Goat Diaries Day 10: Distractions!

Distractions

I’ve been distracted by several projects this week so I am a bit behind getting these Goat Diary reports posted.  That seems very appropriate somehow because today’s post is about distractions!

In one of his Clicker Expo presentations Ken Ramirez talks about the importance of introducing distractions into the environment.  When he was the Director of Training at the Shedd Aquarium, he instructed his trainers to make changes every day to the training environment.  He wanted the dolphins and belugas that were used in the public demos to be so comfortable with change that if a tornado ripped the roof off the Aquarium, they would just think – “Oh look what our trainers have done for us today”.

I have always loved that image.  It creates a high standard of creativity and  consistent good training that is worth aspiring to.  With the goats at this point in their training it was easy to introduce change – essentially everything I did with them was new.  I wasn’t yet thinking about adding distractions as an active strategy.  I was starting with fearful animals so I knew I had a long way to go before they would be comfortable in a changing environment.  In their evening session I was about to discover just how easily something that I didn’t consider a distraction at all could completely derail their eagerness for training.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! – And People, Too!  The July Goat Diaries: 7/14/17 7 pm session

In a previous post I shared with you what a happy goat looks like (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/01/26/).  I had taken E and P into the arena and watched with delight as they turned the mounting block into a playground.  I wanted to share the fun with Ann.  She can’t see their antics, but she can certainly hear the laughter in their feet as they run across the mounting block.

Ann came in the evening to visit with Fengur.  While she was playing with him, I sat with the goats.  When the arena was free, I set up the camera and brought them in.  Ann stationed herself beside the camera well away from them.  After my big build up about how much fun they had running over the mounting block, they were total fuddy-duddies.  There was no energy, no joy, no laughter, no interest in the mounting block at all – just a cautious inspection from a distance of Ann.  What was she doing out in the middle of the arena?  Having a new person in the arena was clearly a concern.

After a few minutes of non-performance, I decided to put them back.  They followed me into the barn aisle and went eagerly into their stall, knowing that I would be dropping treats on the floor.  It turns out that I neglected to turn on my camera, so none of their non-interest was recorded.

I let the goats settle back into the comfortable familiarity of their stall, then I took them out again individually for another leading session.  The main focus of the session was on treat delivery and their behavior around food.  I was continuing with the work I described in the previous two goat diary posts. (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/01/29/  and https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/02/02/

A Panda Story

This focus on treat delivery and the time it takes to establish good manners was reminding me of Panda’s early training.  Cold winter days are a good time for stories, so I’m going to indulge in a couple, beginning with a favorite Panda story.  Panda is the miniature horse I trained to be Ann’s guide.  I remember when I first started working with Panda, she was as eager as the goats were to get into my pockets.

A week into her training – at about the stage I was now with the goats – I took Panda with me to a clinic I was giving at a barn that was about an hour away.  Ann rode in the front seat with her new guide dog curled between her feet.  Another of my clients was driving.  I was in the backseat with Panda essentially in my lap.  I was definitely a captive audience.  Doing a short session and then putting her back in her stall to process was an impossibility.  I had an hour’s drive with a horse in my lap!  What’s more I had a horse who knew I had treats in my pocket.

For the duration of the drive I clicked and treated anytime Panda’s nose moved even fractionally away from my pocket.  The idea was to keep her on such a high rate of reinforcement that she didn’t have a chance to mug me.  Over and over again, through the food placement I was saying to her – this is where the treats are delivered.  Going to my pocket gains you nothing.  Out here away from me, this is where you will find treats.  You might as well keep your nose here and not waste your energy going to my pockets.

Ann was in the front seat listening to the constant barrage of clicks.  I know they were making her anxious.  She had only recently taken on a new guide dog.  Everything about this dog was a struggle.  He should never have been placed.  The school was hoping that because Ann was such an experienced guide dog user, she would be able to make him work.

“Make the dog work” was truly the philosophy behind this dog’s training.  The result was a dog who showed extreme avoidance behavior.  Ann had one problem animal.  She didn’t want another.  How could she have a guide who needed to be clicked and treated every couple of seconds?  Ann knows how training works.  She knows that we would be building duration, but in that stage where the mugging is still such a strong reaction, the future good manners can seem impossibly far away.

Good manners emerge over time.  They are the result of consistent handling and a growing confidence in the learner.  By the time I handed Panda over to Ann, the guide dog had gone back to the school to be re-trained for a different job.  He went into search and rescue work, a job that suited his temperament much better.  And Panda became Ann’s full time guide much sooner than we had originally planned.

We celebrated the transfer by going out to dinner.  Panda kept her nose to herself and stayed quietly by Ann’s side throughout the evening.  Even when the salad course arrived, all she did was have a curious sniff before ducking her head back under the table to continue her nap. That’s great duration in a behavior that had begun with barely seconds between clicks.

Good manners emerged for Panda, and I was confident that they would also become the norm for the goats.  Time and consistency would create the behavior I wanted.

p46_PandaInRestaurantWithTrainerAlexandraKurlandOwnerAnnEdieNeilSoderstrom 343

Dining out with Panda

(If you want to learn more about Panda and her training, read the Panda Reports on my web site: theclickercenter.com.  Some of her early training is also featured in my DVDs: An Introduction to Clicker Training and Lesson 4: Stimulus Control.

Treats: Whatever Is Logical Do The Opposite

At some point in the distant future, it might be fun to travel with the goats in my car.  But at this point the thought of spending an hour trapped in the backseat of a car with an eager, greedy goat sounded exhausting.  We had a long way to go before they would be as settled about treats as Panda.

You meet your learner where he is not where you want him to be.  When I took P back into the arena, the session was very much focused around food delivery.  The children in the 4-H program may have giggled and let him snatch pretzels from their mouths.  With me P was learning that we played a very different game.

I brought P back out on a lead.  He continued to show good progress. He backed away from my closed hand.  He did a bit of head flinging which means he was feeling frustrated by having to back up.  I’m sure it did conflict with how he thought things should be done.  He wanted to push forward to get to the treats.  That’s what he had always done, but now he had to remember to back up instead.

Whatever is logical, do the opposite.  I could sympathize with his frustration.  From his point of view it made no sense that backing should work.  Going forward was how you get children to spill treats all over the ground.  Why should backing work?!!  We have all been given directions that make no sense.  Why should turning left instead of right get us to our destination?

And how many of us turn right because we’re convinced that should be the correct answer.  Even when we do turn left, it feels wrong.  Surely we’re heading in the wrong direction.  This can’t be right.  We’ll never get there.  Oh look, there’s our destination just ahead. How did that happen!?

It can take a while to relax and trust the directions.  That’s the stage I was in with P.  With a little more reinforcement history behind us, he would relax into the confidence that treats were coming.  There was no need to rush to get them.

The Goat Palace written Dec. 27 – Our Animals Always Tell Us

Meeting your learner where he is, not where you want him to be makes me want to share this story.  It was prompted by the goat’s current training.  If E and P’s treat taking manners were reminding me of Panda, a session I did with Trixie and Thanzi at the end of December made me think of Robin.  There are several of training mantras that apply to this session:

Our animals will always tell us what they need to work on next.

You get what you reinforce. 

My favorite, though, is this one:

If you don’t notice a little resistance, don’t worry about it.  It will get bigger.  And eventually, it will get big enough that you will do something about it.

Before I describe the goat’s training, here is Robin’s story:

Over the winter when Robin was still very new to clicker training, he started to snatch his treat from my hand.  I’d click, he’d grab, and then he’d eagerly be offering me the next clickable behavior.  I ignored the snatching.  He was eager.  It was cold.  He was offering lots of great work.

The snatching increased.  You get what you reinforce.  I didn’t like the snatching, but if it was getting worse, something in our interactions was reinforcing it.

I ignored it.  Robin was eager.  It was cold.  We were having fun – until I wasn’t.  The snatching was becoming more than annoying.  I was starting to count fingers after I gave him a treat.  It was time to do something about the way he took treats.

If you don’t notice a little resistance, don’t worry about it.  It will get bigger.  And eventually, it will get big enough that you will do something about it.

I’ve told the story many times about the way I solved this particular problem.  It’s detailed in both my Riding book and The Step-By-Step Guide in Pictures.  I went back to basics.  I put Robin in his stall with a stall guard across the door.  I stood across the aisle from him and held out the biggest carrot from a bag of big carrots.  Robin stretched his neck out to try and reach it.

