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A Working Dog's Guide to Alpacas

Max at 8 weeks old. Hello, or “Woof” as you would probably be familiar with. My name is Max and I am a Red Kelpie. I’ve been working at Kurrawa Alpacas for a few years now and felt compelled to write a piece on my experiences with alpacas as a guide to other working dogs who may be finding it difficult to understand the thinking’s of an alpaca.

I was born on the 6th of October 1998. My father, Rex, is a legendary worker owned by Farmer Bob, who Rex helps to work cattle and sheep on their property, as well as occasional stints down at the sale yards. I guess that’s who I most take after. My mother has always been a “house-dog”, content to look after the family and sleep in front of the warm fire on a cold winter’s days. I can still remember my first day with the Master, I was 8 weeks old and ready to leave the litter, and my five unruly brothers.

My first introduction to alpacas was a scary experience. They were very aggressive towards me. My initial reaction was to put my tail between my legs and run away, I was in no position to argue with those mean looking claws and monstrous looking heads.

Mexican Standoff. It took time, and a lot of me running away, for the alpacas to get the idea that I was not a predator. My master would stand behind me and lunge towards them if they looked as though they were going to go after me. That gave the alpacas the impression that I was with, or part of, the master and what we commanded, they would do.

I would stay very close to my master during the first six months of my training. In this time, the alpacas got used to having me around and when the master was herding them, I would be right along side him. This again reemphasized the fact that the master and I were working as one and what WE commanded they did.

Another great command I learnt was that when the master opened a gate and left it open, it meant that I either had to get alpacas out of that paddock, or put alpacas in to that paddock. If alpacas had to go in to that paddock, we would then go to another paddock to get alpacas out and then put them in to the paddock that we initially opened. All the master would do is open and close the gates.

The two dogs herding alpacas. Learning to bark on command was another command I learnt. Alpacas are very stubborn and need to be pushed to make them move. Biting them was a big no-no. My masters boot up my back-side was enough to ensure that I was not allowed to bite or nip them in any way.

I still occasionally encounter alpacas that are aggressive towards me, but that is mainly due to birthing. All the alpacas that are now born on the property are used to me and treat me as 'THE BOSS'.

Yours Truly

Max (The Dog)

Tips for training dogs to work with alpacas:

Max and Jemma. Be patient. It takes time for alpacas to get used to dogs. The more time your dog spends around your alpacas, the more at ease they will feel.

If your dog is not yet working, take it to a working dog school. This will give you and the dog an idea of what is needed in regards to training.

Training a young dog from scratch can be easier than an older dog. Good working dogs for alpacas seem to be Kelpies.

Blue heelers and cross-breeds tend to be too aggressive and too happy to bite and nip at the alpacas. You don't want your dog biting or nipping your $25,000 alpaca investment.

If your dog does bite, react swiftly with harsh punishment. If it continues biting, put a muzzle on it.

Punishment should be done with a stick, long object, or a rolled up bit of newspaper (which I think is the best as it sounds loud and nasty but does not really hurt the dog).

Never use your hand to punish your dog! Reward your dog when it does good.

A good way to let the alpacas know that the dog is with you is to put it on a lead and have it right by your side. When the alpacas go for the dog, step in front and scare the alpaca away. This gives the alpaca the impression that the dog is part of you and that you and the dog are the boss.

Teaching the dog to bark on command is very important as alpacas can be very stubborn.

Use the same command calls for your dog. 'Bark' for barking, 'Back' for going to the back of the herd, 'Get'em up' for herding them out of a paddock, 'Out' to get right out of the paddock, are some of the commands we use for our dogs.

For many small alpaca breeders, the use of working dogs would not be of any benefit. To large size herds, a working dog can save you a great amount of time and save you the effort of having multiple people do a chore that one person and a good dog can do. Since we have had our two dogs working efficiently, the main difference in our work-load has been that the dogs do the running around, not us.

Barking at alpacas will make them move.

If you have working dogs that work with alpacas, we would love to hear from you about your experiences as we are the only alpaca herd that we know of that successfully use dog with alpacas. By corresponding with others we would like to keep this page updated with ideas and stories so others who may be interested in using dogs with alpacas have a guide. Please use our Contact us form.

Alpaca Maintenance - More information on alpacas

Putting weight on thin alpacas
Fencing for alpacas
How to determine signs of a sick alpaca
Basic first aid kit for alpacas
Alpaca body temperatures
Can cold and wet weather affect alpacas?
Making sense of the alpaca fibre analysis
Rye grass staggers
Taking the perfect alpaca photograph
Facial abscess
Berserk male syndrome
Vitamin D
Constipated crias
Preparation for Winter
Keeping alpaca records
Alpacas need head-space
Testing for parasites
Birthing help
Cutting Toenails
A Working Dog's Guide to Alpacas
Paddock Maintenance
Alpacas for Pets
Alpacas as Sheep Guardians