Goat Diaries – Day 11: A Walk In The Park

Our brains love habits.  Predictable routines let our brains go on auto-pilot.  We don’t have to make decisions about every little thing.  Think how exhausted you’d feel before you even got as far as deciding what to have for breakfast if you didn’t have these micro-habits helping you get through the day.

I was establishing routines with the goats that were definitely helping with the smooth running of the day.  The morning of this their eleventh day of training began with a long cuddle/groom session.  E was particularly interested in being scratched.  I had the grooming mitt with me.  He stood perfectly while I used it all over his back and sides.  He seemed to be enjoying the feel.  P was not interested.

These goats need to be combed to get their beautiful cashmere fiber.  Combing was on the priority list, but they were both very clear that they weren’t ready for that step.  The grooming mitt was enough of a stretch for now.

Cuddle time was followed by leading sessions for each of them.  I was pleased by how good they both were.  I worked on grown-ups and took care that they stayed back during food delivery.  They were becoming very good at maintaining space between us.  I was also feeling that they were definitely responding to the click and not just my body language.  Their “wheels” were turning.

Little things were now evolving.  They knew the routine.  They knew they came out one at a time.  They knew they got treats on the floor when they went back to the stall so returning was not an issue.  They had become eager backers.  That meant I had to be careful to keep backing in balance with all the other things I was teaching them.  Backing is good, but in all things – moderation.

Our learners always tell us what we need to work on next.  Their eagerness to throw backing into everything suggested that I might want to put some mats out in the arena so they would have stations to go to.  That would help build solid standing still so I didn’t get hung up in some unintended chains.

E’s Session: “A Walk in the Park”

E was a delight.  He’s a charmer.  The way his long coat ripples as he walks, I can’t help but think I’m leading an overgrown Yorkshire terrier.  He’s a very elegant walking partner.  His good manners were beginning to match his good looks!

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E has become a very elegant walking partner.

P’s Session

P came out full of energy.  I thought he might need a bit of a run across the mounting block, so I let him loose.  He stayed with me.  We did a little bit at liberty and then I put him back on the lead.  He fussed a bit as I clipped the lead to his collar.  If he had been staying with me through the summer, cleaning that up would have been high on my to-do list.

He had much more go in him than E.  When I walked off, he trotted by my side.  He didn’t pull.  There was no feeling of the original sled-dogging.  He was staying with me.  He just had a lot of joyful energy that needed to be expressed.  I clicked, fed and went into grown-ups.

He was reminding me of an Icelandic stallion I had met at one of the spring clinics.  The stallion was in a new environment.  What an adventure!  He was a jumble of emotions.  He was excited – new horses, new sights and smells, so much to explore!  He was worried – new horses, new sights and smells, so much to take in.

He could have been a handful, but he came with a superb foundation in grown-ups.  Any time he started to get excited and to rush forward, his person stopped his feet and folded his arms together.  That was his cue for grown-ups.  That’s all he had to do.  His stallion instantly stopped his own feet and stood quietly.  It was a master class in the value of these foundation lessons.

P was on the first rung of the ladder that leads to grown-ups having that kind of stabilizing effect.  It doesn’t matter that he’s a fraction of the size of this horse.  Having these good manners in place will make him a much more enjoyable companion.  He made me think of the many dogs I have watched with their owners.  Some are over-controlled.  In an effort to manage them in human environments all their dogginess has been suppressed.  Don’t jump, don’t bark, don’t chew the furniture.  Don’t be a dog.

The other side of the pendulum looks at all that control in horror and lets the dogs do whatever they want.  Somewhere in the middle is a place where our animals can live comfortably and safely in our environments and still be themselves.

P is so very smart, and so full of joyful energy, that’s something I value and very much want to preserve.  I want to encourage his energy, not suppress it.  A very wise training mantra is: never get mad at energy.  You need it to train.

P’s energy can be channeled into so many fun activities.  I want to celebrate his quick learning.  His eagerness is a plus, something I want us both to enjoy.  He was learning to stay with me, to stand by my side, to move away from my treat pockets – not by being punished, but by being told over and over again how right he was.