I immediately turned my back, removing the carrot from sight and counted to three.  Then I turned back and held the carrot out again.  Robin stretched out his nose.  I turned my back and counted to three.

I again offered the carrot.  This time Robin hesitated ever so slightly.  I clicked, reached into my pocket and handed him a piece of carrot. I was using negative punishment.  I was taking away something Robin wanted – the carrot – to decrease a behavior I didn’t like – the reaching out towards me to get a treat.

(When an activity decreases – it is being punished, either by adding something unpleasant or by taking away something the individual enjoys (positive punishment and negative punishment – it’s just math adding or subtracting).  When an activity increases, it is being reinforced, either by adding something the individual wants or taking away something he doesn’t like. So again there is positive and negative reinforcement.  When the behavior increases it is being strengthened, i.e. reinforced.  When it decreases, it is being punished.  In both – the positive and negative refer to adding or subtracting, not value judgements.)

I offered the carrot again.  Robin hesitated.  Click, I handed him a piece of carrot from my pocket.  Robin is a super fast learner.  He had the dots connected.  If he drew back away from my hand, he got treats.  I could hold the carrot directly under his nose and instead of snatching it off my hand, he arched his neck and drew up away from it.  Click and treat.

I was enchanted.  He looked like a beautiful dressage horse.  Robin being Robin, he quickly made the connection.  If he arched his neck, click, I would give him a treat.  He wasn’t snatching anymore.  Instead he scooped the carrot slice gently off my hand with his enormous soft lips.

He started to offer what I have since called “the pose”.  When I walked by his stall, Robin would draw himself up and arch his neck.  Click.  I’d pause in my barn chores and give him a piece of carrot.  Through the winter I reinforced him a lot for this behavior.  I might have begun with negative punishment as I tried to stop an unwanted behavior – snatching treats off my hand.  Now I was actively reinforcing him for something I wanted – “the pose”.

I should add that this is not the way I teach the pose today.  It popped out when I was working on something else.  Now that I know this behavior is worth going after, I shape it more directly, most often with the aid of targeting.  And in general, when I find myself reaching towards a negative punishment strategy to solve a problem, I go have a cup of tea instead. I think about what I want and look for reinforcement-based teaching strategies instead.

The “pose” is not the best name that I could have come up with for this behavior.  For many people, a pose is a fixed, rigid, stilted posture.  It’s that awful grimace so many of us have when we’re forced to have our picture taken.

Instead, for me, the pose is a very dynamic behavior.  For Robin it has become a default behavior.  I was the cue.  In the absence of any active cue from me, if Robin posed, I would click and reinforce him.  It meant that if he wanted attention from me, he could get me to engage with him using a behavior I actively liked.

Horses are always doing something.  A horse in a stall has a long laundry list of behaviors to choose from.  Some are behaviors that I like, some are behaviors that I can ignore, and some are behaviors that I never want to see.  The laundry list includes taking a nap, eating hay, having a drink, watching the activities in the barn aisle – all perfectly acceptable and easy to ignore.

A horse could also be fighting with his neighbor, kicking the stall door to get attention, cribbing, raking his teeth up and down the wall, pacing, weaving.  These are behaviors I definitely do not want.  But if I fuss at a horse when I see him engaging in them, I could easily be reinforcing them through my attention.  Think of the small child who bangs the kitchen pots and pans while mother is on the phone.   Even negative attention is attention, and that can be better than no attention at all.

Robin doesn’t have to kick the wall to get me to notice him.  All he has to do is pose.  Click and treat.  I love having behaviors which my horses can use to ask for my attention. They know I will always acknowledge their request for connection.

Think of all the ways people interact with one another:  “Good morning.”  “How are you?” “Never better.”  These quick exchanges connect us.  Think how chilling and unpleasant an environment becomes when these social pleasantries are absent.  We need them to tell us things are okay between us.

Robin says good morning by posing.  I respond with a click and a treat.  All is well between us.  Our social bond is strong and getting stronger with each click and treat.

I reinforced Robin for the pose because he looked pretty.  I wasn’t heading for anything in particular beyond that.  This is what makes training so much fun.  Sometimes the next unexpected piece just pops out.

Here’s what happened to the pose.  One evening I had Robin in the arena.  I was asking him to trot around me on a circle.  He was giving me a nothing of a trot.  He looked like an old plow horse.  There was no energy, no pizzazz, nothing I wanted to reinforce.

Robin was expecting me to click.  He went once around the circle.  Nothing.  The way I tell the story was you could all but see the cartoon bubble appearing above his head.  “I’m not being reinforced.”

He went around again.

“What can I do to get reinforced?”

On the third time around he had the answer: “I know! I’ll try the pose!”

The way Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz tells this story is this: by withholding the click I was putting Robin into an extinction process.  He began to regress back through behaviors that had been successful in the past.  The pose had been highly reinforced, so it was the first thing that he tried.

Whichever version of the story you prefer, Robin had to add energy to the trot in order to get into the pose.  Suddenly, his trot looked as though it belonged on a magazine cover.  He was gorgeous!  I clicked and gave him a treat, all the while gushing over how pretty he was.  I sent him back out around me.  It took him a few strides to find his balance, but he once again added the pose to the trot.  It was just one stride that I was clicking – but wow! What a gorgeous stride it was!  The rest is history.  Robin led the way.  He showed us that we could shape the beautiful, suspended balance of a classical dressage horse just through well timed clicks and treats.

Why am I telling this story? Because this morning’s session with Thanzi and Trixie made me think of Robin and the pose.  It reminded me of the expression:

If you don’t notice a little resistance, don’t worry about it.  It will get bigger.  And eventually, it will get big enough that you will do something about it.

In December I had been trying to work them individually.  We had snow Christmas eve and then the temperatures dropped and the wind rose.  Trixie was nervous about being out in the hallway by herself, so I let Thanzi join her.  Suddenly with two goats I had lots of crowding.  Hmm.  You get what you reinforce.  I knew at night when I was tucking them in, I was in a hurry.  It was cold.  It was late.  I just wanted to get done with the final chores and get back inside where it’s warm.  Had I been letting them crowd me and hurry the treat deliver?  Apparently the answer was yes.

I needed to sort out the crowding so in this session I set two mats out face too face.  Trixie hopped on one, Thanzi on the other.  I stood in the middle with both goats crowding into me begging for treats.  I waited.

“Oh right.  Crowding doesn’t get treats.”  They took their noses away from me.  Click. I reached into my pockets.

They were right back, pushing against my hands.  I got the treats out of my pockets and then drew my hands together.  I stood as though in calm meditation, waiting.  First one then the other took her nose away.  I waited until they were both good, then held out the treats to them.

They got their treats, and then they were right back crowding me, pushing against me with their muzzles.  I waited.  They took their noses away.  Click.  Get the treat.  Wait again with hands held together in quiet meditation.  They both drew away from me.  I held out my hands and let them take the treat.

It only took a couple of repetitions. They were both working so hard to stay away from my pockets.  Click, pause, feed.  They were both so good.

I left them in the hallway while I filled their hay feeders.  I was just finishing up when I looked out into the aisle.  They were standing each on her own platform waiting for me.  How can you resist?  I went out and did another round of paying attention to their good manners.

Your animals always tell you what they need to work on.  I don’t know where this will lead me, but I know it is what they need.  If it makes me think of Robin’s pose, I must be on the right track.

Staying Consistent

It’s easy to be focused and consistent through one training session.  It’s much harder to maintain that consistency over time.  When we transferred Panda full time to Ann, it was actually a relief to hand her over.  I missed her constant presence by my side, but maintaining the level of consistency that is needed for a guide was demanding.  When you can see, you don’t need a guide to tell you that you’ve come to a curb. If I started cutting corners in Panda’s training because I didn’t need all the things I had taught her to do, it would undermine her performance as a guide.  Ann would never be able to enjoy the luxury of seeing the curb that’s in front of her.  She would be relying on Panda to point this out to her.  A horse doesn’t know when it doesn’t count so it always has to count.  I followed that mantra throughout Panda’s training.

The same thing applies to the goats.  The same thing applies to the goats.  If sometimes I let them push into me to get treats, I will never get to the consistent good behavior that I want.  But it’s been cold!  It is so easy to get in a hurry and let standards drop.  So their training has been a bit like a yo yo.  I let things slip in my hurry to get chores done and my gloves back on.  They begin to crowd me, but now I am catching it sooner.  The manners pendulum keeps swinging back and forth.  Over time the cumulative effect shows me that the balance is tipping towards good manners.

