The Goat Diaries: Day 10 – Training Happens Fast!

Training happens fast and it happens slowly.  Training happens fast.  Within every session I see changes.  At the beginning of a session, I might be able to get only the briefest of brief hesitations in grown-ups.  At the end of the session, there will be a definite pause.  At the start of the session, I may be able to ask for only a couple of steps forward on a lead.  By the end we can go five or six steps at a time.  This may not sound like very much, but when you watch an individual figuring out the pieces, the learning seems lightening fast.  The challenge is always staying that step or two ahead so you can keep moving the training along.

Training is also very slow.  That’s because the fast learning is taking place in tiny steps.  It takes time for these tiny steps to accumulate into the big steps people are used to seeing. It takes time for all the little triumphs to add up into consistent performance.

That’s certainly true when it comes to good manners around food.  I want the goats to want the treats.  I want them to be eager for them.  I don’t want to make it so hard to get to them that the goats begin to dread the sound of the click.  Incrementally over these ten days of training, I had been teaching them grown-up “table manners”.

When I first introduced the treats, it was feed, feed, feed, without making the availability of the treats contingent on any behavior.

Then the target was introduced.  Now it was touch the target, and click, I’ll reach into my pocket to get you a goody.  The goats didn’t notice these relationships at first.  The click only gradually took on meaning.  Now at day ten, when I clicked as they were racing forward to the mounting block, and they instantly spun back to me, I knew that sound had meaning. (Watch the video of their mounting block games that’s in the previous post, and you’ll see this response.

The click is a cue – an invitation.  To the goats it says: “come get your treats.”

Getting treats often included surging forward towards my pockets.  They were charming about it.  It didn’t feel at all threatening, but these were still little goats.  Would I feel the same once they matured to their full size?  So I began to add in more rules.  I actively used the food delivery to move them out of my space.

When I took P back into the arena after our wonderful play session on the mounting block, I experimented with a new rule.  I would never have asked for so much on Day 1 of his clicker training education, but my sense was he was ready for this next criterion.

When I clicked, I presented the treat where the perfect goat would be.  That often meant he had to back up to get the treat.  This much had been the consistent requirement for several days.  Now I added a new element.  Instead of moving my arm towards him to encourage the backing, I stayed still and kept my hand closed until he had moved out of my space.  Only then would I open my hand to present the treat.

The first couple of times I tried this, he was definitely confused.  He fussed at my hand.  Why was I not giving him the treat?

I was putting him into an extinction process, but the “pump was well primed”.  Earlier behaviors began to pop up.  The hottest of these behaviors was backing.  Perfect!  My hand opened, and he got his treat.  I also got a confused goat.  What was going on!  Why did moving away from the treat get him the treat?  What an upside down, inside out world!

A couple of clicks later, he was beginning to catch on.  I was pleased that I could work on this detail in this session.  Just minutes before he had been racing across the mounting block with E, but now on the lead, he walked like a gentleman, keeping a comfortable distance between us.

When I clicked, I held the back of my hand to him, and he backed up.  All the overrunning, crowding into me, and pulling like a sled dog was gone.  That doesn’t mean it couldn’t all come back in a flash, but he was learning alternatives that worked better.  Crowding didn’t get you treats.  Backing did!

Goat diaries day 10 P learns food manners.png

When you get to know an animal over an extended period of time, you see how solid they can become around food.  They move from this training level stage of eager anticipation, to “Grand Prix” level emotional control.  They still want the food, but they have the confidence to wait because they understand so fully how the game is played.

P was still learning.  Each time I clicked it was like Christmas morning for him – so exciting!

I wanted to give him more practice being patient so I began to take a little longer to get the treat out of my pocket.  Here’s how this unfolded: we would be walking.  I’d click.  He’d stop, but he’d end up a little forward of perfect heel position.  I’d reach promptly into my pocket.  He could see that I was getting him a treat, but instead of getting it to him as quickly as I could, now I fished around a bit in my pocket before bringing my hand out.

While I was fishing, he’d back up.  That was my cue to bring my hand out of the pocket to present the treat.

Now someone might say: aren’t you lying with your click?  You’ve always said that if you click, you treat.  Now you’re adding on all of these conditions.

The click is a cue.  It is a cue for two individuals.  It is a cue to my animal learner to interrupt whatever activity he was just engaged in and to check in with me.  My body position will then tell him what he needs to do to get his treat – stand still, come forward, back up.  I’m going to be feeding where the perfect learner would be.  Perfection depends upon the activity.

The click is also a cue for me.  When I click, I’m to interrupt what I was just doing and go into treat delivery behavior.

This is where I need to be under full stimulus control.  I don’t want any treat delivery behavior before the click, and each and every time I click I want to respond by shifting into treat delivery.

I also want to understand that reinforcement is an event not an object.  Reinforcement is so much more than ingesting a couple of peanuts.  Reinforcement is the whole process. Think about the experience of going out to dinner at a favorite restaurant.  The anticipation through the day is part of the whole process.  Looking over the menu, making the selection, talking with your friends, watching the waiter bring out the tray, seeing each person’s meal being placed before them, are all part of the experience.

A small child gets impatient and just wants his cake and ice cream NOW!  Gradually, over time, he learns patience.  He learns to enjoy the anticipation.  He understands that it is all part of the pleasure of the experience.

I used to use peppermint candies as special treats for my horses.  They came individually wrapped.  Especially in the summer, they could get very sticky.  It would take a bit to get them unwrapped.  Under saddle it was fun to feel the anticipation of my horse.  He could hear the crinkle of the wrapping.  He knew what was coming.  His favorite treat!  Waiting didn’t make him anxious.  Waiting just intensified the experience.  What evidence do I have that all this increased the value of the reinforcer?  As soon as we started up again, he would offer me something even more spectacular.  It was as if he was saying: if you thought that last bit was good, now look at what I can do!

P was in the early stages of learning about patience and the pleasures of reinforcement.  In his first clicker training session I would never have asked for so much.  It was click and get the treat to him quickly – never rushed but always quick.  That’s why I shifted from keeping my treats in my pocket to holding them in a cup.  Reaching into my pocket took too long on day one.

But now I was working with a more educated goat.  He knew a treat was definitely coming, but now he had to figure out where I was going to deliver it.  I could put more steps into the reinforcement procedure.  I could reach into my pocket.  I could fish around for the perfect treat, and I could wait until he was in the perfect position before opening my hand.  As long as he could see that I was actively involved in getting a treat, he remained eager.  The click wasn’t broken.  The connection between the cue and the reinforcement process became even stronger.  It didn’t turn into teasing and it didn’t create a frustrated animal.

So now P would walk along on a lovely slack lead, click, I’d deliver the treat out away from my body.  Then I’d look for a moment of stillness to reinforce.  I was remembering to insert some “grown-ups are talking” even if it was just for a brief second or two at this stage.

Not surprisingly, he was offering a lot of backing.  I had shown him that was a good guess, but I really didn’t want that to be the final behavior.  I wanted the backing to turn into stillness.

The challenge was getting the stillness and not a chain that included backing.  This is where the power of the marker signal really shines.  If I got my clicks in fast, I could capture being still.

I wanted to get to a consistent cue for being still.  I tried: my hand going to the edge of my vest means go into stillness.  If I could touch my hand to my vest before he moved, click, he got a treat. I did a few quick reps of this and then walked off with him following beside me on a slack lead.

The next time I stopped, he showed me that he was already beginning to notice the new cue.  He is so smart and so eager.  That makes him tremendous fun to work with.

On our way back to his stall he walked beside me on a slack lead.  A couple of days ago he was rushing ahead to get back to the stall.  It’s exciting to get back to the stall because he knows I’ll be dropping treats on the floor.  Now he was walking beside me.  He was stopping when I clicked, being polite about the treats, and then going on again with me.  Learning happens fast!