Goat Diaries Day 11 Visitors

In the afternoon a friend I hadn’t see in quite a while came for a visit.  Ann joined us, as well.  We started by taking three chairs into the stall.  The goats visited a bit with Julie even though they hadn’t met her before.  That’s progress!  We talked for a while, then I took both goats in to play on the mounting block – except they didn’t want to!  After telling them how much fun it was watching the goats racing up and down the mounting block, they were total fuddy-duddies.  Oh well.  Perhaps Mount Everest loses it’s appeal after you’ve scaled it a few times.

Instead they stayed with me as I walked around the arena.  They were working together beautifully as a pair.  When I clicked, they both stayed well back away from my pockets.  All that was a plus.  What they didn’t do was put on an acrobatic show.  Oh well.

I took them back to their stall and then brought P out by himself on a lead.  I had Julie introduce herself via targeting.  She offered a target, in this case her hand.  When we clicked, I gave P his treat.

This is such a very safe way for him to meet new people.  I’ve used it many times with horses.  In clinics I’ll station people around the perimeter of a large circle.  For safety I’ll keep the horse on a lead.  One person will hold out a target, and I’ll walk with the horse as he moves towards the target.  Click.  I usually begin by handling the food.  The treats initially come from me.

After he gets his treat, we’ll back up to a mat that’s in the center of the circle.  Click, he gets reinforced for landing on the mat.  We do a couple of rounds of grown-ups and then the next person offers a target.  We use the mat in the middle so the horse’s hind end is never turned towards a person he doesn’t know.  I don’t want him to be frightened and suddenly kick out at someone.  Instead we back up away from the ring of people.

Remember, this lesson is most often used with horses who are worried by people. If something else in the environment suddenly startles him, I may be stacking one worry on top of another, creating a bigger spook than he would have to either one by itself.  So I structure this lesson with lots of layers of added caution, including backing up away from the people, but towards a mat.

All these little steps mean that this is not a beginning lesson.  I must first build all these components to make sure the lesson stays safe.  Look at all the skills this horse needs to understand and do well: targeting, taking food politely, backing, going to a mat, and even harder backing up with enough directional control that he lands on the mat, and finally grown-ups.

It’s a great pattern.  Every element gets stronger the more you play with it.  The horse gets more comfortable approaching people he doesn’t know.  His targeting skills become more generalized.  Backing becomes better.  The mat becomes an even stronger conditioned reinforcer.  Duration in grown-ups expands.  Treat manners get better.  Cues get stronger.  The behaviors overall become more solid.  Each element serves as a reinforcer for whatever preceded it.  You get all these benefits, and the animal thinks he’s just playing a game.

With P I wasn’t concerned about him kicking out so I didn’t worry about moving him away from Julie.  We just ping pinged back and forth between going to her to touch her offered target, and coming back to me for a treat.

I had just one more day with the goats and then they would be going back to their home farm.  Giving them this lesson would make it easier to transition new people into the games they had been learning with me.

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Goat Joy

Before we left the arena, I took P back over the mounting block.  The first time I kept the lead on and had him follow me up.  On the top step, I unhooked him, and he delighted us all with a wild leap into the air.  Such fun!

There’s more to this than just letting P entertain us with his acrobatic prowess.  P gets to practice getting excited, and then I ask for grown-ups and he practices calming down.  That’s a useful life skill no matter the species.

On the next run I unhooked him on the first step of the mounting block and let him go the rest of the way on his own.  He rewarded us all with another joyful leap off the mounting block.  I loved how he always came running straight to me.  Without really trying, I was building a great recall.

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Who knows.  I may be triggering some form of goat to goat aggressive display.  All the goat experts reading this may be shaking their heads, thinking oh the trouble she is going to get into encouraging this kind of behavior.  Perhaps they are right.  Or perhaps, balancing his antics with grown-ups will mean I can allow this behavior without it tripping over the edge into emotional states I don’t want.

E’s Turn

E is much more people shy than his brother.  Again, I took advantage of the opportunity to have two experienced clicker trainers in the barn to help build his confidence.

We began by having him target to Julie’s outstretched hand.  He approached her very directly.  Click, he had to leave her to come to me for the food.  I do like this process.  It begins to build some duration between the click and the actual arrival of the treat.

With the horses there can eventually be a considerable time lag between these two events.  When I click, there are times when the horse I’m working with may be eighty feet or more away from me.  He’ll stop and wait patiently while I bring him his treat.

