Alpacas can be a wonderful, fluffy addition to the homestead. They are also useful; alpaca wool is a fantastic material we can use to make all sorts of things, from clothing to toys.
Alpacas enjoy toys, obstacles, and training, which can be a great way to help them stay fit and keep them mentally healthy, as well as train them for shows. Providing alpacas or other animals with things to do (like obstacles and toys) is known as enrichment.
Enrichment (entertainment and mental stimulation) is essential to looking after an alpaca. This keeps them from getting bored and prevents behavioral and physical problems. Read on to learn about the best obstacles and toys for alpacas, where to keep them, and even how to make our own!
What Toys Do Alpacas Like?
Popular alpaca toys include paddling pools, puzzle feeders, general livestock toys, and scratching posts. Kiddie-sized swimming pools are the perfect option to offer alpacas. Although not all will enjoy it, many do – and it is fun to watch a fully grown alpaca splashing around.
If you’re curious about alpacas and water, check out this article: Can Alpacas Swim? Do They Like the Water?
It’s surprising to learn that we can buy all sorts of livestock toys suitable for alpacas.
Another type of popular toy is what’s known as a puzzle feeder. Puzzle feeders generally provide an obstacle to getting food, whether it’s a door they push or a hole they need to explore.
One of the simplest types of puzzle feeder can be a bucket of hay with holes cut in it (though make sure the edges are nice and soft to protect those inquisitive alpaca tongues!)
The idea of all food becoming a game might sound annoying, but many animals enjoy it more than regular mealtimes. A good test is to offer both a puzzle feeder and free access to food simultaneously. Many animals will show a preference for the more challenging way to eat.
Alpacas love treats, so here is a great guide to what they can and cannot eat: 29 Best Treats for Alpacas (and 51 Treats to Avoid)
Toys also don’t need to be massively interactive. Remember that visual or sniffable stimulation can be just as exciting for an alpaca.
Some suggest putting mirrors where the alpacas can see them (although it’s a good idea to check this with your herd, as alpacas who aren’t as friendly may be less keen on the idea).
The Open Sanctuary Project has a fantastic guide to alpaca enrichment with many suggestions not just of specific toys but of ways that people can enrich their herd’s lives.
The article includes sensory enrichment, nutritional enrichment, clicker training, and even how to create our enrichment plan. If creating your own enrichment plan appeals to you, I’d recommend checking it out here.
Finally, if you are interested in the possibility of making alpaca toys, here are some specific ideas.
Enrichment idea #1 – Feeding toys
Any way of making animals work a little for their food counts as enrichment. With alpacas, commercial feed pellets will work well inside toys, whether a dog kong-style ball or a flap or tube that the alpaca needs to open with its mouth.
It’s also a good idea to hang up hay for alpacas; mealtimes last a little longer and involve a bit more stimulation for the herd.
One specific example that works nicely as a DIY fix is to fix a livestock brush to a wall. The bristles will be strong enough to hold small pieces of treats, such as carrots or bananas, and the herd will enjoy picking them out.
Enrichment idea option #2 – Mirrors
We’ve already talked about mirrors in this article, and these are a significant bit of mental stimulation for alpacas. Try to put these somewhere in a space where they can take them on their terms, and make sure to supervise their first interactions closely.
Enrichment idea #3 – Swimming pools
Paddling pools like the ones we get for kids are great for alpacas, especially in the summer months when they’ll want to cool down. Even just a little water will be plenty for them to roll around in and have fun.
That said, not all alpacas enjoy the water. Still, there’s no harm in giving them a go, especially as this is a relatively low-cost way to provide hours of fun.
Enrichment idea #4 – Show obstacles
We can train alpacas for most show obstacles with a DIY approach. One of the essential elements of alpaca show training is teaching them to navigate round cones, and for this, we can use classic sports cones or any object.
The important part is that they learn to follow and trust us to guide them.
