The Goat Palace
It seems very appropriate that today’s Goat Diary entry is titled different learners because that’s certainly what I have in the five goats. Yesterday we began the formal introduction to clicker training for our new arrivals. Thanzi, not surprisingly, was first because she pushed her way through the gate ahead of all the others. They stayed in the smaller front area with the hay feeders, and Thanzi worked in the back section.
She was brilliant. I held out my coloured baton as her target. She touched it, I clicked and gave her a treat so she was well away from me. I held the target out again. She touched it. Click – treat. There was no mugging, just consistent target touches. It was as though she already knew the game. I’ve met horses who were like this. Robin was one of them. He caught on instantly to the connections, faster than any horse I had ever met. Thanzi was Robin smart.
She did decide after a few consistent touches that my pockets needed investigating. I stayed quiet while she sniffed for treats. Nothing. She touched the red ball, click, a treat appeared. These puzzle moments are golden. Our animals have to test, to experiment. What works? What doesn’t? This is why it is so important to create a good environment for learning. I don’t want the other goats trying to push their way in distracting her and creating more “noise” in the system. I want the simplicity of the process to be clear. Mug my pockets, nothing happens. Touch the target, click, you can get me to hand you treats. Simple.
Thanzi reached over and touched the target. Click, I gave her a piece of squash rind. She was standing still. Click – treat, click – treat, click – treat in rapid succession for standing still.
I kept her session short, in part because these early sessions should be short, and in part because we still had four more goats to play with. I opened gate. Thanzi charged back in scattering the other goats. I had no preference for order. Whoever came next would be next. I had thought P would be first out, but it was little E who rushed through the gate. He was clearly eager for a turn.
I had set out stacks of plywood to serve as platforms, something I had introduced E and P to during their July visit. E followed the target, but he was so excited he kept overshooting the platforms. He clearly remembered the game. I had no mugging, just lots of eager enthusiasm. I’ve known horses who were like this. After an absence from clicker training, they are so excited to be back in the game, it’s like watching a small child waiting for Christmas.
E is so very sweet. I could have played with him all morning, but there were others waiting. We opened the gate again and everyone swarmed into the back area. Galahad was last. I managed to close the gate before he could go through, so now it was Marla’s turn to play, this time in the front section.
I was getting the camera set up, when little E squirmed his way through the fence and joined us. We had planned on putting a hay feeder in the section he got through and then changed the plan, but forgot to change the fence, so now we had two goats eager for attention.
Galahad was having his formal introduction to clicker training. We knew already that he is very sweet. We also had discovered that he is a terrible mugger. So I suggested to Marla that she drop his treats into a feed bucket to make a clear separation between the treats and her pockets. I wasn’t able to watch because I needed to keep E entertained.
This session was an interesting one for E. There was a huge pull towards the feed bucket, especially when he heard Marla click. But I was able to draw him away with the target. He was clearly remembering all the good things he had learned in July.
In the next swap we got everyone back into the front section. Now I wanted P to have a turn, but first we had to move two hay feeders onto the dividing fence so little E couldn’t join us again. The juggling of feeders and eager goats was not elegant. In fact, I would say that described all the swaps. Teaching each of the goats to go to a station is definitely going to be a high priority. Today’s chaos was data collecting. I don’t like the chaos at the gate, but I haven’t yet decided what to do about it.
We got P into the back section where I had all the platforms set out. He was brilliant. He followed the target to the indicated platform and stood rock solid on it while I stepped away. It was as though no time at all had passed since his last clicker training session. He picked up right where we had left off. You’ve already seen in the Goat Diary reports that he is a quick learner. His performance today just confirmed it.
The only problem with this session was little E wanted to join us. He tried several times to come over to the fence, but Thanzi drove him away. Hmm. I didn’t like this. P was having a great time, but E was stressed. I kept P’s session fairly short in large part for E’s sake.
So now it was Trixie’s turn. We managed somehow to get everyone but her into the back area. She’s so much more cautious. I had a target for her, but she wasn’t ready for that. Instead I held my left hand out to her. She was able to come forward to sniff my fingers. Click. I took my hand down and fed her with my right hand. For her I was using sunflower seeds, a premium treat.
Thanzi was hovering by the gate. I moved a feed tub to her side of the fence and offered her the target to touch. She reached over and touched it. I dropped some sunflower seeds down into the feed tub. It took her a few moments to find all the seeds so I had time to return to Trixie.
