While alpacas aren’t as large as other livestock, there’s still a commonly-asked question about how safe they are to add to a backyard homestead. Are alpacas safe or are they dangerous?
Alpacas are generally safe and not dangerous to humans. Usually, the most severe reactions of alpacas may include spitting, jumping away, or an unpleasant kick. An aggressive alpaca is an anomaly caused by overexposure to humans that may require intense retraining, re-homing, or culling.
Ready to learn about alpacas and how safe they generally are? Keep reading and I’ll share what I’ve learned about how safe alpacas generally are!
Alpacas Are Usually Safe – and Are NOT Dangerous
Alpacas, generally speaking, are safe animals. They’re gentle, on the smaller end of size (as far as livestock go), and are nimble, graceful, gentle creatures.
Sure, they’ll defend themselves (and their herd – adopted or actual) from small predators. If you want to read about how fierce of a guard these gentle creatures can be, you’ll want to read my article about how alpacas protect lambs and sheep – or my other article about how safe they are from coyotes.
However, towards humans, alpacas are much more docile and gentle. In fact, if an alpaca displays any threatening behavior towards a human, then that’s a huge red flag that there’s a problem. But we’ll go into that in a bit.
First, let’s discuss what normal alpaca behaviors look like – so you can see exactly how safe and gentle they usually are.
|Normal Behavior||Rationale or Notes|
|Alpacas rub, lean, or inspect things with their nose.||This is how alpacas greet each other (or other members of their herd). It’s totally normal. However, this behavior should not be encouraged by humans (doing so can cause them to learn abnormal, aggressive behaviors).|
|Spitting||This can be the first line of defense for some alpacas. Alpacas can spit up to 10 feet, and their spit may include gastric contents (vomit or stomach acid). Spitting towards humans is generally rare, though gross and maybe slightly caustic. Wash it off and you’ll be fine.|
|Biting||Alpacas may nip at an annoyance. They may pretend to bite while playing fighting. An actual bite is usually reserved for breeding contests or fighting off predators.|
|Kicking||Alpacas may kick at things that are too close to them (other herd members) or may kick during play fights. They may also kick if predators are too close. Based on my research, even the best alpaca owners may accidentally get kicked on rare occasions. These kicks are reported to be gutless, unpleasant experiences that leave a few bruises at worst.|
|Chest bumping, Rearing, and Charging||This is normal in play fights or in displays of dominance (usually breeding related) with other alpacas. This isn’t a behavior that should be allowed or encouraged by humans.|
|Dominant Stances||Dominant stances are used by alpacas towards other animals and can be a great teaching tool for unruly cria (babies). It may also be a natural reaction if resources are limited. In that case, it’s a sign that resource access needs to be addressed.|
Alpacas are, as a general rule, quite docile and gentle. As such, they can be a great addition to your backyard homestead. However, it’s important to note that even the most amazing animals can become aggressive if treated or trained improperly.
Can Alpacas Get Aggressive?
Alpacas can get aggressive, yes. But it’s important to note that there are different levels of aggression to watch for because each one is totally different and will need a different reaction.
|Aggressive Behavior||Recommended Next Steps|
|Rubbing, Leaning, or Sticking a Nose in Your Space||This is one of the first lines that an aggressive alpaca will cross – usually as a cria (baby). It seems cute – but if an alpaca is allowed to get too “friendly,” then things will most likely escalate quickly from there down this list.|
|Spitting||See why the alpaca is spitting and address any underlying issues. Spitting should be a rare occurrence.|
|Biting while Play Fighting other Alpacas||Play fighting other alpacas can be normal behavior. Make sure all involved animals have trimmed teeth and toenails to minimize the risk of injury.|
|Kicking without Reason||While kicking can be a normal reaction to a minor, too-close annoyance (or a predator) or a play-fighting tool, alpacas shouldn’t be trigger-happy kickers. Too much kicking is a sign that retraining may be required.|
|Charging other Alpacas||Charging other alpacas can also be normal behavior, especially if there’s a shortage of resources or a breeding contest going on. Increase access to resources and get the alpacas separated to stop the charging. Charging may also be a normal way to teach unruly alpacas to behave.|
|Rearing and Chest Butting||This is only normal in play fighting or in a contest over breeding rights. If your alpaca does this to you, it’s a sure sign that they think you’re part of the herd – which is a problem.|
|Physically Menacing||This is abnormal behavior indicative of too much human interaction. Prevention is far easier than a cure.|
When an alpaca becomes aggressive, it’s definitely unusual behavior. But what it’s called will depend on who you’re talking to. Here are some of the terms I’ve seen for an aggressive alpaca (or llama) in my research.
- Berserk Alpaca Syndrome
- Berserk Male Syndrome
- Novice Handler Syndrome
- Aberrant Behavior Syndrome
Whatever you want to call it, though, it’s a problem. And it needs to be remedied.
The earliest stages of aggression are simply poor behaviors that have been ingrained – and need to be retrained. Later stages of aggressive behavior may require more intensive retraining. In some extreme cases, there have been alpacas that became so aggressive that they had to be culled.