The Goat Palace: Current Training – Foot Care

It has been so cold all of January, the goats’ training has consisted of just a few quick click and treats for going to their platforms, then it was a rush to get their hay feeders filled and my gloves back on.  But even that little bit of training has paid off.  Now when I open the door and let the youngsters out, all three head straight to their designated platforms.  Even Galahad manages to stay put and wait his turn instead of pestering the other two.

The ladies also head for their platforms.  Thanzi is always eager to play.  What has been especially reinforcing for me is I can see Trixie’s confidence growing.  These have been good accomplishments, but it also left undone so many things.  This past week it warmed up slightly so I spent some time with Pellias working on foot care.  What a fascinating project this has turned into!

I have been handling their feet for a while.  I make it part of the cuddle sessions.  Can I run my hand down your leg and touch your toes?  Yes?  Great.  Instead of clicking and giving you a treat, I’ll take my hand away from your foot and scratch you in your favorite, go-into-bliss spots.

A couple days ago I asked for a bit more.  Pellias was on a platform.  I leaned down to run my hand down his leg.  Leaning down triggered leaping up.  Hmm.  Clearly a goat behavior, but not one I wanted to encourage.  However, you can’t leap up and keep your feet on the ground.  So I just had to be quicker with my agenda than he was with his.  I leaned down again.  As he started his jump, I had my hand ready.  As soon as his foot began to leave the ground, I was there.  His foot contacted my hand, click, I stood up and gave him a treat.  Repeat.  I leaned down.  He jumped up, I touched his foot, and gave him a treat.

I wish I had had the camera running.  It was so fascinating how this played out.  At first, someone watching would have been saying: are you crazy!  You’re just going to teach him to jump up on you.  Except that wasn’t what was happening.  The jumping up quickly transformed into a lift forward of his leg.

He was ready for me to change the cue.  I was on his left side.  I had been using my right hand.  Now when I leaned down, I held out my left hand first.  He lifted his foot and placed it in my waiting hand.  So much fun!  I tried swapping sides, but that got us in a muddle.  He was determined to lift his left front foot and started leaping up again.  I swapped back to his left side and let him settle back into just lifting his foot, click and treat.  That’s where the session ended.

The next day he was clearly eager to play this foot lifting game again.  When I opened the gate to let everyone out, he hung back in the pen.  He was standing on the platform I had used the day before, inviting me to come play.  So I did.  I leaned over and offered my left hand.  He immediately lifted his foot up and placed it in my hand.  He was using a pawing action.  His foot didn’t stay in my hand.  When his foot touched my hand, I clicked, gave him a treat, and offered my hand again.

Gradually, ever so incrementally, I began to look for relaxation.  Now I didn’t click as soon as his foot touched my hand.  I waited.  He would paw, try again, paw, try again, and there it was – that barely detectable lessening of muscle tension.  Click, treat, repeat.  He was getting the idea.  Lift your foot up and place it softly into my hand.  That was quite a leap from the day before!

All this is to prepare him for a trim.  That means I need him to give me both front feet.  My attempt the previous day at asking for his right front had failed.  This time I tried a different tactic.  I used what he already knew.   I asked him for “side” which means he lets me stand on his left side.  Click, treat.  Then I leaned down and offered my left hand.  He placed his left front in my waiting hand.  Click, treat.

I switched so I was standing in front of him.  “Front” – click, treat.

Then I swung around so I was on his right side.  “Off” – click, treat.

I leaned down and offered my right hand.  He picked up his right front and placed it my hand!

Did I say these goats are smart!

Okay that could have been a fluke.  But no.  When I put the request for foot lifts into a context he already knew – the platform positions, he consistently lifted the foot I was asking for.

So here’s one of my favorite training mantras: Everything is connected to everything else.

That’s especially true when you are working with smart eager goats!

Here’s a short video clip showing where we were after just a couple of sessions.  We’ve moved from the pen where I originally introduced this new behavior out into the hallway, so he is learning to generalize to new locations.

Coming Next: Goat Diaries: Day 10 Continued: Expectations

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:   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 Goat Diaries – Joy

Finding Joy

I was away at the Clicker Expo last weekend.  What a fun event!  This is the fifteenth anniversary of the Expo so it was fun to look back even as we were all looking ahead.  What will we be talking about in another five, ten, fifteen years?  Whatever it is, I’m sure it will include Joy.  Since I spent the weekend in the company of Dr. Susan Friedman and Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz, I can hear them saying: so how would you operationalize Joy?  Perhaps this post will provide an answer.  It will certainly show us what Joy looks like in a goat.

July Goat Diaries: Day 10 – This is What Mounting Blocks Are For

What a fun morning!  Both goats were very much wanting out, so I took them straight into the arena.  They made a bee line to the mounting block.  Let the games begin!

I should describe my mounting block.  If you are picturing the plastic steps you can buy in your local tack store, you’ve got the wrong image.  My mounting block is a multistep, thirty foot long structure built into the short end of the arena.  During the barn construction, I indulged in my pack rat tendencies and collected all the discarded wood that would otherwise have been thrown out.  It didn’t matter the size or condition, I scavenged it all.

The mounting block is made from this wood.  I used left over tongue and groove to build a thirty foot series of steps along the short end of the arena.  The topmost step is a ten foot long platform that lets me easily slide my leg over the back of a tall horse, or sit at eye level visiting with him.  On the far side of this top step is step down to another ten foot long platform.  So we have the lower steps for the Iceys.  The topmost platform is for Robin, and we have storage underneath for clicker toys.

When I look at it, I see a mounting block.  When the goats saw it, it was the best kind of playground.

With E in the lead, they bounded up to the top platform and raced across and down to the far end.  I stayed with them walking along side the mounting block.  At the far end I backed away inviting them to me.   They jumped off and ran over to me.

The leaping off part was such fun!  P was like a teenage boy doing aerial tricks on a skateboard.  He didn’t just jump off.  He did full body twists in the air, landed somehow all four feet on the ground, sprang up and cavorted through another series of aerial tricks.  This is what Joy looks like!

Both goats leapt off the mounting block and came running to me.  Click and treat.  I walked back to the first step of the mounting block with the two goats following on either side of me.  Click and treat.  Then it was up onto the mounting block for another run across and another wild leap into the air.

At one point they started to race towards the mounting block just as I clicked.  They turned on a dime and came back to me for a treat.  It had been a meaningless noise at the start of their visit.  Clearly, they now understood what the click meant.

P’s aerials became ever more complex.  We were all having such fun.  If laughter is reinforcing, then their antics were getting lots of encouragement.  But all good things must come to an end.  It was time to stop.  I headed towards the arena door, only the goats weren’t done.

They peeled off away from me and raced together up the mounting block steps. They head butted their way across the top platform.  E jumped off and ran back to me.  P followed but just as he got to the door, E blocked him.  P turned back for one more run, a wild twist-leap-jump for joy across the mounting block, then he raced back to the doorway to join us.

They are so totally enchanting.  When they followed me back each time to the start of the mounting block, I really did feel as though I was out for a walk with two very charming, but very odd looking dogs.  And their wild leaps into the air made me laugh.  They offer so much fun behavior.  Training them is a joy and so is sharing them.  So here to brighten your day is my favorite video from their July visit.  Enjoy!


Coming Next: Day 10 continued: Training Happens Fast!

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:   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 current 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 Goat Diaries Day 9: Visiting Day

The July Goat Diaries: Visitors

The goats were nearing the end of their stay with me.  The original plan for this day was for Sister Mary Elizabeth to bring some of her 4-H children to the barn for a visit and then to take the goats back home with them.  The goal of the visit was to show them what I was doing with the goats and also to show them how clicker training can be used with horses.