Just for Fun!

I told you the story of Robin’s pose.  Here’s one of my favorite videos of Robin.  He was only three when this was filmed.  He had not yet been started under saddle.  So he’d never had a rider on his back, and I had never lunged him in side reins or any other type of mechanical device.  This beautiful balance and cadence had been shaped entirely with the clicker.  You’ll see I am holding two dressage whips.  You can call them anything you want, but they are functioning as targets.  They give him points of reference to balance between.  I know the lighting is not good in this video, but this was a long time ago, and this was the best the video camera could do.  Enjoy!

 

Coming Next: The Goat Diaries Day 10: You Can Never Do One Thing

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their current training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

 

 

 

Thank YOU!

I’m taking a brief detour from the Goat Diaries.  2018 is the 20th Anniversary of the publication of my book, “Clicker Training for your Horse”.  To celebrate every month this year I will be writing an article about one of the many people who have helped me bring positive reinforcement training into the horse world.

Last month I told you about Bob Viviano and Crackers.  Bob was there literally at the beginning of my exploration of clicker training.  Ann Edie joined us a short time later when she started taking lessons from me at the barn where I boarded my horses.  This month I want to turn the spotlight in her direction to thank her for the enormous contribution she has made to the development of clicker training and for 25 years of friendship.

Most of you know Ann through her guide horse, Panda.  Ann has big horses as well.  We seem to share our equine family – at least that’s how it feels.  Ann’s first horse, Magnat, is our one in ten thousand horse.  That’s how I think of him.  He was originally my school horse, but he was such a great match for Ann, in 1996 I gave him to her.  In 1999 he was joined by our two Icelandics, Sindri and Fengur.  Panda joined the “herd” in 2001.

I’ve written so much about Panda, I’m going to shine the spotlight instead on Magnat.  He played such an important role in the early development of clicker training it is right that he should get the attention as I celebrate twenty years of “Clicker Training for your Horse“.   There is so much I could write.  I’ll just share a couple of favorite Magnat stories.

Remembering Magnat

Magnat is an Arabian.  He came to me through clients of mine who wanted a weekend trail horse for their guests.  Several months and several disastrous rides after they got him, they discovered that he had a severe heart murmur.  My clients were in a dilemma.  They didn’t want to keep him as a pasture ornament, but they couldn’t ethically sell a horse with such a severe heart condition.  Who would want such a horse?  The answer was I would.

So Magnat became mine.  One of my favorite training mantras is:

The walk is the mother of all gaits.

I didn’t need to ride fast to enjoy a horse.  Magnat and I were a perfect fit.  I would love to have reserved him just for myself, but he was such a great school horse.  I began to use him to give lessons at the barn where I boarded.  I could not have asked for a better co-teacher.  This was in 1994.  I had just begun the year before to explore clicker training with Peregrine.  I was having such good success with it, I had started to share it with all my clients.

Pretty soon the only horse who wasn’t clicker trained was my own school horse.  I was reluctant to introduce it to him.  I had all the questions that everybody else has when you first start introducing food into your training.  What if he got mouthy?  He was so polite now.  I didn’t want to risk messing up my one and only school horse by teaching him clicker training!

When someone is hesitant to give clicker training a try, I get it.  I had the same questions and concerns that most people have when they first encounter this work.  But I really couldn’t go on encouraging all my clients to give it a try and not follow my own advice with Magnat.

I needn’t have worried.  For Magnat it barely caused a blip on the landscape.  He was polite before I introduced food, and he remained so even when my pockets were bulging with treats.  He was never muggy.

There are lots of horses who go through a very rocky transition stage.  The food does get them excited.  They frustrate easily and often older behaviors that have been suppressed through punishment resurface to create problems.  Magnat showed none of this.  That isn’t to say there weren’t changes.  My solid, reliable lesson horse truly began to shine.  If he had been good before, now he was outstanding.

Throughout that first winter he helped me teach people the basics of single-rein riding.  There’s a great expression:

The longer you stay with an exercise, the more good things you’ll see that it gives you.

One of the good things the basics of single-rein riding produced for Magnat was collection.  The beginnings of two favorite behaviors popped out: piaffe and canter in-hand.  This later is a gorgeous behavior to have in repertoire.  Magnat became so balanced and collected, he could canter while I walked beside him.

It was around this time that Ann came to the barn wanting to take lessons.  Ann was not a beginner.  She had ridden as a teenager, but then like so many others she gave up riding when she went off to college and never got back to it once she started raising a family.  The challenge for me was Ann is blind.  I had never worked with a blind rider before.  This was a new frontier for me.  But I assumed my job was teaching her to ride.  Ann would take care of the rest.  If I taught her the way I taught everyone else, we’d come out okay.  It turned out I was right.

I started Ann the way I start all riders who come to me.   It doesn’t matter how many years you have ridden or how experienced a trainer you are, if you are going to ride one of my horses, you start with a pony ride.  I guide the horse from the ground.  All you have to do is sit and enjoy.

As the rider becomes familiar with the horse’s communication system, and understands how to cue the horse, I gradually turn over more and more of the control.  So at first I have the reins, and I’m working the horse in-hand with a rider up.  Then I hand the reins over to the rider, but I stay close so my body language continues to support the rider’s cues.  Then I gradually fade out and the rider takes over completely from me.

This worked perfectly for Ann.  Having Magnat as my co-teacher made all the difference, especially since he could canter in-hand.  For teaching that made him worth his weight in gold.  I wish I had learned how to ride on a horse like Magnat.  Ann has such a relaxed canter seat because she learned the rhythm of the canter from him.  Starting out she never rode a bad canter.  All she had to do was relax and enjoy.  There was no struggle trying to get him into the canter, no trotting faster, faster, faster like a plane taking off.  There was no leaning sideways through unbalanced turns.

Magnat canter

Instead there was just the relaxed rhythm of a collected, glorious canter.  And then there was the piaffe and the passage.  It was Ann who was riding the first time Magnat succeeded in mobilizing into piaffe.  I was working him from the ground while she helped manage his weight shifts.

We were figuring out how to teach riding with the clicker.  I gave Ann the lesson, and she taught Magnat.  They were such a good match, I decided after their first winter together to give him to her.  It gave me so much more pleasure watching them develop as a team than I ever would have had riding him for myself.  And I had Peregrine.  He and Magnat became riding partners.  For the next sixteen years while we kept the horses at the boarding barn, Ann and I shared our evening rides together.

They were an unlikely pair, my thoroughbred, her Arab.  But it turned out that each horse gave their best to the other.  Magnat gave Peregrine the confidence to move forward again after a long, hard recovery from the aftershocks of Potomac horse fever.  And Peregrine taught Magnat about collection.

Magnat lived in a small paddock with two other horses.  I’m sure you can picture what he looked like during mud season.  Every night Ann would spend an hour or so grooming him and by the time he was ready to go into the arena, he was snowy white.  I don’t know how she did it!  When I brush my horses, the dirt moves from one spot to another.  When Ann grooms, the dirt leaves!  And a horse isn’t clean until her fingers tell her he’s clean.

Early on we taught Magnat to retrieve.  There’s a picture of him with a wooden dumbbell in his mouth on the cover of the first edition of “Clicker Training for your Horse”.  When Ann brought him into the arena, he would ask to be turned loose.  She’d let go of his reins, and he’d go out in the arena and bring back to her all the things the previous riders had dropped.

We boarded in a barn where there was a very active after school lesson program so there were always dropped riding crops, gloves, hats, kleenex.  Ann never knew what she was going to be handed.  Magnat was very diligent in making sure that he had found anything and everything that might get in their way.  In so many ways he was Ann’s first guide horse.

When the arena was clean, he would walk with her to the mounting block and line himself up.  Now the real glory of Magnat shone through.

Ann understood that clicker training means so much more than just using a marker signal and treats.  Clicker training for us is synonymous with good balance.  It was a joy to explore with her what that meant for our horses.

When Ann first started riding Magnat, she couldn’t manage his trot at all.  He bounced her out of the saddle.  It was the most jarring, bone rattling, uncomfortable trot imaginable.  That was because for her Magnat wasn’t yet balanced.  She didn’t yet understand how to use lateral flexions.  When she asked for the trot, she got the hollow-back, high-headed, stiff-legged trot that is all too often associated with Arabs.

