Camilid Dynamics Clinic by Marty McGee Bennett

I am delighted to have had the privilege of attending a two day “Camilidynamics”, “The Basics” clinic/seminar by trainer Marty McGee Bennett.  Marty is one of those rare geniuses that can think like the animal being trained, and teach us thick headed humans how to get the results we want, efficiently, with no trauma.  The course was great, fun, packed with lots of good information, and I came away with lots of new skills and great insight.



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MLAS Rescues and Rescuer Go to School

This is an article I wrote for the Rocky Mountain Llama & Alpaca Association Journal, published in the Winter 2011-2012 issue.

Marty demonstrating with Alpaca skull

Marty demonstrating why halter fit is so very important

Marty demonstrating with inflatable llama

Marty demonstrating haltering and halter fit with Tom


In January of 2011, I took in four llamas from the Montana Large Animal Sanctuary (MLAS). It’s not that I didn’t have enough to do already, working full time and wrangling a farmyard full of animals (alpacas, llamas, horses, dogs, and barn cats). One can’t rescue every unfortunate case, but this situation spoke to me. And besides, some of the rescues might be good packers, which I wanted to try. I had told my boyfriend some time ago that I would only go backpacking again with a llama!

Aside from losing funding for feed with the impending severe Montana winter coming, the conditions at the MLAS were deplorable. The place was advertised as a haven where animals could live out their natural lives. However, they neglected the “domesticated” part of the equation, and provided no care for animals bred in domestication for thousands of years which depended upon human intervention. One of the llamas we unloaded in Colorado was dragging a train of fleece that was ripping from his skin in places. My guess is that he had not been shorn for 10-15 years. We trimmed the worst of it on the spot.

We named our four new critters Max, Jesse, Joe, & Musty. Once home, we fattened them a bit, and within a couple months my boyfriend and I started taking them for walks, then walks with a pack. But they weren’t getting any gentler, and haltering was a traumatic experience for them and me. I started wearing a riding helmet to protect myself from getting bonked! I had long been interested in learning more of Marty McGee Bennett’s methods, but I didn’t fully grasp the techniques from her book. When she generously offered a clinic discount to rescuers, I decided it was the opportunity of a lifetime.

So, in October, I loaded Max, Joe, and Jesse into my trailer and headed out on the long drive from Fort Collins, CO to Albuquerque, NM. Musty, the fourth rescue and the oldest, is already fairly easy to handle and four llamas would make the trailer too crowded anyway.

Meet the Rescues

Max is very tall, with a suspicious eye. We estimate he is 8-10 years old. He has put up a wall of defense from his past experiences with humans, and my handling wasn’t helping. He does know grain, however, and feeding helps put him at ease.

Jesse, perhaps 6 years old, had clearly NEVER worn a halter or been on a lead before coming to Colorado. He has a pleasant curiosity about him and seems to like his new home.

Joe, maybe 8 years old, is the most stoic. He has a tooth root abscess, yet he has gained so much weight since his Montana days that he’s on the stout side now. I believe he had been handled some, at least enough to learn dodging techniques.

Clinic Hosts

The clinic was hosted by Lynda Liptak and family of Llamas Del Sol in Albuquerque, NM.
Lynda welcomed us warmly after an exhausting drive and late arrival. She had a place ready for the beasties to stretch their legs and graze, and for me to sleep! Thanks Lynda!

The Liptak’s were most gracious, opening their home, keeping us all fed, and supplying Marty, our instructor, with all she needed to run the clinic successfully. Hosting a clinic is no small commitment, but Lynda saw the importance of showing more folk ways to make a partner of their camelids through gentle handling instead of force. We even had a gal travel from Germany to attend!

Lynda’s journey into the world of llamas began in February of 2009, when she heard of an abandoned farm in Colorado with two neglected, mistreated llamas. Despite being camelid novices; a neighbor, her husband, and she loaded them up in a make-shift trailer and brought them home to the North Valley of Albuquerque. In searching for the best way to build a relationship with her new rescues, she found and got started with Bobra Goldsmith’s video on line and since then she was a llama-lady in love with llamas! Then, searching for more material about what goes on inside of a llama – their thoughts, feelings, and attitudes, she stumbled onto Linda Tellington-Jones’ TTouch method, and then Marty McGee Bennett, a devoted and gentle llama trainer who trained with Tellington-Jones on TTouch especially for llamas.

Fast forward to June of 2011 and Lynda finally attended the Camelidynamics Basic Clinic plus Shearing Day given by Marty where she was given hands-on instruction. She wanted to develop these techniques! This, along with noting several llama and alpaca owners having trouble with managing their animals and her wishing to have Marty give her specific insights on her own llama rescues, prompted her to apply to host a Clinic at her ranch.

