Small successes are still successes.

Training today was fun. Although I really missed my training buddy Alexis. I worked with the boys starting with Aragorn and Leander in the pen. Aragorn was not interested in clicker training so I didn’t press him to be haltered either. I just want him to relax inside the pen. He is a tricky one but I am going to take the slow approach with him.

Leander quite enjoyed the clicker training although he was very v e r y   s l o w. I used the same method of holding the halter up, to encourage him to hold his head and then click, as I do with William. Considering this was his first time doing it he was great. I went on the mid line catch him to halter him, first time in so long I’ve tried it as I had reverted back to using the wand method, and then led him through the hurdle passage. It felt really good to be out there doing it again.

William was up next doing a new variation on clicker training. I had just been holding the halter and putting it over his nose but I realised I still need to mid line catch him. So we’ve effectively moved back a stage. Not that it matters. Todays method was holding up the halter helper and when he holds himself/his head near my hand and the helper I click. I also progressed to putting my other hand on the other side of his neck. Not touching him though as he was very very nervous. I also started clicker training him to accept the first touch of the mid line catch.

I worked a little with Roger but he is very nervous in the pen so we only did a tiny amount and then left it on a good note.

I’ve saved reporting the best part of the session for last. I invited Marmite into the pen. Although I had to move everyone else first as both Leander and WIlliam assert their dominance over him at every opportunity. I went slowly but like William he loves clicker training and is very bright so I had the best quickest results with him. In fact he loved it so much I managed to put the halter helper on him and take it off again all through clicker training and he held his calm. So so happy with him.

I can also report that none of the other boys really care for apples except for William who goes crazy for them.


Power Wood here we come

We are very busy getting ready for our first ever excursion to PowerWood.

We leave next week.

We have some clicker training activities planned as well as making tagulators.

Susie was practising target training today. She loves her pony nuts! She knew she needed to move towards the green bucket I had placed out as a target but she still liked to try just to snuffle them out of the frisbee or even the training bag where I keep the extras.

I’m thinking of taking three chickens for clicker training too….

Sometimes we just need the right language

I only went to Worcester but I could have been to the moon and back.

Marty McGee’s Advanced Camelidynamics course was very dynamic. I love her style of teaching especially how reflective of her own methods she is and how willing to share her thoughts as the course went along. I definitely recommend the course to everyone who owns alpacas or llamas. I left feeling like I had only just scratched the surface but with enough tools to explore and develop at home.

The three top things I have taken away from the course have been the following;

Clicker training! I love clicker training or marker based training. It is very effective stuff. We trained some of the Simply Alpaca alpacas to touch a target for a reward and we trained their chickens too. My only frustration since I’ve been back is that I can’t find my clicker! So I have already been online and ordered some so we can all train alpacas, chickens, geese and rabbits… oh, and I’ll have a go at training the piggies too. Apparently it is pretty much the best way to actually share a good time with animals. Can I be anymore enthusiastic?

Zoopharmacognosy! This is based on the awareness that animals (in the wild) will self medicate. Domesticated animals often don’t have access to all the herbs they may need so we can help by providing a choice of herbs or essential oils for them to chose their own medication! I’m looking forward to reading Caroline Ingrahams new book wen it comes out this summer to discover more.

Last but not at all least- The Science of Behaviour! Wow. It was like finally finding the language to describe what I already believed. The ABC principles are; A. Make the right behaviour easier, B. Behaviour is an action not a label (learn to describe it by what is happening) and C. make the right behaviour rewarding. I may take Susan Friedmans online course Living and Learning with Animals sometime this year.

Altogether a full packed learning experience that I want to do again please.

On the plus side I’ve joined a research group on the down side…

On the down side I have lost all confidence in myself, my ability to work with animals and my animals.

What is going wrong?

I took the girls in for a training session. I started with Ida but she was difficult to catch. Trying the assertive method I probably caught her in a compromising position. She was annoyed about it and wouldn’t leave the shelter without me giving her some gentle encouragement from my hips. I did also try to take her towards the house whereas previously we always walk down our track. So it was a short session with Ida and not so fulfilling although once she is on the halter she is super sweet. I am also aware that leading one alpaca by itself isn’t going to work. More on the solution to that in a minute.