I was having so much fun with the goats I was reluctant to see them leave.  I would happily have let them stay through the summer.  When they did go back to their herd, I also wanted them to be solid enough in their training that they would be good ambassadors for clicker training.  I didn’t feel we had yet reached that point.  I asked if they could stay a little longer.

What did a little longer mean?  Sister Mary Elizabeth needed E and P for the summer 4-H activities.  She had children waiting for them.  For me that made their clicker training introduction all the more important.  I didn’t want a half-learned lesson to create problems for either the goats or the children.  So we agreed to extend their stay for a few more days.  I was going to do a workshop for the 4-H group the following week to introduce the children to clicker training.  Sister Mary Elizabeth would pick the goats up the day before, so Day 9 was just for visiting, not for saying good-bye.

We began at Ann’s house so they could meet Panda and see her work.  Panda is such a solid guide.  What better way is there to say clicker training works!  Apart from the fact that Panda is always amazing to watch, I thought beginning with a horse who isn’t much bigger than their goats might help them see connections and possibilities.

We followed along while Ann and Panda went for a walk around the neighborhood.  As usual it didn’t bother Panda in the slightest to have a herd of people trailing along behind her.  When we finished at Ann’s, we headed off to the barn to see the goats.

Panda and Ann guiding on sidewalk HS.JPG

Panda doing a beautiful job guiding.

At the barn I started out with a goat cuddle session.  I wanted to emphasize the importance of building a relationship.  I took a couple of chairs into the stall.  Sister Mary Elizabeth and one of the 4-H-ers went into the stall with me.  The goats slowly approached Sister Mary Elizabeth.  She was someone they knew, but they stayed well away from the teenager.  Hmm.  Time to regroup.  This wasn’t going to keep the attention of these youngsters.  It was time to show off some training.

I set up the mats as platforms in the aisle and brought P out first.  He went politely from one platform to the next.  While he was out, E taught himself a new trick.  He wanted to be with everyone, so he jumped – all four feet – up onto the automatic waterer that’s in his stall.  Who knew he could be that acrobatic!  With a little bit of wiggling he could have found a way out of the stall.  He repeated this “trick” later.  Once discovered, nothing is ever unlearned.  I quickly installed a piece of plywood over the waterer to block his access.  Goat proofing!  What a challenge.


The goat-proofed waterer

E got his turn in the aisle.  He did a great job going from platform to platform and waiting on the platform to be clicked and reinforced.  I talked briefly about how he had been afraid at first.  I didn’t force him.  We moved further away from the security of his stall only when he showed me he was ready.  I talked about you never know what they have learned, you only know what you have presented.  But in the case of E we know what he learned about getting up on the waterer!

After the platform work, I asked Marla to show them what she’s been doing to help her horse become more comfortable with medical procedures.  She had Maggie stand on a mat.  That helped make the connection to the work I had just shown them with the goats.  Marla started Maggie out in a halter, but quickly took it off once she saw that having an audience was not a distraction.  In addition to asking Maggie to lift up each foot to be cleaned, Marla presented her with a dose syringe.  She didn’t push it into Maggie’s mouth.  Instead Maggie opened her mouth around the syringe.  Sister Mary Elizabeth remarked that for the goats giving medicine with a dose syringe was always a struggle.

Maggie also stood on the mat while Marla presented her with a dental float.  Maggie let her rasp gently across her molars  – no halter, no restraints, no tranquilizers, just calm acceptance.

The horses were making a good case for clicker training!

We finished by letting Sister Mary Elizabeth try a little targeting with one of the goats. We started as usual by having her practice with me.  When she sort of had the hang of it, I let P out.  I was intending to use E since he is easier, but P was first at the door.

He was good in spite of having to figure out the difference between handlers.  At first he was confused.  Sister Mary Elizabeth’s body language didn’t match mine.  That’s why using platforms can be so powerful.  They provide a cue that doesn’t vary from one person to the next.  As soon as P realized that Sister Mary Elizabeth just wanted him to move from platform to platform, he was in the game.  He suddenly became the teacher, leading the dance.

It was a brief introduction to clicker training, but between the horses and the goats they were showing the possibilities – from the basic handling that I had started with E and P, to Maggie’s cooperative participation in the husbandry tasks, to Panda’s advanced performance as a guide for the blind, they had all been great ambassadors for clicker training.

The Goat Palace Updates: The Education Continues

Sister Mary Elizabeth has been coming to the barn as often as she can during our arctic freeze to learn about clicker training.  During a recent visit Trixie showed us how much progress she is making by being able to participate in a food delivery lesson.

It is so the norm that once we click, we want to get the treat to our animals as fast as possible.  The quicker the animal, the more it seems we rush.  In the rush the handler ends up feeding in too close to her body.  That’s especially true with horses.

Rushing means you are being sucked into the drama of your anxious or overly excited learner, and it just encourages more mugging.  You can help calm the anxious ones, and settle the excited ones by slowing yourself down.  Being able to alter the rhythm of your movement intentionally and deliberately is a skill that takes practice.  This control over your own actions gives you more influence over the emotional state of your training partner.

Very early on the horses taught me that we need to present the food well out away from our bodies.  The mantra is: “Feed where the perfect horse would be.”  This doesn’t imply a fixed orientation.  Sometimes the perfect horse will be backing up out of your space to get the treat.  Other times he might be stepping forward, or standing still with his head in a particular orientation.

The overall idea is that you want the horse to stay far enough out of your space to keep things safe.  You don’t want to feel as though the horse is crowding in on top of you.  These goats really drove home this point.  They were good at crowding in and pushing to get at the food.  Through a series of lessons I had taught Trixie and Thanzi to back up out of my space – click.

That part was good.  The question was what happened next?  Left to their own devices they would surge forward again and press in close to get the treats.

Here another great training truth surfaces.  If you don’t notice an unwanted behavior, don’t worry about it.

It will get bigger.

Eventually it will get big enough that you will notice.  And finally it will get so big that you will want to do something about it.

A little nuzzling up against my hand could be tolerated and ignored.  At the point where the nuzzling shifted into a push I began to pay attention, and that’s when I changed my behavior.  I began to take extra time to get the treat out of my pocket.  I would fish around.  I was clearly getting the treat.  My fingers just hadn’t yet found the perfect hay stretcher pellet.   The goats waited expectantly, sometimes pushing their muzzles up against my hand.

I continued to fish around in my pocket.   They were clearly trying to puzzle out what to do.  Why not try backing?  Suddenly, like magic, my fingers found the perfect treat, and I was offering them a goody.  I had taught this through a series of steps so I was not “lying” with my click.  I was going to give them their treat, but I was building some “table manners” around the food delivery.

So now with Sister Mary Elizabeth the challenge was getting her to wait.  It’s very reinforcing to have the goats coming right up to you.  That is especially true of Trixie since she tends to be so timid, even with people she knows well.  I want them to orient to the handler, but then to step back so there is space between handler and goat.  That’s the first waiting.

The second waiting is to take your time getting the food.  If they are pushing into your hand, you can pause.  I stressed that she wouldn’t be doing this with the goats at home who were new to clicker training, but Thanzi and Trixie understood this form of treat delivery.  They knew they had to step back to get the treats.  We had gone through a teaching process to make this part of “the dance”.

I was pleased to see how resilient both goats were.  They could handle the inconsistencies.  And when Sister Mary Elizabeth waited and got the timing right, they were right.

This is one of the many things I value about clicker training.  If you show an animal that you “speak the language”, they will work with you.  It isn’t just that you’re now the one with the goodies.  When you click, and offer a treat, you are saying I understand this form of communication.  You are saying that I know you have a voice, and I am beginning to hear you.  Tell me what you have to say, and I will listen.  That’s the pact we are making with our animals when we fill our pockets with goodies and begin this journey into clicker training.  It’s a voyage of discovery, and what a voyage it is!