Clinic take home lessons

What I learned at this clinic not only changed the way I handle my animals, but also how I can choose to handle myself in general. I have a better idea how to respond to a llama’s apprehension and make interacting with me less of a trauma. I am no expert now by any means, but I’ve seen a better way and aim to get there!

The Sieve

One of the first things Marty addressed was a standard by which to choose our actions and behavior. We discussed how we wanted to be perceived by others when handling our animals, and selected defining words: kind, efficient, respectful, confident, etc. By clearly defining what we intend, we filter out lesser behaviors, be it with our animal or human relationships. This is the “Sieve Test.” Our animals read us better than we read ourselves; they know when our attention is elsewhere or our motives impure.

Although intent is important, it won’t go far without the skill to implement it. After all, a llama will always be a llama! We learned methods to catch an animal without trapping, to halter without force, and to lead without dragging.

This reminds me of a quote from my high school days, “You can judge a person’s character by what they will do if they believe they will not be caught” (Sawney Webb). How many times have I been rough with my animals, trying to get nails trimmed or some such thing, when I might never do that if a reporter was watching? That behavior certainly fails the sieve test! And it does not define who I want to be.

The TTouch

Marty taught us some of the TTouch methods she learned from Linda Tellington-Jones. I am truly amazed how this simple, circular touch can calm an animal and make human presence tolerable for them. It even helps my flighty alpacas. The TTouch is not easy to do without practice – it takes a calmness and conscious intent to effect the llama’s relaxation.

Marty working with Max the Llama

Marty working with Max

Jesse the llama

Carolyn working Jesse's mouth with TTouch. Note loose lead.

Marty showed us a video from the clinic Lynda attended of an alpaca being sheared under no tight restraint, and with electric shears, no less! This particular alpaca, Drasina, was given to Marty as a problem case, and was always the last to be shorn because she made such a fuss. Given a new approach of respectful treatment and conditions that she must have appreciated, she stood quietly in a three-sided panel enclosure with Marty and Lynda at her head feeding her periodically. This was the first shearing day that Marty had tried shearing alpacas standing up without bracelets and it was a huge success. You just never know until you try.

The Result

Often the errors that we made arose out of rushing, trapping, forcing, or just not seeing/reading the llama’s body language quite right. Sensitivity to the llama’s perspective is so very useful and to engage them on their terms starts to build their trust. Once we started to understand the freedom of movement they needed and were able to give them freedom of movement and breathing space, cooperation started to emerge. Body language, calmness, and respect for space were key in obtaining cooperation.

The MLAS rescues, as with all my animals, are benefitting from Marty’s training. Thank goodness they are tolerant and forgiving as I muddle though! They see my intent, and are letting me practice to gain the skill I need to develop a partnership with them.

Results with Max, Joe, and Jesse are pending. Life realities being what they are, I don’t work with them as much as I’d like. But they never forget, and they never mind just being llamas between sessions. From a training standpoint, I am fortunate that the MLAS llamas suffered primarily from neglect rather than mishandling. So, for the most part, I’m not dealing with severe, deep-seated fears of human interaction.

See Marty working with Max at Sarah Hancock had the foresight to capture this for us.

Special thanks to Lynda Liptak, my sister Gussie, and her husband George for helping me put this article together!

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Last Wednesday, 1/18, I got a call from Sarah about noon: “One of your alpacas just had a baby”  WHAT? Wish I could say it was the first time this happened…

Well, I remember Brownie (aka Mr. Sneak) getting in with the girls one night, but we thought we’d broken up the party before anything happened.   I guess not!  I couldn’t remember when this was, but given the evidence, it must have been around February last year. Can’t explain the light fawn color, since the only papa options are dark brown. I’ll find out for sure who is the father when I register him.

Per usual, Sarah took care of things.  Mom & baby are doing very well!  Now we have to think of a name for him.

2 hour old cria

A couple hours old

Cria standing with Mom

He's 4 days old here.

baby alpaca

A close up

Dog with crossed legs

Mars watching over his herd

Dark Brown Alpaca

Mr Sneak

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All work & no play makes Mars a dull boy

I caught our fierce livestock guardian dog (LGD) playing ball with the terriers the other day.  This is the same dog that, at 1.5 years of age, killed two German Shepherds that dared steal his baby goats!  These dogs are so incredibly smart, and they KNOW when aggression is warranted.

Mars eyeing ball with which the terriers are playing

Big white dog takes ball when terriers aren't looking

Mars takes the ball while terriers aren't looking.

Fierce LGD holding super size tennis ball.






The terriers noticed! The chase is on!

Mars relents and lets Macchi have her ball back.

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Too Many Dogs?

Buck Brannaman asked in his documentary “Buck” – “Can a person have too many dogs?”  Buck, I can relate:


Here’s Carolyn “relaxing” with Machii (visiting SFT from my sister marilyn in CA) and Spanky.


