I’m still in catch up mode. Eventually I’ll get back to the original July Goat Diaries. At the moment I’m in a snowballing stage with the goats. They have figured out the game – not just individual lessons, but the global picture. That means they understand that their actions have a direct impact on me. They can reliably, consistently get me to play with them and give them treats. They just have to figure out what to do. They are making connections fast and every session feels as though we’ve taken another major step forward. I love this stage! That’s why I call it the snowballing stage. The ball is definitely moving!
So why have I titled this report: “Weathering the Storm”? I used that phrase in one of my journal entries. Elyan was still chasing his brother away from platforms. Thanzi and Trixie were still pushing their way through the gate every chance they got. To get them back into their pen, I was dropping treats into their feed tubs. There was no sharing. They raced each other from bucket to bucket. It was like being caught in the middle of a wild whirlwind. Nothing about this behavior could be described as calm or orderly.
Horses can go through a similar phase. Even when you are working with just one horse, in the beginning it can certainly feel like chaos. The horse knows that food is involved. He hasn’t quite worked out the big picture. He just knows that sometimes you have treats and the game is on. He’s discovered that he can bump the target or stand on a mat, and you’ll hand over goodies. What he hasn’t yet worked out is waiting.
Waiting for the target, waiting on the platform, waiting while another horse gets a treat, this is so much harder than actively doing something. But doing, doing, doing, always doing something can feel like chaos. At this point handlers sometimes feel like quitting. What a mess it all seems. In frustration they resort to defensive clicking. That’s when you click to keep something you don’t want from happening.
That’s a slippery slope down which you do not want to go. You’ll end up always feeling as though you have to keep up a barrage of clicks and treats because as soon as you slow things down even a little, your learner is mugging you. So it’s click treat, repeat but never ask for more. Your horse (dog, goat, co-worker, child) has learned how to control the game. He’s become a master at manipulating you to get the goodies he wants! Chaos!
So what is the solution? It’s trust the process. Trust that things will settle. Trust that your learner will figure out that he doesn’t have to rush in to grab the treat before it disappears down somebody else’s throat.
Trust the training principles: for every exercise you teach there is an opposite exercise you must teach to keep things in balance. Waiting, patience, calm – grow out of this balance.
Trust loopy training: when a loop is clean, you get to move on, and not only do you get to move on, you should move on. Trust that the loops will get clean.
Trust that your learner will always show you what he needs to work on next. And trust that you will notice. Trust the foundation lessons. Within them is the answer to what do you want your learner TO DO.
Trust yourself. Trust that you can slow yourself down and not be drawn into the drama of the moment. And trust your learner’s ability to figure out the big picture.
All of this will bring you to the other side of the storm, to calm waters.
I know all this, but I still find it hard to video the chaos. It feels so permanent and so awful. And then it changes and things become really fun. Now suddenly, I found myself regretting that I hadn’t filmed more of the chaos so you could have a better sense of just how much these goats are learning. Contrast is a wonderful teacher.
Yesterday’s sessions were full of change. In a previous report I described how I taught Elyan and Pellias to go to platforms set on either side of my chair. (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/12/01/) I’ve been building on that lesson, moving the chair to different places in the hallway so they aren’t always seeing the same orientation.
I varied the food delivery, sometimes handing them both a treat, sometimes tossing the treats into food buckets so they would have to find their way back onto the platform. Sometimes I would ask one goat to touch a target while the other waited.
While they waited on their platforms, I stood up and moved around. Click, I would then walk away from them to a shelf where I had left a bowl with extra treats. They continued to wait while I came back and gave each of them a treat. I very deliberately didn’t rush. What treat were they going to get? This piece of squash, or this lovely slimy bit with all the seeds?
You can’t assume this kind of food delivery. You have to teach it. That’s another training principle to trust – one of the most fundamental. If you want a behavior to occur on a consistent basis, you need to go through a teaching process to teach it to your learner.
I can’t expect these goats to just know these things. I have to show them how waiting on platforms brings them goodies. Racing off to try and get your brother’s treats doesn’t work nearly as well. It used to, but in this alternate universe staying on your platform works better.
In one session I took the chair out of the picture and put out two narrow platforms facing one another with food bowls in between. Once they got themselves sorted one on each platform, they were good at taking turns. Now it was look at Pellias, click when he was still, give him a treat. Turn and focus on Elyan while Pellias waited.
This was hardest for Elyan. He’s the smallest of the goats, but my goodness does he know how to get what he wants! He’s not at all shy about driving the others away. To manage them better when I needed to swap goats around or to fill the hay feeders, I had been trying to have them go to platforms in their pen. They would race to a platform, but then they couldn’t stick there. Especially when Elyan saw his brother heading to a platform, that was irresistible. He had to run over and chase him away so he would get whatever treat might be coming. Chaos.