Happy travels everyone!

Please note: I am about to head off to the Clicker Expo, so I will not be posting again until next week. 

Also 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:   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.


Happy Birthday Panda!

I’m going to take a quick break from the Goat Diaries to wish Panda a Happy Birthday.  Yesterday was her birthday.  Unbelievably she is 17 this year.  How does that happen!

Normally, I keep “family” birthdays private.  I don’t expect people to celebrate with us as we mark another year with our horses.  But so many people helped us out when Panda got sick in 2016 that I thought this was a good time for an update.  Panda is 17 this year!  She came so very close to not making it that is a real cause for celebrating.

She is doing so much better.  The diarrhea is under control – finally.  She is back in normal work as Ann’s guide.  Hooray!  Though in this brutally cold weather neither one of them has wanted to venture out.

Yesterday the temperatures had climbed to what felt like a tropical thirty degrees.  Ann took Panda out for a long and much enjoyed birthday walk.  When I visited with them afterwards, I asked Ann how Panda did.  She had been cooped up for so many days would she be a wild thing bouncy around on the end of her lead?  No, she was her usual focused, careful, eager self, making good decisions about avoiding the melting puddles that concealed ice underneath.

Back in her house I watched her retrieving her lead, one of her many favorite games.  Ann drops the lead on the floor and Panda picks it up and hands it back to her.  I had to laugh.  She is as full of play as she was when I had her in training as a weanling.  As I write that, I realize that’s not really true.  She is, if anything, even more full of play than she was when she was little.  Isn’t that a great thing to be able to write about somebody – horse or human.

Ann made a similar observation.  She said Panda becomes more like herself all the time.  I asked what she meant by that?  What does being Panda mean?

Ann should really be the one writing this, but it means she is so very confident.  She’s bold and she’s eager, and she’s comfortable in what she knows.  Ann always smiles when she talks about Panda.  I know a little about what she means.  I got a hint of it all those years ago when I had her in training.  I remember so clearly during one of our walks around the neighborhood thinking how nuanced the communication between us was becoming.  I remember thinking that when Ann has been working with Panda for a few years they will be like one of those couples who complete each other’s thoughts.  That’s definitely part of what being Panda means.  It means being the other half of a partnership that brings you great joy.

Happy Birthday Panda!

I didn’t take any birthday photos yesterday.  I should have.  But here are three favorites:

Ann Panda 3 photos scrabble, great walk, winter walk

Goat Diaries Day 8

The July Goat Diaries Day 8

This looks like a long post, but it’s loaded with photos – so lots to look at, less to read.

These goat diaries began by talking about relationships. In June when Sister Mary Elizabeth offered to let me have a couple of her goats for two weeks, I didn’t ask any questions.  I didn’t ask how old they would be, or how much handling they had had.  All I knew was I was getting two goats.

They goats arrived – two brothers – yearlings who had had considerable handling from children, but in this new environment were afraid of being handled.  So Step One was building a relationship.

In the workshops I give that is also Step One.  I take the time to begin building a relationship with the people who come.  Friday night is spent in conversation.  As people share their stories, it becomes very clear that the horse world is filled with people who love horses, who want to share their lives with horses, but who are very afraid of the horse they own.  And the same can be said of the horses.  So many of the stories are about horses who are afraid of people.

So sad.

We are in such a hurry with horses.  We are in a hurry to start them.  We are in a hurry to ride them.  In our great hurry we all too often destroy the bonds of trust.

We go in with our horses too soon.  With clicker training I begin with protective contact.  I put a barrier between myself and the horse.  The barrier may be as little as a rope tied across the door of a stall.  Or it may be as solid as the metal panels of a round pen, but there is a barrier.  That protects us both.  If the horse starts to push into my space to get at the treats, I can just step back out of the way.  I don’t have to correct this unwanted behavior.  I’m not mixing the positives of clicker training with punishment.  I want the horse to feel that it is safe to experiment.  He can offer behavior without the fear of correction.

I want the horse to feel safe in my presence.  The barrier helps with that.  It protects him as much as it protects me.  With a barrier between us I can’t be grabbing at him or trapping him a corner.  He can leave whenever he wants.  Knowing he can always escape gives many horses the confidence to approach and explore.

With the goats I didn’t have the kind of set up that allowed for protective contact.  I didn’t need to be protected from the goats, but they needed to know I wasn’t going to grab them.  So I sat in a chair.  That anchored me to a spot.  Even when I had something they wanted – pretzels and peanuts – I stayed in the chair and let them approach me.

Once food was involved, everything sped up.  Suddenly, I had goats pushing into my lap to get the treats.  The training could begin!

But even here I took my time.  We used just the stall for the first couple of sessions, then I let their world expand out into the outside run.  And then we expanded out into the barn aisle.

There are lessons here for the horses, as well.  We are in such a hurry.  I hear stories all the time of people who went too far too soon with their horses and ended up in trouble.  Before buying their new horse, they probably only rode it once or twice – and that was in the horse’s familiar environment.  As soon as they got the horse home, they were saddling up and heading off on a trail ride.  Five miles out on a trail is not a good time to discover that your new horse is not as bomb-proof as you had been lead to believe.  Now you are learning that when he’s afraid, he bucks – hard.  Why should he keep you on his back?  He doesn’t know you.

Taking your time in the beginning of a relationship builds a safety net for both you and your horse.  Taking your time for the goats meant several things:

* expanding the complexity of the training environments in small stair steps.

* building a repertoire of behaviors that would keep us connected to one another as the level of distractions increased.

* building a history of reinforcement together – in other words building a relationship.

It was time to test the waters yet again, to see how these stair steps were working.  So I let their world expand even more.  We had been working in the barn aisle.  Now I thought they were ready to discover the indoor arena.

I took them out together which I knew would help E.  The arena door was left open, so at any time they could escape back to the security of the barn aisle and their stall.  I didn’t set out any mats.  I wasn’t asking them for anything.  They were free to explore on their own.

First things first – they spotted the mounting block (Fig. 1).  P led the way.  He scaled the “mountain” all the way to the top step, then took the short cut down by jumping off.

This was so unhorse-like.  Leaping up on the mounting block would not be a horse’s preferred safety zone.  For the goats the mounting block was the best part of their new play ground.

Goat diaries day 8 mounting block.png

Figure 1

Once Mount Everest was successfully scaled, the goats ventured further out into the arena.  Not surprisingly P took the lead.

E chose to stay closer to me (Fig. 2: 1-4).  I held my hand out inviting him to follow it like a target.  He was hesitant at first.  Should he follow his brother or stay with me? He chose to stay. Click and treat.

Goat diaries Day 8 E follows in arena.png

Figure 2

We walked a big circle, stopping every few steps for a click and a treat.  Eventually P joined us (Fig. 3: 1-4).  I held out both hands and the goats followed along behind me, one on each side.

Thankfully, I had put a cup of treats into both pockets so I could deliver the treats smoothly.  And they were good at waiting for me to get the treat.  All that work in the barn aisle was paying off.  They were beginning to understand that the treat would be coming to them.  They didn’t have to charge me to get to the treats.

Goat diaries Day 8 P and E follow in arena.png

Figure 3

We eventually headed back into the aisle where I had a bucket of hay set out.  They followed me back to their stall.  P actually trotted the last few steps back.  I had established the routine of scattering treats on the floor for them, so entering the stall came with the promise of more good things.  As I was leaving, E slipped out.  I wasn’t planning on doing any more, but since he was out, I did a leading session.

E and I went into the arena.  He led beautifully.  I was so very delighted by him.

Goat Diaries day 8 E leading.png

Fig. 4: Beautiful leading!

