Windschnurer, I., Fischer, L., Yanagida, T. et al. 2021. Caretaker attitudes and animal training are associated with alpaca behaviour towards humans—An online survey. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 236, 105224.
Although alpacas are becoming increasingly popular animals, their behaviour towards humans has received little research interest until now. The purpose of our study was to investigate, for the first time, associations between caretaker attitudes and handling practices (i.e., frequency of different types of contact, and the use of training) and alpaca behaviour in the presence of humans in a large sample of alpaca caretakers. To this end, we conducted an online survey among German-speaking alpaca caretakers. Regarding alpaca behaviour, we were interested in their behaviour towards their caretaker’s approach (assessed as ‘the majority of the alpacas run away’ / ‘keep standing’ / ‘approach the caretaker’), ease of handling in different situations (rated on a 5-point scale), and behavioural problems (spitting, kicking, biting, rising, pushing, or several of these behaviours beyond the normal level) from the caretakers’ point of view. To avoid reactance in participants, we decided against a forced choice answer format, which resulted in varying sample sizes. Questions assessing general attitudes, affective attitudes, behavioural beliefs, frequency of caretaker contact, and questions assessing the animal’s ease of handling were summarised to factors, followed by the performance of confirmatory factor analyses to determine if our hypothesized factor structures fit the observed data. Next, four regression models were calculated with the dependent variables alpacas’ reaction to caretaker approach (n = 142), ease of handling during moving and leading (n = 144), ease of handling during restraint (n = 140), and absence of behavioural problems (n = 139). Predictor variables were eleven attitude factors, four frequency of contact factors, and the use of training by means of the ‘TTeam method / Camelidynamics’. We found associations between caretaker attitudes, handling practices, and animal behaviour. For instance, moving and leading was more difficult in cases of a more negative general attitude (p < 0.05), but easier in cases of training for easier handling (p < 0.05). More talking to alpacas related to easier handling during moving and leading (p < 0.05). Negative general attitudes were associated positively with the occurrence of behavioural problems (p < 0.05). The overall results suggest similar relationships between caretakers’ attitudes and behaviour and the animals’ behaviour, as demonstrated in other species. The fact that training was a highly significant predictor of ease of handling during moving and leading supports findings in other species, that non-aversive training can improve ease of handling.