LLAMA TRAINING MANUAL
Chapter 9 - Stay Stopped!
Well, he stops. He goes. The POINT, however, was to catch him, hmmm?
COMEBEFORES - He'll need to know both Go and Stop.
START HERE - We'll start with the llama in the round pen. You're standing in the middle of the pen.
AIM FOR THIS - When you look at his tail, he moves forward around the pen. When you look at his head, he stops, back ups, or goes the other way. Now you're going to balance him so you can approach him. You'll say "Jimmy!" or "Jimmy, Whoa!", he'll stop and stand still while you walk up to him.
HOW TO TEACH IT - Somewhere between the llama's head and tail, there's a balance point. It's usually just behind the shoulder, but you'll have to ask your llama to help you find the exact location. When your head and shoulders are pointed directly at this spot (remember this is what I mean when I say you're "looking" at that spot), you aren't asking the llama to go forward OR back. You're asking him to stand still. The problem he's going to have is that standing still might be OK, but standing still while you approach him probably isn't on his agenda. When you were asking him to go forward, you rewarded his effort by letting him walk forward out of the pressure zone. Since you're now asking him to stand still, YOU are going to have to turn away or move away from him when he's done a good job. The closer you get to him, the harder it'll be for him to stand still and the more important the reward will be. Ask him to walk forward and stop a couple of times just to be sure you're both communicating. Then with him stopped, instead of rewarding him, switch your power from his head to his balance point. If he's very calm and you're very good, he'll remain standing still. But not likely! Probably, he'll see you moving your power from his head toward his tail and assume you're asking him to move forward. Good thing you've been practising stop and go! If he moves forward, look at his head immediately to stop him. If he moves backward, look at his tail to stop him from going in that direction. You'll have to play around with this a bit until he understands what you're saying. Don't get frustrated, and above all remember to turn away from him to reward him when he gets it right. When you're both good at balancing, you can ask for a little more. With one arm, point at the balance point. Watch for a weight shift or neck movement as he decides to move, and be ready to shift your power to stop him. If he starts to move forward, you'll look at his head. If he starts to move back or turn, you'll look at his tail. As your communication gets better, you'll find that from the balance point you can move or stop him by shifting your power a couple of inches rather than having to look all the way to his head or tail. Keep trying until you can point your arm toward his balance point while looking there without him moving. Be sure to reward him by turning away and lowering your arm when he stands still. Then with your arms at your sides, look at the balance point and take a small step toward it. Stop any forward or backward motion immediately and reward him for standing still. When he's got that, take that small step forward AND point. Somewhere in here he's going to decide you're too darn close and he's going to get out of the way. Usually at this point I'll push him three or four times around the pen and then give him a chance to rest by asking him to stop, then start explaining what I want again. Don't be afraid to back up or start over. You're trying to explain something quite complicated and probably unpleasant to an alien being who doesn't speak English. You're both going to make mistakes!
POSSIBLE PROBLEM - It's really important that you work in a pen with no little spots the llama can get caught in. If he can go face-first into a small cubbyhole, you can't balance him, and constantly having to get him out of the space and back onto the rail isn't going to do your relationship any good at all.
IN OTHER WORDS - If he's taking treats from you, ask him to move around the pen, click and reward him for moving. Move him again, and ask him to stop, click and reward for stopping. Move him again, stop him, balance him, click/reward for balancing. Move him again, stop him, balance him, take a step toward him, C/R for staying still. Keep working until you're touching his withers.
GETTING BETTER - As he's able to trust you to be closer to him, to continue speaking clearly about what you want, and to keep rewarding him when he guesses right, you'll be able to get closer and closer before turning away. Then that magic moment you're looking at his balance point, you're very close to him, he's comfortable you reach your hand out and touch his withers! And he stands still! Don't get too caught up in the moment - this is a good time to make a big impression. At the very least leave the pen for a minute if you can't stop the lesson altogether.
ADD A CUE - You've already been working on a cue for this behaviour "Whoa!". You can continue using that, or any time now you can start using his name as a cue to tell him you want him to stand still. Myself, I say "Whoa" when I'm working with a llama, and I use his name when I'm catching him. To add this cue, say his name "Jimmy!" and immediately ask him to stand still by looking at his balance point. Soon he'll stop when you say his name.
USING IT - He's bigger than you are, he's faster than you are, he's stronger than you are, he's almost as smart as you are, but he's willing to accept your explanation and let you walk right up to him. How magical is that?!
TRAINING TIP - A cue that doesn't work is just nagging. If you want your cues to get results, in the beginning you have to use them ONLY when you KNOW the llama is going to give you the behaviour you're asking for. If you're seeing now that your llama is stopping when you say WHOA, great, but when you start asking him to stay still while you go up to him, STOP USING THE CUE. Why? Because standing still while you walk up to him is NOT the same behaviour as standing still with you in the middle of the pen. It's much more difficult. Don't start saying WHOA again until you KNOW he's going to stand still for whatever you're going to do.
TRAINING TIP - When I find myself in a barn or pen with a group of llamas, I'll frequently go through the bunch one at a time. Fox! and I'll walk to her balance point, touch her withers, and turn to the next one. Annie! It only takes a minute to run through a dozen llamas, maintaining contact and checking health and condition. If I find one that's behaving badly, I'll have her stop several times, or run my hands down her back and up her neck, or work with her for a moment until she relaxes enough to allow me to pick up a foot.