I thought it might help her confidence to have Thanzi nearby. With the fence between them, Thanzi couldn’t drive her away. Trixie could have the comfort of her presence without the worry. I also knew I didn’t need to worry about the three boys pushing their way into the game. They knew better than to go anywhere near Thanzi and the feed tub.
So I offered my hand again to Trixie, and she was able very cautiously to touch it. Click and treat. I loved how gently she licked the sunflower seeds off my hand. I could see her looking at my target stick, so I held it out for her, and she nosed the target. Click and treat.
Thanzi had finished her sunflower seeds, so I offered her the target again. Click, I dropped more treats into her bucket. I worked back and forth like this, easing Trixie gently into the game, and keeping Thanzi nearby with opportunities to touch the target.
Again, I kept this session short. We left to work on the construction. We still had a very important outer gate to build in case a goat slipped past us while we were going in and out of their enclosure. I do like “air locks” so even if someone gets out, they are still contained in a fenced area.
I’ve detailed these introductions to highlight how much you have to tailor the training to the individuals you are working with. I like to begin with targeting. It’s such an easy way for an animal to begin to make the connection between the behavior he’s offering and the treats I’m handing him. Going directly to the treat pocket doesn’t work, but you can get me to hand you goodies just by touching this target. From an animal’s perspective it must seem like magic. And then there’s that funny clicking sound which begins to take on significance. When you hear that, you know this person is about to hand you a treat. Get ready.
It’s very black and white, both for the animal and for the handler. And it’s also normally a very clean slate. There’s no prior experience with targeting. That’s especially important with horses. They often have had such negative training experiences. If I put a lead on, I’m often instantly into poisoned cue territory because the lead has been used to correct the horse. Make a mistake and you’ll be punished. That’s been the message.
So now I have a lead on, and maybe I want the horse to take his nose away from my pockets to earn a click and a treat. He has no way of knowing what the “right” answer is. But he knows if he guesses wrong, he’s in trouble. I don’t want that kind of expectation weaving it’s way around these first clicker training sessions, so I try to begin with something that has no previous training history. Normally that’s targeting.
A short targeting session can tell me a lot about the animal I’m working with. That was certainly true with the goats. The morning session showed me that I have five very different learners. Normally I would say it was time to have the proverbial cup of tea while I thought about what to do with all the data I had collected. In this case the “cup of tea” meant go work on the construction while I thought about what to adjust.
Marla and I built the outer gates and then I had to head off for the afternoon so there wasn’t time for another round of training. In the evening after the horses were settled in, I went out to the goatery to check on everyone and to spend a few minutes just hanging out. I left my vest outside so no treats were on offer. Thanzi and Trixie came up to sniff my hands, but they weren’t ready to stay for a scratch. E and P would have liked to come up to me, but Thanzi drove them into the back area. Gallahad slipped past her and jumped up onto the top platform of the jungle gym. I don’t know if he is just bolder than the other two, or she is more tolerant of him. In either case, he was allowed to stay.
He loved the attention. I scratched his face and his eyes became dreamy. There was no more mugging, no more pushy behavior, just total bliss. He has the softest teddy bear fur, so he wasn’t the only one enjoying the attention. I did feel bad for E and P though who made several attempts to come forward, but each time Thanzi drove them away. I have to think how best to deal with this. It was certainly much easier when it was just the two of them. And speaking of just the two of them, today I will include a Goat Diary report. If I don’t, I’ll never get back to E and P’s introduction to clicker training.
The July Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 2: Two Different Learners
In the last Goat Diary report I shared with you how P was picking up the nuances of the clicker game at lighting speed. He reminded me of my horse, Robin. Robin is so very good at seeing connections. He’s like the child in math class who gets to the correct answer without having to write out all the steps. When the teacher tells him to show his work, he gets annoyed. Why do I have to go back through all those little steps when I already have the answer?
With P I recognized the quick brain I was working with. The question was had I learned enough working with Robin and all the other smart horses I’ve met so I could stay at least a couple of steps ahead of this clever goat? And what new twists and turns (literal ones in the case of these very agile goats) would P throw into the mix?
