The Goat Palace – Journal Report for Nov. 18, 2017
What felt like chaos on the first day is slowly emerging into a more orderly process. That’s in large part because the goats are now understanding that there is a game underway that they want to be part of.
The last few days we started with training and then shifted to construction, but yesterday we reversed the order so we could fix one of the hay feeders. By the time we were done with our various chores the goats had all shifted into the front section. When I went in to close the middle gate, Elyan scooted out to join me in the back section. He won the training lottery and had the first training session of the day.
I want to introduce the goats to stationary targets. I had collected several objects that I thought would work well. One was a large lid off a supplement container, another was a kneeling pad for gardening. I started with the supplement lid. Elyan ignored it. So I swapped to the kneeling pad. Again, nothing. Hmm. I tried one of the dog toys I had used yesterday with Trixie and Thanzi. He oriented directly to it. Click and treat. Clearly, I would need to do a lot more generalizing of targets before he was going to recognize larger objects such as the supplement lid as something that belonged to this game.
I learned to swap around targets years ago working with horses. Very early on in my clicker training experience I was giving a clinic to a group, showing them how to introduce their horses to clicker training. I had had good luck using whips as targets. Everybody had a crop or dressage whip of some kind lying about that we could use. (That says a lot about the horse world.) The horses I had worked with up to this point all oriented well to them. But, not this one horse. She showed zero interest in the whip. I don’t remember what made me try this, but there was a hard hat hanging nearby. I snatched that up and held it out to this horse. She oriented to it right away and kept on consistently targeting to it.
I looked at the whip later. Someone had put white tape along the shaft. When I held it out, it made the tip very hard to see. I wondered if that was why the horse had ignored it. She couldn’t see it, either, but she could very much see the hard hat. So the lesson learned from this story is you sometimes have to try different objects to find the one that your learner will consistently orient to.
Once I had found a good target for Elyan, I set up a pattern of having him orient to the target, click, then I tossed the treat into a food bucket. To get back to the target he had to walk several steps. Going to a food bucket instead of to me for his treat opens up some fun possibilities for distance work. It also means he’s not always looking to me for goodies. I may be reaching into my pocket for the treat, but he gets it in the food bowl.
When I opened the gate to do a swap, all the goats rushed into the back section. Galahad was last. I managed to close the gate before he could get through. He was now by himself in the front section which meant it was his turn next. Marla did another session from outside the pen. He was doing a great job orienting to the target. She could hold it well out in the pen, and he would go directly to it, click, then back to his food bowl. He was doing so well I dashed off to find my even longer target stick. I came back with two new choices, the longer version of what Marla was already using, and the telescoping handle of a floor mop. Marla tried the floor mop. It was the perfect target stick, light weight, adjustable in length, and for Galahad, at least, easy to orient to. He was a targeting star.
In the next swap somehow I got Trixie by herself in the front pen. I was going to work from outside the pen, but she was starting to shake. Being by herself was causing considerable distress. I went in with her thinking perhaps the familiarity of the game might settle her. She could orient to my hand and take food from me, but she clearly needed to be with the other goats, so once again, I opened the gate. Thanzi came dashing in. I did some simple targeting with her. I had her orient to a target, then I dropped treats in a food bowl for her. Trixie began to come over. While Thanzi was getting her treats, I had enough time to have Trixie target my hand and get a treat.
When I opened the gate again, Elyan and Pellias rushed through, leaving Galahad by himself again, this time in the larger, back section. Marla went in directly in with him for this session. The work over the fence paid off. She could offer him the same pattern – orient to the target, click, get your treat from the food bowl. He had started out with the most intense mugging behavior of the three youngsters, but there was no evidence of it in this session. He knew the pattern, and it didn’t include checking out pockets for treats.
In our next swap, Thanzi went through the gate into the back area leaving Trixie and the two boys behind. I worked with Trixie again. With the two youngsters still in the pen with her, she was less stressed. And Thanzi stayed nearby, in part to make it clear to Galahad that he was to stay away.
