Goat Diaries: Day 4 – Goats and Platforms – And The Games They Create

Goats Are Not Horses

I’m certainly having a crash course in training goats.  I began with what I knew – clicker training horses, and so far that has been a good path to follow.  I introduced the goats to the clicker via targeting, and now I’m expanding their repertoire to include platforms.  Here’s where the differences (and the similarities) between horses and goats became very clear.

Mat Manners

Most horses begin by being wary of mats.  They don’t want to step on a surface they aren’t familiar with.  So step 1 in teaching a horse great mat manners is convincing him that it’s okay to step on a mat.

I use what I refer to as the “runway lesson” to teach horses to walk with confidence to a mat.  I’ve written a lot about mats and the runway lesson in other articles on this blog.  If you want to learn more, I also provide detailed teaching instruction in my on-line course and DVDs. (Visit theclickercenter.com for more information.)

In the runway the cones funnel the horse to the mat.  In the wide part of the “runway” I ask for single steps forward or back – click /treat.  When I get to the mat, if the horse doesn’t quite land on it, I can use the skills I’ve just taught him to bring him onto the mat.

This is a great example of constructional training.  That means I am teaching the horse the skills he’s going to need for a particular lesson BEFORE I use them in that lesson.  If I lead a cautious horse to a mat, he’ll stop shy of the mat.  When I ask him to step forward, he’ll swing around the mat, or he’ll step over the mat.  I’m going to want to ask him to take one small step forward or one small step back to reposition him in front of the mat.

The time to teach that is not when the scary thing is directly in front of him.  I want to teach him the skills he’ll need at the mat BEFORE we’re anywhere near it.  It’s in the upper part of the runway that I teach him how to give me that small step.  When asked, I want him to be very comfortable backing up or coming forward only one step at a time.

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Robin the “runway”.

Once a horse is on a mat, I’ll let him know that’s a great place to be by clicking and reinforcing him on a high rate while he keeps his feet on the mat.

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

If I stay too long at the mat, when I ask my horse to leave, he’ll suddenly grow roots for legs.  Why should he leave the place that generates so many clicks and treats.  I must be trying to trick him!  So it’s go to the mat, stay on the mat long enough to make the point that mats are a great place to be, then leave.

Once I have this bare bones understanding of how mats work, I can begin to add some bells and whistles.  While my horse (or goat) is on the mat, I can click, offer a treat, and then step a little further away from my learner.  The question I’m asking is: will you continue to stay on the mat when I move away from you.  Can you distinguish between my stepping away but wanting you to stay still, and my stepping away and wanting you to follow?

Goats and Mats and Distance

With the goats the first half of the mat lesson wasn’t relevant.  These goats delighted in being up on platforms.  They didn’t have the worry that the horses have.  So getting them on a platform was a non-issue.  They were much more like dogs in this.  In fact, initially I introduced the platforms much more the way you would for dogs rather than the more formal runway lesson that I use with horses.

Getting them to stay on a platform also was very easy.  But would they stay put if I started to move away from them?  With both goats I wanted to un-glue them from my treat pocket.  The mats were the perfect tool for doing this.  The question was: will you stay on the mat while the treats move away?

With P on his platform, I began to step a little further back after giving him his treat.  He was learning to wait.  For any animal that’s a real key to learning to settle.

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The Goat Palace – Dec. 14 Report

Teaching a good wait on a mat is not something that happens in a session or two.  It is built slowly over time.  It’s something that accumulates until suddenly you realize you have something impressive to show.

I’ve been working Thanzi and Trixie, and Elyan and Pellias in pairs.  This creates many opportunities to test their ability to wait.  Can you, Thanzi and Trixie, stand side by side on your platforms?  Yes.  Click and treat you both.  Can you, Thanzi, stay on your mat while I click and drop treats in a bucket for Trixie?  Yes.  Then click, you also get treats dropped in your bucket.  And Trixie, while Thanzi has treats in her bucket, can you get back to your platform?  Yes.  Then you get treats dropped in your bucket while Thanzi is moving back to her platform.

It’s a fun game.  I’ve been moving the treat buckets more and more off to the side and behind them so it is very clear that they have to make a positive deviation to get back to the platform.

Trixie has gotten over her initial worries about being out in the hallway. She clearly understands that getting back to her platform is a great way to get more treats dropped in her bucket.  She doesn’t have to rush to Thanzi’s bucket to try to grab scraps.  One interesting and welcome result of this is she is taking her treats softly.  She’s no longer biting as she takes the treats from my fingers.  That’s a good indicator that she’s feeling much more relaxed about the training and everything that goes along with it: me, the hallway, and Thanzi’s proximity.

For her part, Thanzi makes me think of Iberic horses, those beautiful horses that seem to float sideways on feet that never touch the ground.  She is so strong and so graceful.  I love watching her glide sideways back onto her platform.  Where the youngsters are full of bounce and laughter, she is all regal elegance.

Games!

Elyan and Pellias are becoming platform champions.  They have started to invent their own games.  This is where training becomes pure joy.  It is no longer all my ideas.  I’m not rigidly structuring the training, dictating how things are going to be.  Now I take their good ideas and let them grow.  Always we end up with something better than I would have come up with on my own.

This is how Panda “invented” Panda catch.  That’s the game she delights in playing where she runs at full speed to someone who is standing at the opposite end of the arena.  She’ll run to anyone who wants to play the game.  When she gets to this human “goal post”, she swings around behind her and comes to a full stop lined up by her side.  She finishes by pressing her body against that person’s leg.  Click!  She gets her treat and then takes off at an all out gallop back to the person at the other end of the arena.  She’ll race back and forth with no desire to quit.  It is always the people who stop the game, never Panda.  If you could ask her, she would say she invented this game – and she would be mostly right.

Last night I let Pellias out in the hallway by himself.  I had the storage box at the far end, plus the two narrow mats in the middle set slightly apart and at right angles to one another.  The larger foam platform was at the near end of the hallway.  Pellias was up on the storage box.  I called him to me.  He jumped down, and then leapt from mat to mat to mat to get to me. What fun!  Put the pieces in and see what your animal offers back to you.  That truly is the joy of training.  Leaping from one rock ledge to another is a very goat thing to do, but it doesn’t make the translation to mats any less fun.

When I let Elyan out, they played leap frog.  I’d call one of the goats to me.  He’d go from the platform he was on to the one closest to me.  Behind him the other goat would leap to a new platform.  They were clearly having a wonderful time with this new expanded version of “find a platform”.  Leaping from one rock ledge to another is a very goat thing to do which they have translated perfectly to this environment.

It’s time to build more platforms!  They already know what I’ll be writing about next: if one mat is good – two must be better.

Coming Next: Goat Diaries Day 4 – If One Mat Is Good, Two Must Be Better