A lot of people have asked me about drawing blood, so I guess it's time to write about it.
I believe that all camels should be taught some form of restraint (in order to doctor them,
if nothing else). The best time to do this is before you need it! Avoiding human injury is
of primary importance, and the safety of the camel a close second.
As a veterinarian and part-time trainer, I am a firm believer that ropes are
much stronger and less prone to injury than people -- so I like to let ropes do all the hard work.
First, train your camel to accept a one-legged hobble. This is just a strap on the
foreleg. Put it above the "knee" (the bend with the callous in the middle of the leg)
when the camel is laying down and the leg is doubled over. Put it all the way around
both parts of the leg, so it's just a few inches above the "knee" joint. Buckle it
down pretty snug. You can also use a short length of rope doubled around a couple
of times and tied in a square bow. When it is on securely, ask the camel to get up
(make sure you are in a nice, soft place with good traction and no projections or obstacles).
Although it may seem awkward at first, the camel quickly figures out how to get up and
even hop around on three legs. This simple restraint may be enough to stabilize the camel
enough to do a number of procedures, although they can still boogie around on three
legs pretty well (in the Middle East some camels are driven for miles on three legs)!
By the way, if the camel is not trained to lie down on command, this is the first
step I use in the training process -- they are quicker to lay down when one leg is up.
If you're in a hurry and the camel is not trained to cush, drop a loop of soft rope down
(start high so you won't get kicked!) around the pastern (narrow area just above the foot)
and take some time asking the camel to give to the pressure of the rope. Be quiet and
deliberate in your actions and release the pressure whenever the camel stands quietly
and quits kicking, and gradually ask for more. At first he'll kick and stomp but
pretty quick he'll accept it. Then you can throw the tail of the rope over the front
of the hump and have someone pull on it, bringing the foot up and doubling the leg
over so you can put the strap on.
After he is trained to the one-legged hobble on one side (one short session
will usually do it), then re-train the camel on the other side. This should go more quickly.
When he is comfortable being hobbled on either side, you can go on to use the full front hobble.
This is a length of soft rope looped around one front leg (a restraint just like the one-legged hobble),
over the dip in the neck, and looped around the other leg (again just like the one-legged hobble).
Usually what I do is take a soft, long leadrope and make a loop in the end by running
one end of the rope through the snap. With the camel laying down, this loop goes around
the first doubled-up leg just behind the "knee." I lay the tail of the rope over the
dip of the neck, then step over to the camel's other side. Pulling the rope snug
(hopefully pushing the neck down so the bottom of the neck almost touches the ground),
I run it UNDER the opposite bent leg (from the inside to the outside), wrap it around
the leg twice, then tie it off to the part of the rope that is coming over the neck,
using one half-hitch and a second bow half-hitch. (Keep your eye on his head or have
someone hold his head during this procedure -- a rank camel might try to take the
opportunity to bite). Basically what this restraint does is keep both legs in the
doubled-up position as well as prevent the camel from raising his neck. Although
he can still get his butt up in the air, he soon tires of that and will just stay
in the sitting position. A word of caution -- a wild camel might really fight at
first, repeatedly throwing his hindquarters in the air and squawking like crazy.
They can really scoot around in the process -- make SURE you are in a safe environment!
But eventually they settle down and realize the fight is futile. And -- voila!-- your camel is hobble-trained.
Being able to tie the camel down is extremely important if you ever need to doctor your camel,
or it can really help in some aspects of training, or it's pretty handy if you are
out on a trail ride and you want to stop for lunch but don't have anything to tie the
camel to (and a cushed camel makes a great backrest)! Of course it's BEST if at first
the camel is gentle to handle, unafraid of humans, picks up his feet, etc., but that's not always realistic.
Have you ever seen a picture of dozens of camels laying down in a Middle Eastern
camel market and wondered why they were all laying there so nicely? Or why a camel
would lay quietly in the back of a Toyota pickup truck? If you look closely, you'll
see that most of them are tied down in some way.
