Sue Ailsby's
LLAMA TRAINING MANUAL

Chapter 26 - Going In Things

Even the wildest, least tame llama sooner or later is going to have to go in somewhere – into a trailer to get to the vet or be sold, or into a chute to have his toenails cut. A llama that WILLINGLY goes in things is a whole different ball game. Imagine taking a llama up in an elevator to visit seniors in a nursing home, then taking him home again in the backseat of your car! When I take a llama to the Vet College in Saskatoon, they always bring out the wranglers and start to open the big doors so I can drive my rig into cattle chutes. How sad! They always seem surprised when I walk one of the ladies out of the trailer politely on a halter and we go in the man-door to the examining room.

COMEBEFORES - You might be able to wrestle an untrained 300 pound llama into a trailer, but you're going to have a lot more fun if he's comfortable wearing a halter, likes treats, and understands how to give to the lead!

START HERE - I like to start with my scale. It's a 4x8 sheet of plywood attached to the scale mechanism, leaving it about 4" off the floor. Without a scale, I'd use a sheet of plywood flat on the floor, or a platform (this is a CLASS show obstacle, a good secure... 4x8 sheet of plywood, about 6" off the ground). Obviously I want to start teaching the llama to get on and off things and in and out of things by having him walk over something large, solid, and safe with good footing. You've set up the situation so you have a good chance of succeeding. By that I mean that there's a simple, safe route for the llama to follow where you want him to go, you have a comfortable, safe spot to stand or walk while you're asking him to go there, and there isn't anything that's going to fall over and scare the willies out of him if he goes in the wrong direction.

AIM FOR THIS - Anywhere you ask the llama to go, he goes, calmly and willingly.

HOW TO TEACH IT - Do some giving-to-the-lead practise to get you both started. When he's willingly going along with what you ask, ask him to walk on the board. He might actually do it. Not likely, but he might! If he does, don't try to hold him on the board. Instead, think about rewarding him for taking that step. If you think about asking him to lean toward the board, you'll be in a good frame of mind to reward him for leaning. If you think about asking him to put one foot on the board for an instant, you'll click and give him a treat for that one foot, rather than being upset when he tries to escape. So, ask for that one foot on the board. Let him take it off. Ask for the foot again, and again let him take it off. Then ask for one foot but instead of letting him leave, use the lead to say simply that you need another foot. You're not trying to pull him onto the board. You're merely saying that he can't get OFF the board until you get that second foot. The instant you get the second foot, release the pressure and let him get off. Ask for one a couple more times, then ask for two again. When he's comfortable with two, ask for three, and so on. At some point he'll notice that it's easier for him to walk OVER the board than to back away from it. Once he's figured that out, give him a break for a minute or two.

If he just goes along in the first place, great! Just be ready to reward him while he's doing what you want, and remember that what you want doesn't include skittering his rear end AROUND the board while his front end goes over it, or jumping over the whole thing, or dashing hysterically on or off it.

ADD A CUE - There isn't a voice cue necessary here. The lead asks him to go forward, we want him to trust you enough to go forward.

MAKE IT BETTER - As always, the more you practise, the better he'll be. The more you take him for walks, in and out of ditches, on the lawn, on cement, on pavement, on gravel, in soft dirt, the more he'll trust you. The more things you ask him to go over or onto, the more comfortable he'll be with following where you lead.


GOING IN TRAILERS

Going in trailers is the obvious use for "going in". For some reason llamas have a bad reputation for fussing about trailers. Every time I walk a llama into a trailer with no hesitation, there seems to be someone watching who finds this a remarkable achievement. I've heard amazed conversation about our trailer habits in the park, at the vet college, at exhibitions, at demonstrations and clinics. And it always surprises me, because my llamas know how to get politely in and out of trailers about three days after I start lead training them. That is, when they're about 10 days old. It's a sweet, easy, and useful behaviour to teach.

The first trick for getting a llama in a trailer is to have another llama tied up in the trailer. Not necessary, but useful. Make that a llama that goes nicely into the trailer and stands politely! If your only available llama is a trailer-fusser, you're better off without him. That other llama is a nice little perk, but not at all necessary.

Next, YOU need to get in the trailer. And then you need to get out of the llama's way. I've seen far too many people try to pull a llama into a trailer while standing directly in his path, so his only choices are to run over the person or stay out of the trailer.

When you were teaching him to give to the lead and to follow the lead, you developed the skill of using the leash to say "I'm not going to force you to go THIS direction, but you can't go any OTHER direction." That's the skill you need for teaching him to get into the trailer. Lead him close enough to the open door of the trailer that you can get in without losing him, but not close enough to get him panicking. Stand in the trailer and set the lead so he can't get his head hooked around a corner. He doesn't have to get into the trailer, but he has to LOOK into the trailer.

If he wants to lower his head to examine the floor, that's fine. If he wants to come closer to the trailer, that's fine too, and when he comes closer, you're not going to try to pull him closer! HE is going to decide to get in the trailer! About the only things he can't do are pull away or get his head stuck around the corner so he isn't aimed at the opening any more.

POTENTIAL PROBLEM - If he gets his front legs jammed up against the trailer, he'll bump his knees when he tries to lift them. Then he'll get the idea that it isn't possible for him to get in the trailer. So if he's so close he's going to bang his knees when he bends them, back him up a little.

Once he figures out how to get in the trailer, stand quietly with him and let him look around, have a treat, and relax a bit before you start teaching him how to get out.

Stacks Image 1961

Dragonfly Tiger Pause practising for a Pack Class. I particularly like this photo because it gives you a good idea of exactly what llamas don't like about going into trailers - on a bright, sunny, snowy day I'm asking him to go into a black pit. He's taking his time to let his eyes adjust and make sure it's safe. Note the lead is set so he can come forward if he wants to, but he can't back up.