Then I took Susie out. She was fantastic at first. I caught her easily. She left the shelter easily. Then just as we stepped onto the track she just lay down. I gave her lots of Ttouch and even tried Ttouching her legs only to discover that got her up. Useful trick to know. It worked again when she lay down ‘dead’ two minutes later. So Susie isn’t keen on this trekking with alpacas thing.

Then I thought, why not? Let’s try Dolores. As you can see in the photos she was very good at standing still. But she wouldn’t really go anywhere.

I need a refresher course or some more compliant animals. Hard not to feel like this was another  crazy idea and I am not capable of pulling it off. But I don’t feel like that for long. Did I ever think it was going to be easy>? Nope I did not. Am I longing for the satisfaction of  getting them to be trained and super duper easy? Yes that is all I dream of.

They say never blame your tools. Can I blame my set up?

It is terrible and I need to get my midway finances for the SSE grant in so I can buy new hurdles so I can do the handling in a proper setting. Phew. I will get there.

And if it is me that needs to change my techniques (almost definately is) then good thing I am going on Marty’s advance in two days!

The research group is a project Cornwall Council are setting up about asking organisation if they feel they have enough autism training. We get to write the questions, chose who to ask, go ask people and write the report. Or course we aren’t paid but it is useful avenue to networking with others.

How to spit it out and Susie is a tricksy one

Ok so yesterday I said I’d bought a book about being a woman with Aspegers but I wasn’t comfortable with that classification. I just wanted to say why because I don’t want to upset anyone who is happy being an Aspie woman.

I’ll get on to tricksy Susie at the end. Bear with me.

Or skip this self indulgent blah explanation ang get straight to the fun bit about alpacas.

To get diagnosed with autism as an adult in the UK there seem to be only one way and that is as an adult with Aspergers.

When I was trying to find out if my beautiful (capable and amazing) son was on the spectrum I read lots online and took out books in the library. One of the books which really spoke to me directly was Thom Hartmann’s ‘Attention Deficit Disorder. A different Perception’. So while I was unsure about my son I was sure I had ADD.

I went to my GP twice. The first time I was sent away with ‘you have probably been reading too much into your sons condition and now self identify. Come back again if you feel nothing has changed.’  I saw a different GP the second time. He told me I had anxiety (new to me but turned out to be true) and probably had Bipolar not autism. Anyway he did send me to a counsellor (she was fantastic and weirdly Colombian!). And she referred me to the Asperger psychologist. In my first session I was quite sure I did not have Aspergers but probably ADD or possibly High Functioning Autism. You see I was quite particular about the differences especially at this point of being new to reading about each different strand on the spectrum. But they only offer the Asperger diagnosis. So after four or five sessions (and talking to my Mum) the psychologist said I had a working diagnosis of Aspergers. But I have never been comfortable with this ‘label’ and I’ll explain more below.

I did ask for a ‘test’ for ADD and went along to an intial meeting. It was horrible experience. I cried. Basically if I wanted drugs she would refer me to the specialist. But I didn’t and don’t so I left. Humiliated and wondering why I had wanted to put myself through all this.

It was a good experience in many ways because I really felt utterly crap afterwards and realised I was capable in many ways and what I wanted to do was stop myself falling in big holes and messing up my life as I had done before. So I picked myself up and am slowly starting from the basics.

These are a few of the reasons I know I have ADD.

Disorganisation and indecision followed by snap decisions (not always good ones).

(Very very) Easily distracted from things I am not interested in but can not bear/hear/notice others when I am loving what I am doing.

Distortions of time sense… I am a total daydreamer or obsessive about a task I want to complete. More commonly known to everyone around me as not paying attention to them.

As a child I also used to sit outside my mums friends houses and collect stones (often just gravel 😦 ). I would not go in.

I could go on (obsessively) but anyway I don’t believe I am an Aspbie because I don’t classify things (I don’t like labels really), I don’t remember facts (although I do remember telephone numbers long ones), so that’s why…

If anyone wants to keep talking about this or themselves or the differences between ADD, Aspegers, High Functioning Autism… I’ll happily do that…

So Susie…

I went and took Ida out for a fifth time and noticed that the others were being mean to her as I haltered her. I thought, ‘huh they are making it personal’ so after I took Ida out on the lead rope I haltered Susie.