E was a very different learner. He was very sweet, much more timid around people and in new environments, and not nearly as quick at making connections. I started with some simple targeting. He was a much more gentle mugger than P, but he was a mugger nonetheless. So I asked him step back to get his treat, as well.
It was clear the connections were not yet being made. He knew that I had treats. He just didn’t know the best way to get them from me. In his frustration he tried pawing and jumping up, two behaviors that definitely were not going to get him what he wanted.
If you don’t know what else to do to get what you want, of course you’re going to try things that have worked in the past. I had seen E use pawing to pull the hay bucket away from P. Pawing was a behavior that worked to get him things he wanted. Why shouldn’t he try it with me? I needed to expand his behavioral repertoire to give him other possibilities.
Instead of punishing the unwanted behavior, I used the food delivery to set up an opportunity to click and reinforce him while he was still in his own space. I hoped he would figure out that staying away from my pockets got him more treats than crowding me.
E wasn’t making the connections. He came forward to check out my pockets. I tried waiting to see what he would do. One of the functions of training is to broaden an animal’s repertoire, to show him more alternatives. By waiting to see what he does you are in effect saying: In this situation where you are feeling frustrated, you could do what feels natural – jump up or paw at my leg – or you could back up away from the treats.
Instead of punishing E for jumping, I want to give him alternatives that work even better to get him what he wants – the treats. As I build a reinforcement history around these more desirable behaviors (from my perspective), I will make it increasingly unlikely that he will choose to jump up.
E hadn’t been doing the intense mugging that P had, so in previous sessions there had been less of a need to use the food delivery to move him out of my space. After he got his treat, I wanted him to look away from my pockets. He was struggling to come up with the answer. I didn’t want to frustrate him so I gave him something he could do. I presented him with the target.
He stretched out his neck to touch it with his nose. Click treat, and then click again for standing still. He was showing me he could keep his nose away from my pockets. Since the behavior was now occurring fairly frequently, it was fair game to make that the clickable criterion. I began to wait for him to move his head away from my pockets. In other words, I began to teach him “the grown-ups are talking, please don’t interrupt.”
Learning To Wait
E was very sweet, very gentle to work with, but I wasn’t sure he was understanding what I wanted. I was getting the behavior I wanted, but I’m not sure he was really making the connection yet between his behavior and the click/treat. We’ll see what the next session brings.
You can watch a brief excerpt from E’s training session. You’ll need a password to watch the video. Use: “GoatDiariesDay 2 E Learns”
(Just a quick word about why I have these videos password protected. They are intended to accompany these diary accounts. If they are public videos, they could be passed around the internet and taken out of this context. I’m delighted if you share the links to these blogs with your friends. In fact I hope that you do. I wrote them to share, but please do not share the videos outside the context of these blogs.)
Video Goat Diaries Day 2 E Learning to wait
It’s interesting to look at the contrast between the two learners. P picked up really fast that backing away from me for some peculiar reason got me to hand him treats. E didn’t make this leap. He was very sweet, very gentle to work with, but he was not the quick thinker that his brother was proving to be.
He was, however, beginning to stay out of my space which meant I could reinforce him. for standing still. I didn’t want to build in a head turn with the standing. I wasn’t looking for perfection, but I was trying to pick and choose a good moment to click. The challenge was to get a click in before he moved, but not to click on head positions that would work against me in the long run. I was not always successful. I had to take his head turning away from me. That’s what I could get. I would have preferred to have him looking straight ahead but that wasn’t really there yet. I would need to build the orientation I wanted in other ways before I could make it a consistent criterion to go after. Waiting would only intensify the mugging behavior.
It’s easy to feel frustrated at this stage. I knew what I didn’t want – the nose stretched up to the treat pocket, or turned too far away to the side, but there didn’t seem to be much in between. What I didn’t want was to lose the standing back out of my space while I waited for something that wasn’t yet there. I was looking for the beginning kernel of a good loop. Find a loop that is tight and clean, and then let it expand. When the behavior you are looking for is already happening, you can make that the next clickable criterion. I was looking for that clean loop. From the beginning to the end of the session we were definitely making progress, just not at the lightning speed of his brother.
Total session time: 8 min.
Coming Next: Day 2 4th Session: Keeping Things in Balance
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/
I am so enjoying these goat diaries! Thank you Alexandra.
Thanks Alison. it’s always good to hear that people are enjoying the goat diaries.