Some recommend getting two people to hold up a pole horizontally to train alpacas to step over raised jumps. This can even be a better option than store-bought ones, where the pole falls off easily for safety reasons.
The pole falling off store-bought obstacles can mean that the alpaca learns to walk through the pole rather than over it. When we do it ourselves, they’ll learn to step over it — and if they look like they’ll fall over, we can always drop it ourselves.
A tarpaulin on the floor is an easy obstacle to do ourselves. Just weigh it down with rocks to make sure it doesn’t flap in the wind. It’s probably best to save this for when we’re around to supervise it.
Obstacles such as ramps and balance beams can be done by ourselves. Still, because of the importance of structural integrity and safety, they might be the best things to buy purpose-built (which we can do on dedicated livestock show sites).
It might be a nice idea to practice leading the alpacas on and off their trailer, if there is one, as this is the same skill.
Enrichment idea #5 – Other ideas
To search for ideas, try searching the internet for ‘toys for livestock’ (searching for ‘livestock toys’ will show you plastic cows).
There are all sorts out there, with toys even made for exotic animals like rhinos and bears, and while some of the options might be expensive or difficult to ship, they’ll at least be a good inspiration.
The imagination is the only real limit to creating enriching fun for alpacas.
How Many Toys Do Alpacas Need?
Alpacas don’t necessarily need toys, but they do need both physical and mental stimulation, and toys are a helpful tool to help achieve this in controlled quantities.
Generally, it’s best not to simultaneously introduce too many toys or new things to alpacas. Instead, we recommend one or two. That way, it won’t be overstimulating for them, and we’ll always be able to add the other things later.
If we pay close attention to our fluffy friends and their happiness, we’ll be able to tell when they’re content. Alpacas are naturally pleasant and friendly and even make a quiet humming sound when they’re happy (If you want to learn more about alpaca noises, check out our article here).
It’s important to note that as well as physical enrichment with toys and obstacles, alpacas have complex mental and social needs to look after. Always make sure to have more than one alpaca in the herd.
Try to interact with them to keep them happy (with those big ears and fluffy faces, it’s hard not to, anyway).
We’ll learn how to make and buy alpaca toys later in this article. Keep reading to learn about that and how obstacles can significantly add to the alpaca enclosure.
How Many Obstacles Do Alpacas Need?
Putting obstacles in alpacas’ enclosures is a great way to give them mental and physical enrichment. Split these obstacles into two broad types; obstacles for fun and obstacles for show training.
Obstacles for fun
Alpacas enjoy exploring the world around them; obstacles are a great way to liven that up. Different surfaces, elevated terrain, and rocks are all great obstacles to putting in their enclosure.
Here are some great general livestock obstacles to use for fun.
- Climbing obstacles
- Gates or jumps
Alpacas love rolling in the dirt and sniffing around rocks; high lookout points are an excellent way to satisfy their natural curiosity.
It’s a great idea to build lookout points near places where we’re likely to be doing work on the yard. Alpacas love to watch this, and it will keep them entertained.
It will also make them far less likely to be upset by any unusual noises or smells from our work (such as with a chainsaw, for example), as they can see that we’re okay and not in danger.
Rotating alpacas through different enclosures is a great way to keep things fresh if there is enough space. This way, they’ll have the chance to explore anew rather than just getting bored of the same old places.
Obstacles for shows (show training)
Someone considering show training will need more serious obstacles to teach their fluffy friends to master. Here are some obstacles you’ll need to teach your alpaca to be show-ready.
- Cones – to mark areas when teaching changing pace, weaving, stopping, and/or backing up.
- Poles – to mark areas for doing the same activities as above when cones aren’t the best choice.
- Tires (or a tarp) – can be a great way to teach alpacas to walk through a course, as they may initially prefer to stay away from tires and tarps.
- A stand or a table – an area for teaching your alpaca to have its teeth shown. This can also be a great place to train your alpaca to offer up its feet when given a command word.
