The Goat Diaries – Day 6: Staying Positive with Constructional Training

Constructional Training

I’m a clicker trainer. The work I do sits under the umbrella of The Click That Teaches. Those are both labels I’m very comfortable with, but for years people have said I need to give my work a different name.

“It’s so much more than just clicker training,” they say to me. They are referring to my emphasis on balance.  When we do a summing up at the end of clinics, someone will always say there is so much more to clicker training than they had ever imagined.  So perhaps it isn’t that I need a different name for my work. Perhaps I just need to help people see the depth and breadth of what clicker training can do.

In any case I have tried on many names over the years. One of my favorites is “Constructional Training”.  That comes via Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz from the field of Behavior Analysis.  My translation of this term is this: Complex behaviors are created from smaller components.  When I teach these smaller components first, it becomes easy to ask for the larger, goal behavior.  So I construct complex behaviors from smaller building blocks.

I also want to construct behaviors before I use them.  If I haven’t taught the goats how to soften and yield to the contact of the lead, or how to follow a target, or how to stay by my side, then it isn’t fair game to ask them to walk beside me on a lead.  If they charge ahead of me, and I use the lead to stop them, I’m being a negatively-focused trainer.  I’m using the lead to try to stop a behavior I don’t like.

But if I’ve taught them the components, then I can ask them to back up and come forward in response to cues.  Leading becomes a dance – and in great dancing both partners respond to one another.  They listen to one another.  Both partners direct the flow.  If my partner misses a cue and rushes ahead of me, I can redirect him into another direction.  I’m asking for a known behavior which my partner has learned leads to positive reinforcement.  Constructional training takes me to the dance.  And the dance helps me be a more positive partner for my animal learner.

All of this sounds very grand.  But really it is very simple.  With the goats I was building the components I would need for us to be successful venturing out into the larger spaces of the barn aisle, the arena, and eventually the great outdoors.  Leading was high on the priority list.  These goats would be going home in just a few days, back to the children who were leasing them.  They would be going to the county fair, and hopefully they would know how to lead and not be one of the goats who was dragging his child across the show ring (or being dragged by the child).

We’ve reached Day 6 of their stay with me.  In this report I’ll be illustrating what it means to be a constructional trainer.  In the previous posts I described how I introduced both goats to platforms and to the beginning of leading.  At the start of Day 6 I continued with Pellias’ platform training.

The July Goat Diaries Day 6 7/9/17 Sunday

9 am session:  I was learning from previous experience.  I made sure to give the goats plenty of time for their breakfast before asking them to concentrate on training.  By the time I was ready to play, they were lying down side by side having a nap. I scattered some hay stretcher pellets on the floor as a distraction while I went outside to set up the platforms.

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For P I set out both platforms and the ground poles as before, but the platforms were closer together so I could film. P was ready to play, and he did great.  I could move several steps away, and he stayed put.  I loved the consistency P was beginning to show.  Instead of stretching out to try to get to my treats, he was standing in great balance.

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When I rattled the target, he changed platforms readily.  He had lots of energy which he was learning to control. I liked seeing him move at speed to the next platform, and even more I liked seeing him transform that energy into an ability to stand still on the mat.

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Back and forth between the platforms, I was seeing lots of energy.

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He was such fun to watch as he leapt into the air to bounce from one mat to another.

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A couple of times he missed or came off the platform. I waited, and he turned away from me and landed on the platform – excellent. It seems as though he is really getting the game.

The Goat Palace Journal Dec 23

That initial introduction to the platform has evolved into what I am working on now.  I am using Michele Pouliot’s platform training as my model.  I introduced Michele in a previous post.  In her position of the Director of Research and Development at Guide Dogs for the Blind, she transformed their training program.  Now all the dogs at that school learn their guide work via clicker training.  In her free time Michele’s training hobby is canine musical freestyle.

Michele is a creative, inventive trainer.  Lots of us use mats and platforms in our training.  Michele took the idea of using platforms and developed it into a fabulous process for teaching the body orientation and cued positions she wants for freestyle.  With the horses I make extensive use of multiple mats, but I have used them in a very different way from Michele’s work.  With the goats I wanted to explore more directly Michele’s use of platforms.

For step by step instructions for platform training for dogs I’ll direct you to her DVD on platform training which you can find on her web site: MichelePouliot.com

One of the key ingredients of her approach is you want an animal that is magnitized to the platform.  If your dog, goat or guinea pig sees a platform, he’s on it.  Forget trying to pick up a platform to move it.  Your animal will already be on it.  I definitely had that!  In fact I had it with all four goats.  The lessons I’ve described in previous posts had created super magnitized mats and super eager-to-play goats.

So in July you could say I began the initial construction of platform behavior.  Now I was continuing that process.  Those early lessons let me construct this current layer.  What I’m building now will become the components for the next project, and on it goes.

So what am I doing?  Here’s my set up for Pellias and Elyan: at the near end of the hallway I set out two the narrow platforms side by side.  In the middle I have the a single platform next to which I hang a stationary target.  Actually this target is not all that stationary since it is hung from the rafters so it swings after they touch it.  Pellias’ hanging target is a giant kong toy.  Elyan’s is another dog toy, a dumbell with tennis balls at either end.  The storage box is at the far end of the hallway, so I have three stations set up.

I’ve been working them individually in this lesson.  Normally it is Pellias who goes first.  He goes immediately to one of the narrow platforms with a very expectant air of I’m here!  Let’s play.  And that’s exactly what we do.  We play.

I have four positions that we’re working on:

“Front” – I stand directly in front of Pellias as he stands all four feet on the platform.

“Side” – I stand by his left side.

“Off” – This one will only make sense to horse people.  I stand on by his right side.  In the horse world that’s referred to as the off side.  Left and right would confuse me, but my brain can keep track of the off side so that’s what I’m using.

“Behind” – I stand in front of Pellias but with my back turned to him.

I also want “Ahead”, but I will probably need to use a target to get this one.

I generally begin with “Front”.  I say “front” as I stand in the position.  Click, treat. Repeat.  Then I shift to the other mat.  “Front” – Pellias shifts with me.  Click, treat.  From here I can shift into other positions.  I can step to either side of him.  As I do, I identify the position.  Or I might step to the opposite end of one of the mats so Pellias has to spin 180 degrees around to face me.

He’s gotten very good at following me and shifting position as needed and also staying put and letting me change position around him.  The idea is I will eventually be able to fade out the mats, and he will move into the cued orientations.  Time will tell what dots he connects.  For now it is keeping us both well entertained.

When we have done a good unit on these two platforms, I move to the middle platform and Pellias follows.  I don’t want to get him stuck and only able to work on the two platforms so it’s important to have these multiple stations.  On the middle platform he gets reinforced for touching the hanging target.

From the middle platform we head to the box.  On the box I reinforce him for body contact.  Then it’s back to the middle platform, and then on to the two narrow platforms.

With Elyan I am doing a similar lesson.  The difference between the two is Elyan is much wigglier in a younger brother sort of way.  I have no idea which one is the younger twin, but the difference in actual age is measured in minutes.  The difference in emotional age is much greater.  Elyan is the little brother bouncing up and down excited that Santa is coming.  Pellias is the older, wiser brother who pretends he’s not excited that Christmas is here.  I find them both charming.

So I am busy constructing behavior.  With horses I have built component behaviors that are similar to the ones I am teaching the goats, but not in this way.  I am very much looking forward to seeing how this unfolds.  It is fun working with an animal that not only is the size of a dog, but in so many ways moves like a dog.  That means I can more directly explore some of these techniques that canine clicker trainers have developed.  It is great fun to take someone’s good work and then to see what your own learners do with it.  And then it will be interesting what I take back to the horses.

