How to Train Your Dragon, er, Llama

A few years ago, I accompanied my young granddaughters to the movie titled How to Train Your Dragon. I wish I had paid more attention.

My husband and I enjoy hiking in the Northern California wilderness. Our pack llamas have made those trips far more pleasant than they would have been if we had each carried forty pounds of camping gear on our own backs.

Sadly, we recently lost our favorite llama. We shed our tears and let him go, but felt compelled to replace him as soon as possible so that Smoke, our remaining llama, would have company. Llamas are herd animals, and conventional wisdom says they are happier with at least one pasture pal. We soon found a three-year-old that seemed like a good prospect.


Quartz led easily, loaded in a trailer without a problem, and seemed sound. Plus, he was a pretty  boy. But looks aren’t everything. When we unhaltered him in our pen, he promptly jumped the fence, catching his hoof on the way over and landing on his back. To our great relief, he jumped up unhurt and trotted across the pasture.

The next time we haltered Quartz and tried to take him for a walk around the field, he screamed and spit and screamed and spit. If he had been a dragon, we’d have been toast. We had never witnessed screaming in any of our previous llamas, so we studied our books on llama training and asked advice of other llama owners. We learned that screaming was a sign of fear.

To reassure our new boy, I decided to become one of the herd. I began a daily routine of sitting in the pasture in a folding chair reading a paperback. When Quartz came close, I offered him a few bite-sized training treats purchased from our local feed store. I didn’t want to overdo the commercial treats called apple nuggets; it felt like feeding too much candy to a toddler. Instead, I went online and found a recipe for healthy homemade llama cookies. The cookie ingredients listed grated apple or carrot, oatmeal, molasses, water, vegetable oil, a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of sugar.

The cookies earned the llama seal of approval from both of our woolly boys. Quartz no longer screams or spits. When he sees me enter the pasture, he comes to me hoping I’ll reach into my pocket and pull out a cookie or an apple nugget. He’s learning that the treats are not bribes, they’re rewards for good behavior. With lots of patience and lots of cookies, Quartz is going to become a fine packer and we’re going to be happy campers.