The Goat Palace
Yesterday was an odd day. I had to leave the barn early so we didn’t have a formal training session. When I was in the pen refreshing hay and water, I did suddenly find that I could close the middle gate so only Trixie was in the back area. I took advantage of that so far rare opportunity to give her a short session by herself.
She was great. She stayed with me following my target hand. Thanzi stood up on the middle gate. I kept an eye on her to see what she would do. Apparently, she decided it wasn’t worth trying to jump the fence. She dropped back to the ground and watched through the bars. Normally this is what Trixie is doing while Thanzi has her turn.
I led Trixie to one of the platforms made up of a stack of plywood mats. She stepped onto it, click and treat. Then click and treat several times while she was still on the platform. I led her to a second platform and repeated the rapid-fire clicks while she stood still on the platform. I don’t think she was making any connection at all between the treats and her feet being on the plywood. It will be interesting to see how long it takes for that awareness to emerge.
We went back and forth between the two platforms several times, then her attention began to wander. She is definitely a candidate at this point for very short sessions. It’s interesting how closely these current training reports mirror what I am writing about in the July Goat Diaries. Today’s post focuses on the importance of beginning with short sessions. When I saw the rhythm of the treat delivery begin to change for Trixie, I opened the gate and Thanzi came rushing in. I dropped treats for both of them into the feed tubs that are scattered about that area, and then continued on with the morning chores.
My overall impression of Trixie is she’s a very sweet, very soft individual. I found myself questioning what sweet means. Trixie is a nervous goat. Her worry keeps her from approaching too close. Thanzi, Pellias, and Galahad are all much bolder. They will crowd in to get the treats. Elyan and Thanzi stand back more. So could “sweet” be translated as more nervous?
But then I wondered if we become how we are treated. If I think that Trixie is sweet and treat her as such, will our relationship evolve so that those elements which match my label “sweet” are highlighted and reinforced? I think that Thanzi is also very sweet (with me), and super smart. We’ll see what emerges as our relationships develop.
On to the July Goat Diaries. We are finally getting to day three of their clicker training experience.
The July Goat Diaries: Day 3
You never know what you have taught. You only know what you have presented.
With horses I have people begin by counting out twenty treats. That ensures that the first few sessions will be short. With so few treats in their pockets they have to step away from their horses to go refill their pockets. That gives them thinking time. How did the session go? What was working well? What needs to be changed? What do you want to do with the next round of treats?
Starting out this way gets people into the habit of thinking about their training session. It’s easy to jump in and just train, train, train, without giving much thought to what you are doing or how your animal is responding. That’s a recipe for a disaster. You need time to think about the responses your animal is giving you. I certainly needed time to think about what the goats were offering.
I definitely needed to make some changes. For starters, I put the cup filled with treats into my pocket. When I held it, I thought it was just too much of a draw for their attention. I had wanted a quicker way to get to my treats. The cup gave me that initially, but now it was time to go back to using my pockets.
The goats’ response to this change would tell me if I had made a good choice.
8:30 am First Morning Session
P’s session was first. They had had their morning hay and were both lying down when I went into the stall. I let P out into the outside run and left E with some treats scattered over the floor.
P went straight to the platform and stood looking out over the top field. He seemed to be scanning for the dogs. His fixed attention worked in my favor. It let me take a step or two away. Click. He stayed on the platform while I stepped forward to give him the treat. He went back to staring. I stepped even further away. Click. He continued to stare. It was clear the sound of the click did not yet hold any significant meaning. It was only as I stepped toward him and reached into my pocket that he turned his head. That was a cue he understood. Treats were coming!
I continued to step further and further away from him until I was back by the stall door. He was being a perfect statue. What a handsome goat! He was standing in perfect balance. This was the picture I wanted to train towards. Head up, but not stretching out to me. Expression alert, interested, but not afraid.
It was time to take him off the platform. He hesitated. Following a target was still too new to draw him off his sentinel post. I settled for less. A nose stretching towards the target was enough to earn a click and a treat. I watched him making a choice between staying on the platform or leaving to follow me.
Cuddle Time Pays off
Approaching the target earned a click and a treat. It also presented me with an opportunity to make physical contact. He stood quietly for a prolonged head scratch.
Head scratching was followed by another opportunity to follow the target onto the platform. Just moments before he had stood staring up at the top field. Now he had a softer gaze, but he was still staying on the platform while I took several steps away from him. He also stayed put while I stroked his back and rubbed his head, click and treat. We’d come a long way in a very short time. On their arrival day they had stayed as far away from me as they could. Now P was calmly accepting a head rub.
P was still slow to follow a target. Those dots were not fully connected. But the platform work! He had that down. He was showing me again how smart he is – Robin smart.
When I offered the target, he was always hesitant. It’s hard to leave a platform. Goats like being up on things. Why leave a preferred location, especially when that’s where the treats were? I could see him choosing between the platform and the target. I just needed to give him time to work out the puzzle. He chose the target each time. Smart goat! More good learning – you get clicked for lots of different things.
As the session continued, I saw many good things that I liked. His attention had come off the far field. His focus was now inside the pen with me. While he stood on the platform, I could see him tracking my position as I circled around him.
He likes being on the platform. Leaving it to touch a target created a conflict. Which did he value more? I was pleased that he was making the choice to orient back to me and the target. Click and treat.
And I was very pleased that I could scratch his head and neck out here, and he very much seemed to enjoy it.
Coming Next: Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3: Begin with Bliss
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/