Happy New Year Everyone!  May you construct great things from the gifts your animal friends give you.

Coming Next: Train Where You Can

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/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

Goat Diaries – Day 5: Don’t Take Score Too Soon

Don’t take score too soon.  That sounds like a cliche, but when you’re training, it’s an important mantra to keep in mind.  On Day 4 of his training P was leaping into the air in what I interpreted to be a display of frustration.  Was it the extra energy created by adding in a second platform?  Was I somehow teaching him to charge me?  Should I get myself wound up into knots worrying about what I was seeing?

Or should I remain non-reactive to these outbursts and see what he presented over the next couple of sessions?

Don’t take score too soon keeps me from getting depressed over a session that doesn’t go as well as I would have liked.  And it also keeps me from celebrating too soon when I have a good session.  What I want to see is overall progress.  I want to see the unwanted behaviors beginning to disappear, and I want to see them replaced with behaviors that make the time we spend together go more smoothly for both of us.

I could have said: I want the unwanted behaviors to be replaced with behaviors I like, but that sounds like a very lopsided and self-centered relationship. Hopefully, the behaviors I choose to reinforce are activities that my learner also enjoys.relationship.

Reinforcement can be viewed from the perspective of probabilities.  When I see something I like, I click, and then I create on opportunity for my learner to do something I think he’ll like, such as eating a favorite treat.  If my animal a.) notices and b.) wants what I’m offering, he’ll try to figure out what he can do to get me to offer it again.  I’ll see the behavior I want beginning to occur more and more frequently under similar conditions.  That’s when I can say I’ve reinforced the behavior.

If the unwanted behavior persists, I need to remember that something is maintaining or even strengthening that behavior.  Dr. Susan Friedman reminds us to ask what’s the function?  If the goats continue to present behavior I don’t like, I need to consider two questions: 1.) Am I reinforcing it in some way that I may not even be aware of?  2.) What function does that behavior serve?  Asking this second question can help me understand what else in the environment may be maintaining the behavior.

Asking those questions is the first step.  To answer them I need more data.  In the afternoon session I collected more data and the “score card” began to show me that I was moving in the right direction.  I didn’t film the afternoon sessions so I have just my journal notes.

The July Goat Diaries: P’s Afternoon Session

At 11 I spent a few minutes with the goats just scratching all their itchy spots.  I was back at 4:30.  I fed them some hay and then did barn chores.

When I went in to play with them afterward, they were definitely ready.  I opened the outside stall door while I tidied up their stall.  P went straight out and landed on the platform.  I clicked, and he came in to get his treat, then went right back out to the platform.

E wasn’t sure what to do.  In the end he decided to stay inside with me.  While I was giving him some attention in the stall, P got frustrated and started standing up, spinning, and leaping.  He was on the platform.  Why was I not playing with him!

I closed the outside stall door but an eye on what P was doing.  When I saw him going to the platform again, I clicked.  When I saw P going to the platform again, I clicked for him.  He came over to get his treat and then went straight back to the platform.  I was liking these indicators that he knows the game, but I was concerned that I would confuse E.  He had lots of fresh hay to eat, so I outside outside to play with P.

P was great. He stayed solidly on the platform, stood with a relaxed head position, not reaching out to get food, just head up in normal posture.  I could step back to the fence, click, move forward to feed, and then step away again.  When I walked around him, he turned with me.

On cue he followed the target to the next platform, got on it directly and stayed well.  We did several rounds of this, then I left him with treats scattered on the mats.  The session had been a great success.

E’s Session

I began with leading.  (If you haven’t yet read the previous post, I suggest you begin with that. I explain in detail how I was re-introducing the lead to E and P.)  E was excellent.  He walked beside me keeping slack in the lead.   He was so very soft as he responded to the collar cues.  Excellent.  So I set the platforms up.  He was much more settled on them.  There was less of the foot shuffling that he’d been doing in previous sessions.  Nor was he stretching his nose out trying to get to the food.  On cue he went back and forth between platforms.

I put the platforms away and let E out in the pen and got P in the stall.

I worked on leading with P.  He was not as soft as E.  A couple of times he tried to pull away from the restraint of the lead.  It was clearly a well-rehearsed pattern.  I waited without adding any pull to my end of the lead.  As soon as he looked in my direction, click, I released the lead and gave him a treat.  He wanted to go to the stall door which gave me an opportunity to ask him to turn back to me.  Again, I waited.  He glanced in my direction.  Click and treat.

Why go through this process when they are both so good at staying at liberty with me?  I want to be sure that they understand and will respond to the cues that a lead gives.  I don’t want to be tricked into thinking they understand the lead when really all they are doing is following me.

Why does it matter?

Following me at liberty is great, but there are times when a lead is a useful or even a necessary tool.  If I attach a lead, what happens when they do suddenly feel pressure from it?  Does it create resistance, and panic?  When it’s a horse we’re talking about instead of a goat that question really matters.  I want my horses to know they can keep slack in the lead by softening into the feel.  They will know how to walk beside me as though they were at liberty, and I will also have this additional communication tool working for us.

One of the great draws of clicker training is the ease with which we can teach liberty work.  If you are training in a safe environment, you may never feel the need to put a lead on your animal.  My horses lived for years at a boarding barn where leads were required.  With so many people, and especially so many small children about, the rules said you had to have your horse on a lead any time you took him out of his stall.  When my horses moved to my own barn, the halters became stiff from lack of use.  We were all enjoying the camaraderie and freedom that living in a horse-safe environment created.  But there came a point where I bought Robin a new halter.  I loved the liberty work, but I missed the depth of subtle communication that the lead provides.

Shaping on a point of contact begins with safety.  There are times when we need the safety net a lead provides.  You can go this far, but no further.  That’s the constraint the lead provides.  It acts like a mobile fence.

This works for dogs as well as for horses.  Running into the street, pulling away to get to another dog, chasing after a cat can all be prevented with the “fence” a lead creates.  The reason to leave may be different, but the safety concerns are the same.

So in situations where the relationship and training may not yet be strong enough to keep an animal with you, the lead adds an extra layer of insurance.  The question then becomes have we taught our animal how to respond to the constraints of a lead?  Is it simply a case of resisting and discovering that there is no escape, that the only options are to give in and follow, or to have the pressure escalate?  That’s the kind of background many animals and handlers have come from.  For them leading is a poisoned tool.

The goats were learning through a different process.  I was setting up solvable puzzles. I’ve taken the slack out of the lead.  That’s the puzzle.  Now can you solve it?  Can you figure out which way to move to get your treat?  I begin in simple environments with few distractions and few reasons for them to want/need to leave me.  When one puzzle is solved, I present another.  Each success builds their confidence.  They know how to find the answer!  The constraint of the lead is no longer seen as an annoyance or a restriction.  It becomes a clue that helps them get to their reinforcement faster.  When that transformation occurs in their understanding, you have turned the lead into a wonderfully effective, clicker-compatible communication tool.

This kind of training expands options.  It creates freedom.  We often think of a lead as a tool that restricts.  But in this case it meant we could go more places.  Both goats were working well.  I finished the session feeling that it was time to expand their world.  Instead of opening the back door into the outside run, we’d open the front door of the stall and expand their universe of options into the barn aisle.  That would be the plan for day six of their training time with me.

