Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 2 – Quick Learners!

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/

Protective Contact
I talk a lot about protective contact. I like to begin with a barrier between the animal learner and the handler.  The more I worked with the goats, the more I appreciated just how important beginning in this way can be.  Now I am sure there are many who will read this with eyes rolling. These are baby goats! Are you so afraid of them that you need a barrier?

There are times with certain individuals where the answer would be: “Yes, absolutely I’m afraid of this animal – and so should you be.  Whether it’s a tiny terrier, or a giant horse, this individual has demonstrated that he will defend himself.   While we’re working out our relationship, I’ll keep myself safe by working behind a barrier.

aries protective contact.png

In this case it’s the human who is on the inside of the round pen panels. The horse is free to leave.  What he’s chosen is to stay and interact.  What he can’t do is charge his person which was the behavior he was showing earlier.

Safety can also work the other way.  It’s the animal who is afraid of us. The barrier means the handler can’t get any closer. The animal can choose when he feels comfortable enough to approach, and he can also retreat any time he needs to. That freedom of choice builds confidence. The barrier may feel restricting to the handler. We want to be in with our animals, actively doing things with them, but in the long run beginning with a barrier can help build the truly connected relationship we are looking for.

Barriers aren’t just about safety. They also limit options which means that your learner isn’t practicing behaviors you don’t want. If I don’t want mugging behavior to become woven into the matrix of these early lessons, the barrier can help. I can just step back out of range so my horse can’t reach my pockets, or my dog (or goat) can’t jump up on me.

When these unwanted behaviors aren’t present, it’s so much easier to find and reinforce behavior that works well for both of us. I’m not punishing the behaviors I don’t like. I am simply arranging the training environment so it’s easier for my animal learners to offer behaviors I like.

With the goats I didn’t have a set up that let me begin with protective contact. So instead I borrowed again from the horses and used the treat delivery to help create some spatial separation.

8 am 2nd session

At 8 am I  gave the goats hay in their stall. P left to come to me, so I had him follow the target into the outside pen. E wanted to come, but I managed to close the door before he could join us. P was very eager. I was holding a cup of grain and peanuts in my hand. I wanted to keep their treats separate from the horses’ so the cup seemed the best option.

The first session or two of clicker training can seem so easy, especially with a nervous learner. He’s just beginning to figure out that treats are involved, but he’s still a little worried about approaching too close so mugging behavior is manageable. But give him time to think, and this is what he may come up with: Why bother with the target. Why not just go straight for the treats?

This was clearly what P had concluded. He kept jumping up on me. I could deflect him easily, but hmm. This was decidedly not what I wanted. If my set up had allowed, I would have gone to protective contact to keep him from practicing this behavior. Instead I borrowed another technique from the horses. I followed the mantra: “Click for behavior. Feed where the perfect horse (or goat) would be.” The perfect goat would most definitely not be jumping up to get his treat. When I clicked, I fed him so he had to take a step or two back.

Goat diaries Day 2 P jumping up.png

This is obviously NOT behavior I want.

Goat diaries Day 2 P being fed so he backs up.png

To help create some space between us, I fed him so he had to take a step or two back to get to his treat. Note: I am NOT pushing him back.  I simply imagine that there is a bucket sitting where I want to deliver the treat.  He moves with me and shifts out of my way just as he would if there actually were a bucket I needed to get to.  If you don’t yet have the feel of this kind of treat delivery, begin with an actual bucket.  When you can smoothly deliver treats to the bucket and your animal moves out of your way to let you get to it, you’re ready to shift to imaginary buckets.  Teaching your animal learner that he may have to move his feet to get to his treat opens up many more possibilities for shaping behavior.  The food delivery becomes a much more active part of the training.

You never know what you have taught. You only know what you have presented.

That is something I say often in clinics. As I deflected the jumping, I was thinking about that.  I was looking for something I wanted to reinforce. I didn’t want him practicing this behavior, and I most certainly did not want to chain it into something else that I did want. P was too fast a learner for that. I could see him figuring out the following sequence: jump up, then look at the target and voila – this human feeds you peanuts! Not good.

When I did click, I fed P so he had to back up away from the cup of treats. Definitely it was going to be interesting to see what he did in the next session. What learning was taking place in that clever head?

When I stopped with him, I dropped some treats on the ground. It was a bit of a struggle to get him to find them. He was orienting to my fingers, not moving to the treats. I finally just stood up, and that’s when he started eating the dropped treats.  That bought me the time I needed to slip back into the stall so I could work with E.

Little E was a perfect gentleman, especially compared with P. He followed the target pretty well, and backed up gently for his treat. It was overall a very pleasant session. On the previous day when I worked them together, I was seeing a lot of head butting between them.  Frustration and resource guarding was creating a problem.

Before P jumped over the dutch door and showed me that they could be separated, my plan had been to teach them to stand on platforms. With each goat on his own platform, I would be able to bring some order to our training.  Now that I could separate them, I could put that strategy on the back burner.

Goat diaries day 2 E getting his treat.png

E moves back to get his treat.  He was a perfect gentleman in this session.

Coming Next:  Day 2 – These Goats Are Smart!

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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