Camel Training Index   Handling Young Camels   Hobble Training

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The camel community in this country is small and scattered. Most camel owners have been frustrated with the lack of information on training their camels and do their best to figure things out on their own.
Things have been improving for camel owners with a few camel training schools and clinics now being offered each year, and there is much more information on the internet. A lot of which can be found here.



Handling the Naughty Youngster

Most baby camels are wonderful. They are all eyes, goofiness, long legs and curiosity; the most beautiful babies on the planet. They steal your heart, and there is not a prayer that you will ever get it back.

However, once in a while a camel baby will be inappropriately aggressive. As adults, these camels may go on to be much more dangerous than a camel who is simply fearful. In handling these babies, humans can make a big mistake – the mistake of thinking, “the baby won’t like me if I try to keep him in line.” Bad choice! It may come back to haunt you later.

A camel must respect you in order to trust you. If you have respect and trust, then and only then can you have affection. None of these things stand alone.

Make no mistake about it, a camel who is trying to bite you or push you is extremely disrespectful. (Not to be confused with the "baby camel bounce," which is exuberance or excitement or just plain release. The important thing about this bounce is that it must never be done in your space or while the camel is "working" in tack). If the camel has not had contact with a mother (a bottle baby) or other camels, he has not had anyone to teach him etiquette and respect. A camel in this situation must look to its human "mom" to learn these things. If he doesn't, his life may literally be in jeopardy, as well as the life of those around him. Thus, teaching him is a responsibility that we must take very seriously.

A camel who does not respect humans has the potential be extremely dangerous. Does anyone remember the case (on the national news) at the La Caille restaurant? I had worked with that camel a few times (years before the incident), so I know the story pretty well. The owners loved her, but there was only affection -- no trust or respect. One minute the camel was being very sweet; the next moment she knocked one of the owners down and sat on him. (It was the second time she had tried this). A bystander had to aggressively beat the camel in order to get her off. By then, the owner had broken ribs and a collapsed lung and had to be life-flighted to the hospital. He lived, but it could have easily gone the other way.

Unfortunately, this case confirmed some peoples' misconceptions that camels are mean and nasty. Of course we all know that nothing could be further than the truth, but the more well-mannered our animals are, the better for our safety and the image of the entire camel community.

Teaching a camel to respect your space is part of the foundation for all other camel training. I start this as early as possible; of course with the young ones you "tone it down" as much as necessary. The important point is to start with a minimal amount of pressure and apply increasing amounts of pressure until you get the desired response. Once you get the response you want, you immediately release the pressure. Thus the camel learns to respond quickly and confidently. ("Pressure" just means whatever you are doing to try to get a response. It can start with just a voice command or body position and progress to as hard a physical force as a camel would use on another camel in order to command respect -- and this can be quite a lot of pressure!).

To maintain your position as "boss camel," you must allow or invite the camel into your space; he cannot "invite" himself into your space unless you allow it. If you ask the camel to get out of your space, he must respond. This reinforces his confidence in the "pecking order." This will NOT decrease the camel's affection for you. If the camel knows he can look up to you as a leader, he will be able to trust you to protect him. Herd animals such as camels are constantly reassessing their position in the herd and they constantly look up to the leaders for safety and guidance.

The following is an excerpt from my online article about "Halter Training the Camel." Training a camel to "get back" is training him to respect your space. It is very important to remember how powerfully we can influence a camel's mind by controlling his movement.

"Before I ever start to halter train a camel, (or after if she is already halter trained) I will be sure she understands the command "get back." I never want to be in an enclosure with any large animal unless they know to respect my space. Camels can be especially pushy and bouncy, and the bottle-fed ones in particular may not understand respect. To train this (the younger the better), go in the pen with a loose camel (assuming she's not outright dangerous) carrying a strong crop at least three feet long. Say, "get back" in an authoritative manner, adopt a commanding posture, and touch the camel's chest with the crop. If she doesn't move, tap lightly. If she still doesn't move, give her a smart pop with the whip on the chest. Keep it up until she steps back, then immediately reward her by dropping your arm, changing your aggressive posture to an accepting one, and using a soothing voice ("good girl"). If she runs off, invite her to come back, using food if necessary. Stand quietly with her for a minute, then ask her to "get back" again, repeating the entire process. You can reward her with the food after she responds to your command but don't let her come up to it as long as you are telling her to "get back." When she stays back long enough, invite her to come in to the food by softening your posture, taking a step back, and saying "come" or "OK" in a soothing voice. Eventually she will back up with just the voice command, or you can combine it with an arm gesture (such as abruptly extending your raised arm and hand at her with a pointed forefinger as if you were trying to "tell her off"). Any time I need to go into a camel's enclosure to feed her, I always make her "get back" away from me before I will put down the hay or grain. I feel like this is extremely important -- it keeps the camel from mugging me and reinforces respect, which in turn fosters safety."