P’s session ended with some soft scratching and back rubs.  I left them to do the remaining barn chores, and then I got the chair out and sat with them to wind down the evening.  They had fresh hay, but they preferred staying by me for head rubs, especially E who kept asking for more whenever I stopped.  He was so very sweet.  While I rubbed his jaw, he leaned on the arm rest and got dreamy eyed. They are delightful individuals to spend time with.

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P on the left, E on the right, settling in for the night.

(Please Note: If you want to learn more about rope handling and shaping on a point of contact, please refer to my books, DVDs and on-line course, or come join me at a clinic.  Visit theclickercenter.com for more information.  I’ll also be teaching a lab on rope handling at this year’s Clicker Expos.)

The Goat Palace Journal – A Brief Update

“Don’t take score too soon” is also a good theme for the current Goat Palace sessions.  Another metaphor that applies is that of making clay bricks.  For each goat, over the last couple of days I’ve been working on the same lesson from one session to the next.  Pellias and Elyan have very similar lessons using multiple platforms to teach heeling positions.  Trixie is working in the hallway on her platform lessons.  Thanzi gets the whole back pen to work on leading.

I am building “clay bricks”.  In other words, I am accumulating a reinforcement history around a set of key behaviors.  When I have built enough “bricks”, I’ll be able to assemble them into a house.  The question is: will I be building a mud hut or a magnificent mansion?  Right now, if I tried to build something with the bricks, I’d get the mud hut.  Don’t take score too soon.  As long as we’re having fun and it looks as though we’re heading in a good direction, we’ll keep building these bricks.  These goats are so eager and so full of joy.  No matter what we end up creating, it will be built with laughter.

I’ll save a detailed account of what I am doing with them for another day.

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Remember to share the link to the Goat Diaries with your friends.

 

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/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

 

Coming next: Day 6 – Staying Positive with Constructional Training

 

Goat Diaries Day 5 – E Leads the Way

This is going to be a fairly long post because at long last we have come to leading.  We lead many of our animals, horses, dogs, even cats and rabbits.  Always the question is what has the animal learned?  Has he simply given in to avoid being dragged?  Or have we worked in a fair and systematic way to teach him how to respond to the tactile information a lead presents?

E in particular is a tiny animal.  I could so easily MAKE him follow me on a lead.  Making isn’t teaching. Too many of our animals – both small and large – learn that they MUST.  At it’s core, the lead communicates do-it-or-else.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  I am hoping that as I describe the teaching process with these small animals, it will help people understand how leads can be used in a very clicker-compatible way with our horses.

Lots of Roads

There is always more than one way to teach every behavior.  That’s definitely the theme both of what I’m writing about today and what I’m working on with the goats.  This is good news because it means you can very much tailor your training to the individual needs of your learner, to the constraints of your training environment, to your own personal ethics, to your training skills and physical abilities, and to the ways in which a particular behavior is going to be used in the future.  The beauty of clicker training is it is wonderfully creative and flexible.

That’s also why we sometimes get “camps”, with each group convinced that they have the “best”, “right”, “only” way to train.  Sigh.  I want to understand and be good at using lots of different training strategies.

In clinics we tend to focus a lot of our time on learning good rope handling skills.  There are many reasons for this.  Personally, I like work in-hand.  I enjoy the connection, the communication, the lightness of feel that you experience via a lead rope.  Liberty work, riding, ground work, they all connect through an understanding of shaping via a lead.  I love using targets and freeshaping.  That kind of training is loads of fun, but the tactile sensation of a horse connecting with you via a light lead is a delight.

Rope handling is also the hardest of all the training techniques to get right.  It’s so much easier to use a target.  You can’t pull, push, or drag an animal around on a target.  (That doesn’t mean you can’t get an animal into some very contorted positions using targeting.  You just can’t drag him into them.)

The challenge with a lead is to slide to a point of contact and then to wait for the animal to respond by moving his own body.  That takes practice, focus, and attention to details.  And for many it also means changing some old habits.  So in clinics the spotlight is often turned towards rope handling. That’s not because other teaching strategies such as targeting aren’t equally valid, but because rope handling is the one that gains the most from direct coaching.

Being Creative
I recognize that there are many ways to train every behavior.  We have broad categories of teaching strategies, and then within each of those we have so many different training options.  Look at how many different ways I can use something as basic as a target to teach the same behavior.  How creative and inventive can you be?  One of the most creative trainers that I’ve had the privilege to watch is Kay Laurence (learningaboutdogs.com).  With Thanzi and Trixie my current version of being creative is to explore (and probably totally corrupt) her version of using a target stick with a cup on the end.  I described the beginnings of that training in the previous post.

Another very creative trainer is Michele Pouliot.  Michele is well known both in the world of guide dog training and canine musical freestyle.  As the Director of Research and Development at Guide Dogs for the Blind, (the largest school for guide dogs in the US), Michele was able to convert their entire training program to clicker training.  She’s now consulting widely helping other schools transition their programs to clicker training. Talk about training skill! It is one thing to train an animal.  It is something else again to change the entire training culture within an organization.

Michele’s most recent training hobby has been canine musical freestyle.  That’s choreographed dance routines with your dog.  As a member of the Clicker Expo faculty, she has shared her technique of using platforms to teach basic positioning.  It’s a very clever use of environmental prompts.

So with the goats I am making use of all of these techniques.  In July I re-introduced the lead via shaping on a point of contact (my work).  Now that I have the luxury of more time to experiment, I am using Kay’s targeting techniques with Thanzi and Trixie, and Michele’s platform training with Elyan and Pellias.  No technique is more “right” than the others.  It is just fun to explore different ways of teaching.  Every method will produce it’s own good results and it’s own wonderful surprises.  And the more ways I present an idea, the stronger it becomes.

The July Goat Diaries

E’s morning Session

We warmed up with a review of what E already knows.  I had two platforms set up in his stall.  I worked on having him stay on a platform while I stepped back away from him.   Click and treat.  I didn’t want him to get stuck on a platform so after a few clicks and treats on one platform, I used my target to move him to the other platform.  E was his usual sweet self.  I was setting the stage for leading, putting into repertoire the components that would make leading easier for him to learn.

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Part way through his session, I put one of the platforms away and put a lead on him for the first time.  E ignored the presence of the lead and went straight to the platform.  That’s not a surprise since that was what we had just been doing.

“Don’t make them wrong for something you’ve taught them.”

That’s a good training mantra to follow.  I didn’t want to create a conflict between the lead and the platform, so I let the lead go slack as he headed to the platform.  I reinforced him, as before, for staying on the platform.  Now it was time to step down off the platform.

He was stuck.  Following the lead didn’t make sense.  I added in the target, but he was still stuck.

Okay, that was a trial balloon.  The platform wasn’t going to help me with leading.  It was just going to overshadow the prompts from the lead and create confusion.  I needed to think about how best to proceed, so I ended the session.

Leading

In our next session I didn’t set up any platforms.  I wanted E to be able to focus on the information coming from the lead.  It was an advantage that we were working in a small space.  There was nowhere that E particularly wanted to go.  The lead could become what I wanted it to be – a communication tool not a restraint device.

E is tiny.  It would be very easy to drag him with the lead.  That’s not what I wanted.  With the horses I refer to the way in which I use pressure and release of pressure as “shaping on a point of contact”.  I take the slack out of the lead.  That’s my signal that I want something to change.  If E’s feet stick, my rule is I can’t pull him or make the pressure more intense to scare him into moving.  Instead I wait for him to move his own body.  When he shifts in the direction I want, click, I release the lead, and I reinforce him with a treat.

Initially when he moves in response to the lead, I only ask him to go a step or two before I click and treat. I want us both to be successful so I’m only looking for little steps in the right direction. I know these small steps will accumulate fast.

