It’s no secret that training and handling camels can be a challenge regardless of the age, breed or the size of camel. As camel owners or wanna be camel owners our main priority and concern is getting the camel to understand what we’re asking of them, whether that be to sit, walk on lead, ride or milk.
Read more below or if you like to do more than one thing at a time, listen to the audio…
We bet, that as a camel owner, these questions always linger:
- Am I doing the right thing by the camel?
- Do they really understand what I’m asking?
- And how can I understand better?
Simply put that’s exactly why we have camels in the first place. To bond with them – because most of us a long-time, serial animal lovers!
For us the three questions linger on a daily basis. We’re always learning from these amazing creatures and always trying to better our skills with them.
We’re going to explore if treat training camels really works (yes is the short answer, but sit tight as there’s more information on that to come), and what exactly is the camel thinking when treats are used during training and handling.
In our video Camel [& Coffee] Chat we dipped into this subject just a little. We’ll reference the video at the end of this post so you can hear/see that chat as well as read this.
The concerns for treat training camels are real and as camel owners, trainers and mentors ourselves we feel a sense of responsibility to educate on how a camel thinks in these circumstances.
What is treat training? Treat training is a reward based technique used to get the camel to ‘do’ something in exchange for a reward (the treat). Clicker training is a common reward based method alongside many others than evolve and develop from each individual practice. In short if you’re using food to get your camel to do something either before, after or during training – that’s treat training.
Treat Training a Camel, scenario: Asking a camel to sit by using treats in a similar manner as you’d teach a dog to laydown – by placing the treat really low to the ground so they are forced to sit to get the treat.
What the camel thinks in this moment: YUMMY.. FOOOOD… – that’s it. There’s no bonding, no understanding just a really yummy treat.
The problem with food rewards, problem for you not the camel so much, is that it makes the camel think that they’re ‘getting food’ not getting trained. It seems like a good deal for the camel right? But it’s not. In this kind of trickery there is no real training, just expectations that there will be more food to come.
By now (if you’re a camel owner) you’ve realised that a camels way of thinking is really unique. It’s practical, smart (like “where’s the escape route”) and everything is well thought out on the camels behalf. When treat training camels, they are getting the better of you which can cause an unfair advantage later on as a camel never forgets.
Although camels aren’t vindictive by nature – it’s their circumstances, training & handling that can make them that way – they are very clever and will always have the survival instinct in them to ‘get more’. As an example, on our camel farm & out in the desert observing wild camels we notice that the camel has an innate knowing that someday soon there will be no food. So they eat, and eat, and eat and eat… Given that they are desert creatures this makes complete sense – store food for more trying times! Now take treat training with that in mind. Point being, there could be a day when a camel [that has been treat trained] will do ‘anything’ to get to that food because of their natural instincts. say to “eat while I can”. This could mean running over the top of you for food sake, accidently biting you or something greater.
By now you can see the disconnect. All a camel thinks about when training with treats is “YUMMY FOOD”. The camel is not thinking about you and how lovely you are, it’s not thinking bonding with you. there’s no trust building (only that the camel trusts that’ll feed him/her). The camel is simply using it’s natural instincts to ‘stock up’ on food for more tyring times. Most camels will outsmart the human – eventually.
Where not saying all this to have a ‘bash’. If you’ve been treat training don’t feel bad. Even after reading this you still might want to continue treat training and that’s personal choice. The Camel World isn’t a big one and we know how hard it is to get good camel information – not to mention finding a technique that resonates with you at the core. There’s no one way to train a camel – We personally only use ‘one way’ – obviously (our Camel Connection Trust Based Camel Training™), but we tweak it for each individual camel with the ‘Camel Connection’ element as a foundation.
So, if not treat training what then?
We’ve got 5 things you can start doing right now to increase your bond with your camel(s) and safely train and handle them without treats:
1. Observe their eating behaviour. From a distance watch them eat and how the ‘care factor’ of anything else around them is zero –unless there are other animals with them and they’re constantly trying to defend their food. It’s survival of the fittest!
2. When feeding (hay/bucket feed etc.) use the Drop n’ Go method. Meaning give the food in a bucket or hay feeder and leave them their feed that way. Naturally they will associate you with food at feed time, but the goal is to get the message across that your not in their space when food is around and therefore not asking them to ‘do’ anything (training and handling wise).
3. Start at square one with the training. It may seem backwards, but trust us when we say this: Have your camel in a paddock or yard. Stand on the opposite side of the railing/fence facing the camel. With your head down (wearing a hat is ideal) Ignore all their sniffs and the like, but if they start to nibble or bite or get too invasive (not allowing person space) take enough steps away from rail to get out of reach and turn your back. Wait 30 seconds to 1 minute then walk back to rail. If they invade your personal space, nibble or bite walk away again. Repeat 3 times. On the 3rd time if they continue to invade your space walk away completely and try again in 15-30mins or so. Camels are very quick at getting ‘the message’. You’ll know you’ve made progress when they are not invading your personal space, biting/nibbling or they have walked away. This is good! The camel is beginning to understand that you are not giving treats, you’re simply wanting to bond and build proper trust. The aim is the next step below…
4. With the camel safely tied to fence or rail stand near your camel on opposite side of rail with your back turned (if deemed safe – if you still don’t trust your camel keep doing step 3 until more trust is formed). They will most like sniff (or kiss), maybe nuzzle – but if it’s at your pockets or where you normally keep treats walk away for a minute. The point of this exercise is bonding – without any intentions or commands whatsoever. Your asking the camel to get used to you being in its space and the camel in your space. There will come a point where the barriers will breakdown, food is no longer on the brain and you’ll be bonding for real!
5. Training and Handling without treats. Now that there has been some established boundaries and the camel and yourself have bonded and built trust probably – without bribes – it’s time to use the trust and bond that you’ve built with the camel, to your advantage. It’s time to ask them to do something like sit, stand, lead etc. The goal here is to get the camel to understand what you’re asking and comply without treats. Now, we’re not going to sugar coat here, this way of training might be a lot more challenging compared to treat training your camel, but the long term results of being able to safely handle and train your camel through proper bonding and trust will pay off in dividends. It really is worth that extra effort and… it’s in the best interest of the camel.
Side note: if you’re unsure on where to start with camel training take a look at our online camel training course.
We 100% endorse bonding and understanding between a human and camels, because we believe it is the most rewarding for both involved. For us, and many others, using a Camel Connection approach it has been life changing.
Now it’s over to you.
What was your biggest takeaway from this?
And, if you plan to implement these step which are you looking forward to the most?
Leave a comment below.
Reference: Camel [& Coffee] Chat