These photos were taken from the middle of our session.  They show several beautiful examples of what it means to wait on a point of contact (Fig. 5: 1-8).

Goat Diaries Day 8 E leading 4 panels 1.png

Goat Diaries Day 8 E leading 4 panels 2.png

Figure 5

As small as he is, I could easily add pressure to the lead and pull him along, but I don’t.  Instead when E hesitates, I wait.  As soon as his attention comes back towards me and he puts slack back in the lead, I click and reinforce him.

This next series of photos shows a lot of useful details (Fig. 6a-d).  We begin by entering the arena with E walking beside me on a slack lead.  Click and treat (Fig. 6a:1-3).

As I begin to walk off, E hesitates.  I pause and wait for him to walk on (Fig. 6a: 4-6).  I don’t add pressure and pull him forward.

Goat diaries Day 8 leadin in arena 1 panels 1.png

Figure 6a

This is the key to using the lead in a clicker-compatible way.  This is what shaping on a point of contact means.  You let your animal find the answer.  In the next set of photos (Fig. 6b: 7) E walks off with me and keeps nice slack in the lead.  I click when his attention comes back to me. And then I give him his treat (Fig. 6b: 8-9).

Goat diaries Day 8 leadin in arena 1 panels 2.png

Fig. 6b

Before walking off again, I pause for a brief moment in “grown-ups”.  This brief pause will grow over time into real duration (Fig. 6c: 10-17).

Goat diaries Day 8 leadin in arena 1 panels 3.png

Goat diaries Day 8 leadin in arena 1 panels 4.png

Figure 6c

Remembering to put the pauses in is so important.  E is such a very gentle goat.  His timidity makes him especially easy to work with.  It would be easy to simply click and walk off.  If I don’t take the time to pause, to build the expectation that waiting is part of walking, it won’t be there when I need it.

Here’s the mantra: “You can’t ask for something and expect to get it on a consistent basis unless you have gone through a teaching process to teach it to your animal.”  I changed the last word.  Normally I’m referring to horses.  This overly long sentence comes from John Lyons, a well known trainer and clinician.  I’ve often thought about modifying it to make it more my own, but he really did get it right the first time.  Every word is important.

I was going through a teaching process with E.  I was showing him how leading works.  If I left out: “sometimes we stand still before walking off again”,  I couldn’t expect that understanding to be there when I needed it.

It takes patience and focus to remember to put in all these little pieces.  With a bolder animal like P it is easier to remember.  He makes it clear that I need to teach a lot of patient standing.  Often it is the more difficult animals that end up the best trained because they make it clear we need these pieces.  With the easier animals we often don’t notice what we’ve been leaving out until we’re in a situation where those pieces are really needed, and then they aren’t there for us.

So even though it would have been easy with E to just walk off, I needed to take the time to build grown-ups.

Goat diaries Day 8 leadin in arena 1 panels 5.png

Figure 6d

Our animals always lead the way.  It was just a few short sessions ago that I was clicking and reinforcing every couple of steps that E took on a lead.  Now he was walking along beside me, keeping slack in the lead (Fig. 7).

Goat Diaries Day 8 E leans well panel 1.png

Figure 7

P’s Leading Session

P was next.  I put the lead on him and started his lesson in the aisle.  Instead of staying beside me, he has a tendency to overshoot and to swing around in front of me.  Again, our animals tell us what we need to work on.  Clearly I needed to work on whoa.

Testing the waters is a good way to begin.  What could I ask for?

I tried simply stopping.  He kept walking and hit the end of the lead.  He shook his head and fussed at me.  I didn’t want those horns butting into me, so I quickly rethought this strategy.

I didn’t have a stop yet, so it wasn’t fair game to ask for it.  I needed to build the reaction pattern I wanted.  So, it was click as he walked forward, and then feed so he had to back up out of my space to get the treat.  Once he understood the pattern, I took him into the arena so I could film it.  What an interesting session!

I clicked as he walked along beside me, got the treat and then turned into him so he had to back up to get to my hand (Fig. 8: 1-6). I had every confidence that he would be able to figure out what he needed to do to get the treat.

Crowding forward into me gained him nothing.  Backing up brought him to his treat.  As the pattern repeated, it became easier and easier to ask him to back.  He was understanding how he had to move to get his treat.  I could even begin to add a pause before we walked off.  That’s all part of being able to ask him to stop.

I did wonder if I was encouraging him to butt.  Asking him to back up curled his neck into the orientation that it would be in if he were going to charge me.  But head butting is a forward moving exercise.  He might be curling his neck, but his feet were moving back. Time would tell if I was reading this correctly.

At times my arm was against his forehead so he was in head butting position, but instead of going forward, he was going backwards, and when he did, I turned my hand over and fed him!  Talk about messing with a goat’s brain!

I clicked and gave him a treat several times for standing still.  Then we walked on again.  The next part of the training loop was taking shape.  It was click for walking beside me.  Feed so he had to back up.  Click for standing still.  Feed again.  Walk on when ready  (Fig. 8: 7-8).

Goat Diaries Day 8 P learns about halt.png

Goat diaries day 8 P learns halt 2.png

Figure 8

It had been a long and eventful morning.  They had had their first exploration of the arena, plus their leading sessions.  I got P back into his stall, fed them both some hay, finished a couple of chores and then went back in to sit with them.  I always like to balance out the activity of the formal training sessions with the quiet of these cuddle times.  As usual, E came right over for a scratch.  P was more interested in the hay, but still asked for a back scratch.  The arrival of a delivery truck interrupted our visit.

I left their stall feeling as though yesterday and today have been breakthrough days.  The goats were understanding the process more and more.  And they were clearly showing a connection to me.  If I had not spent so much time scratching their ears and making friends, I don’t think they would have chosen to walk beside me.

P in particular seemed to be working things out.  Instead of leaping from one mat to another and then standing up on his hind legs when I didn’t respond like the children by throwing all my treats on the ground, he was now going calmly from mat to mat (yesterday’s gain).  He was also leading beside me without charging past or trying to cut me off (today).  Progress!

And both goats were turning into the most delightful companions.  I loved it when E pressed in next to my chair asking for more scratching, or P moved under my hand to request a head rub.  They were so like cats in the way they enjoyed a good scratch.  If only they could purr!

The Goat Palace Update

We have made a startling discovery.  The goats have manners!

This discovery came about because we needed to do some repairs to the gate separating the two pens.  The boys have been slowly demolishing the middle rails. When I went out with their morning hay I discovered that they had swapped around who was living where.  Thanzi and Trixie were in the front pen and the boys were in the back.

The boys were devouring a Christmas tree that the ladies had been pretty much ignoring, so they were happy.  Trixie was eating hay out of a feeder and Thanzi was up on the top platform of the jungle gym looking very much in charge of the situation, so they were happy.  Apparently, I was the only one who wasn’t pleased with the new arrangement!

When Marla arrived, we got to work repairing the gate.  We replaced the current rails with much sturdier, more goat-proof two by fours.  For most of the repair job we kept the boys in the hallway and left Thanzi and Trixie to sort themselves out.  Thanzi kept going back and forth through the gap in the gate until we had enough rails up so she could no longer fit through.

Both girls ended up in the front area.  We had to make several trips back into the barn to get extra screws, a fresh battery for the drill, and finally more hay for the ladies. I’m not sure where in all this coming and going it happened, but I suddenly found myself with all five goats together in the front section.

When they first arrived having them altogether in one group created chaos.  Thanzi and Trixie chased the boys.  At that point the middle gate was left open, so they could escape into the back area.  But now the gate was closed, and all five goats were crowded together in a much smaller area.  I was worried for the youngsters.  I abandoned Marla to finish the repairs on her own so I could supervise the goats.