As she learned how to use lateral flexions, Magnat relaxed and lifted himself up into a magic carpet ride.  The transformation was so black and white.  Ride him without asking for the lift that comes through the lateral work, and he would jar you right out of the saddle.  Ask for collection, and you were in heaven.

I taught Magnat lateral flexions before I began to explore clicker training.  He understood what I wanted and was a willing student.  Often people seek out clicker training because they are struggling with a horse.  That wasn’t the case with Magnat.  He could have gone through his whole life without ever needing to be clicker trained.

Before clicker training he was a good, solid-citizen riding horse, but that’s all he was.  Without clicker training he would have remained a nice, but ordinary horse.  With clicker training he shone.  I used to say he was a one in a million horse, but as the years went by and he just became more and more wonderful, not just to ride but to be around, I changed this to a one in ten million horse.

But I really shouldn’t be the one to describe what it was like to ride Magnat.  He was Ann’s horse.  Here is how Ann described him in a piece she wrote for my riding book:

“It’s always a dilemma to describe the experience of riding a truly extraordinary horse who has had the benefit of several years of clicker training.  Although many technical components go into the production of a really memorable ride, the irrepressible smile, the feeling of wonder, and expression of “WOW!!” that arises so regularly these days when I ride Magnat simply cannot be described in anything but poetic terms.

Yes, athletic talent and neuromuscular conditioning are part of what makes the ride so special; and yes, many hours of repetition over many months have gone into it; and yes, there is extraordinary lightness and balance.  But this is still far from the sum total of the experience.

Musicians have described a great melody as “ a journey which has many familiar passages, and which also contains some wonderful surprises which cause you to look at the world in a completely fresh way and gives new meaning to life.”  This is the best description I can find of what it is like to ride Magnat.

Magnat comes out into the arena every night feeling relaxed and eager to work.  He knows he will be appreciated and reinforced for his performance.  He knows that he is a respected dance partner and member of the team, not a mere subject of training.  This awareness and active participation on the part of the horse is one of the benefits bestowed by clicker training.

Our rides begin with warm-up exercises.  In the course of executing figures or doing simple softening and balancing work, I will pick up on the reins and suddenly feel the most indescribable lightness!!!

We may be in a super-buoyant, floating trot, a deliberate, balanced, ballet-like piaffe, or a heavenly rocking-horse canter.  Whatever it is, it will feel as though I am floating on a magic carpet.  He is so responsive in these moments.  It’s as if there are clear filaments of two-way communication from my finger tips to each of Magnat’s feet.  The slightest breath of a touch on one of those lines will be answered by an immediate floating response.

The musicians described music as a journey which “contains some wonderful surprises.”  That’s how I feel about riding Magnat.  Each ride contains surprises and special pleasures we have not experienced before.  It is like coming around a bend in the road and seeing a spectacular sunset, or a grove of awe-inspiring redwood trees, or the grandeur of an ancient castle, or the peace and cool of a Buddhist temple.  It truly takes the breath away!  It creates the deepest joy and aliveness in my heart!

These moments have totally changed the way I think about riding.  I feel such awe for Magnat and for what we create together.  In this moment I know, without the slightest doubt, exactly what I ride for – it is just this amazing feeling of total balance, effortlessness, lightness, and energy.  Magnat seems to feel the same excitement and joy, for he literally beams with pride, and recently he has begun uttering deep chortles in his throat at these moments.

I let the magic moment go on for as long as I dare, wanting it to continue forever, but knowing I must capture it with a click, before it disappears like a soap bubble or a delicious dream.

The click creates a pause in the music.  Magnat comes to a halt; I throw my arms around his neck in a huge hug, shower him with lavish praise, and empty my pockets of the most desirable treats!

The “WOW” feeling is definitely addictive.  The glow of the experience lingers and stays with me long after the ride.  Our whole horse-human relationship is one of appreciation, respect, and awe.

This is, for me, the great gift of clicker training.  When taken to the high-performance level, it creates transcendent moments of great joy”

Ann Edie – written in 2005 for “The Click That Teaches: Riding with the Clicker

Ann’s words express so perfectly why we have both worked to bring clicker training into the horse world.  If clicker training had just been about teaching tricks, and finding kinder way to get horses onto trailers or to stand for grooming, I would have moved on years ago.  Instead clicker training takes us on a journey to Joy.  It connects us deeply to our horses.

This is what Ann and I wanted to share when we wrote about our horses.  It is what I am celebrating in this twentieth year of “Clicker Training for your Horse”.  It is what we hope others will find as they explore clicker training: the great love and wisdom of horses.

Sadly we lost Magnat in 2011 not long after we moved to our new barn.  He had reached the grand age of 33, but it wasn’t enough.  We were both hoping he would be one of those Arabs who live to be forty.  Sadly he had cancer, and we had to say good-bye.

Ann has shared so generously her horses.  Magnat and the Icelandics have served as my school horses.  I’ve written about them, and they have appeared in the books and DVDs.  Sindri, our Icelandic stallion, was my riding horses.  Thank you Ann for that great pleasure and honor.

And then of course there is Panda, Ann’s guide horse.  Ann is a very private person, but she has shared Panda literally with the world.  We’ve had journalists from as far away as Japan and Australia come and do stories on her.  Ann has always been a good sport, and so has Panda!

What many people don’t know is Ann is one of the partners in The Clicker Center Barn. Without her help, the barn would never have been built.  Thank you Ann for this.  And thank you also for teaching me how to play scrabble and for occasionally letting me win.

Alex Panda scrabble 0038

Goat Diaries Day 10: Expectations

What is the Click?

What does the click mean?

I’ve told you many times throughout these diaries that I clicked and reinforced a particular action.  Those are good words, but we have to question – is that what really happened?

Absolutely, I did click.  But what, if any, effect did it have on the goats’ behavior?  Did they even notice it?

In July I could make a good case for the click being just meaningless noise for the goats.  At this stage in their training were they stopping and orienting back to me because they heard the click? Or were they stopping because I stopped?

There was one very consistent cue that they were responding to.  When I reached into my pocket, they surged forward for the treat.  It’s this behavior that I wanted to change.  There are many strategies for doing this.  The one I chose for these sessions was to turn the movement of my hand into a cue for backing.

Once they had this part of the sequence down, I expected that they would notice more what came before the movement of my hand – the click.  Hear that sound, and you know treats are coming – get ready.  I know some people drop the click out and let the movement of their hand become the marker signal.  I prefer to keep the click in the sequence.

We all have biases in what we use for our marker signals.  My strong preference is for tongue clicks so I don’t have to carry a clicker around with me.  That leaves my hands free for other things.

We also have biases in how we use marker signals.  Do we keep them in?  Do we change them over time to verbal signals?  Do we sometimes feed without using a marker signal?  Do we click but not feed?  (When you want your click to function as a cue, that’s a peculiar one.  What are you cueing?  It becomes like an unfinished sentence.  Think how annoying and not very useful that is when people make a habit of never finishing their . . . .

There are lots of variations on the theme.  I developed my approach to using the marker signal through working with horses.  I decided early on I wanted the click to be a gate keeper.  That means about the only time I give my horses treats is after I have clicked.  I want the message to be: “If you didn’t hear a click, don’t bother looking for food.”  The exceptions involve rituals I have created around greeting and leaving.  I give treats as I enter the barn and say hello to my horses, and again as I am saying good-bye, but the context is consistent and creates its own control of expectations.

At all other times, if I am giving a treat, it is for something I have clicked.  This creates very consistent rules around the food.  In the absence of the click, I can reach into my pocket to get my gloves or a tissue.  My horses won’t be expecting food because I didn’t click.

If you sometimes feed a “just because” treat, you can create a lot of frustration.  Your horse is left wondering what he just did that got you to reach into your pocket.  “Just because” treats usually aren’t very consistent.  That lack of consistency can throw a learner into an extinction process complete with all the “shaking of the vending machine” that goes along with it.

You’re wanting to be kind, and instead the carrots you’re feeding are just turning your horse into a scary monster.  The click helps to manage this.  Now he knows there’s no food unless and until he hears the click.

If you are new to clicker training, this may sound very restricting.  You want to feed treats.  Don’t worry.  Once you start clicker training, you will have lots of opportunities to click and give your horse a treat.