Poor Pellias. Every time he tried to step up onto anything that resembled a platform, Elyan dive bombed him and butted him away. Pellias eventually gave up and retreated to the top of the jungle gym leaving the game to Elyan. I can’t say that I blamed him.
So that was my baseline behavior. But now in the hallway, Elyan was taking turns. He was staying on his platform even when I dropped treats for Pellias. What a major step forward that was!
I played another fun game with them – swaps, or you could think of it as musical chairs. Pellias learned the game first. I let him out into the hallway by himself. He went to a platform, click and treat. I had him target a couple of times, clicking and taking the treat to him. After each treat, I moved a little further away from him until I was now standing on the second platform. Click and treat, then back to my platform. So far so good. He could wait on his platform while I returned to mine. Click. I went forward, but instead of handing him the treat, I dropped it into his bucket. He had to leave his platform to get the treat, and while he was off of it, I swapped platforms and stood on the one he had just left.
Pellias got his treat and turned to get back on the platform, the same platform that I was now standing on. He was truly puzzled. He tried to get up on the platform, but I blocked him. He tried from the back side. I blocked him. Oh dear. He stood for a moment clearly perplexed. He went back to his feed tub, nothing. Then he tried the old stand-by: back up. Backing took him close to the other platform. Oh! There’s a platform. He hopped up onto it. Click! I went forward and handed him a treat. I returned to my new platform and clicked and treated him several times for waiting on his. Then I dropped treats into his bucket and again swapped platforms.
More confusion. He tried to return to this platform. I blocked him. He turned his head, spotted the other platform and went straight to it. After only one more swap, he had this new game down. Now when I swapped platforms, he no longer hesitated. He went straight to the other one.
I went through the same process with Elyan. He was so cute. He was sure he should climb up on the platform with me. If he got one foot on the corner of the platform would that count? No. He finally spotted the other platform and just like Pellias got the swaps figured out.
All of this prep, all of these variations on the game led to yesterday’s fun. I had the platforms set out as usual facing one another. When I opened the gate, both goats came out and headed straight to the platforms. Before I even had the gate latched, they had themselves sorted. Elyan won the race and claimed the platform closest to the gate. Pellias scurried past and hopped up on the other platform.
I held a target out for Pellias. Click, I dropped treats in his bucket. Elyan waited on his platform. I went over to him and offered him the target. I could hear Pellias returning to his station. So I clicked Elyan for the target touch and dropped treats.
Then it was back to Pellias for a target touch. As I was dropping treats for him, Elyan was turning to get back onto his platform. What a fun game! I had begun with two piranhas. It wasn’t that long ago if I had dropped treats for one, the other would have been swooping in to try to snatch them away. Now both goats were not only taking turns, they were turning away from dropped treats! Extraordinary! The calm waters after the storm were very much in sight.
It was so much fun, I couldn’t resist filming them a little later in the day. You will need a password to open this video: “E&P Learn To Share”. Don’t blink at the start of the video. When I open the gate for them, they are fast getting to their platforms. Elyan ends up closest to the camera. You know this is Elyan because of the way he claims the platform and then makes it very clear that his brother is to keep going!
Trixie and Thanzi were, if anything, even more impressive. They were taking turns, as well. When I started with them, taking turns had not been in their repertoire at all, especially where dropped treats were concerned, and especially not in their pen. But now Trixie was stationed on a stack of mats with a food bowl next to her. Thanzi had a food bowl a few feet away. I could ask Trixie to target, click, drop treats for her and Thanzi would wait at her station! I could then go to her and have her target. Click, drop treats and Trixie would stay put!
This was such a change from the frantic racing from food bowl to food bowl that we’d started with. Platforms! They are indeed a wonderful tool.
You will need a password to open this video: “T&T Learn To Share”. Enjoy!
The P.S. to these sessions came in the evening. I was doing the final hay check of the evening. Normally I just open the gate and let the youngsters wander around in the hallway. Pellias and Elyan rushed out to look for dropped treats. Galahad stayed in the pen and “helped” me put hay into the feeders. Then he went out, and Pellias and Elyan dashed in. I heard a tappity tap tap of goat hooves behind me. Elyan was balancing on a thick piece of wood that was lying half buried in the hay. Beside him Pellias was on a stack of plywood mats. Just a few days ago they were still chasing each other off any platforms I tried to create in the pen. Now they were standing side by side looking ever so pleased and expectant. Click and treats for both of them.
I reinforced them a couple more times, then I dropped treats down into the hay for each of them. Instead of swooping in on each other and fighting over the treats, they each stayed on their own spot, ate their treats, and then moved to the hay feeders. It was so peaceful! I was even able to call Galahad in and give him treats at the other end of the pen without any interference from them.
Training! It’s a wonderful thing. And so is generalization. The sun is very much shining through the clouds.
What a wonderful way of getting them being “civilized” – under stimulus control in other words! Thank you Alex, inspiring … again.
Thank you. What I love about training is you just keep working on the small things and all kinds of good things just pop out.