All the behavior that he is presenting between the moment he hears the click and the moment I get to him and stretch my hand out to deliver the treat are things that I like.  This kind of duration didn’t happen over night.  It is built in small increments through a long series of lessons.  The horses wait patiently because they know the treat is coming.  All that good, quiet waiting is reinforced over and over again through the ritual of the food delivery.

We moved from Julie to Ann.  I had Ann hold out a cloth frisbee.  E touched it, got a treat from me, but then was reluctant to go to Ann again.  I wanted him to be successful, so I had Julie step forward and offer her hand as a target.  He went to her directly, click, the treat came again from me.

We went back to Ann.  This time I had her hold her hand out.  Again, E was reluctant to approach her.  After a couple of failed attempts, I offered him the frisbee.  He touched it directly.  I handed Ann the treats.  E took them from her without hesitation.

So we used this pattern a couple of times.  Flexibility was the name of the game.  Training is not like baking a cake where you need to stick to the recipe or you end up with a mess.  In fact sticking rigidly to a recipe is a good way to guarantee a mess.   Always it is a study of one.  And always you are adjusting to the needs of your learner.  That was the major takeaway from this lesson.  We were asking E what level of interaction he was comfortable with and then making changes as needed to help him succeed.

Goals – Short or Long Term

When we were all done playing, I was really pleased with the return to the stall.  Both goats tend to rush ahead on the way back to the stall.  I could have simply released them.  The immediate goal was to get them back to the stall.  That’s where they were heading.  Letting them go on their own would have avoided any pulling they were doing on the lead.

It would also have missed an opportunity to teach them to stay with me in distracting environments.  There were going to be times when letting them off the lead wouldn’t be an option.  The walk back to the stall created an opportunity for me to show them that staying with me was worth the added effort.  I was taking them back to the stall.  But on the way there were lots more opportunities for treats.  Walking beside me had value.

E was figuring this out.  He was walking with me down the aisle.  There was less rushing ahead, less pulling to get back.  Out in the arena he had been listening to P calling.  He had clearly been wanting to get back to his brother.  I had kept the session short because I didn’t want him feeling too anxious.  So I was especially pleased that he walked back with me to his stall.

8 pm

At the end of the evening I had another cuddle session.  E in particular wanted to be close to me and to be scratched.  He’s so very sweet.  I’ve discovered he really likes having his chest and belly rubbed.  In fact, I haven’t found anywhere that doesn’t turn into a “please scratch” spot.  I can think of few better ways to end an evening than with goat bliss.  This was their last evening in the barn.  I was going to miss what had quickly become part of the day’s routine.

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Coming next: The July Goat Diaries: Day 12 – E and P’s Last Day at the Barn

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 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 10: You Can Never Do One Thing

The July Goat Diaries

I don’t know which label to give this session:

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

You can never do one thing.

These both work.

E was very cautious around people.  He had shown me that many times over.  When Panda first arrived at eight months of age, she was more than cautious.  She was afraid to the point of charging anyone who leaned over her.  She hadn’t shown this behavior when we first met her in July, but it’s what she arrived with in September.  Panda was a Florida girl.  That’s where she was born.  We had to wait the extra two months for it to be cool enough to transport her North.  She arrived sporting the most gorgeous show clip.  Because she is little, I suspect the clipping was imposed not trained.  She was probably the victim of the “three men and a boy” school of horse handling, meaning she was wrestled into submission and made to stand still while someone towered over her with a pair of clippers.

So the horse we received in September pinned her ears and snaked her neck out whenever someone came near.  If I had seen any sign of this behavior when we looked at her, I would have passed on her as a potential guide.  But here she was.  Florida was a long way away, so this was the horse I was going to train.  I had enormous confidence that clicker training would get this sorted – and of course it did.  Not only did Panda become a super guide, these lessons led to her favorite game – Panda catch.

So now with E I had a goat who was afraid of people.  I found myself using many of the lessons that had worked so well with Panda.  Who knows how many good things these simple lessons would bring us.

E’s 7 pm session
I brought E out on a lead into the arena.  He was very good.  He showed me that he was understanding the morning lesson.  When I clicked, he was moving away from my treat pocket to get the treat.

Ann joined us in the arena.  I led him up to her.  He reached out cautiously to sniff her.  Click, treat.  I repeated this a couple of times, then he decided he wasn’t interested in going towards her again.

