Spot is the first llama we bred from our own, but when he was born in January 2013 I realised I didn't have a halter small enough to fit him.
"It's OK", I thought "I'll just make sure he is used to being handled, then I will halter train him later!"
AHAH... Silly me! By the time I got a tiny halter and was ready to try it on Spot he was already a few months old and NOT KEEN. I didn't want to force it on him so focused on training his younger brother and sister, all went easily there.
Spot grew bigger and stronger and friendlier too. A really cuddly boy, but seemed to also develop a real fear of ropes, halters and even confined spaces such as pens!
Clearly I still hadn't learned much by then because I let it go again and just gave him what he liked... Pats, scratches and food...
So I started to think of ways to halter him... "Just put it on!" Said other experienced llama owners... So I got him in a pen with a catch rope around his neck and tried my best to force the hater onto his nose... All the while fearing for the safety of my own nose, as Spot was thrusting about very close to my face... Then... He jumped!! The naughty llama jumped over a 1.6 m metal fence and hurt his leg in the process... Luckily no real damage was done, but I realised that we were both going to be hurt unless I could get him to ACCEPT the halter. He was too tall and strong and there was no way I could FORCE him to do anything!
A llama trainer and neighbour had introduced me to the idea of clicker training a while back so I decided to give that a go.
Within minutes, Spot (who's VERY food oriented!) had learned to kiss (touch my nose) on command. I was very much encouraged to continue.
The next day, I got him to touch the halter instead. Success! For the first time he was actually willing to get close to the thing!
Then I put the halter between him and the treat dish, like I had seen in a Camelidynamics video and he willingly put his nose into the halter to eat.
To my surprise he seemed quite OK with that too and within minutes I was able to buckle his halter up... Then I let go and waited for a reaction...
Note that due to Spot's fear of confined spaces we were working in the open paddock and I was expecting him to run off bucking and kicking. Instead he just stood there, making the occasional funny face, but still willing to come to me to touch a target for food.
I took his halter off and put it back in several times, all the while clicking and rewarding him for calm behaviour. He took it all in his stride.
Next, I got him to touch the lead for a click and treat and at the following session I hooked the lead to the halter... Still no reaction.
I started tagging him very gently and rewarded him for coming to me, which he did even too willingly.,
Finally I haltered Valentine and I took them both for a short walk out of the paddock. Here there ware a few short bucking episodes as Spot lost his focus, but he responded well to a sharp NO and a call to touch a target and food. I am glad I had a really long lead so I was able to let him have a few crazy moments without getting hurt or losing control.
Done! In only about 5 short sessions over 10 days, my Spot went from halter-phobic to walking on the lead quite well, all thanks to a clicker, lots of food and a very inexperienced handler.
The best part of it all is that I feel I was actually communicating with him.
I think the fact that Spot was comfortable being close to me and being touched really helped, I'm now trying this method for some of my more skittish llamas but I think it'll take me longer... Still, looking forward to building a stronger bond with them and making our lives easier in the process!