By the way, don't leave a rope or strap tied tightly around the front leg for
any length of time -- say over an hour -- as several hours of pressure could cause
damage to the extensor tendon.
Once your camel accepts the full front hobble, you can experiment with a rear
hobble. This is a little trickier to get on but, with both the front and hind ends
hobbled, your camel will be immobilized very effectively. To hobble the rear end,
use two people to pull a soft rope under the camel while he is in the process of
laying down so it sits just under both rear pasterns with a tail ends of the rope
laying out on each side of the camel. Just let the rope sit there while you go forward
and hobble the front end, then come back to the rear end. Pull up each tail of the
rope and bring it to the INSIDE of the bent knee (the REAL knee) -- the big joint
with a callous near the top of the hind leg. Just pull the rope between the knee
and the belly, so it's tucked in a little inside the knee joint. You might have to
rock the weight of the camel slightly away from you. Do this on both sides, and
tightly tie the ends of the rope together with a square bow on the camel's back
just behind the hump. BEFORE you tie it down, put a little padding on the back
beneath where the knot will go, like a folded up towel or doubled up blanket.
This helps to protect the spine. The rear hobble prevents the camel from raising
his hind end, and is really effective. But I always like to use the rear hobble
in combination with a full front hobble. The reason I use bows to tie the knots
is just in case the camel tries to get in some kind of wreck, I can quickly undo the rope.
I have never had to undo one (camels are pretty panic-proof), but just in case...
Whenever working around ropes and any kind of animal, I also always carry a pocket knife.
Again, I have never had to cut a rope with a camel, but with horses, well, that's another story altogether!
Now, to control the head for drawing blood (those necks can get really snaky!),
lay the camel down next to a post or fence, hobble him down, and dally (don't tie!)
the lead rope around a post so the neck is extended. Alternatively, you can pull his
head completely around with the leadrope behind the hump, and firmly hold the rope
while standing on the side opposite the neck. This exposes the jugular vein nicely.
Hold on tight -- you don't want the head to get loose and whip around with your vet
in close drawing blood! If needed, you can also strongly grasp the upper lip (don't worry if he squawks!).
This is like a twitch on a horse and works well to immobilize the head.
Training a camel to hobble down has benefits beyond making medical procedures easier.
It also seems to have a gentling effect on the odd camel that's difficult to be around.
Somehow it takes a lot of wind out of their sails and makes them much more accepting
of the human presence. Take advantage of having him tied down to brush him all over,
throw blankets over him, sit sideways on his back. It's also good for an assertive,
spoiled camel who is always trying to push you around. It makes him realize that you really are the boss!
For those of you who have camels just as pets, you might think you can simply
have the camels around and never teach them to be properly restrained. However,
it is in an animal's best interest if you can handle him all over, draw blood,
give injections, etc., and your veterinarian will really appreciate it if your
camel is easy to handle. If you are uncomfortable working with all the ropes and stuff,
try to enlist the help of a local professional horse trainer (preferably one who is
quiet and into "natural horsemanship"). Although these trainers won't necessarily
have experience with camels, they know how to handle ropes, will have a feel for
the basics of "give and take, pressure and release," and will quickly learn about
the nuances of camel handling. These professionals can be great allies and educators.
A little story -- a couple of years ago, my big bull camel got an abscessed molar.
He had to be on antibiotic injections for six weeks. Although he is a very gentle
bull and wonderful to ride, of all my camels, he hated shots the most -- HATED them.
However, because he had been trained to be restrained with hobbles, I could give him
the intravenous injections by myself, even though I was on crutches from recent foot surgery.
At first he made a lot of fuss, but eventually I didn't even have to tie him down -- just
pulled his head over the gate, dallied the lead around a nearby post, and jabbed away
(this was impossible at first). From being hobbled, he had learned just to accept the shots,
and by the end of the course he took the injections like a dream.
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