A bewildering sight every morning is Carolyn heading to the barn to feed – accompanied by all her “help”:

Going to feed in the Barn

Abby – our older of two Maremmas (big white wookie), Macchi – far left, Spanky – mid left, Bandit – center, and Tucker – Corgy – far right.


Carolyn's Entourage

Absent this morning are Mars – our other Maremma, and three barn cats!  Some entourage!


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More Clouds & Weather

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Fire and Rain

This gallery contains 11 photos.

Greetings NWS Weather Spotters, chasers, and T-Boomer junkies! – Here’s a few shots for you from the past few days in N. Colorado:

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Family Visits Rocky Mountain National Park

Sister Marilyn and nephew Rajiv stopped in to drop Macchi (Smooth Fox Terrier) off for Happy Critter Summer Camp on their way to Zurich for the summer.  Carolyn’s niece Calysta is visiting for two weeks and she really enjoys the outdoors.

All of us loaded into the Burb and toured RMNP Wednesday July 13th.  The plan was to drive up old Fall River Road – but it was closed!  So we picnicked near the start of Fall river Road, and then drove up Trail Ridge to the Visitors’ Center on top, and back down the same way.

Lovely day. Lots of alpine wildflowers, and a couple of critters.

Man, I have never seen so much snow up here this late in the season.  It looks like early June!

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Just Llama Walks

Nothing special this one.  Just some shots of us out with “Da Boys”.

Llama pack training continues here at Happy Critter Farm.  Most of these shots are of each of our rescue llamas of the first time each of them has a pack on.

Ed with Half&Half and Jesse - Half & Half's first time with a pack!

Ed with Jesse and Half&Half

Carolyn with Jesse and Half&Half

Niece Calysta with Musty and Brownie and Bandit

Musty’s first time with a pack.  Carolyn’s niece Calysta from CA is visiting for two weeks.  A big thanks to her for helping out with the llama training!

Calysta with Bandit, Brownie, and Musty

Into The Sunset

Jesse's first time with a pack. Macchi is back! - Big Black just walking. Photo by Calysta

The Three Musta-teers?

OK, this one has nothing to do with llama training!  I just couldn’t resist.  Photo is just too funny not to share.  Carolyn, Calysta, and me at the Swing Station volunteering to help out with the t-shirt booth at the Save The Poudre shin-dig benefit Sunday with Halden Wofford and the Hi-Beams.  $3 off the cover if you wore a mustache!  I’ve never seen so many ladies with mustaches!

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Waverly Llama Emergency Vet Service

You never know where or when you need to  make an emergency medical run.

Carolyn and I take a couple of llamas and a couple of terriers for a 3 mile training walk late Saturday AM. We are training the 4 Montana rescue llamas (“da Boys”) for packing. They have been doing well at halter training, and this was the first time we put a pack on one of them – Big Black. No weight yet – just a couple of pillows for bulk. Got the boys shorn last week so now they look a lot scrawnier. Musty, another of our four new rescues, went for the hike too. Here we are ready to roll. Bandit and Spanky our Smooth Fox Terriers are hitched together on one lead:

Carolyn with two dogs & two llamas on lead in front of barn

Carolyn, Bandit, Spanky, Musty, Big Black

OK, so we get about 1/2 way, a mile and a half out, and our little 13 year old Smooth Fox terrier Spanky starts to falter. ??? Bandit is just pulling her along. Very strange as she usually easily keeps the pace. We figure that maybe she’s just getting old, maybe a bit warm, maybe a bit under the weather – just coming off antibiotics for a cleared infection, and just pooped out.   So, no problem, we just unhitch her lead from Bandit and put her in the llama pack!

Ed leading llama with dog in pack down country road, dog leading the way.

Dog in llama pack on country road

Spanky in llama pack on Big Black

Little Spanky is just happy as a clam riding along in the pack, panting a little a times, zoning out, watching the world go by, even snoozing. Black initially fretted, then was quite content with the additional 10 lbs,
not concerned at all with her riding along the last mile and a half back home.

llama with pack, iris in background

Big Black with cattails & Spanky in pack, Ed, Bandit

When we get home, right after Carolyn snapped a last picture, we take Spanky out of the pack and put her down, we discover that she is stumbling about unable to walk! Looks neurological. Checked for anything toxic she could have gotten into (horsewormer again?) no – nothing – other dogs just fine. Did a work-up – heart rate and breathing normal – lungs clear – good hydration, pupils PEARL, she was resting comfortably – Called about four vets and consulted (Sat afternoon) – turns out she had a little brain seizure while we were out! In a few hours she was just fine, been fine since!

So now I’m considering outfitting my pack llamas with lights and siren – Waverly EMS.


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