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Guidelines for spending time
with young llamas
Important lessons for humans to teach to young llamas
There are two lessons that tell crias and weanlings what they can expect from humans, and that these things won't harm them and can be tolerated. An important difference between these lessons and the foregoing guidelines is that the lessons cannot be put into easy-to-understand llama language -- the young llama must put aside fear to discover that our predator-like actions are not, in fact, at all predatory. An important benefit of teaching these lessons is that as the young llama accepts these, s/he is not only becoming less scared of us, but more respectful of our position in llama-human interactions. And the younger these lessons are learned, the safer for all concerned. When possible, we begin these lessons at birth (see "blow drying," below).
Lesson One: Struggling and aggressive attempts to escape when restrained don't work. Crias who learn they CAN get away have some information that is very valuable, but not for us! The lesson we want to teach is actually "DO stand still" (not "DON'T struggle") -- and the desired result (going free) happens whenever the cria stands still. This isn't a very clear lesson, so we expect it to take a number of repetitions, and we don't expect very lengthy "stands" from young crias (their attention spans are very short) or previously unhandled llamas (their fear is too great).
Lesson Two: Touching is something that humans JUST DO, and it's OK. This is actually a multiphase, ongoing lesson that you will teach or reinforce every time you handle a young llama. Making touching a part of every interaction is an important way to both retain desensitization and to have them come to expect, even like, this type of behavior from us. Young llamas learn that allowing touching reinforces us in a way that they like (our behavior becomes predictable, not scary), and that allowing it usually brings other good things, such as attention or progressing through the steps that lead to food (i.e., going in the pen, being haltered, being tied, being given pellets in a feeder).
Many young crias will, with proper socialization, become comfortable with approaching you. Correct reinforcement for this is to send a message that both humans and llama will get something out of the interaction: "If you want to approach the human, you get to say 'hi,' but you are going to get a touching lesson. It is not going to be bad or too long, but it is a tradeoff that must be tolerated."
For older crias who are OK with the touching, the lesson becomes, "Humans get to approach me and I will stand still 'cuz that's how it works." Once they realize that you are after them, most crias will present their side and put their ears in the "conflict" position -- neither forward not back, and indicating that their intellect is in conflict with their instincts. This is good -- it says they respect your position (instinct says "be careful") as well as your wishes (brain says "I am expected to stay right here").
The touching lessons reveal when a young llama is reacting to instinctive triggers (such as defending legs) and needs careful work to form a learned response: human touching is different from other-llama touching. This further reinforces our position as somebody not to be challenged, but to cooperate with.