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We ended the session with a back scratch. I let him go out to the outside run, and let P in for a leading session.

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A great end to a great session on leading.

P’s Leading Session

E is so soft.  He readily moves when I move so teaching leading flows easily from that.  P also follows me, but he’s a much stronger goat.  Both goats came to me with a history of begin led.  My understanding was leads were introduced when the goats were small enough to handle.  Typically the goats resist, fight the constraint of the lead and then finally give in and follow the pull of the lead.  I knew both goats could pull like freight trains so it was not a given that P was just going to follow the suggestions I was offering from the lead.

I needed to be attentive to this.  If he didn’t come with me, I needed to pause as soon as I felt the slack going out of the lead.  This is where I would wait.  I’m shaping on a point of contact.   I don’t want to add more pressure to drag him forward.  That’s something people tend to do with any animal they have on a lead whether it is something small like a goat (or dog), or large like a horse.  We pull.  And when the animal digs in it’s heels, we add even more pressure until the animal complies.

The learning here for the animal is to move or be dragged.  After a while a handler can feel very kind and gentle because now you just begin to move off and the animal follows.  But trace the history of this response back to the way it was originally taught, and what you’ll see is the escalating pressure.  This animal appears to be soft, but really he has just agreed to be dragged.  The threat is always there.  If he doesn’t follow the next time, the escalating pressure will return.

This is NOT what I am teaching.  I begin to walk off.  If my learner follows, great.  We can continue on – click and treat.  But if he doesn’t respond to the lead cue, I pause.  It’s as though we’re in a freeze frame of a video.

I always feel as though I am in a film strip where someone has just stopped the projector.  I wait.  I’m not passive.  The intent is clear, but I don’t escalate.  I wait for my learner to move his own body.  That’s what distinguishes shaping on a point of contact from molding.  In molding the handler moves the learner’s body.  The animal learns to comply and follows rather than being dragged forward.

In shaping on a point of contact the animal moves his own body in response to cues from the lead.  This can seem like semantics.  In both you are using a lead.  You are taking the slack out, so there’s pressure either way, but figuring out the puzzle and moving your own body is a completely different kind of puzzle solving compared with just giving in to an increase of pressure.  It produces a very different outcome both emotionally and physically.

Emotionally it creates confident puzzle solvers who WANT to participate.  They aren’t looking for a way out of the “game”.  They want to keep playing.  And physically, it produces lighter, better balanced steps.  You can hear the difference when you listen to animals that have been taught via escalating pressure versus shaping on a point of contact.

As soon as my learner finds the direction I want and puts slack back into the lead, click, he gets reinforced.  This is such an important point.  I want the animals I work with to be comfortable with the lead.  I don’t want them to fear it.  Instead I want the lead to be a predictor of good things.

P’s initial response to having a lead attached told me that was not how he thought about leads.  We were starting out in a training hole of past history which meant I had to be all the more careful in how I handled the lead.

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I’m showing the following two photos as a teaching aid.  It’s a case of learning from example, non-example. I don’t mean to pick on the handler’s in these photos.  I could just as easily have taken pictures of the dogs being walked in my neighborhood, or young horses learning how to lead.  We are very good at adding pressure.  In the case of goats and other farm animal this is just standard livestock handling.  It needs to be expedient.  When you are managing a lot of animals, you don’t have time to teach the niceties of leading.  You just need to get the animals moved.  With clicker training we can add another criterion  to this process.  We can move them thoughtfully.  We can move them with kindness.

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goat diaries E being led early leading lesson -1

If you were on the animal’s end of the lead, it’s pretty obvious which style of leading you’d want your handler to be using.  Molding is easy which is why it is so prevalent.  Shaping on a point of contact takes much more deliberate focus.

One of the best ways to appreciate shaping on a point of contact is to experience it from the animal’s end of the lead.  Whether you work with small animals such as these goats or dogs, or big animals such as horses, you will appreciate the difference.

Hold the snap end of the lead while a friend asks you to take a step forward or back.  Try out the different versions.  Don’t step forward as she walks off, but have her continue to walk.  What does it feel like to be dragged?  How balanced are you?

Now have her wait on a point of contact.  When you give to the lead  and step forward, what does that feel like?  If you’ve never handled a lead in this way, the differences may not yet be very clear, but once you begin to understand how to use a lead in this way, there’s no going back.  You will always be looking for the conversation that shaping on a point of contact creates.

Shaping on a point of contact is such an important concept to understand I’ll let it stand on it’s own in this post.  I’ll wait to catch you up with the fun sessions I’ve been having over the last couple of days with the goats.

Please Note: If you want to learn more about rope handling and shaping on a point of contact, please refer to my books, DVDs and on-line course, or come join me at a clinic.  Visit theclickercenter.com for more information.  I’ll also be teaching a lab on rope handling at this year’s Clicker Expos.

Coming next: Don’t Take Score Too Soon

Elyan - Is it Christmas yet?.png

Remember to share the link to the Goat Diaries with your friends.

 

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/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

Goat Diaries: Day 5 – Excitement!

Excitement

I love the enthusiasm and excitement a new learner brings to clicker training.  There’s food!  There’s attention.  There are puzzles to be solved.  It’s very exciting.  The goats were reminding me of some of the clicker-trained dogs I’ve seen.  Everything is go, go, go.  Throw behaviors at your human, wolf down the treat then throw something else at them.  And above all watch the treats.  Don’t let those goodies get out of your sight!

My challenge was to build calm confidence while keeping the enthusiasm.  With the horses that comes from a deep understanding of the clicker game.  If you absolutely know the treats are not going to be taken away from you, you can afford to take your eyes off of them.  You’ll get them whether you are watching them or not.  This is in part what it means for the learner to trust the process.

Settling into enthusiastic calmness doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen.  Accumulate enough consistent reinforcement around what you want, and it becomes the norm.  I was still a long way from that with Elyan and Pellias in July, but that was the direction I hoped we were heading.  Time would tell.

Before I jump into today’s installment of the Goat Diaries, I want to share an email that got my day off to a great start this morning.

“Hi Alexandra,

I’m loving the Goat Diary installments. I’m finding them a whole refresher course in themselves, especially with the annotated photo sequences. I have 2 friends firmly hooked on them as well.

One of these friends, Anne-Marie and I, about 6 months ago, rehomed a Palouse pony, now named Nugget, who had become “unmanageable” for several previous owners who used either the “traditional” or increasing pressure approach with him. We introduced him to Life with a Clicker and he’s great. The goat diaries have been very timely, as Nugget is athletic, smart, eager with a high play drive and greedy for treats!

 We had Anne-Marie’s vet come and do his teeth a couple of weeks ago. When we told the vet Nugget’s previous name, he went a shade of grey and asked if we seriously expected him to do the horse’s teeth. This vet had met the horse about 2 years ago, because the owners suspected he was a rig (because of his behaviour) and they wanted his blood tested to see if this was the case (it wasn’t). We found out quite a bit from the vet that we hadn’t known when we agreed to rehome him.

 I asked the vet if he would just handle Nugget a bit, before giving him a sedative in case (by some miracle) he, the vet, didn’t think that would be necessary. Nugget was a model child!!!!  He stood quietly and straight (while playing GrownUps with me at his side) while the vet stroked his head and neck, asked him if it was OK to look at his teeth and proceeded to lift Nugget’s lips around and run his fingers along the teeth. Then he did some “trial” rasping before putting the gag on and saying that he certainly didn’t need a sedative!

