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.
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.
(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.
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