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I have him stand in the trailer for a moment, give him a handful of oats, then turn him around and ask him to come out. There are a lot of rules about exits. He's not allowed to leave until I'm out of the trailer. He has to lower his head before he comes out, which puts him in a position to walk politely out of the trailer - he'd have to have his head up in order to LEAP out. And the lead has to be loose - he should step calmly out, then stop and wait for further instructions.

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Pause makes his decision and does a lovely, calm entry into the trailer. As soon as he started to move forward, I allowed him to release the pressure on the lead, thereby rewarding him for making the right choice. I'll tighten it again if I have to, only to remind him to keep coming forward.

TRAILER TRAINING TIP

Don't use a ramp. Ramps are more trouble than they're worth, usually. Llamas are extremely athletic animals. A week-old cria is perfectly capable of jumping into the highest trailer ever made, so don't worry about his physical capacity for this behaviour. Most llamas don't think much about how to step UP into something, so that's the problem you're working on, just giving him a chance to realize that he HAS to do this, and then giving him the opportunity to figure out HOW he's going to do it.

TALK STORY

I was teaching Fast Eddie to go in the trailer when he was 2 weeks old. He just didn't get it. Either he was too close and banged his knees, or he was too far away and he couldn't quite reach, or one foot went up and the other one missed and landed on the ground. We were both getting frustrated so I gave him some oats and put him back out with his buddies. The next morning I brought him over to try again, but he was way ahead of me. He stopped at the trailer door, reared up tall on his back legs and then v-e-r-y c-a-r-e-f-u-l-l-y put both front feet in the trailer. Then he hopped his back feet up. I could practically hear the TA DA! He'd obviously worked this out overnight. It took me quite a while to convince him that he could get in the trailer without having to rear up to full height!


TRAILER TRAINING TIP

Don't allow anyone to help you get the llama in the trailer. You're going to explain calmly and reasonably that getting in the trailer is not a big deal. You're going to show him the inside of the trailer, let him decide to get in, and give him a chance to figure out how to get his front legs inside. JUST at the EXACT instant he decides that he CAN do it and he WILL do it, some "helpful" person will ALWAYS come up behind him and goose him to "give you a hand", thus convincing the llama that standing in the doorway of a trailer is a dumb, scary, dangerous thing to do.


TRAILER TRAINING TIP

If the floor of your trailer is high off the ground, if you've so far only worked on walking over a board and not a raised platform, or if you just want all the help you can get, drive your trailer into a ditch and back it up to a road or put it somewhere else where a bit of a hill makes getting in it easier for the llama's introduction to getting in the trailer. Do NOT think that using a ramp is going to make your life easier!


TRAILERING ADVICE

Llamas ride loose in trailers. Their necks are too long and their bodies too large to be safe tied up. Be sure to pad the floor heavily with straw (if you want to put shredded paper or a carpet in the trailer, put it over a thick bed of straw), and drive slowly for the first block or so - all the llamas should lie down. For this reason, if you're hauling a nursing mother, be sure to stop from time to time long enough for the baby to nurse.

If we've got several llamas going in the same compartment of a trailer, we tie them up inside as we put them in. The last person out of the trailer counts out loud as she unsnaps the leads, and the person guarding the door makes sure the count matches the number of llamas in the trailer. When we get somewhere, every llama is tied up again before ANY llama is taken out of the compartment. Once we got ourselves and the 4-H kids into this habit, we could stop worrying about whether we'd have llamas roaming the streets of Regina by accident!



GOING IN CARS

Now that's a bit trickier than getting in a trailer, mainly because of the very high floor and the very low roof. I'm not much of a fan of llamas in cars. I've seen three unrestrained dogs go through windshields, and don't like to think of what a llama would do to the back of your head in an accident.

At the same time, we did bring home our first two llamas kushed in the back of a Suburban. For that trip we were thinking more about not having them in our laps than we were about accidents. We tied their leads to rings in the floor to make sure they didn't go wandering during the drive. They kushed almost the whole trip, and didn't bark at people as we drove!

Teaching a llama to go in a minivan will be about the same as teaching him to go in the trailer, though you might want to read the part about teaching him to lower his head before you start. It's possible that he might not be physically capable of getting himself into the back of a station wagon, though. You might have to lift him. This is how it's done.

One person in the front of the car holds the lead tight with the llama's head as far into the car as he can get it. It will help a LOT if you've introduced this idea to him properly, so he may be puzzled at the strange things you ask him to do, but not scared of what's happening.

Two people standing beside him bend and pick up his front legs and place him, kushed, in the car. The person holding the lead tightens it up to keep him there while the two lifters boost his back end. If he's going along with the idea, it might be easier to lift his front end by joining hands under his chest.

You may think you're set with a good solid trailer and you'll never need to know how to do this. But there we were, -35 degrees (much too cold to be transporting a very sick llama three hours in a trailer, and the trailer stuck in five feet of snow anyway), driving to the Vet College in Saskatoon with a sick yearling in the back of the car.

If it's not an emergency, once you've got a llama in your car, don't forget to stop at a drive-through. Those people need a little excitement in their lives!
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Fanny in the back of a VW station wagon. Fanny got in the car with a minimum of fuss, but you can tell by his big pouty lips that he's neither happy nor comfortable in there yet. Time and lots of oats will change his mind.
Stacks Image 1965
While I'm talking about driving around with your llama in your car, I have to point out that it's NOT a safe way to transport the animal - either for you, or for the critter.

But at least you're not bungie-cording him to the roof rack, right?!