Initially, the click is barely noticed by the horse.  He sees you reaching into your pocket.  That’s what he focuses on.  You can get the same kind of mugging behavior that the goats were showing.  The only difference is all that eagerness for the treats comes in a much larger package.

Over time you will see your horse respond to the click.  It has begun to function as a reliable cue.  When he hears that sound, he will stop to get his treat.

How do I know this?  I do a lot of liberty work.  Often the horse is at a considerable distance from me.  In fact, I may be completely out of his sight.  When I click, he stops.  He heard that sound, and he knows what he needs to do to get his treat.  Usually that means waiting quietly while I walk (not run) to him with the treat.

When cues are linked with positive reinforcement, they become predictors of good things to come.  The sound of the click leads to good things, so my learner will want to figure out what he can do to get me to click again.

Pushing forward into my space, nudging my hands, pawing at me, if none of these things lead to a click, but backing up does, I’ll begin to see my learner actively backing away from me and these other less useful behaviors (from his perspective) will drop away.  My learner will be using the backing behavior to cue me to make that funny sound that predictably, reliably leads to treats.

Over time he will learn that there are many behaviors that can get me to click.  So now the noticing of cues moves back another step.  He begins to pay attention to the thing that comes before the thing that comes before the thing that . . . .  In other words he begins to notice the cues I am giving that signal to him what is the hot behavior that will most reliably lead to a click and a treat.

In all of this click serves as a gatekeeper.  On one side are the behaviors that I want.  On the other are the treats that my learner wants.  It’s a win-win situation for both of us.

That understanding of the click’s function isn’t there at the beginning.  Horses can be just as eager for their treats as the goats.  They can crowd every bit as much into your space.  But at liberty, I can show you that the click is a cue an educated horse is definitely responding to.

Why do I want this?  I know many dog trainers have a much looser system with the click.  They will often toss treats without first marking a specific behavior.  Instead I want to give my horses so much practice responding to the click that it becomes automatic.  They don’t even think about it.  They hear the click, and instantly they are stopping.

Again, why do I want this?  Simple answer – because I ride.  Under saddle when I click, my horses all stop.  I don’t have to actively stop them in order to get a treat to them.  They stop on their own, and they wait patiently while I fish around in my pocket to get their treat.  There’s no fussing or fidgeting.  They have learned how to be patient.  That’s a wonderful safety net to have when you are sitting on the back of your learner.

These goats were a long way from that standard.  Riding was obviously not where we were heading. Instead they were going to be around small children.  When someone clicks, backing up away from the treat pocket is a great response for a goat to have.  That’s what I was working on in this session.

E’s leading session

In the previous post I described P’s leading session and my focus on the treat delivery. Now it was E’s turn.  I brought him out into the arena on a lead.  He was also excellent.  He’s so very gentle.  He’s much easier to lead than P.  That actually made this lesson a little harder for him.  Because P can be very pushy, he’s had a lot more experience moving back from the treat.  It was easier for him to make the connection and to understand that backing up is what got me to hand him a goody.

E was slower to catch on.  When I clicked, I extended my closed hand out towards him.  Instead of finding my open palm with the treats there for the taking, I had the back of my hand turned towards him.  At first, he was confused.  What was he supposed to do?  I didn’t want this to turn into teasing, so I helped a little by lifting the lead up so it exerted a slight backwards pressure.  It was a suggestion only.  I was careful not to pull him back. The lead was there only to remind him about backing, to bring it further up in the “files” so he would give it a try.

In previous sessions I had introduced him to this collar cue.  He had learned that backing led to a release of the pressure AND a click and a treat.  I’d given the lift of the lead meaning.  Now it was time to put it to use.  The lead was acting as a prompt.  He got it right away.  I only had to use it three times, and then he was moving away from my closed hand on his own.

Goat diaries Day 10 food manners 1.png

So now it was click, and he backed up to get his treat.  When I extended my hand out where the perfect goat would be, he was exactly where he should be to get a treat.

Goat diaries Day 10 food manners 2.png

You’ll need a password to watch this video.  It’s:  GoatDiariiesDay10E

I started to take E back, and then decided to let him have another go at the mounting block.  E was a little uncertain at first but then he went across the mounting block all the way to the end.  I had some foam mats at the far end.  E jumped up on them.  Contact points!  Then he leapt high into the air for a twisting dismount.  What fun!

We went back to the beginning, and he ran across the mounting block again.  I loved the rat a tat tat sound of his hooves on the wood.  At the far end he did another wild leap off the mounting block.

The two runs seemed to satisfy him.  He followed me into the aisle and back to his stall.  Getting him to go back in was easy.  Dropping treats seems to be the incentive they need to turn going into the stall into a good thing.  They could so easily become sticky at going back.  They like to go exploring.  And they definitely like the treats, the social attention, and the game.  Planning ahead so returning to the stall is a good thing was paying off.

As always, I balanced the excitement of our training sessions with the quiet of cuddle time.  P was particularly eager for attention.  They are showing more and more enjoyment.  Now when I scratch, they lean into my fingers.  I can see their lips wiggling.  None of this was there at the beginning.  Now when I scratch them, I get a whole body response.  Talk about reinforcing me!

The Goat Palace – Catching Up With Current Training

All this good prep has created more opportunities to give the goats adventures.  Because they will now lead reliably, we can take the three youngsters into the indoor arena for playtime.  I can lead Pellias and Elyan together without being dragged in opposite directions or pulled off my feet.  On the rare days when the temperature is reasonable I’ve also been taking them out individually for walks.

Last summer Pellias was the bold one, but this winter oddly enough it is Elyan who has been up for longer adventures.  We started out just walking a large circle immediately outside the lean-to.  I would ask Elyan to go just a couple of steps – click and treat.  When I walked off, I was always mindful of his response.

If he hesitated or stopped to look at his surroundings, I would wait for him.  The slack was out of the lead, but I didn’t add any pull.  When he oriented back to me, click, I gave him a treat.

If he rushed ahead of me, I would say “Wait” and stop my feet.  As soon as he glanced back towards me, click, I gave him a treat.  “Wait” became a reliable cue within one session.

I discovered this the next day when we took the three youngsters into the arena for a playtime.  We turned then loose and let them do aerials off the mounting block.  After a bit I headed towards the far end of the arena.  Elyan was staying close to me.  Pellias was a little further off.  When they spotted a set of platforms, they started to run towards them.   I said “Wait”, and Elyan immediately turned back to me.  Click and treat.  What fast learners these goats are!  I hadn’t yet given Pellias the “Wait” lesson, but when he heard the click, he immediately turned away from the platform and came running back to me.

Walking out with them individually has confirmed even more for me that the click has taken on meaning.  Pellias and Elyan have both become very good at staying by my side and keeping slack in the line.  As we walk along, I’ll click, and they will immediately orient to me.  This is happening now before I stop my feet or reach into my pocket.  What began as just noise in the background has become a reliable and very clear signal – come get your treat!

I should mention that Thanzi has also gained walking out privileges.  The first time I put a lead on her, she dragged me the length of the hallway to get back to the security of her pen.  Now she stays glued to my side, and we can venture out for walks.  That’s enormous progress.  She was chosen to come here because she was such a strong puller.  She’s so powerful, and now she is also so wonderfully light on a lead.

Trixie is another matter.  The lead for her is definitely a cue – just not a positive one.  If I am holding a lead in my hand, she shuts down completely.  Never mind trying to put it on her.  Just holding it creates this response.  She is a work in slow progress.  But I have written enough for today without going into the unwinding of her poisoned cues.  That will have to wait for another day.

Coming Next: Day 10 Continued: Distractions!

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their current training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

 

The Goat Diaries: Day 10 – Training Happens Fast!

Training happens fast and it happens slowly.  Training happens fast.  Within every session I see changes.  At the beginning of a session, I might be able to get only the briefest of brief hesitations in grown-ups.  At the end of the session, there will be a definite pause.  At the start of the session, I may be able to ask for only a couple of steps forward on a lead.  By the end we can go five or six steps at a time.  This may not sound like very much, but when you watch an individual figuring out the pieces, the learning seems lightening fast.  The challenge is always staying that step or two ahead so you can keep moving the training along.

Training is also very slow.  That’s because the fast learning is taking place in tiny steps.  It takes time for these tiny steps to accumulate into the big steps people are used to seeing. It takes time for all the little triumphs to add up into consistent performance.