The vet was super impressed with the change in him, and told us to “keep doing whatever you are doing with him  because it’s working”! Anne-Marie explained a bit about positive reinforcement and the clicker. We have since heard that the vet has been telling almost anyone who will listen about Nugget and his Clicker Training ( I will have to ask him to refer those who do listen to him to your website).

Your post yesterday on “Eager” was perfect to remind us to balance forward moving games with stillness.”

Talk about a great way to begin my day!  Thank you, Amanda Goodman, for your lovely email and for your permission to share it with others.  This is exactly why I am writing the Goat Diaries.  I hope my experiences with the goats will provide good reminders for all of us working with horses.  So now on to the goats and more excitement from Pellias!

The July Goat Diaries: 9:30 am First morning session

I made certain to feed the goats first before working with them and to give them plenty of time for their breakfast. When I went in to play with them, they were both napping in the hay.

IMG_2816 Goats E and P napping.jpg

Pellias has his head curled around and Elyan is looking at me with sleepy eyes.

P’s Session:

I set up two platforms as usual. I had decided to use a different approach with the pole.  If P didn’t want to go over it, that was fine.  I set two poles on the ground with a wide gap between them.  He didn’t need to jump them.  He could easily go through the gap to get to the next platform.

P was much more settled.  He went right to the first platform and waited for me.  I was able to take a couple of steps back from him, click and treat.  He was standing solidly on the platform, not stretching out trying to get to me.  It seemed as though he was beginning to  understand that I would bring the food to him.

Goat diaries Day 5 P on platform.png

He moved well at first from one platform to the next.  But as the session progressed, he stepped off the platform prematurely.  Conflict!  What was he to do?  He had a difficult choice to make.  His desire for treats and his enthusiasm for platforms collided and sent him rearing up onto his hind legs.  He could have charged, but instead a dramatic leap landed him back on the platform!

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This seemed to sort out his choices because after that he settled into good work.  He was back to being a calm, patient learner.

goat diaries day 5 all is well.png

I’ll wait to describe E’s session because it involves another important step in their training – the re-introduction of the lead.

The Goat Palace Dec 18 2017

I said at the start of this post that the goats were reminding me of dogs.  The similarities were becoming more and more apparent.  Horses can certainly buck and twist and kick out their heels, but they do not have anything like the range of movement that goats have.  Goats can twist and squirm and turn themselves inside out in ways that are much more similar to dogs.

My focus with all the goats has been very much to build a stable base.  For that I was drawing on the foundation lessons that I teach the horses I work with.  The goats had learned basic targeting skills.  I had used the food delivery to introduce backing.  Platforms had given their feet a place to be so we could work on grown-ups.  They were understanding that, yes, I would give them treats, but first they had to figure out the puzzle.  The dots were connecting

We had some basic skills.  We had enthusiasm.  We had agile, quick learners.  It was time to shift in my thinking from horse to dog training.  So recently I’ve split my training along two separate lines of thought.  I had been using the platforms with Elyan and Pellias to teach them to position themselves relative to me and each other.  I’ve been expanding that recently to bring in some of Michele Pouliot’s work with platforms.  I’ll expand on that later.  It’s time to catch you up with Thanzi and Trixie.

I’m experimenting with a different technique with them.  I’ve been thinking about how best to prepare them for leading.  I have no doubt that if I put a lead on them right now, they would both pull like freight trains.  Thanzi in particular is a very powerful goat.  They both know how to put their heads down and just muscle their way into what ever they want.  They are also both super enthusiastic about the training.  They understand platforms and targets.  So why not have some fun and experiment with bird’s nests?

Now what in the world does that mean!?  It’s a technique Kay Laurence has developed to introduce dogs to leading and heel work.  The idea is that dogs are very good at watching bird’s nests because you never know when something yummy might fall out of them.  So one technique is to walk along with treats in your hand and randomly, occasionally let a few treats fall through your fingers.  The dogs very quickly learn to follow you and watch your hand.

This then evolves into putting a small cup onto the end of a target stick.  You put a treat into the cup and walk along with the stick held out above the dog’s head.  The dog looks up at the cup and walks along beside you.  Click – a flick of the wrist sends the treat flying out of the cup.  The dog chases it down – what fun! – and then immediately returns to the cup.  The dogs are learning to move with balance, to stay oriented to Kay, to stop, back up, come forward, to walk at her side, or to move out around her on a circle.  (If you want to learn more directly from Kay, bookmark her web site: learningaboutdogs.com  It is going through a massive redesign at the moment so it is currently off line.  When Kay unveils her new site after Christmas, it will be full of good things to explore.)

I have been thinking about this technique for quite a while, especially for Thanzi.  She’s such a powerful goat.  Before I ever attach a lead to her collar, I want her to understand how to stay with me.  So I built a “bird’s nest” target stick for the goats.  I duct taped a small plastic container to one end of a wooden stick and a clicker to the other.  The cup was just big enough for a goat to eat out of. That turned out to be an important criterion.

The first time I used the target cup, the goats were confused by the food delivery.  I had to teach them to look for the food falling out of the cup.  That part was okay.  They could do that, but then they didn’t want to eat the pumpkin pieces once they had fallen into the gravel.

So we’re back to horse training constraints with the food delivery.  We don’t want our horses eating off of the footings we typically work them in.  The goats were saying they didn’t consider the gravel walkway to be a suitable dinner plate.  Fair enough.  So I switched from dropping the treat out of the cup, to lowering it so the goat could eat the treat from the cup.  (If you’re reading this, Kay, don’t shudder at the corruption of your method.  I had to adapt your technique to my learners’ persnickety eating habits.)

I’ve only been experimenting with this approach for a couple of days, but so far I really like it, especially for Thanzi.  She is so smart and so much fun to work with.  She has caught on with lightening speed to the game.  She positions herself by my side and walks in very measured steps, head up, nose pointing to the cup.  I pause.  She pauses.  Click, lower the cup.  She takes the treat.  I reload, and off we go for a few more steps of very controlled, measured walk.  Pause. Wait. She backs up.  Click.  Lower the cup.  Reload.  I hold a handful of treats in my free hand.  When they are gone, we walk together over to the gate.  High up on a post out of reach for goats I have more treats stashed.  I get a resupply and we’re off.  I think this is going to be a really fun way to teach Thanzi both great leading skills and also some fun liberty work.  Thank you, Kay.

It’s also been good for Trixie.  She very deliberately chooses to be the first one through the gate when it’s time to train.  I let her through into the hallway and throw some treats to Thanzi so she’s not feeling too left out.  Trixie has definitely got the idea of stationing on platforms.  Following the target cup is an easy way to move her from platform to platform and to build her confidence.  I could use a regular target and hand feed her.  This is an experiment.  I want to see what I get when I deliver the food in this way.

This is the fun of clicker training.  There is always, always more than one way to train every behavior.  Part of the reason for working with the goats is they get me out of the “rut” of doing things the way I know how to do things.  That’s always good for training.  So far, I’ve treated them like horses.  Now I’m having the fun of borrowing ideas from dog trainers.  There’s always another way to solve every puzzle.  And there’s always more to learn.  That’s as true for me as it is for Thanzi and Trixie.

Happy Holidays Everyone!  I wish you the joy of your own mad scientist experiments!

 

Pellias Christmas card.png

We’re in the midst of the Holiday Season. If need a thank you gift for your horse sitter, a stocking stuffer for your riding partners, a grab bag present for your animal loving friends, here’s a thought. Share the links to the Goat Diaries: theclickercenterblog.com

 

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/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Goat Diaries Day 4 – “I’m Hungry!”

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/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

The July Goat Diaries: “I’m Hungry!”

Are you really a positive trainer?