I am delighted to report that the chaos has been replaced by a circus act.  At least that’s what it looked like.  Pellias claimed the top platform of the jungle gym.  Galahad showed his acrobatic prowess by balancing on an upside down feed tub.  Elyan found his usual spot on his “balance beam”.  Trixie ended up on Galahad’s usual platform, and Thanzi stationed herself off to the side.

I could click and treat them one by one.  Everyone waited.  There was no head butting, no driving the others away from a platform or a mat.  When Galahad fell off his very slippery perch, I could wait for him to get back on – and everyone else waited as well!

Progress!  Who knew they were becoming this good!

What this shows you is how much you can get done even when you can do very little.  The last two days the temperatures finally climbed up to the freezing mark.  It felt like a heat wave!  For the past two weeks it’s been so cold we might just as well have been living at the North Pole.

We suspended formal training sessions during this time.  I would go out a couple of times a day to replenish their hay and give them warm water.  While I was out there, I would spend a bit of time working on communal manners.  I set three platform out in the barn aisle and reinforced Elyan and Pellias for letting Galahad go to the third platform.

Normally I don’t work with Galahad.  He’s Marla’s project, but he was causing problems for the other two.  When I filled the hay feeders, Pellias and Elyan would park themselves on their platforms.  Galahad would push his way into the feeders, but when I clicked and tried to give the others treats for their good manners, Galahad was there pushing his way in.  Elyan and Pellias would chase him away, which meant their good platform manners were falling apart.  Something had to be done.

The “something” was to spend a minute or two in the hallway reinforcing all three for staying each on his own platform.  Galahad needed to learn from me that platforms were good places to be.  I also needed to reinforce Elyan and Pellias for letting Galahad stay on a platform instead of driving him off.  It took a couple of days for good manners to emerge.

Elyan in particular was like that little kid in school who makes sure teacher knows everything that the other children are doing wrong.  It’s cute when it’s a goat acting like this – not so much when it’s a child.  But Elyan and Pellias learned that it was okay to let Galahad stay on a platform.  And Galahad learned how to play with the others.

“Teacher” was pleased because now I could get the hay into the feeders without Galahad trying to climb into them and when I reinforced the other two for being on their stations, I could also reinforce Galahad for being on his.

All of this sounds as though I spent real training time establishing these manners, but remember the temperatures were hovering down around zero degrees with wind chills some mornings dropping below minus 20. (I always want to emphasize that’s Fahrenheit not Celsius.)   My hands ached with the cold.  I was good for a couple of treats per goat and then I had to get my hands back into gloves and just get on with the refilling the hay feeders as fast as I could.  The “training” they were getting was minimal, but it made a difference.  The result was the surprise that we had a “circus act” of five goats all stationing.

I know in the winter people often feel as though they aren’t getting anything done with their horses.  They are used to thinking in terms of long riding sessions.  At the spring clinics people often start out by apologizing for how little they’ve been able to do with their horses because the weather has been so bad.  And yet what the goats were showing us was how much you can do even when it’s just a quick minute here and a quick minute there.  Little things do add up to some fun surprises.

So one last mantra and then I’m done with today’s post:  Your animals are always learning.  That means when you are with them, you are training. 

That’s something to think about over a hot cup of tea.  Stay warm!

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:   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 Goat Diaries: Day 7: Repetition


The lessons I’ve been describing may seem redundant.  If you were watching, you’d see the same things over and over again – a goat standing on a platform while I step back from him; a goat following a target to the next platform.  What I hope you would also see in all this repetition is that nothing stands still – both literally and figuratively.

When you’re working with a horse who’s on hyper drive, the mantra you want to keep repeating to yourself is “Never get mad at movement – you need it to train.”

That expression comes from John Lyons – definitely not a clicker trainer, but he’s right. Whether you’re using make-it-happen or treats, lots of movement makes it easier to shift behavior in the direction you want.

The goats were never still for very long.  I could hear it in the rat-a-tat-tat of their feet on the platforms.  So I might have been doing the same thing over and over again, but I most certainly was not getting carbon copies.  What I was getting were super fast learners.  The goats were showing me that they were figuring out this funny new game.  They were ready for me to move them to the next level.

In each session I could add a little bit more.  Now the mantra became: “The longer you stay with an exercise, the more good things you see that it gives you.”  All that repetition was adding up to increasingly consistent, desirable behavior.

The July Goat Diaries: P’s morning session.
Goat’s Climb!

I was late getting a session in because we had a hay delivery.  That took up a chunk of time putting a year’s worth of hay up in the loft.  Thankfully, I just had to watch.  The farmer who brings the hay does all the heavy lifting.

After his crew left, I took the goats out into the aisle.  I was already tired of dismantling their sleeping platform to use as components for platforms.  Instead I gathered up every plywood mat I could find.  (There were a lot of them! I had saved all the scrap wood from the original construction so we had an abundance of mats).  I stacked the mats on top of one another to create a new kind of platform for the goats.

P was first. He was super – very confident, and very consistent.  The bouncing excitement of the previous sessions had settled into calm surety.  The mantra “Don’t take score too soon” was paying off.  By being as non-reactive as I could be to his exuberant leaps into the air, he’d figured out which behaviors produced treats and which didn’t.

What to do was simple.  When cued, move from one stack of mats to the next, then stay on the stack to get clicked.

Goat Diaries day 7 P exploring panel 1.png

Goat Diaries day 7 P exploring panel 2.png

Goat Diaries day 7 P exploring panel 3.png

E was equally good.  He went quietly from mat to mat.  He was more hesitant than P.  Always the contrast between the two brothers is so interesting.

Goat diaries Day 7 E morning session panel 1.png

Goat diaries Day 7 E morning session panel 2.png

Goat diaries Day 7 E morning session panel 3.png

Compare this to his reluctance to venture very far from the stall on the previous day, and you will see how much progress he has made.  (  This is an important lesson for those of us who work with anxious horses.  Four elements played an important role in E’s rapid gain in confidence:

* Preparation: E understood platforms.  Having something familiar to do made exploring easier.

* Choice: E had the option of retreating back to his stall.  He had an escape route.  If you know the way back to safety is available, it’s easier to explore.

* Patience: I waited for E to be ready.  When he showed concern over moving deeper into the aisle, I let him stay on the platforms he was comfortable going to.  As always it was: “train where you can, not where you can’t.”  I hadn’t push him to go beyond what he could handle in his first session in the aisle. The result was he could handle more the next day. (See Saturday’s post for comparison.)

* Social Support: I have to add that going out into the aisle again with his brother helped him to be braver. But what I wanted was an individual who could be brave with me.  It’s great that P gave him the confidence to explore further, but would that confidence still be there when his brother wasn’t?  That’s why I’ve listed this one last.  Without the other three I might always be dependent upon the presence of another goat.   (Think how this relates to horses.  If you ride, you’ve probably encountered horses who aren’t secure unless they are in the company of other horses.)

When I opened the stall door to let E back in, P popped out instead.  Usually E will go back inside the stall regardless of what P is doing, but not this time.  He followed his brother up the aisle. So I did a little work with them as a pair.

They were still reluctant to go back to their stall, so I got a bucket of hay and lured them down the aisle.  E followed, but P got waylaid by an adventure.  He wanted to see what was on the other side of the wheel barrow that blocked access to the arena.  It proved to be an effective barrier, but I had forgotten to block off the foot of the stairs going up to the upper deck and the hay loft.  Mountains are always worth exploring!

E saw his brother vanish and turned back to find him.

“Oh, don’t go up the stairs,” I foolishly said to them, as if that was going to stop them.  By the time I got to them, P was on the middle landing with E right behind him.  I managed to get a lead on E and get him turned around.  I abandoned P to get E back in the stall.  But by the time I had E secured, P had gone all the way up onto the upper deck.  He was down by the sliding glass doors that open into the upstairs meeting room.  He was staring at his reflection.  I’m glad I got there before he decided to challenge whoever this strange goat was!