That’s certainly true when it comes to good manners around food.  I want the goats to want the treats.  I want them to be eager for them.  I don’t want to make it so hard to get to them that the goats begin to dread the sound of the click.  Incrementally over these ten days of training, I had been teaching them grown-up “table manners”.

When I first introduced the treats, it was feed, feed, feed, without making the availability of the treats contingent on any behavior.

Then the target was introduced.  Now it was touch the target, and click, I’ll reach into my pocket to get you a goody.  The goats didn’t notice these relationships at first.  The click only gradually took on meaning.  Now at day ten, when I clicked as they were racing forward to the mounting block, and they instantly spun back to me, I knew that sound had meaning. (Watch the video of their mounting block games that’s in the previous post, and you’ll see this response.

The click is a cue – an invitation.  To the goats it says: “come get your treats.”

Getting treats often included surging forward towards my pockets.  They were charming about it.  It didn’t feel at all threatening, but these were still little goats.  Would I feel the same once they matured to their full size?  So I began to add in more rules.  I actively used the food delivery to move them out of my space.

When I took P back into the arena after our wonderful play session on the mounting block, I experimented with a new rule.  I would never have asked for so much on Day 1 of his clicker training education, but my sense was he was ready for this next criterion.

When I clicked, I presented the treat where the perfect goat would be.  That often meant he had to back up to get the treat.  This much had been the consistent requirement for several days.  Now I added a new element.  Instead of moving my arm towards him to encourage the backing, I stayed still and kept my hand closed until he had moved out of my space.  Only then would I open my hand to present the treat.

The first couple of times I tried this, he was definitely confused.  He fussed at my hand.  Why was I not giving him the treat?

I was putting him into an extinction process, but the “pump was well primed”.  Earlier behaviors began to pop up.  The hottest of these behaviors was backing.  Perfect!  My hand opened, and he got his treat.  I also got a confused goat.  What was going on!  Why did moving away from the treat get him the treat?  What an upside down, inside out world!

A couple of clicks later, he was beginning to catch on.  I was pleased that I could work on this detail in this session.  Just minutes before he had been racing across the mounting block with E, but now on the lead, he walked like a gentleman, keeping a comfortable distance between us.

When I clicked, I held the back of my hand to him, and he backed up.  All the overrunning, crowding into me, and pulling like a sled dog was gone.  That doesn’t mean it couldn’t all come back in a flash, but he was learning alternatives that worked better.  Crowding didn’t get you treats.  Backing did!

Goat diaries day 10 P learns food manners.png

When you get to know an animal over an extended period of time, you see how solid they can become around food.  They move from this training level stage of eager anticipation, to “Grand Prix” level emotional control.  They still want the food, but they have the confidence to wait because they understand so fully how the game is played.

P was still learning.  Each time I clicked it was like Christmas morning for him – so exciting!

I wanted to give him more practice being patient so I began to take a little longer to get the treat out of my pocket.  Here’s how this unfolded: we would be walking.  I’d click.  He’d stop, but he’d end up a little forward of perfect heel position.  I’d reach promptly into my pocket.  He could see that I was getting him a treat, but instead of getting it to him as quickly as I could, now I fished around a bit in my pocket before bringing my hand out.

While I was fishing, he’d back up.  That was my cue to bring my hand out of the pocket to present the treat.

Now someone might say: aren’t you lying with your click?  You’ve always said that if you click, you treat.  Now you’re adding on all of these conditions.

The click is a cue.  It is a cue for two individuals.  It is a cue to my animal learner to interrupt whatever activity he was just engaged in and to check in with me.  My body position will then tell him what he needs to do to get his treat – stand still, come forward, back up.  I’m going to be feeding where the perfect learner would be.  Perfection depends upon the activity.

The click is also a cue for me.  When I click, I’m to interrupt what I was just doing and go into treat delivery behavior.

This is where I need to be under full stimulus control.  I don’t want any treat delivery behavior before the click, and each and every time I click I want to respond by shifting into treat delivery.

I also want to understand that reinforcement is an event not an object.  Reinforcement is so much more than ingesting a couple of peanuts.  Reinforcement is the whole process. Think about the experience of going out to dinner at a favorite restaurant.  The anticipation through the day is part of the whole process.  Looking over the menu, making the selection, talking with your friends, watching the waiter bring out the tray, seeing each person’s meal being placed before them, are all part of the experience.

A small child gets impatient and just wants his cake and ice cream NOW!  Gradually, over time, he learns patience.  He learns to enjoy the anticipation.  He understands that it is all part of the pleasure of the experience.

I used to use peppermint candies as special treats for my horses.  They came individually wrapped.  Especially in the summer, they could get very sticky.  It would take a bit to get them unwrapped.  Under saddle it was fun to feel the anticipation of my horse.  He could hear the crinkle of the wrapping.  He knew what was coming.  His favorite treat!  Waiting didn’t make him anxious.  Waiting just intensified the experience.  What evidence do I have that all this increased the value of the reinforcer?  As soon as we started up again, he would offer me something even more spectacular.  It was as if he was saying: if you thought that last bit was good, now look at what I can do!

P was in the early stages of learning about patience and the pleasures of reinforcement.  In his first clicker training session I would never have asked for so much.  It was click and get the treat to him quickly – never rushed but always quick.  That’s why I shifted from keeping my treats in my pocket to holding them in a cup.  Reaching into my pocket took too long on day one.

But now I was working with a more educated goat.  He knew a treat was definitely coming, but now he had to figure out where I was going to deliver it.  I could put more steps into the reinforcement procedure.  I could reach into my pocket.  I could fish around for the perfect treat, and I could wait until he was in the perfect position before opening my hand.  As long as he could see that I was actively involved in getting a treat, he remained eager.  The click wasn’t broken.  The connection between the cue and the reinforcement process became even stronger.  It didn’t turn into teasing and it didn’t create a frustrated animal.

So now P would walk along on a lovely slack lead, click, I’d deliver the treat out away from my body.  Then I’d look for a moment of stillness to reinforce.  I was remembering to insert some “grown-ups are talking” even if it was just for a brief second or two at this stage.

Not surprisingly, he was offering a lot of backing.  I had shown him that was a good guess, but I really didn’t want that to be the final behavior.  I wanted the backing to turn into stillness.

The challenge was getting the stillness and not a chain that included backing.  This is where the power of the marker signal really shines.  If I got my clicks in fast, I could capture being still.

I wanted to get to a consistent cue for being still.  I tried: my hand going to the edge of my vest means go into stillness.  If I could touch my hand to my vest before he moved, click, he got a treat. I did a few quick reps of this and then walked off with him following beside me on a slack lead.

The next time I stopped, he showed me that he was already beginning to notice the new cue.  He is so smart and so eager.  That makes him tremendous fun to work with.

On our way back to his stall he walked beside me on a slack lead.  A couple of days ago he was rushing ahead to get back to the stall.  It’s exciting to get back to the stall because he knows I’ll be dropping treats on the floor.  Now he was walking beside me.  He was stopping when I clicked, being polite about the treats, and then going on again with me.  Learning happens fast!

The Goat Palace: Current Training – Foot Care

It has been so cold all of January, the goats’ training has consisted of just a few quick click and treats for going to their platforms, then it was a rush to get their hay feeders filled and my gloves back on.  But even that little bit of training has paid off.  Now when I open the door and let the youngsters out, all three head straight to their designated platforms.  Even Galahad manages to stay put and wait his turn instead of pestering the other two.

The ladies also head for their platforms.  Thanzi is always eager to play.  What has been especially reinforcing for me is I can see Trixie’s confidence growing.  These have been good accomplishments, but it also left undone so many things.  This past week it warmed up slightly so I spent some time with Pellias working on foot care.  What a fascinating project this has turned into!

I have been handling their feet for a while.  I make it part of the cuddle sessions.  Can I run my hand down your leg and touch your toes?  Yes?  Great.  Instead of clicking and giving you a treat, I’ll take my hand away from your foot and scratch you in your favorite, go-into-bliss spots.