There’s a provocative question for you.  We use food in training, but does that mean that the animal is having a positive learning experience?  Suppose you hold back a significant part of your learner’s daily food ration to use in training.  Your learner knows that the only way he’s going to get the food is by doing what you want.  He’s afraid of the platform you want him to stand on, but he’s hungry.  Does the fear or the hunger win out?  That’s a terrible position to put any learner into.  If an animal has to respond correctly or go hungry, can it really positive training?  Thankfully, that’s not how most of us use food.  It’s certainly not what I do with horses.

In the wild horses will spend twelve or more hours grazing.  A horse who has just come in from grass or eaten his evening hay can still find room for a little “desert”.  I’ve never had to withhold food before a training session.  In fact a horse who has 24/7 access to hay or pasture is a much better learner.  I don’t want to work with a horse who is hungry and feeling anxious about food.  It just makes it harder for him to relax and enjoy the puzzle I’m presenting.

I was learning that it works the same way with the goats.  A hungry goat is not a good student.

The July Goat Diaries – Day 4: P’s 5 pm session

I spent the afternoon away from the barn.  I had left the goats with plenty of hay in their stall, but that didn’t mean that they had plenty to eat.  They had long ago picked out all the tasty bits and declared the rest fit for nothing but bedding.  When I got back to the barn, I worked with the goats before feeding them – and I learned that’s a mistake. Hungry goats are not happy learners.

I began as I usually do with P.  I had two platforms set up.  I had put a plastic pole between the two platforms thinking he would pop right over it.  Wrong.  He was suspicious of it and went around it.  That was a surprise.  He was so bold, I was sure he would enjoy leaping over the pole.  I wasn’t filming which was too bad.  I would have liked a record of his reluctance to cross the pole.

He was good the first few times he went to the platform, but then he started to rear up and charge forward.  Oh dear.  His leaps were great fun to watch, but they were nothing I wanted to reinforce, any more than I would want to reinforce a young horse for rearing.  Four on the floor is a much better base behavior!

P did one fantastic high speed spin.  These goats can move!  Somehow he landed all four feet on the platform.  I was gaining an ever-growing appreciation of their mountain goat heritage.  I’ve seen the nature films of goats nimbly leaping from one seemingly sheer cliff face to another.  Somehow they find toe holds with their agile and unbelievably good balance.  My horses’ ancestry reaches back to an evolution on the open grasslands.  Their escape was in horizontal not vertical flight so their movement is very different.  It doesn’t matter which way you leap when you’re excited – forward or up, for both I want to build a training base of calm four-on-the-floor stillness.

On the platform P crowded towards me when I gave him a treat.  He was clearly hungry and much more impatient than he’s been in the last few sessions.  The pushy behavior he was presenting was nothing I wanted.  I wasn’t liking the direction this session was heading so I ended it abruptly and went inside to work with E.  I did not film this session so I can’t show you photos of P’s antics.

It does highlight that sometimes your best option is simply to stop and not try “to work through a problem”.  I needed to think about what P was presenting and to come up with alternative ways to channel his energy.  I also needed to feed him.  I’d find out by the way he behaved over the next few sessions if I needed a training or a management solution.  If he was just hungry, I didn’t want to be creating training problems by continuing to work him.  What’s that great expression: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!”  I needed to stop digging and give him his dinner.

E’s 5 pm session

E was much better, but then E is the pushier of the two.  He would have taken the hay for himself and left his brother to pick through scraps.  He wasn’t the hungry one!

I set out the the two platforms in the stall.  When I cued him with the target stick, he did a great job going from one to the other.  He was cuddly.  He enjoyed having his head scratched.  He was a very welcome contrast to P’s displays of impatience.

When I opened the stall door, P came in and stood on a platform.  We worked again on sharing.  They stayed each on his own platform, but unlike earlier, but they didn’t want to be scratched.  I left to get them hay which they were very eager to have.

7 pm session

I ended the evening by going in with them for head scratching and general cuddling. Now that they were well fed, they were very interested in coming over to me.  I had a goat on either side of my chair.  If I paused at all, they would lean in asking for more.  I could think of no better way to end an evening than to have a cuddle with these goats.

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E is enjoying having his head scratched.

I am slowly making it through Pellias and Elyan’s first week of training.  Coming next in the July Goat Diaries will be the start of their fifth day of training.

The Goat Palace – Where We Are Today

Last night I had a really fun session with Elyan and Pellias.  I had worked first with Thanzi and Trixie.  I’ll catch you up later with their training.  Then I did a session with just Elyan in the hallway.  Pellias was having a fit inside his pen.  He wanted to PLAY!  He was chasing poor Galahad all over the pen.  So I reinforced that behavior by letting him out. (Or I rescued Galahad by letting Pellias out.)

I set two mats out at the near end.  Plus I had two narrow mats in the middle, slightly staggered.  Elyan has decided that he has a station at the far end near the storage box.  It’s made up of short sections of posts – very precarious, but it was his choice so I’m going with it.

It’s very cute.  Pellias claims the storage box while Elyan wobbles on his perch of logs.  Click – treat both of them.  Then it’s “Let’s go!”, and we all three dash to the middle platforms.  At first Pellias was overshooting his platform.  He was clearly thinking we were going all the way to the end, not stopping in the middle.  He’d stop abruptly a couple of steps past us and then back himself up to us.  Click – treat, click – treat for both of them.  Then “Let’s go!”, and we’d all three dash to the two platforms at the near end.

I’d get them turned around, and then we’d head back the other way.  After a bit, both goats were stopping in the middle platforms.  Pellias would start out at full speed and then slam on the breaks to land abruptly on his platform.  The control he had was impressive.

I was pleased that Pellias felt comfortable staying with us.  Elyan is learning to share.  He’s going to the platform that’s in front of him instead of cutting across and driving Pellias off the platform he’s chosen.  That’s why I began the session with the middle platforms slightly staggered.  I wanted to give Pellias a little more room.  It also helps that Elyan has decided he wants the wobbly logs at the far end and has given Pellias the storage box.  However they are sorting it, it is good to see that Elyan can share his “toys” with his brother.  So now we can all run together, and they end up where they should be, each on his own platform.

It is fun to be able to train at this level of energy.  The wild leaps that Pellias was presenting in July have melted away.  The joy is still there but not the bottled up frustration.   In July he was still figuring out why I wasn’t just tossing the treats at him.  He’s understanding the game now, and he loves playing!

When he’s on the storage box, I’ve been able to add in hugs.  That’s been interesting.  So far I had scratched the goats only, finding all their favorite itchy spots.  On the box I can reach both arms around them and give them a quick squeeze.  They seem to like it. Certainly when I give Elyan a hug, he presses in more against me.  And Pellias is beginning to respond similarly.

I know they were picked up and held a lot when they were little, but until now they have never given me any indication that this was something they wanted.  So I’ve scratched only and resisted the temptation to cuddle.  Somehow when they are up on the box, it seems the right thing to do.  And it also seems like an important part of getting them comfortable being handled.  Sitting in their future is foot care and grooming so these are important steps to be taking now.

It’s been too cold to video so you will just have to imagine what a goat hug looks like.  I can tell you it feels wonderful!

Coming next in the July Goat Diaries – Day 5

And speaking of sharing . . .

Goat Diaries Xmas banner  Single photo.pngWe’re in the midst of the Holiday Season.  If need a thank you gift for your horse sitter, a stocking stuffer for your riding partners, a grab bag present for your animal loving friends, here’s a thought.  Share the links to the Goat Diaries.

