Reprinted with permission from Llama Life II                  

CD Review by Melanie R. Forde - First reviewed in Llama LIfe II Winter 2002-03, No. 64

Llama Talk, Understanding Llama Behavior as a Foundation for Training and Herd Management

A textbook on CD-Rom. Copyright 2002, Cathy Spalding, Gentle Spirit Behavior and Training, Olympia, Washington

Cathy Spalding's CD-Rom is a wonderful piece of work. It's absorbing, insightful and fun. It merits one more adjective: innovative. There are many training manuals out there. Spalding offers something different, even though she does address some training issues in a section on "positioning." Her CD is primarily a translation guide - interpreting all of those cues communicated by llama ears, eyes, noses, mouths, tails and voices.

This reader/viewer found herself wishing she had this guide when she welcomed her first three llamas into her life. She might have avoided momentary panic over the first sight of a spit-mouth or a sprawled llama catching some rays.

Even experienced llama tenders will utter a few "eurekas" while poring over this computer age textbook. Spalding's linguistic guide goes beyond the glossary stage that will come in handy for newbies. The author also explores nuanced idioms of llama communication - the more subtle cues expressed by combinations of body language.

The format breaks down into text on the left-hand side of the computer screen, with photographs on the right. Spalding has included more than 100 shots. Often, she provides several exemplars on the right-hand side to illustrate points in the text. A click of the mouse moves the viewer from shot to shot.

The CD is so solidly good that I'm reluctant to carp about some flaws. The Luddites among the readership may fret over the format. Spalding could have conveyed (almost) everything in book form. More than a few times, I wished I could view the CD out in the pasture, to compare the photos with my own furry exemplars. But then again, a book could not entertain the reader like the CD's "vocalization" section does. It's a kick to hear your computer speakers hum like a cria. I guarantee you'll play this section over and over.

Some of the photos lack sufficient focus/clarity to illustrate Spalding's points. This is particularly true in the section on eyes. But the author compensates for a few lackluster shots with other wonderful photos. Some of the stars involve humor: as in the (human) baby mimicking three adult llamas by scarfing up grain from the barn floor. Other shots are stellar simply because they illustrate the text so succinctly: as in the photo of three white llamas, standing side by side, each with a dramatically different ear set. Two shots are striking for their sadness: a dull-eyed mama llama grieving for a lost cria; the "death arch" of a llama just passed.

In a brief section on credits, Spalding mentions her experience as a teacher of llama behavior. That experience is evident in Llama Talk. Like most people with a gift for working with animals and people, Spalding shows flexibility and common sense. There is "more than one `right' way to do anything," she points out. She avoids alarmist statements. When providing ex­amples of "unusual" body language, the author notes merely that the cue "may" indicate a problem. She allows room for the llama that doesn't quite fit the rule.

Her message is to know your llamas. Know who are the lone wolves and who are the social mavens. That information will tell you whether or not to worry when you see one llama off grazing by himself, while the rest cluster in the barn. We can deepen that knowledge by applying Spalding's interpretations. As the author puts it, "Gaining a deeper understanding of (llamas') many subtle behavioral cues adds an important dimension to our skills as herd managers and trainers." Llama Talk is a valuable resource for llama breeders and fanciers alike.

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