Problematic behavior in llamas
and misdirected territorial aggression

Progression of misdirected territorial aggression

Misdirected territorial aggression does not appear overnight, even though the preliminary symptoms may not be recognized for what they are.

A male llama who is abnormally uncomfortable with humans first shows his discomfort with clucking and posturing.

If not castrated, or if castrated but still nervous, the male may then increase these threats by delivering them from higher ground. He will also begin planting himself in humans' paths, causing the humans to move around him (and thus forcing them into an admission of lower rank). He may also bump into humans when impatient or when trying to gain control of a situation (usually at feeding time) — only lightly at first, but stronger and stronger when light bumps neither gain him anything nor cost him the negative disciplinary measure such as another llama would mete out.

The maturing territorial male may also become agitated and physically bump or attack humans as they clean up his manure. He deliberately places his manure to enforce his territorial claims, and any disturbance is the equivalent of not just ignoring, but ripping down "No Trespassing" signs and waltzing onto the previously signed property as if you owned it. He doesn't understand the first thing about good sanitation practices. He does understand what his instincts and hormones are telling him to do — get rid of all manure vandals!

The aggressive male may also rush up to humans as they enter his pasture, or enter their personal space (defined as the amount of space a normal llama would consider "personal") without explicit permission. These transgressions then progress to bumping or, if a human becomes unnerved and tries to leave, the llama then chasing the human, being pleased with the results, and then expecting to successfully chase and expel first that human and gradually all humans from the pasture.

A male llama with full-blown, uncorrected misdirected territorial aggression typically becomes agitated when a human walks into his visual range — just as the normal territorial male becomes agitated when another male or gelding llama enters the part of his territory outside his fence but inside his clear range of vision. As the male becomes more frustrated with his inability to expel these humans, he may attempt to frighten the human "intruder" off by charging or climbing on the fence, spitting and screaming at the injustice of being unable to resolve the trespass against him. He is dead serious, and make no mistake — a llama who has been allowed to progress to this point IS dangerous, and stout facilities along with a qualified rehabilitator will be necessary to deal with him.

The first symptoms that indicate a llama is at significant risk for developing misdirected or excessive territorial aggression typically begin between 12-18 months; the less dismissable (and frightening) problems typically come to an undeniable head at age 2 or 3 years.

For llamas with mild, preliminary symptoms, full reversal of the offending behaviors is generally accomplished easily when the advice of a successful rehabilitator is sought out and followed. Once a llama has actually progressed to the point that he believes he has established a territory, he can almost never be fully rehabilitated on site. Llamas are extremely visually oriented, and they form strong associations between specific locations and specific behaviors. In short, for them, practice makes permanent. Even after such a llama is relieved of his hormones and otherwise completely cured of his aggressive behavior off site, he can never return to the location where his behavior became a serious problem — he will simply resume the territorial behavior as if he had never left.

Regardless of exact age, all male llamas experience a burst of hormonal influence in the spring. Many perfectly normal intact male llamas seem to loose their heads, fixating on wherever females might be, and presenting handling difficulties on a seasonal basis, some between puberty and their mid- to late teens, others beginning as young adults (age 5-8). These same seasonal influences cause abnormal males to escalate from disrespectful and/or nervous to dangerous misdirected territorial aggression. If you aren't comfortable with a particular llama's behavior, failing to take action before spring arrives in your locale is about the biggest mistake you can make.

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