These terms are often used interchangeably, but in general, we regard training as teaching the alpaca to respond in a desired manner to verbal or non-verbal clues, and handling as how we work with the animal. For example, teaching an animal to move when its lead rope is lightly tugged, is training. Teaching it to stand quietly while it is haltered, is handling. Training requires an active response from the alpaca, handling a passive response.
A “halter-trained” alpaca is not necessarily a well-handled one! Many alpacas “learn” halter training by being cornered, held and haltered, and then taught to lead by being pulled and pushed until they hopefully get it right! It is a credit to most alpacas that they not only tolerate this experience, but that they go on to become decently behaved.
Unfortunately, however, not all alpacas can cope with this rough and ready form of “training” and become difficult to catch, halter, lead and handle. You don’t want a fight every time you want to handle or halter your alpaca!
It is outside the scope of this website to attempt to give instruction on how to train your alpaca, or on other than simple handling techniques. At The Alpaca Place, we train our alpacas so that – if you purchase one from us – you don’t have to! We also offer tuition in handling techniques – these cost $200 + GST per person for a 2-3 hour session. Of course, if you buy your alpaca from us, this training is free so you get the most benefit from having a well-handled, well-trained alpaca.
The key to handling your alpaca is a correctly sized pen or yard. For training and handling you need a yard that is sized between 8′ and 10′ square – 8′ square is the ideal. Even if you have a well-trained and handled alpaca, you will need a yard of some sort, as almost no alpacas will allow you to simply walk up and catch them in a paddock or overlarge yard. Even in a yard, there is right way and a wrong way to catch your alpaca – and we teach these techniques in our handling classes.
Remember, alpacas do not generally like being touched, although when treated with respect they learn to tolerate such touching as is necessary for normal handling. Never touch your alpaca unnecessarily, nor should you attempt to pet, stroke or fondle them. Touching your alpaca should be restricted to when they are in the catch pen, or once they are haltered – never in their field. Once your alpaca learns you can be relied on not to inappropriately touch him, you will be able to approach very close before he moves away. We can walk within 3-4 feet of our alpacas even when they are sunning themselves – a true sign of trust, as an alpaca lying flat on the ground is in a very vulnerable position!
Young cria that are inappropriately handled by novice handlers can become difficult to manage as adults as the natural respect of an alpaca for a human is broken down – for more information on this syndome see “Novice Handler Syndrome”
A halter is a leading aid – it should not be used to restrain your alpaca (an alpacas long neck gives it an excellent leverage tool!), nor should your alpaca be tethered for grazing. We do not recommend leaving your alpaca tied on a short rope either – your alpaca is not a horse, dog or goat! Alpacas cannot breathe through their mouths, and this combined with a short nasal bone, makes a halter a potential suffocation threat. Treat halters on alpacas with caution! Always make sure your halter is properly fitted – most people have the noseband too low. Remember that the changing length of the fleece behind the head will have an effect on a halters fit – you should double check the fit of your halter every time you put it on, not just rely on the fact “that it was right last time”. Correct halter fit is essential, not only for your alpacas comfort, but also its safety. When you buy your alpaca from The Alpaca Place, free tuition is given in haltering and halter fit – we consider it crucial knowledge. Correct Halter fit can be a life or death issue!