P wanted to continue exploring, but I was being a fuddy-duddy.  I put the lead on him and headed back towards the stairs.  Would what went up come down?  That was the question.

Thankfully, going down was easy.  He followed my hand as a target without any hesitation.  Clearly there’s an advantage to working with mountain goats!  Teaching Panda to go down stairs was much more of a process.

Panda going down stairs PO and museum

Once they were both safely back in their stall, I cleared away the mats so I could work on leading.  E went first.  He was hesitant about going all the way down to the end of the aisle.  We would go a couple of steps, click and treat, then a couple more.  I felt as though I had a shy child always trying to hide behind me.  He kept switching sides instead of maintaining a consistent position beside me.

I was careful not to ask him to go further than he could manage.  When he was loose, he could always retreat back to the stall.  But now the lead prevented that, so I had to be even more attentive to his emotional well-being.  This is where shaping on a point of contact really helps you out.  I could judge by E’s response to the lead just how comfortable – or not – he was.  At any point we could always turn and head back towards the security of the stall.

Goat Diaries E leads contrast.pngP was a study in contrast.  He marched boldly beside me.  When I clicked, he would swing around in front of me and thrust his nose up towards my pockets.  My response was to use the food delivery to back him out of my space.  He fussed at first, but very quickly caught on.  Moving back brought treats.

Goat Diaries day 7 P leads panel 1.png

Goat Diaries day 7 P leads panel 2.png

Goat Diaries day 7 P leads panel 3.pngGoat Diaries day 7 P leads panel 4.pngThe rest of the day was spent mowing – a never ending summer job.  I didn’t get a second session in until the end of the evening.

I did a short session in the aisle with both of them.  We worked on mats.  Again, the difference in the personalities of the two brothers was very clear.  P was bold and confident.  He marched down the aisle.  When I clicked, he was instantly focused on getting the treats.

E was much more cautious.  He was more easily distracted.  He is much softer to work with.  In many ways he is much easier.  His confidence will grow with good experiences.

Goat diaries Day 7 E study of one panel 1.png

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Goat diaries Day 7 E study of one panel 3.pngAnn came a short while later. While she was working with her horse in the arena, I sat with the goats in their stall.  I had the door to their outside run open so they could explore out there, but mostly they wanted to stay beside my chair.

Afterwards I did a training session with both of them in the aisle.  We worked on leading. P went first.  He was such a gentleman!  It feels as though we have turned a corner, that there has been a real shift in his understanding of what to do.  He walked beside me, keeping a good orientation.  When I clicked, I had him back up to get the food.  It felt very easy.  He was understanding and anticipating what I wanted him to do.  The sled dog had disappeared!  He was leading!

Earlier in the day after I clicked, he had been consistently pushing past me to get to my pockets. I  used the food delivery to displace him back.  He had been very bold and pushy about the food.  In this session, he had that sorted.  He stayed more by my side.  When I clicked, I barely needed to displace him.  He was more and more where the perfect goat should be.

I set up a “leading loop” training pattern.  I kept him on the lead from the far end of the aisle back to the stall.  When we got to that end, I unhooked the lead and walked back to the far end of the aisle.  I would then call him and click and reinforce him as he approached me.  This gave him lots more experiences coming to me when called and having the lead hooked onto his collar than he would have gotten if I had just kept him on the lead.

Goat diaries P Day 7 Manners emerging panel 1.png

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Goat diaries P Day 7 Manners emerging panel 4.pngGoat diaries P Day 7 Manners emerging panel 5.pngE was even better.  I felt as though I had an overgrown Maltese walking round the ring at Crufts.  What an elegant little thing he is, and so very soft.  He pulled like a freight train the day he arrived.  He might be little, but he can pull with the best of them.  Today, however, he led beautifully up and down the aisle.  I could not have been more pleased with the progress.

What a good day it had been for both of them!

When I was done with E, I let both goats have some time to explore together in the barn aisle.  To get them back to their stall I had them follow the lure of a bucket full of hay. That’s a useful management tool to have in their repertoire.  Back in their stall, they got hay and a cuddle – a good deal indeed.

The Goat Palace

This report is long enough.  I’ll wait to give an update on the current training.  I’ll just say in brief that we have had two weeks of arctic temperatures so there is not much to write about unless you want to read about barn chores at 5 am when the wind chills are around minus 20.  Brrr.  I’ll leave that to your imagination!  (Though I know a great many of you reading this don’t have to imagine it – you’re living it.  Warm weather is coming!)

Coming Next: The July Goat Diaries: Day 8

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:   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 6: The World Gets Larger

The Good Things Repetition Gives You

It may seem in post after post that I have been describing the same lesson.  The goats stand on a platform while I step back from them; the goats follow a target to the next platform.  In July this was essentially all I had asked them to do.  What I hope you see in all this repetition is how fast the goats were learning.  I never asked for big steps.  I just let the repetition of the small steps add up into an ever widening repertoire of useful behaviors.  As they showed me they were ready, in each session I could add a little bit more.

The mantra is: the longer you stay with an exercise, the more good things you see that it gives you.

The good thing all these steps were giving me was the preparation needed to expand their world a bit more.  I was ready to test the waters to see what they would think of the barn aisle.

I used the blue jump blocks that made up the platform in their stall to create a line of platforms in the barn aisle.  They knew how to go from one platform to another in the safe environment of the stall and the outside pen.  I was going to use that familiar behavior to help them navigate in a larger space.

The platforms would give the barn aisle a familiar structure.  Instead of it being a large, and perhaps frightening space, the platforms became stepping stones that would help them venture out into this as yet unknown world.

The July Goat Diaries: The World Gets Bigger

1 pm P’s First Session in the barn aisle

P’s first venture into the barn aisle went wonderfully well.   He’s very bold.  Left to his own devices he would have ignored me completely and gone exploring.  Instead the platforms did their job.  They had an even more powerful draw than the desire to explore.  They kept bringing him back into the focused work that helped him stay connected to me.  He could still satisfy his curiosity, but from the look out of the platforms.

Goat Diaries Day 6 Fig. 1.png

(Note the wheel barrow was blocking the aisle into the indoor.  There was a swallows nest in that aisle so I didn’t want to close the door and block access to it for the parent birds.  The wheel barrow served a dual purpose.  It was both a window and a door.  The goats could look into the indoor – a source of great interest for them – but they were blocked from exploring in that direction.  The wheel barrow at the far end was to discourage the goats from trying to go out under the gate.)

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1 pm E’s First Session in the barn Aisle

Unlike P who wanted to go exploring, E was very nervous out in the aisle.  He was reluctant to venture very far down the aisle.  Always it is a study of one.  It didn’t matter that P was bold and eager to go adventuring.  I was working with E.  I needed to put aside any expectations P had created about “how goats behave”, and train the individual I had in front of me.

I could see his concern in the way he was taking treats.  When I clicked, instead of instantly turning his head in my direction, there was a long pause.  Granted the neighbors were mowing up on the top hill.  He had good reason to feel nervous, but P would have gone exploring.  E just wanted to go back to the stall.  He was like Custard The Dragon in the Ogden Nash poem of that name.   All Custard wanted “was a nice safe cage.”

“Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.”

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I wasn’t going to force him to stay out or to go further down the barn aisle than he was ready for.  That would have undone all the good work of the past week.  When he ran back to the stall, I opened the door, intending to let him back in, but P popped out instead.  He wasn’t through exploring!  He didn’t care what funny noises the neighbors were making.  He wanted to see the world.

When you’re a herd animal, there is definitely safety in numbers.  With brave P out in the aisle, E became more adventurous.  The platforms helped to maintain order.  It was a little chaotic at first, but I eventually got both of them standing side by side two platforms.

