Novice Handler Syndrome is a long recognised condition where an over-handled or bottle-fed cria accepts people as its herd and then fulfils his natural desire to dominate the herd and become physically intimidating. It particularly applies to males but female alpacas can become disrespectful and difficult too. Clucking and spitting are the more likely outcome but occasionally females also are physically menacing. We have seen one of these “berzerk” alpacas. He is extremely dangerous and in our opinion should be “put down” – he could easily kill either a child or an adult straying into his paddock. This extreme behaviour is caused ENTIRELY by the way the alpaca is handled as a cria, and for this reason is now known as “Novice Handler Syndrome”.
Prevention is easier than cure!
One very important facet of the “Novice Handler Syndrome” previously known as “Berzerk Alpaca Syndrome” is the tendency of people to misinterpret the beginnings of aggressive behaviour for friendliness. Young alpaca babies that rub, lean, stand closely, or walk right up and put their nose in your face or crotch and fail to yield space when you move toward them are not being friendly. These behaviours are the beginnings of aggression – the alpaca is checking out the boundaries of behaviour to see what is allowed. If you do nothing to discourage this seemingly “friendly” behaviour it usually escalates and the alpaca can become completely unmanageable
While there is nothing wrong with a young alpaca soliciting a greeting with neck and nose extended and then waiting politely for you to lean forward to participate in the greeting, sticking his nose in your face any time he feels like it is crossing the line of allowable behaviour. Be clear about the fact that you have a personal space and he is not allowed in it. A human need only stop an animal from entering this space; we do not need to chase him away. Tell the alpaca what you want him to do: “STAY BACK”. However, remember to be a teacher rather than a boss and don’t participate in dominance contests with your alpacas (“I will show this animal who is the boss” attitude). Treat males and female babies the same – insist on respectful behaviour from both sexes but avoid confrontation.
If you are bottle feeding you need to ensure the cria remains in the herd even if he is motherless, and that he is handled to an absolute minimum – feed him and walk away!
Cria (alpaca babies) do best if they have other babies to play with. With other babies around in many cases, the whole problem becomes a non-issue. The best alpacas are those raised by older alpacas who are well treated and correctly handled. We at The Alpaca Place always endeavour to sell our alpacas when they are mature, or to sell a mature alpaca with weanlings. It makes all the difference!