If his caution had been only that, discovering that approaching Ann produced treats might have been enough to break the ice.  But his caution was a reflection of real fear.  I have to be careful under these conditions.  If I am afraid of cats, but I really need the fifty dollars you are offering me if I touch the hissing kitten, I might do it.  I’m still afraid of all things feline.  Take away the fifty dollars, and I won’t go anywhere near the kitten.  That’s always a question when you are using positive reinforcement to get an individual “over” their fear.  Are you really changing the underlying concern, or are you just masking that worry?  And is it really fair to ask someone to make that choice?

It is possible that when I touch the kitten, it turns into a soft ball of purring contentment.  Instead of being afraid, now I’m enchanted.  Being clicked and reinforced for approaching the kitten has shown me that I have nothing to be afraid of.

Being clicked and reinforced for approaching Ann, was not enough to convince E that she was harmless.  I changed the game.

I clicked E as he walked beside me keeping slack in the lead, but instead of giving him the treat directly, I walked over to Ann and put the treat into her outstretched hand.  She was now the “food bowl.”  The first time I had to hold my hand over hers to get him to approach and take a treat.  After that he was willing to eat directly from her hand.

I wanted E to discover that people can be the source of good things.  I did a lot of this with Panda.  It began just as I was doing here.  Gradually, as Panda became more comfortable approaching people, we added in more people and changed the game to a targeting lesson.  At clinics I would have people form a large circle.  Each person would have a target, but only one person at a time would hold out the target.  When Panda approached and oriented to the target, click, that person gave her a treat.  Then that target disappeared, and someone else would hold out a target.

This game gradually morphed into its current form.  Panda gallops from one person to the next.  As she approaches, she runs around behind the chosen person and comes to a halt neatly at their side.  Very fun!  They click, give her a treat, and then off she goes – galloping to the next person.  If you asked her, she would say she invented the game, and in many ways she would be right.

I was borrowing from the beginnings of Panda catch to help E make several important discoveries.  I was hoping this lesson would help him to become more comfortable approaching people other than myself.  I also thought it might direct him away from my treat pocket.  When I clicked, I immediately headed over to Ann.  This took the focus off my pocket.  It wasn’t click and then zero in on my hand reaching towards my pocket.  Now it was click and follow me to the “food bucket”.

After he got his treat, he had to decide what to do next.  Should he stay where he just got fed, or he should follow me?  Decisions, decisions.  The choice he made was to follow me.  Excellent!

So now we had a new game.  I used the lead to direct E away from Ann.  I was careful not to drag him.  If he didn’t follow right away, I waited.  The contact from the lead told him I wanted something.  It was up to him to figure out what – and to be willing to do it.  As soon as he moved towards me and away from Ann, click, I walked the treat back to her outstretched hand.

Once he had his treats, I used the lead to ask him to move away from her hand and to come to me.  I know many dog trainers use versions of this game.  They’ll toss the treats so the dog has to move away from them to get them.  Or they’ll have the treats stashed in a bowl.  When they click, they’ll take the dog with them to get the treat.  These are all good strategies for keeping our animal learners from becoming locked onto our pockets.

The photos below show a wonderful progression. E gets a treat from Ann and then walks off with me.  Click!  (Fig. 1 – 4)  We return to Ann.  (Fig. 5-8)  But now when I ask E to leave, he’s conflicted.  Ann has the treats!  Here again the rope handling becomes important.  It would be so easy to pull him into motion.  The learning for him in that case would be follow or be dragged.  That’s not what I want him to learn.

Instead I wait for him to make his own choice. (Fig. 9-13)  E walks off with me. Click. (Fig. 14)  E watches me hand the treat to Ann and walks with me so he can get to her. (Fig. 15-17)  This time when I ask E to follow me, he backs with me away from Ann.  (Fig. 18-19)  We walk back to Ann.

Walking back to Ann gives E more practice walking with me.  That’s one of the great benefits of this process. (Fig. 20-22).  E is becoming comfortable enough with Ann for her to be able to stroke him.  (Fig. 23) This time when I ask him to walk off with me, he leaves readily and we walk a large circle past Ann.  Click!  (Fig. 24-27)  We return to Ann for a treat. (Fig. 28-30)  That’s a lot of progress from sequence to sequence

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When we left the arena, E was in a hurry to get back to the stall. I did a lot of stopping and asking him to come back to me.  As he came off the pressure of the lead, click, I gave him a treat and we continued on.  We hadn’t gone half way down the aisle before he was walking beside me keeping slack in the lead.  These goats are such fast learners.  He was becoming a pleasure to lead.  Gone was the sled dog impersonation we had started with.

