Goat Diaries – Day 1 Continued: Cups of Tea

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/

Collecting Data

tea cupI frequently tell people that it’s time to put their horse away and go have a cup of tea.  Yes, we want to spend time with our animals, but in these initial forays into clicker training less is often better.

When I’m coaching horse owners, I have them count out twenty treats.  When they begin their sessions, that’s all they have in their pockets. That forces them to step away from their horses to refill their pockets.  They can go right back to their horses after they have replenished their twenty treats, but that brief break in the training gives them time to think and adjust.  I was doing a lot of adjusting as I introduced myself and clicker training to these goats.

In all I did eight sessions on this first day.  That may sound like a lot, but they were each just a few minutes long, and they were spread out throughout the day.

Session 5: 1 pm

I tried working from the outside of the stall. The goats were interested in the target, but it was too hard to deliver the treat, so I kept this session short.  My stalls are perfect for starting horses with the clicker.  I designed them with that in mind.  I wasn’t thinking about goats.

Targeting over the stall wall was worth the experiment if only to show me that wasn’t going to work.  I would have preferred separating them and working them one at a time, but I thought that might really stress them.  The compromise was a less than ideal set up.

So many of the people who have their horses at home are in the same boat. They have a paddock with a run-in shed that’s shared by three horses. Chaos! At least the goats were little so we could all three tolerate a bit of chaos.

In this respect they were more like dogs than horses. Size does make a difference.  People are much more casual getting dogs started with clicker training than I am with horses.  Just imagine trying to work with goats that weighed in at a thousand pounds each! It’s challenging enough at times with horses, but remember goats have horns, and they can jump and wiggle in ways a horse simply can’t.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Just because I could manage two goats at once didn’t make it ideal.

I wanted to step away from the goats and think some more about how best to work with them. These short sessions let me test the waters. I was giving things a try, seeing what worked and what didn’t, and then I was stepping away to think about how to do it better.  Goat or horse, this would be the pattern.  Always it is the animals who show you what they need to work on and what you need to change to make things better for each individual.

Session 6: 3 pm:

In my previous sessions I had sat in a chair and let the goats come to me.  This gave them a sense of safety.  As long as I was sitting in the chair, it was clear I wasn’t going to try to corner them in the stall and grab them.  But now that they were eagerly coming up to me to get peanuts, it was time to make a change.  I wanted to be able to move around more, so this time I went in without the chair.  My plan was to see if they would begin to follow the target.

When I went in, they were both eating hay out of the bucket. I was struggling to remember their names  – Sir Elyan and Sir Peleus, so I simply referred to them as E (the little one with the long hair) and P.

E and P are easy to tell apart. P is the larger goat with short guard hairs (on the left).  E is much smaller, and he has long hair (on the right). I was quickly discovering that they were as different in their personalities as they were in their physical appearance.

goats in stall Day 1

“P” is on the left.  “E” on the right.

As soon as I stepped through the door, P left the hay and began to follow the target. He stayed in the game. E joined us when he realized P was getting treats. P seemed to be making connections fast. It was clear he was beginning to understand the game. Little E was too busy butting in (literally) to get his brother’s treats to notice what was going on.

I began testing the waters a bit more in this session. They were definitely eager for treats. If they had been horses, I most certainly would have wanted some kind of barrier between us. That much eagerness in a thousand pound body can quickly become overwhelming.

I didn’t want to punish them for being eager, but I did need them to understand that while treats might come from my pockets, I was not an open salad bar.  You have to wait for your “dinner plate” to be brought to you.  With horses I would begin delivering the treat so the horse had to take a step or two back to get to it.  The best set up for teaching this is to have the horse in a stall with a stall guard across the door.

Robin targeting in stall

A great set up for introducing a horse to clicker training.

The horse reaches forward to touch a target, and then the treat is delivered so he has to take a step back. It’s such an easy way to introduce a horse to the idea of backing out of your space. The mantra is feed where the perfect horse would be. In this case the perfect horse takes a step back to get his treat.

Robin backing for food delivery

Backing to get the treat

Backing is one of six foundation lessons that I teach in the initial set up of clicker training.  These foundation behaviors become the ones a horse will offer if he’s feeling unsure. If something frightens him, much better that he backs up out of your space than that he runs over the top of you.

I was pretty sure there would be times when I’d want the perfect goat to be moving out of my space. I certainly didn’t want them crowding into me, so after I clicked, I extended my arm well out away from my body.  This kept them from crowding into me for their treats.

Day 1 targeting 3 pm panel 1

E and P were wary of movement. When I shifted towards them, they backed right up. I didn’t want them backing because they were afraid, but at least I knew that feeding them out away from me was going to be easy to get. Data collected.

I also checked out what P’s response was to my holding him by his collar. The answer: head shaking and resistance.

I asked E the same question.  When he felt me take his collar, he dragged forward against the pressure.  I kept a soft but steady feel.  When he softened in response, click, I released his collar and gave him a treat.

Goat diaries Day 1 targeting 3 pm collar panel 1a.pngI knew from the way the goats had sled-dogged their way into the barn the day they arrived that leading was a high priority, but it was also going to need a lot of work. This just confirmed it. The goats were used to being grabbed, but they didn’t know how to release to pressure.  The data I collected told me this was a lesson that would have to wait.

Before we could work directly on leading, I needed to teach them the underlying skills that would make this a fair and successful lesson. Approaching the leading directly would result in a train wreck. A better way is to come at a training goal indirectly and with lots of small steps.

Big step stool, little step stools.png

Good training breaks new tasks down into many small steps.

Coming Next: The Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Begins – Day 1 – Session #7: Lessons From Panda

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/

 

 

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