Instead of my hand, I used the baton as a target. Trixie did a great job orienting to it. The boys initially kept their distance, but then I began to feel bold little Elyan trying to touch the target. I was holding it out of sight behind my back as I gave Trixie her treat. It was out of sight for Trixie, but not for Elyan.
Our next swap left Galahad by himself again. I had left three feed tubs out in this area. As before, Marla had Galahad orient to the target. But now she expanded the pattern by including the second feed tub. Galahad did a great job moving to whichever tub she dropped the treats into and then heading directly back to the target.
We left them after this last session. Pellias hadn’t had a turn, but it didn’t look as though it was going to be easy to get him swapped out by himself. Trixie kept straddling the gate. I didn’t want to move her away, so I decided that skipping Pellias for one day would be okay.
Everyone was now down in the near end. We had some work still to do in the back section, so we switched from training to construction. At the end of the afternoon, I spent a few minutes scratching Elyan and Pellias. They were on the top platform of the jungle gym. They truly are cat like. I would say I had to leave, that was enough scratching. I’d start to withdraw my hands, and somehow, like magic, I’d be drawn right back in. That’s cats. You say you’re going to get up. You’ve provided a warm lap to sleep on for long enough. You have other things to do, but do you get up? Of course not! I’ve always said one should be a well-trained human.
On to the July Goat Diaries and platform training. You’ll see at the end of this session the beginning of this process of transforming goats into cats.
The July Goat Diaries: Day Three – Platform Training for E
Weeds and Behaviors
In gardening there’s an expression: A weed is a flower growing in the wrong place. How true that is. I’ve visited garden centers in England where they were selling pots of goldenrod. Goldenrod! Yes, it’s very beautiful, but if I don’t mow my pastures multiple times through the summer, it takes over.
So if a weed is a flower growing in the wrong place, a “bad” behavior is just a behavior occurring in the wrong context. Which means there really is no such thing as a behavior we never want to see. Pawing is a great example. When a horse paws on a tie, people get annoyed and want to stop the behavior even if that means using punishment. But pawing is forward movement. When a reluctant loader paws the bottom of a trailer ramp, it’s cause for a celebration. It means that horse is thinking about going forward onto the trailer.
What has this got to do with the goats? Unlike P who went right onto the platform as soon as it was available, E was more hesitant. He was much more horse like in his initial caution. Instead of following the target directly onto the platform, he circled around it. Interesting.
Sometimes you get lucky. As I was handing E his treat, I dropped a peanut onto the platform. He took his treat from me, and then glanced down at the platform. Click and treat.
Now the platform was of more interest. He raised his leg to paw, click. What goes up must come down. His foot landed on the platform. I gave him his treat.
When E pawed me the day before to get a treat, I sidestepped the behavior. I didn’t want to see it in that context. But when he pawed the platform, click, I reinforced him. And here’s where his goat heritage took over. As soon as he had one foot on the platform, the rest followed. Worry over.
He was now solidly on the platform. As I stepped to the side, he pivoted with me. Hmm. Quick calculation. Did I want this, or should I use the food delivery to keep his feet still. Both were useful. I decided to take this offering and reinforce the pivot.
He was still showing some impatience with the food. He tried again jumping up. I stepped back out of his way so his front end fell abruptly to he ground.
Then I stepped to the side and gave him another opportunity to pivot with me. I wanted to be as non-reactive as possible to the unwanted behavior. The break in the rhythm of the training was enough to make my point. E was discovering which behavior served him better – jumping up or staying on the platform. It was his choice to make.
His confidence was growing and with it the accumulated history of getting treats for behaviors I liked. Time would tell if getting treats led to these behaviors becoming stronger. I can say I reinforced the behavior by giving him peanuts, but that’s only true if the behavior becomes more frequent. Otherwise, I am just feeding peanuts.
After this session I let Pellias back into the stall and gave them fresh hay. They were eating together out of a hay bucket. I stood next to them stroking their backs. E let me scratch him around his ears. He liked that. P joined us, and I scratched his forehead and ears. We stood together for several minutes while I scratched their heads. When I stopped, they asked for more. That felt like huge progress!
Coming Next: The Goat Diaries – Day 3: Arrange the Environment for Success
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/