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.
(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.)
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.”
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.
The 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.
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: 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.