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July 01, 2005 Fear of Suffocation When Haltered


Llama Training

We have a 19 month old gelding who is very friendly and can be touched almost anywhere...except his head and mouth.  We are very green and are just learning to halter train.  This guy seems to think we're going to suffocate him if we get anywhere near his face.  He was given oral meds when he was very young, so I guess this is the result.  How do we overcome this problem?  I'm trying your massage techniques, but can't get past his jaw-bone.  Needless to say, we haven't haltered him yet.....Thanks!

Llama Training


Hi Bruce and Suzanne, thanks for your email.  I am assuming that by age 19 months this guy has been haltered before.  If so, you may be dealing with a situation where in he has been suffocated or at least it feels that way to him. He could be one of many alpacas who have been forced into a halter that doesn't fit.  Alpacas are semi-obligate nasal breathers and as such breathe primarily through their nose.  Wearing a halter that can slip forward and off the bone is very frightening and potentially very dangerous for these animals and they know it.  Make sure that you do some reading and research about proper halter fit and make sure that you are using a proper halter for him.  There is a very detailed article on my website entitled "Solving Major Behavior Problems in 30 Seconds" that is entirely about the subject.

Having said that, many novices have difficulty haltering alpacas that more experienced handlers can halter easily... and maybe you haven't even gotten that far, if so I have few suggestions for you.  If you are not working in a catch pen then make sure to get one and use it.  A good catch pen is 9 x 9 feet or so.  If you are working in a catch pen and you are still having trouble you might stack some bales of hay inside to make the pen even smaller.  Stack the bales at least two high on two sides to create a pen that is 7.5 x 7.5 feet or so.  This will make a big difference.  You could also try putting 5-6 alpacas in the pen at the same time with your gelding and that will have the double effect of making him feel safer because he won't be alone and slowing him down because of the crowd. 

I would also encourage you to come to a clinic to get some hands on lessons in handling.  Handling animals is very much like riding a horse it is an endeavor that is greatly enhanced by lessons.  Trial and error often results in a frustrated person and an animal that learns escape and evasion instead of cooperation.  My techniques involve much more than massage.  Learning to properly approach, catch and put your animal in balance is much more important to your success than massage.  If you have not read "The Camelid Companion" that may help too but begin at the beginning and don't skip ahead to the haltering chapter.  The way you initially approach your alpaca is very important.  Hope some of these suggestions help you with your alpaca.

Happy Handling.




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