pressure when you look at his tail, wave your hand and say “Let’s Go!” THEN focus on his tail to make him move. Pretty soon he’ll notice that every time you wave your hand or say the cue, you make him move, so he’ll start moving in response to the motion.
USING IT – Bringing llamas in from a pasture is nothing more than teaching them to move, then using your emotional power to push them in the right direction and to block them from going in the wrong direction. There’s not much that’ll make people swear faster than a whole herd of llamas heading for the wrong end of a big pasture! Most people know that you don’t bring ONE llama in from a pasture. You bring them all in and then separate out the ones you don’t want. We’ll talk more about blocking forward motion in the next chapter. You’re teaching the llama the first thing he needs to know about lead training to move forward. You’re teaching him the first thing he needs to know about halter training to turn his side to you and not his rear. You’re teaching him the first thing he needs to know about trusting you. When you tell him to move, he’ll be able to do it, and nothing bad will happen to him when he does.
TRAINING TIP – To really have a solid response to a cue, you’ll need to practise it in as many different locations as possible. When the two of you have a nice ballet going in your practise pen, try the same thing in several different pens. Once you’ve got the llama moving, stopping, being haltered and walking on a lead, you can try using a long line to allow you to push him around a circle without a pen. Wait a minute wouldn’t that be the start of ground driving?!
TRAINING TIP – Be sure that you continue to stand in the centre of the pen. Pivot as the llama goes around, being sure to always leave him a free space to go comfortably forward.