Thursday, February 10, 2011

Alpaca Zen



To get the food, you must give up the food... First rule of Zen training. The dogs learn it so they won't leap up and steal food out of your hands (taking fingers in the process), and now the alpacas are learning it so they won't mug me and spit all over me to get their daily grain. I like the term 'Zen' training as well because it isn't bossy or pushy or forceful, it involves doing nothing to get what you want, which is a peaceful way to train.

So I went out this morning and filled a bowl and invited a packy into the garden area (out of spitting range of the other two). I held the bowl and as Red tried to dive in, I blocked him with my hand. If he got real pushy I turned away. As soon as he turned his head away from the bowl I clicked and thrust the bowl out to him to take a bite, then took it away again. After repeating a few times he quit trying to jam his head into the bowl and just stood back and waited. That also gets a click and another bite from the bowl. When it looked like he understood, I clicked and set the whole bowl on the ground and let him finish his breakfast in peace.

I repeated the training with the other two individually, and it worked just as well. It took a few tries, and they figured out they got their food faster by staying back. I did it again at dinner time and it went just as well. I'll be curious to see how quickly they pick this up and give up on rushing the bowl. So far, excellent results, and I didn't get spit on at all.

I went to the feed store for some supplies today and picked up a long horse whip - about four foot long. I find this is perfect to help gently move the alpacas around. Now if they crowd me or aim their butt at me, I can encourage them to move while remaining outside of kicking range. A few gentle taps with the whip and they scoot out of the way.

What do you know? I may be smarter than an alpaca!

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