Last year I purchased a female that tends to "cush"
every time she is handled. She has never been halter
trained. This makes her very easy to handle for
maintenance, but the only ways to move her are to herd her, drag,
or carry her. Her daughter is taking on the same
tendency. We are new to this and are at a loss. We'd
like to halter train them, but what do you do if they just lie
that cush do so for a number of different reasons. Your alpaca may
be cushing for one or more of the following reasons:
1. She feels overwhelmed and doesn't understand what is being
asked of her.
2. The halter doesn't fit and she feels as if it will slip off of
the nose bone and suffocate her.
3. She has been dragged around by the head in the past and is now
withdraw by cushing whenever she is attached to a person by a
4. Her mother told her to cush when ever she feels
these alpacas, trying to pull them up by the head, or lifting them
up from the back is usually not successful.
The following plan will address these issues and will get your
alpaca up and walking on her own:
that this is a very involved question and I am giving you a very
abbreviated answer. My book offers much more detail about how to
make each of these techniques work for you.)
Work in a catch pen, use a rope attached to a wand (lightweight
pole) to catch her from a distance, approach her from behind her
eye leaving her an escape route within the pen and put her into
balance rather than restraining her. I bet you will see a big
difference. If she cushes as you are haltering, you can just
proceed while she is laying down. If she puts her head down,
it is important to ask her to bring it up. Use an
intermittent upward signal to get her head up and take pressure
off when the head is up. If she lowers it again, repeat the
process. Steady upward pressure will only cause her to push
down harder with her head.
Ideally your training pen is located so that it opens out to a
long narrow area like a barn aisle way.
Once the halter in on, use a very long lead and clip it to the
side ring on the nose band of the halter.
Halter fit is a very important aspect of solving the problem (for
more information on halter fit see the article on my website
Major Behavioral Problems in 30 Seconds").
I use a halter that is designed to fit well up on the nose very
close to the eye and features rings on the nose band. I use
the ring on the nose band for solving leading problems.
Leading from under the chin will cause your alpaca to tilt the
nose up, if you pull steadily this posture make the alpaca
uncomfortable and increase the likelihood that she will lay down.
I use an extension lead that is about 17 feet long for this
purpose, the lead has a fastex buckle in the middle so that I can
unclip the extension and it becomes a regular lead. The long
lead is important because it changes the leading dynamic.
Alpacas with this difficulty are accustomed to laying down as soon
as the person is within 6 feet of them. A long lead gets you
far enough away that the alpaca feels confident enough to get up,
this gives you a second chance to explain what you want without
the alpaca withdrawing from the process as soon as you attach a
lead rope to the head.
Open the door to the catch pen and get as far away from the alpaca
as you can. At this point your alpaca will most likely get
up and you can begin teaching her that signals on her head are
actually meaningful and are an indication for her to take a step.
To do this, think of your hand as a ratcheting device.
Offer a very light signal on the lead with a partial release
(imagine you are leading a butterfly), followed immediately by
another signal and a partial release. Look at your alpacas
feet, your signals are intended to shift her balance until she has
to take a step. It is important to continue giving the
signals until she takes the step this helps the alpaca make the
connection between the signals and their meaning. When she
takes a step release totally and begin again. Most alpacas
will make the connection between the signals on the head and the
movement of the feet after about 8 or 10 steps.
Use the long lead until your alpaca is walking nicely and
gradually shorten the lead until you no longer need to be so far
away. Happy Leading!
~ Marty McGee Bennett