Remember, start with a minimal amount of pressure, but if you get no response, increase the pressure until you do get a response. DO NOT be afraid to increase the pressure as much as necessary. As long as your signal is clear and you gave the camel a chance to respond to the lighter pressure, and as long as the camel has a “way out,” (the way out is to respond), this is fair. In fact, it is the language that all herd animals use with each other (just watch adult camels trying to get into each other’s grain buckets).

If I had a baby camel that is unduly aggressive, then I would go through the following steps. (If I have a normal – acting baby, I still will ask most of these things from him, but in a slower, quieter manner, and give him plenty of time to mature and to “get it”).

First, I would train him to "get back" as described above. Any time I fed him, I would make him step back before receiving the food or bottle. Rushing me for food would never be allowed.

I would spend a lot of time brushing him, "loving on him," and touching him all over, including his legs. I would want him to allow me to touch any part of his body at any time. I would also get him to where I could pick up all four legs. Then I would start asking him (without a halter or any other restraint on) to move over at the shoulder or the hip. To do this, I would touch his hip or shoulder and say "over." If he didn't move over, I would press harder or use sharper pressure with a finger or crop handle (throughout all of this training, I would have a crop in my hand at all times anyway in case he had a "fit." Any show of aggression would be swiftly and strongly punished -- a single, instant smart crack with the whip. Again, don’t worry if the camel runs off and “bounces,” as long as he doesn’t bounce close to you). I would increase the pressure (if he leans into you, just keep it up) until he moved a little, then I would instantly remove the pressure. I would ask more each time until I got a confident, definite step sideways when I asked.

I would also train him to "drive" in front of me while in the corral without a halter on. To do this, I would step behind him (not too close!) and say, "walk up" and raise my hands in a shooing motion. Again, I would increase the pressure directed towards his hind end until he moved forward away from me. Then I would allow him to stop by stepping back, changing posture as described above, quietly approaching him and petting him, and speaking in a soothing voice. I would keep asking for more until I could drive him for some distance around the corral. I would always end the session by petting and brushing him or giving him a treat.

Camels are prey animals. Being able to move is part of their survival. If we can affect how a camel moves – causing it to move, or preventing it from moving – this gives us a powerful link into their minds. Do not underestimate how important it is to get the camel to move in all directions – not just straight ahead.

Only when he was good with these lessons, and could confidently move in any direction when asked, would I start or resume halter training. With the halter, I would just start working in the corral at first. Only when he was very comfortable moving forward, back, and sideways with the halter in the corral would I go outside. Camels are very attached to their own space and can feel nervous and insecure when asked to leave their home turf, especially when they are not with other camels. So I would gradually take him further and further from his own space once he was confident with the previous lesson. Again, he would never be allowed to "bounce" while on the halter.

For a little baby, I would only do these lessons for a few minutes at a time. Multiple short sessions are much more effective than fewer long ones. Young camels have a short attention span and can easily get frustrated if pushed too long. In between the lessons, I would spend a lot of time just being friendly and quiet with him, although I would still have no tolerance of dangerous behavior. If he weren’t so aggressive, I would probably just give him some time to grow up before asking too much. However, if he had shown aggression and disrespect, I would want to nip it in the bud before he got any bigger. Naturally, with a baby you need to accept a certain amount of playfulness and goofiness, but aggression should never be tolerated.

Of course, these techniques can be used with adult camels as well. It is never too late to learn! Hmm – I guess it’s never too late for us to learn, either!

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Phone: 435-649-6273

Special thanks go out to Charmian Wright, D.V.M. and all of the other good folk that have contributed articles for helping all of us in keeping our camels healthier and happier.