A couple days ago I asked for a bit more.  Pellias was on a platform.  I leaned down to run my hand down his leg.  Leaning down triggered leaping up.  Hmm.  Clearly a goat behavior, but not one I wanted to encourage.  However, you can’t leap up and keep your feet on the ground.  So I just had to be quicker with my agenda than he was with his.  I leaned down again.  As he started his jump, I had my hand ready.  As soon as his foot began to leave the ground, I was there.  His foot contacted my hand, click, I stood up and gave him a treat.  Repeat.  I leaned down.  He jumped up, I touched his foot, and gave him a treat.

I wish I had had the camera running.  It was so fascinating how this played out.  At first, someone watching would have been saying: are you crazy!  You’re just going to teach him to jump up on you.  Except that wasn’t what was happening.  The jumping up quickly transformed into a lift forward of his leg.

He was ready for me to change the cue.  I was on his left side.  I had been using my right hand.  Now when I leaned down, I held out my left hand first.  He lifted his foot and placed it in my waiting hand.  So much fun!  I tried swapping sides, but that got us in a muddle.  He was determined to lift his left front foot and started leaping up again.  I swapped back to his left side and let him settle back into just lifting his foot, click and treat.  That’s where the session ended.

The next day he was clearly eager to play this foot lifting game again.  When I opened the gate to let everyone out, he hung back in the pen.  He was standing on the platform I had used the day before, inviting me to come play.  So I did.  I leaned over and offered my left hand.  He immediately lifted his foot up and placed it in my hand.  He was using a pawing action.  His foot didn’t stay in my hand.  When his foot touched my hand, I clicked, gave him a treat, and offered my hand again.

Gradually, ever so incrementally, I began to look for relaxation.  Now I didn’t click as soon as his foot touched my hand.  I waited.  He would paw, try again, paw, try again, and there it was – that barely detectable lessening of muscle tension.  Click, treat, repeat.  He was getting the idea.  Lift your foot up and place it softly into my hand.  That was quite a leap from the day before!

All this is to prepare him for a trim.  That means I need him to give me both front feet.  My attempt the previous day at asking for his right front had failed.  This time I tried a different tactic.  I used what he already knew.   I asked him for “side” which means he lets me stand on his left side.  Click, treat.  Then I leaned down and offered my left hand.  He placed his left front in my waiting hand.  Click, treat.

I switched so I was standing in front of him.  “Front” – click, treat.

Then I swung around so I was on his right side.  “Off” – click, treat.

I leaned down and offered my right hand.  He picked up his right front and placed it my hand!

Did I say these goats are smart!

Okay that could have been a fluke.  But no.  When I put the request for foot lifts into a context he already knew – the platform positions, he consistently lifted the foot I was asking for.

So here’s one of my favorite training mantras: Everything is connected to everything else.

That’s especially true when you are working with smart eager goats!

Here’s a short video clip showing where we were after just a couple of sessions.  We’ve moved from the pen where I originally introduced this new behavior out into the hallway, so he is learning to generalize to new locations.

Coming Next: Goat Diaries: Day 10 Continued: Expectations

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

The Goat Diaries – Joy

Finding Joy

I was away at the Clicker Expo last weekend.  What a fun event!  This is the fifteenth anniversary of the Expo so it was fun to look back even as we were all looking ahead.  What will we be talking about in another five, ten, fifteen years?  Whatever it is, I’m sure it will include Joy.  Since I spent the weekend in the company of Dr. Susan Friedman and Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, I can hear them saying: so how would you operationalize Joy?  Perhaps this post will provide an answer.  It will certainly show us what Joy looks like in a goat.

July Goat Diaries: Day 10 – This is What Mounting Blocks Are For

What a fun morning!  Both goats were very much wanting out, so I took them straight into the arena.  They made a bee line to the mounting block.  Let the games begin!

I should describe my mounting block.  If you are picturing the plastic steps you can buy in your local tack store, you’ve got the wrong image.  My mounting block is a multistep, thirty foot long structure built into the short end of the arena.  During the barn construction, I indulged in my pack rat tendencies and collected all the discarded wood that would otherwise have been thrown out.  It didn’t matter the size or condition, I scavenged it all.

The mounting block is made from this wood.  I used left over tongue and groove to build a thirty foot series of steps along the short end of the arena.  The topmost step is a ten foot long platform that lets me easily slide my leg over the back of a tall horse, or sit at eye level visiting with him.  On the far side of this top step is step down to another ten foot long platform.  So we have the lower steps for the Iceys.  The topmost platform is for Robin, and we have storage underneath for clicker toys.

When I look at it, I see a mounting block.  When the goats saw it, it was the best kind of playground.

With E in the lead, they bounded up to the top platform and raced across and down to the far end.  I stayed with them walking along side the mounting block.  At the far end I backed away inviting them to me.   They jumped off and ran over to me.

The leaping off part was such fun!  P was like a teenage boy doing aerial tricks on a skateboard.  He didn’t just jump off.  He did full body twists in the air, landed somehow all four feet on the ground, sprang up and cavorted through another series of aerial tricks.  This is what Joy looks like!

Both goats leapt off the mounting block and came running to me.  Click and treat.  I walked back to the first step of the mounting block with the two goats following on either side of me.  Click and treat.  Then it was up onto the mounting block for another run across and another wild leap into the air.

At one point they started to race towards the mounting block just as I clicked.  They turned on a dime and came back to me for a treat.  It had been a meaningless noise at the start of their visit.  Clearly, they now understood what the click meant.

P’s aerials became ever more complex.  We were all having such fun.  If laughter is reinforcing, then their antics were getting lots of encouragement.  But all good things must come to an end.  It was time to stop.  I headed towards the arena door, only the goats weren’t done.

They peeled off away from me and raced together up the mounting block steps. They head butted their way across the top platform.  E jumped off and ran back to me.  P followed but just as he got to the door, E blocked him.  P turned back for one more run, a wild twist-leap-jump for joy across the mounting block, then he raced back to the doorway to join us.

They are so totally enchanting.  When they followed me back each time to the start of the mounting block, I really did feel as though I was out for a walk with two very charming, but very odd looking dogs.  And their wild leaps into the air made me laugh.  They offer so much fun behavior.  Training them is a joy and so is sharing them.  So here to brighten your day is my favorite video from their July visit.  Enjoy!

 

Coming Next: Day 10 continued: Training Happens Fast!

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their current training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

The Goat Diaries Day 9: Visiting Day

The July Goat Diaries: Visitors

The goats were nearing the end of their stay with me.  The original plan for this day was for Sister Mary Elizabeth to bring some of her 4-H children to the barn for a visit and then to take the goats back home with them.  The goal of the visit was to show them what I was doing with the goats and also to show them how clicker training can be used with horses.

I was having so much fun with the goats I was reluctant to see them leave.  I would happily have let them stay through the summer.  When they did go back to their herd, I also wanted them to be solid enough in their training that they would be good ambassadors for clicker training.  I didn’t feel we had yet reached that point.  I asked if they could stay a little longer.

What did a little longer mean?  Sister Mary Elizabeth needed E and P for the summer 4-H activities.  She had children waiting for them.  For me that made their clicker training introduction all the more important.  I didn’t want a half-learned lesson to create problems for either the goats or the children.  So we agreed to extend their stay for a few more days.  I was going to do a workshop for the 4-H group the following week to introduce the children to clicker training.  Sister Mary Elizabeth would pick the goats up the day before, so Day 9 was just for visiting, not for saying good-bye.

We began at Ann’s house so they could meet Panda and see her work.  Panda is such a solid guide.  What better way is there to say clicker training works!  Apart from the fact that Panda is always amazing to watch, I thought beginning with a horse who isn’t much bigger than their goats might help them see connections and possibilities.

We followed along while Ann and Panda went for a walk around the neighborhood.  As usual it didn’t bother Panda in the slightest to have a herd of people trailing along behind her.  When we finished at Ann’s, we headed off to the barn to see the goats.

Panda and Ann guiding on sidewalk HS.JPG

Panda doing a beautiful job guiding.

At the barn I started out with a goat cuddle session.  I wanted to emphasize the importance of building a relationship.  I took a couple of chairs into the stall.  Sister Mary Elizabeth and one of the 4-H-ers went into the stall with me.  The goats slowly approached Sister Mary Elizabeth.  She was someone they knew, but they stayed well away from the teenager.  Hmm.  Time to regroup.  This wasn’t going to keep the attention of these youngsters.  It was time to show off some training.