I suppose I could have just opened the stall door days ago and let them explore on their own.  That certainly would have been one option, but I preferred this training-centric approach.  I liked what the platforms were doing for us.  Even with all the distractions, all the new sights to take in, both goats were able to stay focused and engaged with me. They wouldn’t always have the luxury of exploring a new environment on their own first.  Step by step, as they moved from the stall to the outside pen to the barn aisle, they were learning how to stay connected even in the face of ever greater distractions.

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Goat diaries day 6 safety in numbers panel 3.pngThe goats have learned a lot since that first day when I introduced them to clicker training and they were jostling one another trying to get the treats.  Now they were side by side, each on his own platform taking turns.

I wasn’t clicking and feeding them both at the same time.  I was clicking them one at a time for good waiting.  As the session progressed, I was able to step a little bit further from them and wait fractionally a little bit longer.  This is what repetition gives you.  You aren’t trying to turn out cookie cutter reps like an assembly line.  Instead the repetition lets you make the training loop increasingly more complex.  The changes are subtle which keeps the success rate high.

After a bit more of this sharing, I led them back to the stall.  I’ve been tossing treats on the floor for them after their sessions.  This ritual paid off.  Now when I tossed some treats onto the floor, both goats hurried into the stall.  Going back without a fuss made it easier for us to go adventuring again.

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After I put away all platforms, I sat with them for about half an hour. This time I had a grooming mitt which they seemed to enjoy, especially E.  Cashmere is combed out of a goat’s coat so the more they can learn to enjoy being handled and groomed the better.  E was totally lost in the pleasures of being fussed over.  For the first time I was able to scratch his chest and his belly.  Without forcing the issue in any way, I could now handle him all over his body, including down his legs and feet.  I had asked for permission, and he was giving it to me.

In the afternoon I set the platforms up again and had another session with each of the goats.  P was every bit as bold and as good as he had been in the morning.  And E was able to go by himself as far as the platform that was opposite the wash stall.  He wasn’t quite ready to venture past the aisle into the arena, and I didn’t push him.  When he became hesitant, I directed him back to the platforms that were closer to his stall.  I knew the less I pushed, the easier it would be for him to be brave.

This is something the horses have very much taught me.  If you take your time in the beginning and let your horse understand that you won’t push him “over a cliff”, you’ll end up with a horse who trusts your good judgement.  Later, when you ask him to go forward, he will – not because he knows he must, but because he wants to.

When I sat with the goats for our usual evening cuddle, they were both particularly eager to be scratched.  I like being able to balance out the training sessions with this quiet time.  It creates an anchor for everything else that we do.  Always we return to the calm waters of just enjoying each other’s company.

The Goat Palace Catching Up

Venturing out has become the theme for the Goat Palace, as well.  Prior to Christmas I had been working with the goats individually in the hallway.  I was itching to take Pellias and Elyan out for walks.  They were more than ready.

On the 24th, I set mats and platforms out in the barnyard between the outer gate into their pen and the door into the barn.  Pellias was first.  I had the narrow mats set out as usual in the hallway.  We began with those.  I asked him to move with me as I changed position around the platform.  He was his usual eager self, so I hooked the lead to his collar and opened the gate.

Pellias was great.  We went from platform to platform.  Having somewhere to go did two things.  It gave him more confidence to go adventuring.  At the same time it kept him with me so he wasn’t practicing pulling on the lead in his eagerness to explore the world.  We went as far as the grain room.  A mat helped him to be brave enough to go inside.  We couldn’t go any further because the horses were napping in the barn aisle.  When we went back out, going from platform to platform again kept him from rushing.

Elyan was another super star.  With him I could really see the payoff in the platform work we’ve been doing.  He was just as eager as Pellias to go exploring.  The grain room was well within his comfort zone.  We’ll be able to play in the barn aisle and arena very soon.

Preparation – it’s a lovely thing!

Later Marla took Galahad out, as well.  He was more nervous than the other two, but all the good prep meant he was able to keep slack in the line as he went from platform to platform in the barnyard.

I love being able to take them out for walks even if the walk is just to the grain room and back.  All that good preparation is paying off just as it did in July.  It certainly opens up new training environments for them.

All the people in my area who were dreaming of a white Christmas got their wish on Christmas Eve.  Snow makes the horses want to kick up their heels and play.  Apparently, it does the same thing for goats.  While I spent a few minutes with Thanzi and Trixie, the boys were racing around in their pen.  Pellias in particular was running back and forth.  Clearly they needed more of an outlet for their energy than I could give them in just the hallway.

I decided it was time to take them into the arena.  In preparation I set pairs of mats out between the gate and the grain room door.  When Marla arrived, we got leads on everyone.  Then I took Elyan and Pellias out.  We headed to the first set of mats.  As we approached the first set, I called out “front”.   They both popped up on the platforms and spun around to face me.  Click – treat.

We turned around as a group.   “Sides” I called out.  I need to come up with a different cue for that.  When they are working as a pair, “side” (orient to my right side) is correct for only one of them.

We headed off to the next platform.  “Front” I called out, and they again obliged by popping up on the platforms and spinning around to face me.  So much for sled dogging.  They could so easily have been dragging me off in opposite directions.  Instead we were walking together from one set of platforms to the next.  Preparation – it’s a wonderful thing.

Marla followed behind with Galahad.  I assume he did okay.  I never glanced back to see.  That’s something else the horses have taught me.  If you stay focused on what you want, your horse (or in this case your goats) will stay focused with you.

We got inside the grain room, then out into the aisle.  We unhooked all three and off we went to the arena.  They had a truly glorious time and so did we.  My two were up right away on the mounting block, jumping from step to step and then leaping down.  I set Robin’s  big foam platform up on some jump blocks.  Elyan claimed that.  He jumped off the mounting block, took a bounce, and landed on the platform.  Even when it wobbled and tipped, he didn’t care.

Pellias leapt off the mounting block and landed nearby.  Click – treat and off we went. Marla had set a platform out on the other side of the arena.  I called out: “We’re coming! Better get out of the way!”  I called out: “We’re coming! Better get out of the way!”  Marla headed off to the mounting block with Galahad while I ran with my two to the platform.

One platform really wasn’t enough.  I needed two.  When we got back to the mounting bock, I tried to get a couple more out of the storage bins, but either Elyan or Pellias was always standing on the lid.  I’d get one off the lid and the other would hop on.  I gave up and took them to Robin’s platform.  Then we were off again across the arena.

With only one goat to wrangle, Marla managed to get the storage bin open and to pull out a couple more mats.  More mats meant even more fun!  When the goats began to settle, I took my two deeper into the arena.  Pellias went ahead more.  When I said “wait”, Elyan was right back with me.  We had worked on that in a short walk the previous evening.   I was delighted that the cue worked so beautifully to keep him close.  I hadn’t yet taught it to Pellias.  He stayed near but was not as locked on.

It was a fun, laughter-filled, joyful playtime.  When we were ready to go back, the goats were all good about having their leads put back on.  We walked back the way we had gone out, stopping at each set of platforms.  I again asking for “front” so they kept turning to face me.  They could so easily have dragged me back to their house, or gotten me tangled up in their leads in a desire to go adventuring.  Instead we played platform games all the way back.

Really fun!  Training creates freedom.  Because they were so good we will be able to go adventuring again.  I am very much looking forward to it, but mostly I am looking forward to the day when the temperatures rise out of single digits.  Christmas brought snow and left in it’s wake arctic weather conditions.  We have been hovering down around zero ever since.  (That’s Fahrenheit not Celsius.)  One thing extreme cold is good for is catching up on the computer, so get your cups of tea ready.  There will be more goat diaries in the days ahead.

Coming Next in the July Goat Diaries: Day 7 Repetition

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:   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.