- Gates or jumps – can be great for teaching your alpacas to jump on command.
- Climbing areas – these can be another great way to teach alpacas to jump, climb, or advance on command.
Show training is a wonderful thing for alpacas, not just because it’s fun and helps us bond with our animals, but also introduces them to necessary skills such as walking through gates, walking into trailers, and showing their teeth or lifting a hoof for the veterinarian.
Alpaca show obstacle courses feature a range of obstacles, such as cones they need to weave through, plinths to climb over, walking through a gate, and walking over tarps. In addition, walking through mazes marked by wooden boards on the floor is a common feature of this kind of event.
If we want to take our alpacas to shows, we should introduce these obstacles to them in the comfort of our own homes. A good idea to start doing this is to check out videos of the specific show we want to take them to. This will show us which obstacles we need to master.
Introduce obstacles to alpacas slowly (perhaps just one or two at a time). Then, make sure to make these positive interactions experiences by letting them take the challenges on their terms.
Even if it’s a slow process, reward the interactions with tasty treats. If we’ve worked on clicker training with our alpacas, this can also be a great tool in helping teach them how to master the obstacles.
If you haven’t tried clicker training with the herd yet, Karen Pryor has some great videos about doing that here.
We can make many of the most common obstacles found at shows at home. However, some others are better store-bought. Please keep reading our recommendations for homemade alpaca obstacles and toys.
Additionally, it’s good to learn how to best interact with alpacas so we’ll have better success with the training. To find out how to properly work with alpacas, start with our article: This is the Right Way to Approach and Interact with Alpacas.
Do Alpacas Need Obstacles If They Aren’t in Shows?
Alpacas not being entered in shows do not have to have obstacles, but obstacles can still enrich their pasture life. Obstacles can be a great form of learning for alpacas. Enrichment is vital to any animal’s mental well-being, so obstacles are a handy addition to any alpaca enclosure.
As we said above, many obstacles we may encounter in a show also have specific reasons for being there. For example, teaching alpacas to be comfortable showing their teeth, lifting a hoof, or walking up ramps (such as you’d find to climb into a trailer).
These are valuable skills that would make the alpacas’ lives less stressful, even if they’re not going to do that in front of crowds.
Most of the events in alpaca shows (such as changing pace or weaving between cones) are about teaching your alpacas to trust being led by you. It’s not like training a dog with small tricks like playing dead — these are efficient life skills.
Aside from that, alpacas will also enjoy exploring obstacles alone, just like kids on a playground. This will be fun for them and even more fun for you to watch!
Where Should Obstacles Be in An Alpaca Enclosure?
Obstacles need to be secure and on solid ground away from fences, both so that alpacas don’t use the obstacles to escape and so that obstacle use doesn’t endanger the alpaca on the fence. Obstacles need to be in a safe area.
It’s essential to consider where to keep obstacles in an alpaca enclosure. Obstacles should not be anywhere. They can fall on fences and cause the alpacas to escape. Instead, they should be on solid ground to prevent them from breaking when used.
Common sense comes into play here; don’t put any ramps in the enclosure near fences or where they’re likely to help the alpacas escape. Remember that they might move a bit when used, so place them right in the middle to be sure.
More show-training style obstacles also are best put on firm, flat ground to avoid taking any damage when they’re walked on. Limiting the alpacas’ interactions with the obstacles might be a good idea for the best training results. That way, you can immediately correct improper behavior and make sure your alpaca is safe.
This way, we can also be sure that the alpacas are just building the associations we want rather than falling off in their own time and deciding they don’t like them anymore or finding fun, new (wrong) ways to play their games.
A quick side note about mirrors — these can be hugely entertaining for some alpacas, but less friendly ones might find them intimidating and even try to fight them.
A good idea, especially at first, is to place mirrors in open spaces where alpacas can approach them on their terms. We can always move them around later once we’re sure there’s no problem.