I set up the mats as platforms in the aisle and brought P out first.  He went politely from one platform to the next.  While he was out, E taught himself a new trick.  He wanted to be with everyone, so he jumped – all four feet – up onto the automatic waterer that’s in his stall.  Who knew he could be that acrobatic!  With a little bit of wiggling he could have found a way out of the stall.  He repeated this “trick” later.  Once discovered, nothing is ever unlearned.  I quickly installed a piece of plywood over the waterer to block his access.  Goat proofing!  What a challenge.

img_2839-e-in-stall-july-2017.jpg

The goat-proofed waterer

E got his turn in the aisle.  He did a great job going from platform to platform and waiting on the platform to be clicked and reinforced.  I talked briefly about how he had been afraid at first.  I didn’t force him.  We moved further away from the security of his stall only when he showed me he was ready.  I talked about you never know what they have learned, you only know what you have presented.  But in the case of E we know what he learned about getting up on the waterer!

After the platform work, I asked Marla to show them what she’s been doing to help her horse become more comfortable with medical procedures.  She had Maggie stand on a mat.  That helped make the connection to the work I had just shown them with the goats.  Marla started Maggie out in a halter, but quickly took it off once she saw that having an audience was not a distraction.  In addition to asking Maggie to lift up each foot to be cleaned, Marla presented her with a dose syringe.  She didn’t push it into Maggie’s mouth.  Instead Maggie opened her mouth around the syringe.  Sister Mary Elizabeth remarked that for the goats giving medicine with a dose syringe was always a struggle.

Maggie also stood on the mat while Marla presented her with a dental float.  Maggie let her rasp gently across her molars  – no halter, no restraints, no tranquilizers, just calm acceptance.

The horses were making a good case for clicker training!

We finished by letting Sister Mary Elizabeth try a little targeting with one of the goats. We started as usual by having her practice with me.  When she sort of had the hang of it, I let P out.  I was intending to use E since he is easier, but P was first at the door.

He was good in spite of having to figure out the difference between handlers.  At first he was confused.  Sister Mary Elizabeth’s body language didn’t match mine.  That’s why using platforms can be so powerful.  They provide a cue that doesn’t vary from one person to the next.  As soon as P realized that Sister Mary Elizabeth just wanted him to move from platform to platform, he was in the game.  He suddenly became the teacher, leading the dance.

It was a brief introduction to clicker training, but between the horses and the goats they were showing the possibilities – from the basic handling that I had started with E and P, to Maggie’s cooperative participation in the husbandry tasks, to Panda’s advanced performance as a guide for the blind, they had all been great ambassadors for clicker training.

The Goat Palace Updates: The Education Continues

Sister Mary Elizabeth has been coming to the barn as often as she can during our arctic freeze to learn about clicker training.  During a recent visit Trixie showed us how much progress she is making by being able to participate in a food delivery lesson.

It is so the norm that once we click, we want to get the treat to our animals as fast as possible.  The quicker the animal, the more it seems we rush.  In the rush the handler ends up feeding in too close to her body.  That’s especially true with horses.

Rushing means you are being sucked into the drama of your anxious or overly excited learner, and it just encourages more mugging.  You can help calm the anxious ones, and settle the excited ones by slowing yourself down.  Being able to alter the rhythm of your movement intentionally and deliberately is a skill that takes practice.  This control over your own actions gives you more influence over the emotional state of your training partner.

Very early on the horses taught me that we need to present the food well out away from our bodies.  The mantra is: “Feed where the perfect horse would be.”  This doesn’t imply a fixed orientation.  Sometimes the perfect horse will be backing up out of your space to get the treat.  Other times he might be stepping forward, or standing still with his head in a particular orientation.

The overall idea is that you want the horse to stay far enough out of your space to keep things safe.  You don’t want to feel as though the horse is crowding in on top of you.  These goats really drove home this point.  They were good at crowding in and pushing to get at the food.  Through a series of lessons I had taught Trixie and Thanzi to back up out of my space – click.

That part was good.  The question was what happened next?  Left to their own devices they would surge forward again and press in close to get the treats.

Here another great training truth surfaces.  If you don’t notice an unwanted behavior, don’t worry about it.

It will get bigger.

Eventually it will get big enough that you will notice.  And finally it will get so big that you will want to do something about it.

A little nuzzling up against my hand could be tolerated and ignored.  At the point where the nuzzling shifted into a push I began to pay attention, and that’s when I changed my behavior.  I began to take extra time to get the treat out of my pocket.  I would fish around.  I was clearly getting the treat.  My fingers just hadn’t yet found the perfect hay stretcher pellet.   The goats waited expectantly, sometimes pushing their muzzles up against my hand.

I continued to fish around in my pocket.   They were clearly trying to puzzle out what to do.  Why not try backing?  Suddenly, like magic, my fingers found the perfect treat, and I was offering them a goody.  I had taught this through a series of steps so I was not “lying” with my click.  I was going to give them their treat, but I was building some “table manners” around the food delivery.

So now with Sister Mary Elizabeth the challenge was getting her to wait.  It’s very reinforcing to have the goats coming right up to you.  That is especially true of Trixie since she tends to be so timid, even with people she knows well.  I want them to orient to the handler, but then to step back so there is space between handler and goat.  That’s the first waiting.

The second waiting is to take your time getting the food.  If they are pushing into your hand, you can pause.  I stressed that she wouldn’t be doing this with the goats at home who were new to clicker training, but Thanzi and Trixie understood this form of treat delivery.  They knew they had to step back to get the treats.  We had gone through a teaching process to make this part of “the dance”.

I was pleased to see how resilient both goats were.  They could handle the inconsistencies.  And when Sister Mary Elizabeth waited and got the timing right, they were right.

This is one of the many things I value about clicker training.  If you show an animal that you “speak the language”, they will work with you.  It isn’t just that you’re now the one with the goodies.  When you click, and offer a treat, you are saying I understand this form of communication.  You are saying that I know you have a voice, and I am beginning to hear you.  Tell me what you have to say, and I will listen.  That’s the pact we are making with our animals when we fill our pockets with goodies and begin this journey into clicker training.  It’s a voyage of discovery, and what a voyage it is!

Happy travels everyone!

Please note: I am about to head off to the Clicker Expo, so I will not be posting again until next week. 

Also Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

 

Happy Birthday Panda!

I’m going to take a quick break from the Goat Diaries to wish Panda a Happy Birthday.  Yesterday was her birthday.  Unbelievably she is 17 this year.  How does that happen!

Normally, I keep “family” birthdays private.  I don’t expect people to celebrate with us as we mark another year with our horses.  But so many people helped us out when Panda got sick in 2016 that I thought this was a good time for an update.  Panda is 17 this year!  She came so very close to not making it that is a real cause for celebrating.

She is doing so much better.  The diarrhea is under control – finally.  She is back in normal work as Ann’s guide.  Hooray!  Though in this brutally cold weather neither one of them has wanted to venture out.

Yesterday the temperatures had climbed to what felt like a tropical thirty degrees.  Ann took Panda out for a long and much enjoyed birthday walk.  When I visited with them afterwards, I asked Ann how Panda did.  She had been cooped up for so many days would she be a wild thing bouncy around on the end of her lead?  No, she was her usual focused, careful, eager self, making good decisions about avoiding the melting puddles that concealed ice underneath.

Back in her house I watched her retrieving her lead, one of her many favorite games.  Ann drops the lead on the floor and Panda picks it up and hands it back to her.  I had to laugh.  She is as full of play as she was when I had her in training as a weanling.  As I write that, I realize that’s not really true.  She is, if anything, even more full of play than she was when she was little.  Isn’t that a great thing to be able to write about somebody – horse or human.

Ann made a similar observation.  She said Panda becomes more like herself all the time.  I asked what she meant by that?  What does being Panda mean?

Ann should really be the one writing this, but it means she is so very confident.  She’s bold and she’s eager, and she’s comfortable in what she knows.  Ann always smiles when she talks about Panda.  I know a little about what she means.  I got a hint of it all those years ago when I had her in training.  I remember so clearly during one of our walks around the neighborhood thinking how nuanced the communication between us was becoming.  I remember thinking that when Ann has been working with Panda for a few years they will be like one of those couples who complete each other’s thoughts.  That’s definitely part of what being Panda means.  It means being the other half of a partnership that brings you great joy.

Happy Birthday Panda!

I didn’t take any birthday photos yesterday.  I should have.  But here are three favorites:

Ann Panda 3 photos scrabble, great walk, winter walk