 

 

Goat Diaries: Day 4 – Eagerness

Spread the Word

We’re in the midst of the Holiday Season.  Do you need a thank you gift for your horse sitter, a stocking stuffer for your riding partners?  Here’s a thought.  Share the links to the Goat Diaries.

Goat Happy Holidays greeting

 

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/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

The July Goat Diaries: Day 4 – Eagerness

Balancing Energy

I’ve been describing how I introduced a second platform into the training sessions.  This new game of moving from one platform to another was proving to be an exciting one for P.  He didn’t just walk from one platform to another.  He leapt with energy, bouncing between them and managing to land somehow with all four feet balanced even on the small wooden platform.

The sound of my click helped to stop him.  That’s a good sign that he was understanding it’s meaning.  It also shows the value of the marker signal.  If I had not been able to interrupt him, all this energy might have propelled him beyond the platform and into me.

Instead, once he was on the platform, we could shift into stillness.  With such a smart, energetic, always thinking animal I needed to be especially careful to include these long stretches of quiet.  It doesn’t make for an “exciting” training session.  The expression is: “good training should be boring to watch.”

It took only a second or two to charge from one platform to the next.  That was often followed by a minute and a half of reinforcing him for stillness.  That’s how important this balance is.  Energy was easy to get.  Being still was the more challenging element.

Stillness is built in tiny increments.  It was: “Can you stay on your platform while I shift back away from you?”  Yes, click and treat.  I reinforced him not just with peanuts and hay stretcher pellets, but with head scratching as well.

Stillness is even more important for horses.  After all we’re going to be sitting on them.  I want my horses to know how to add energy.  And I also want them to know how to find stillness.  I want to preserve the eagerness, and the enthusiasm for learning.  I want them to love playing the clicker game and interacting with me.  In other words, I want it all!

Eagerness can very quickly turn to frustration.  Quick thinkers expect quick answers.  An abrupt change in criteria can throw them off.  Think about a train traveling at high speed.  If the track divides, the train can easily go racing off in the wrong direction.

When the criterion changes, that high speed train is the horse who doesn’t see the second choice.  Suddenly, he’s traveling at high speed away from what you wanted.  No wonder these high energy, quick thinkers can truly feel like a train wreck about to happen.

The solution is to turn the train into the milk run that stops at all the local stations.  When we stop at a mat, that’s the milk run stopping at the next station.  The calm in between all the doing gives your fast learner time to think, to notice what you’re asking him to do, and to figure out the connections.

You don’t have to correct the unwanted behaviors that pop out of the energy.  You just need to redirect them into behaviors you want.  Over time as you build a solid repertoire of desired behaviors, they will push aside these other impulses.  And if your learner does suddenly feel the urge to butt you with his horns or whatever other behavior is normal for his species, the habit of going into stillness will derail this other impulse.  At least that’s the theory.  I was going to see over the next few days if it worked as well with goats as it does with horses.

Goat Diaries Day 4  Two platforms Pt 5 Lots of energy into stillness - Excitement.png

Goat Diaries Day 4  Two platforms Pt 5 Lots of energy into stillness - into stillness.png

E’s 11 am session

E was waiting for me to begin. He stood up at the door getting a soft head rub visit before we began. He really is sweet.  You’d think he would be the more submissive goat in the pair, but you would be wrong.  He’s definitely a very much strong-minded goat who knows how to get what he wants.  He may be small, but he drives P away from anything he wants.

I worked E in the stall with P in the outside run.  I set up the blue blocks again as platforms.  He was on them instantly.  Even though he was eager for the food, he kept his feet on the platform.  His toes were right on the edge, almost tipping him off, but he managed somehow to keep four feet on the platform.  As a small test, I stepped back away from the platform.  He stayed put.  Click and treat.  He was learning: the way to get the treats was to wait on the platform.

With him I clicked and gave him a treat for staying on the platform, then I scratched his head and back before beginning another next round.  I used the target to move him from platform to platform.  I was very much feeling the need for a larger work area so I could set up more platforms.  The next step clearly should have been a move into the barn aisle, but that would have to wait a day or two until after the swallows had fledged.  We had three nests this year in the aisle.  Nest 1 with five occupants was in the process of fledging.  I would be able to use the aisle without disturbing the other nests, but for now we had to wait.  I didn’t want to risk disturb the swallows by taking the goats out into the aisle.

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I had introduced the second platform to help both goats understand targeting better. I though if they had something to go to, the targeting might make more sense.

The following three panels (Fig. 1-12.) are taken from E’s session earlier in the morning.   He’s orienting to the target, but he’s very slow and inconsistent in his response.  It’s interesting contrast.  He’s not really noticing the target, but in the later session, once I added in the second platform, suddenly the target made more sense to him.

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Compare this with the photos below.  With two platforms to move between, E seemed to be following the target much more consistently.  Or to be more specific, the target was becoming a release cue: you can move now from one mat to another.

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What also pleased me was how much E was enjoying the scratching. We’d progressed from frozen immobility to active involvement. He was responding more and more to my contact with signs of real pleasure.

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Moving from one platform to another, getting scratched, these were just elements in a larger pattern.  Each part of the sequence helped to build new skills.  Sometimes I wanted E to follow the target and move off the platform, and sometimes I wanted him to stay put while I moved away from him.  The contrast between these elements helped him understand better what I wanted him to do.  In other words, he was beginning to understand cues.

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I have included this series of photos to show that good results come from repetition.  I ask over and over again for E to stay on the mat while I step back from him.  Gradually, I am able to step further away from him.  Eventually this will result in my being able to leave him both for extended distances and time as the photo below of Robin illustrates.  In this case I have left the arena completely.  Robin continues to wait on his mat.

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Robin is presenting a beautiful illustration of how much distance and duration you can develop with mats.  I’ve left the arena and gone upstairs to take this photo.  He continues to wait patiently for me.

Stepping back from E is part of an overall pattern.  I work for a few reps on that skill, then I move on to a different part of the pattern.  In this case scratching comes next.

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When I finished, I opened the door to the outside area.  Instead of E going out, P came in.  At first, they headed for the same platform.   Little E made it very clear that he wanted the platform.  There was a bit of head butting, but P gave in easily.  Without needing any help from me got themselves sorted out each on his own platform.  It was very clear from this quick exchange who rules this roost.  Standing one each on a platform minimized the competition.  They were learning that sharing is the way to get peanuts.

I only had a little bit of food left so we did a couple of click/treat rounds for staying on their platforms, then we had some head scratching.  When I was all done, I gave them some hay and left two happy goats to enjoy the afternoon.

The Goat Palace Journal – Dec. 17, 2017

Fast forward to their current work, and I still have two super eager goats.  With Christmas just around the corner it seems appropriate that I am writing about eagerness! These goats do remind me of small children.  “Pick me! Pick me!”  They are like the eager child in a classroom who is always shooting his hand up hoping the teacher will call on him.  Eager anticipation.  I do love it.  Now how to manage it?  That’s what we’re working on.

Our training sessions over the last few days have involved both goats working together with multiple platforms.  Elyan’s favorite platform is the large storage box.  When he’s up there, I can give him a squeeze of a hug which he seems to enjoy.  He’s very good at staying on the box even when I go to the opposite end of the hallway to give Pellias a treat for staying on his platform.

Pellias is a little less rooted to the spot.  He’ll often come forward to one of the platforms in the middle of the hallway.  When I turn to him to give him my attention, he races back with me to the end platform.  It’s very cute.  After a couple of rounds of this he usually stays put.