Petting zoos are a common source of too-aggressive alpacas (that have to be culled). Alpacas raised in this kind of abnormal, human-intensive environment reinforces that in-your-face, aggressive behavior – because petting alpacas are cute and the people visiting the petting zoo don’t know any better.
How to Prevent Dangerous Behavior in Alpacas
The best thing you can do to prevent dangerous alpacas is simply to prevent it in the first place. You can do that by taking several important steps.
- Use the herd mentality to your advantage. Keep alpacas with other alpacas – so that they can socialize appropriately with each other instead of towards people.
- Don’t encourage poor behavior – no matter how cute it is at first. It will become a bigger problem as your cria turns into an unruly, aggressive adult.
- Remember that aggressive alpacas are almost always human-caused. Aggressive alpacas in nature are rare.
- Design your alpaca’s areas to encourage them to be safe, gentle animals – even if they are a guard animals for your herd.
- Be proactive in teaching good alpaca manners. Usually, your alpaca herd will take care of this for you!
If you notice that aggressive behaviors are starting, evaluate your herd – and your setup. Do what you can to minimize fighting. And do what you can to squash bad behaviors before they get worse.
Re-training Dangerous Alpacas
Sometimes, even with the most amazing preparation, an alpaca will still learn some aggressive behavior.
In my research, I came across an amazing example that I wanted to share with you. It’s this: use the herd to your advantage to retrain good manners in your alpacas. Here’s my synopsis of that story.
An alpaca owner had a male cria that, being raised in a completely female herd, wasn’t learning proper manners. He was displaying early signs of aggression like spitting, kicking, and charging despite castration. So, the owner talked to another alpaca owner – and sent her ill-mannered wether to live with a herd of male alpacas (a mix of studs/machos and wethers). For four days, the adult alpacas chased the ill-mannered creature away from the herd, the food, and their shelter. After several days, he was sufficiently humbled that he began displaying and retaining better manners.Story Source: http://www.shagbarkridge.com/info/aggressv.html
After four months, the wethered male was able to come home, albeit as a wholly reformed and well-mannered alpaca.
Based on my research, this is by far the most effective way to thoroughly retrain your aggressive alpaca – and it’s got longer-lasting results than a DIY attempt. However, if you don’t have a large, local herd to do your retraining work for you? Then retraining on your own may be a good secondary option.
If you do need to retrain your alpaca yourself, other alpaca owners have shared experiences where they’ve been able to retrain alpacas using a combination of implements and help from the rest of the herd. A popular option seems to be using a squirt gun (or a hose) to simulate spitting to reinforce better behavior.
Just know that re-training an aggressive alpaca isn’t an overnight fix. It will take time, and effort, and even then it may not work. If it’s not working for you, consider re-homing your alpaca to a more experienced alpaca owner – preferably one with a large herd. Or, in the most extreme cases, talk to your livestock veterinarian. Culling may need to be considered.
Do Alpacas Bite?
Alpacas can bite. They have sharp fighting teeth that can be used in defense or in fights over breeding rights. However, most alpacas don’t bite humans. In fact, biting a human is a definite sign of aberrant behavior that needs to be evaluated for how they’re being raised. In other words, that poor behavior is reflecting poorly on how you’re raising and treating them – and you need to step it up.
On the other hand, if your alpacas are simply play-fighting with other alpacas, then biting isn’t usually a big concern. That’s normal behavior. If you’re concerned about the potential of biting damage, though, you can have their fighting teeth trimmed down to lessen the risk of injury.
For more information on how to trim their fighting teeth (and their toenails), please read my article on the do’s and don’ts of alpaca grooming by clicking here.
In all of my experience with alpacas, I’ve never met an overly aggressive one. I’ll add the qualifier “yet” to that, though, so I don’t jinx myself. 🙂
In any case, all of my research was most enlightening – it’s both liberating to know that aggressive and dangerous alpacas aren’t something that just happens. Rather, it’s a learned behavior that they get from seeing humans as part of their herd. Then again, that’s also sobering to realize that we can be such a bad influence on such an amazing animal!
In any case, alpacas are a gentle, amazing animals. Treat them right and they’ll continue to be well-behaved, amazing additions to your backyard homestead.
And, as you consider adding them to your menagerie, make sure you find and work with a reputable breeder. That way, they can be a lifeline and resource for you to help you ensure that you’ve got well-mannered alpacas who stay on their best behavior.
But go read this next (and before you buy an alpaca). That way, you’ll know more about how to handle them the right way so you can avoid the problematic scenarios: This is the Right Way to Approach and Interact with Alpacas.
Do Alpacas Fight Each Other? Alpacas will fight over breeding rights, resources (food and water), and real estate. You can minimize fighting by increasing access to resources and separating males from females. For more ideas on how to manage fighting alpacas, see my full article on why alpacas fight right here.
How Many Alpacas Should You get? Alpacas need a herd. If they’ll adopt another species, that may work. It’s far safer to get 2-3 or more alpacas, though. Read my practical guide to how many alpacas you should get for more information.
Do Alpacas Like to Be Hugged? Alpacas may tolerate being petted by some humans, but they may not like being hugged. It’s always best to ask their owner for permission. For more information on petting (and hugging) alpacas, read my post here.