Oh she does like contortions and using her body to not do things. It could have been considered painful. Each movement her head was low and she took steps in groups of two or three then stopped. But I was patient. Even when she lay down I just went over and gave her some Ttouch. And waited then encouraged her to get up. And she did it. She doesn’t like going round the old branches and she didn’t like going back into the shelter, as it had small space with me infront, so I went behind her and gave her a little push (oh and more Ttouch) and in she went.

It was slow. And she was stumbly and tricksy. But she did do it. Next stop Dolores, Mrs spitty pants herself. We can do it girls!

2 weeks til Marty’s Clinic am I ready??

It’s only two weeks til Marty’s clinic!

The course is going to be great!

I’ll be videoed to see how I am at handling on the first day! Eek. That is scary.

Marty will be teaching us how to teach leading. Very useful for showing people new to alpacas once the trekking starts (there will be trekking, there will!).

We will cover Ttouch (yeah love this) and body positioning (essential with alpacas), herding, foot and leg work (ha watch out Millie) and I am very much looking forward to learning ‘the magic and power of balance’. Since coming back from Julie’s course at Carthvean I have been much more aware of keeping my own balance but it is such a learning curve.

I have however had a major breakthrough recently in that I have switched to handling the girls because of Millies injury and our current (bad!) set up. I have managed to take Ida out into the main field and walked her down and up. She isn’t sure yet but slowly she is learning my signals and she appears to enjoy some of it, at least sometimes. I will ask someone to take photos this week or maybe even a video. I’d better get used to being filmed.

I am feeling almost ready. But I need more practise before I go!!

Am I able to do agility?

It was another great learning session on Julie’s Camelidynamics course today. Nose loops, more clicker training, tag teaching, and agility. But can I do agility?

We did more tag teaching in the morning. To teach me some of the things I had missed on day one. So I got taught what Julie calls the snoot loop or the nose loop. This is a technique to get a halter shy alpaca prepared for having pressure over the bridge of it’s nose. After the tag teach session we went out and collected the boys so we could all have a practise.

During another yummy lunch Julie took a phone call about some 25 year old escaping guanacos. Their owner had had them for 17 years without any problems but when she brought in some kune kune pigs they freaked out (hmmm sounds familiar) and started escaping. The pigs have gone but the guanacos having discovered they can escape keep on escaping and their owner can’t afford to put in higher fencing. Unfortunately they will probably be euthanised rather than rehomed because they are already so old. Although as we discussed is it worse or better that their lives end in a field while they are happily eating? They wouldn’t even be aware they were about to go. I don’t know the end of this story. Maybe the legend of the guanacos of Bodmin moor has been born? We did all decide that camelid owners did need to be more aware of how badly their animals could react to pigs and in our experience it seemed that camelid owners mainly get kune kune pigs. No idea if there is a reason for that but three of us round the table had kunes. I am actually really grateful to our kunes for giving our alpacas the opportunity to learn they are not so scary. A great lesson for animals I would like to take out and about.

After lunch we went and herded the girls in. We practised leading on eachother althtough that was quite strange. It was useful though as getting the hang of starting and stopping is quite hard. Mainly stopping especially on a human as they are happy to start. Then we haltered the girls and took them out to practise for real.

I took Rosetta out. She is such a loveliest suri. And Chris and Rachel took out the two Llamas, Katia and Lucy. We practised leading them up and down the lane. The only issue I had with Rosetta, who seems to be beautifully capable at everything, was she would start to overtake me. It took me most of the afternoon to get the hang of this. I have to use the wand to slow her down or do a little circle turn with her.

Then we lead the girls up to the agility paddock. My years of dog training Misty and Rupert came back to me. I really love this. Rosetta was showing her alpaca side and missing leaving the herd behind us in the other paddock although she still managed to complete most of the course. There were only a few things that she shied at doing. The main one being the trailer which she did have a little moment about coming down the ramp. The whole experience was an amazing lesson for me in that while leading an alpaca along a lane and through a field or through trees is lovely the most powerful way to learn and build a relationship is leading the alpaca through a series of obstacles. I learnt different placing for my hand depending on what we were going through. Different body placements. How to use the wand. How to listen to Rosetta to give her time to look at an obstacle or slow her down so she is better prepared. I learnt so much and I still know very little. It has left me very keen to try this out with the ChyPacas herd.

Agility is an amazing learning tool.