What is so interesting with him is the change that has occurred since July.  In July he was just beginning to figure out the game.  His previous experience before coming to the barn had taught him that jumping up on children got them to laugh and drop treats.  That didn’t work with me.  He couldn’t always figure out what he was supposed to do to get peanuts.  His enthusiasm would collide with his confusion, and produce frustration.  This was expressed with quick head butts towards me.  All of that has vanished.  He still gets excited.  When I call him, I love watching him come skittering to me, all eager energy.  The swing of the head in a frustrated head butt is gone.  It has been replaced with understanding and a repertoire of behaviors that work to get attention – and treats.

One of the cute things that’s evolving occurs when I am filling the hay feeders.  Galahad wanders off to scavenge in the hallway.  Since I don’t work with him, he’s less interested in trying to get my attention.  But Pellias and Elyan are very easer students.  Pellias generally stays in the hallway.  He jumps up on the storage box and looks expectantly in my direction.  Luckily I can reach through the railing to offer him a treat.  He has to get off the box to get it which gives him another opportunity to return to the box.

Meanwhile behind me little Elyan is waiting at his station, the “balance beam” of a thick piece of wood.  I sometimes don’t realize that he’s there because he is waiting so well.  There’s no little tappity tap, tap of his hooves as he waits in eager anticipation of his treat.  Instead he is standing all four feet planted on his post.  When I turn to give him my attention, he stretches out as far as he can without actually falling off his perch.  Please, please, please may I have a treat?  I will have to get a picture.  He is very cute in his eagerness.

When I call Pellias, he comes running in from the hallway to his station.  Then it’s click and treat for both of them several times before I drop treats in the hay.  They stay eating at their spots while I call Galahad in and leave him with treats to find in the hay.  We’ve gone from head butting competition to a much more peaceful exit.  Even little Elyan is learning to share!

Remember at the beginning of this post I wrote:

“You don’t have to correct the unwanted behaviors that pop out of the energy.  You just need to redirect them into behaviors you want.  Over time as you build a solid repertoire of desired behaviors, they will push aside these other impulses. At least that’s the theory.  I was going to see if it worked as well with goats as it does with horses.”

That is indeed happening with these goats.

Coming Next: Goat Diaries Day 4 – Patterns

 

Goat Diaries: If One Mat Is Good, Two Must Be Better

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/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

July Goat Diaries – Day 4 Continued

Multiple mats serve many functions.  For starters having a second mat gives your learner something to move towards.  This is especially useful if you have a horse whose feet feel as though they are stuck in cement – or a goat who is learning about cues.

The first thing Pellias had learned with the clicker was you got treats for moving your nose to a target stick.  He could do that.

Then I had taught him the platform game, and with it came a “rule”.  You get treats for staying on the platform.  He had that one!

But now if I held a target out just beyond the platform, the “rules” seemed to conflict. What was he supposed to do?  I didn’t want him to feel confused or frustrated.  I thought adding in a second platform might help him solve the puzzle.  Now if he stepped off the platform to touch the target, it just took him to another platform.  What a good deal!

In effect the appearance of the target became the cue to go to another platform.  From his perspective I’m sure he was convinced that I was saying: “Stay on your platform until you see the baton.  When you see that, it’s your cue to move to the second platform.” Down the road I will want targets to have a more general meaning: “orient to this object”.  For now I was content with this as a starting point.  It was okay to attach that very specific meaning to the baton.  When I want to expand his understanding of targets, there are lots of other things I can use.

It’s important to notice the “rule” your animal is following and to understand what he thinks the cues you’re presenting mean.  You don’t want to make him wrong for something he thinks he is getting right.  After all, whatever odd conclusions he is coming to are a result of what you’ve taught him.  The training mantras to remember are:

“Don’t make them wrong for something you’ve taught.”

“You never know what someone has learned.  You only know what you’ve presented.”  (Your learner will tell you later what he thinks you’ve been teaching!)

I wanted Pellias to stay on platforms.  I also wanted him to leave them.  And I wanted him to orient to targets.  I needed to set up my training so the “rules” he was learning didn’t conflict.

When they did, I either needed to go have a cup of tea while I figured out a way to explain things better.  Or I needed to let his rule be right.  That sounds as though I am caving in to my animal, but really what I am doing is reinforcing him for what he already knows while I sneakily insert extra pieces.  As the behaviors expand, suddenly the rules can co-exist without conflict.

Essentially Pellias was learning about cues.  The platform was a cue – go stand on it.  The target stick was a cue – go touch it with your nose.  If the target was close enough to the platform, he could do both at the same time, but now he had to choose.  Do I stay or go?

For every exercise you teach, there is an opposite exercise you must teach to keep things in balance.

In this case leaving meant going to the second platform.  The pull of both cues took him off the platform to the target.  Click – treat.  “That was right.  Now how about hopping up on this block of wood?”  He was learning that cues weren’t meant to put him into conflict.  What should I do?  What should I do?  Instead it’s: “You’re doing great, so here’s the next cue.”  That cue opens the door to another fun thing that you also get reinforced for.

The general takeaway is this: my learner has continued to be successful throughout, but now the training has gained a new layer of complexity.  Inserted into the mix is the control that cues give us:  You’re doing this now.  That’s great.  Now wait there.  That’s still great.  Now switch and shift to this other activity.  Perfect!  What does my learner experience?  You’re right, you’re right, you’re right.  Learning is easy!

My second platform was much smaller than the foam platform I had been using.  A horse would have needed some time to figure out how to get all four feet on such a small landing zone.  P’s mountain goat heritage meant he had no trouble not only balancing on the platform, but pivoting on it, as well.  Again, I was learning that goats are like horses, except they’re not.  This long series of photos shows how quickly I was able to open up space between us while he stayed on his platform.

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Based on this series of photos, I wouldn’t want you to think that the training was all smooth sailing or that P was a perfect little angel.  He did have his moments.  The good news was he was beginning to have a repertoire of desirable behaviors that I could reinforce.  He very quickly recovered his good manners and returned to standing well on the platform.

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P was not lacking for energy. He jumped at speed from one platform to the next.  He needed to learn how to control his speed so he could land on the platform.  He was certainly fun to watch as he leapt from one platform to the next.  I loved the air-planing of his ears!  These goats are full of such joy.  That’s something I very much wanted to preserve in their training.

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The Goat Palace Journal for Dec. 14, 2017

That was then.  This is now.  Pellias had a session by himself first thing in the morning.  We had the length of the hallway to play in – thirty feet.  I had all the platforms out: the storage box at the far end, the narrow platforms set at right angles to one another in the middle, the larger foam platform at the near end, a “balance beam” of a thick piece of wood, and a couple of wooden mats.  Pellias had a glorious time bouncing from one platform to another.

When I started with him in July his eagerness and energy would sometimes erupt into a charging head butt.  That behavior has completely disappeared (at least towards me. He’ll still have a go at Elyan and Galahad.)  I never punished him for these displays towards me.  Instead I stayed focused on showing him what I wanted.  Go from this platform to this one, and I will give you a treat.  Now he can bounce joyfully from one to another.  He can get excited and still stay in the game.  Training – it’s a wonderful thing!

I let Elyan join him for another game of leap frog.  Back and forth they went, from one platform to another.  Oh, and did I mention there was an open box of hay sitting by the gate?  I normally bring the hay out in empty shavings bags so the goats aren’t tempted.  I had run out of bags, so this morning I carried the hay out in a big plastic box.  While I was restocking my treat supply, the game stopped briefly.  They took advantage of the break to run over to the box to eat.  But as soon as the game was back on, they left the freely available food to play leap frog with me.  Training – it is a wonderful!

Coming Next: Goat Diaries Day 4 Eagerness