Are There Any Obstacles or Toys that Alpacas Should Never Use?
Constantly monitoring alpacas’ toys and obstacles is vital. Remove them from the enclosure if they show serious damage, such as splinters or structural impairment. Some alpacas may have adverse reactions to mirrors, so carefully observe their interactions with these.
Most toys will be safe for alpacas, but remember that alpacas in different conditions, such as old age, pregnancy, or being overweight, will all have different requirements.
If the herd has underlying health conditions (including old age, pregnancy, weight issues, or other problems), check with a veterinarian before installing any obstacles. You want to make sure that the obstacles (like ramps and jumps) won’t cause undue stress to the alpaca’s joints.
We should also pay attention to toys that use food rewards, such as puzzle feeders, to ensure your alpacas are not over-fed pellets. Pellets are nutrient rich but calorie heavy, so using a lot of those may not be the ideal. Make sure you’re balancing your alpaca’s diet with plenty of forage, hay, and alfalfa.
Again, if you’re in any doubt about any element of your alpacas’ play or nutrition, please consult your veterinarian to be sure. It’s always better safe than sorry! For extra information about how to feed alpacas, read this article: Are Alpacas and Llamas Ruminants?
Should Alpaca Toys And Obstacles Be Built Or Bought?
Alpaca toys and obstacles may be bought, made, or built depending on personal finances, preferences, and other factors.
Many store-bought options exist for livestock toys, which can be great options with minimal effort. While we are unlikely to find as many store-bought options as for cats and dogs, there’s a lot out there to give alpacas plenty to do.
That said, it’s not always necessary to shell out for store-bought toys, and the DIY approach can be just as good, if not better.
In my experience, a well-built DIY toy (or obstacle) will far outlast anything bought in a store – at least without paying seriously big bucks.
We loved thinking about all the ways to entertain alpacas, and hopefully, you have found some helpful ways to keep them happy. When it comes to alpaca enrichment, the sky is the limit.
There are many things out there we haven’t included that you can find in other articles we wrote about alpacas. Take a look at some of these articles below:
- Do Alpacas Like to Be Pet?
- Do Alpacas Make Good Pets?
- Feeding Alpacas in the Winter: What, When, and How Much
- How Much Water Do Alpacas And Llamas Drink A Day?
No matter which you read next, they’re all full of great info specifically written to help you enjoy your alpacas (or dreaming about them!) to the max.
Learning from your own experience is important, but learning from others is also smart. These are the sources used in this article and our research to be more informed as homesteaders.
- “Alpaca Activities For Youth.” Alpacainfo.Com, 2022, www.alpacainfo.com/_resources/dyn/files/608426z7514196d/_fn/alpaca-activities-for-youth.pdf.
- “Breeders Owners Manual.” Alsashow.Net, 2015, www.alsashow.net/BREEDERS.owners.manual%204.8.15.pdf.
- “Can Alpacas Swim? Do They Like The Water?” Backyard Homestead HQ, 20 July 2022, backyardhomesteadhq.com/can-alpacas-swim-do-they-like-the-water.
- “Clicker Training with Alpacas.” Karen Pryor Clicker training, www.clickertraining.com/node/3005. Accessed 31 Aug. 2022.
- “Creating an Enriching Life for Alpacas.” The Open Sanctuary Project, Inc. The Open Sanctuary Project, 19 May 2022, https://opensanctuary.org/creating-an-enriching-life-for-alpacas/.
- “Showing Your Alpaca on an Obstacle Course.” Huggable Humming Alpacas, 3 Nov. 2008, alpacas.wordpress.com/showing-your-alpaca-on-an-obstacle-course.
- Starr, Kimberly. “Alpaca Sounds 101: 9 Sounds and Their Meanings.” Backyard Homestead HQ, 20 July 2022, backyardhomesteadhq.com/alpaca-sounds-101-9-sounds-their-meanings.