The Goat Palace – Current Training

In my previous post I shared a story about Thanzi and Trixie dating back to the end of December. https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/02/14/   January was a brutally cold month here in the Northeast.  The temperatures stayed in the single digits often dipping well below zero (Fahrenheit).  Training sessions shrunk down to the bare minimum.  It’s so easy to think that you aren’t getting anything done during these long stretches when the weather is against you, but the reality is good things emerge out of little steps.

So I described in the previous post how I reinforced Thanzi and Trixie for staying on their platforms and waiting patiently for their treats.  Every time I fed them, I would open their gate and let them out into the hallway.  While I was filling their hay feeders, they were waiting for me on their platforms.  It was bitter cold, but how could I resist?  So I would spend a couple of minutes clicking and reinforcing first one, then the other.  I wanted them to learn to take turns.

We are now in February, and it is shedding season.  This is very relevant because these are cashmere goats.  Their fleece has to be combed out of their coat and collected.  I was not looking forward to this, especially for Trixie who has been so body shy.

Sister Mary Elizabeth came out last week to check on their coats.  They weren’t yet starting to shed, so we sat and visited with them instead.  As she told me about Trixie’s background, she remembered that she had been one of three goats who were attacked by a dog last summer.  She wondered if this contributed to the fear Trixie often showed.  It is certainly possible.

A couple of days later Trixie started to let go of her coat.  She and Thanzi were on their platforms.  I started to comb across her back.  She stayed on her platform!

Thanzi has just started to shed as well.  Yesterday both goats took turns.  I would comb Thanzi while Trixie waited on her platform.  Then I would comb Trixie while Thanzi waited.

This was a huge step for both of these goats – to let me comb them without any restraint was an enormous gift.  To have it completely volunteered turned what could have been a horrible struggle into something all three of us can look forward to.  Instead of destroying the good work I had been doing with them, the combing was building trust.

This is what I love about positive reinforcement training.  You ALWAYS get more good things than just the one thing you are focused on.

These two photos tell the story.  I love how patiently each goat waits while the other is groomed.  And I am delighted that I can lean over them to comb out their fleece.  All that patient prep was paying off!

And by the way, not only do I not want to stress them.  I don’t want to stress their babies.  Both goats are due in March.  It won’t be long now before we have baby goats in the barn!

Coming Next: The Goat Diaries: Day 11 – A Walk in the Park

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 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.

 

Goat Diaries Day 10: Distractions!

Distractions

I’ve been distracted by several projects this week so I am a bit behind getting these Goat Diary reports posted.  That seems very appropriate somehow because today’s post is about distractions!

In one of his Clicker Expo presentations Ken Ramirez talks about the importance of introducing distractions into the environment.  When he was the Director of Training at the Shedd Aquarium, he instructed his trainers to make changes every day to the training environment.  He wanted the dolphins and belugas that were used in the public demos to be so comfortable with change that if a tornado ripped the roof off the Aquarium, they would just think – “Oh look what our trainers have done for us today”.

I have always loved that image.  It creates a high standard of creativity and  consistent good training that is worth aspiring to.  With the goats at this point in their training it was easy to introduce change – essentially everything I did with them was new.  I wasn’t yet thinking about adding distractions as an active strategy.  I was starting with fearful animals so I knew I had a long way to go before they would be comfortable in a changing environment.  In their evening session I was about to discover just how easily something that I didn’t consider a distraction at all could completely derail their eagerness for training.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! – And People, Too!  The July Goat Diaries: 7/14/17 7 pm session

In a previous post I shared with you what a happy goat looks like (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/01/26/).  I had taken E and P into the arena and watched with delight as they turned the mounting block into a playground.  I wanted to share the fun with Ann.  She can’t see their antics, but she can certainly hear the laughter in their feet as they run across the mounting block.

Ann came in the evening to visit with Fengur.  While she was playing with him, I sat with the goats.  When the arena was free, I set up the camera and brought them in.  Ann stationed herself beside the camera well away from them.  After my big build up about how much fun they had running over the mounting block, they were total fuddy-duddies.  There was no energy, no joy, no laughter, no interest in the mounting block at all – just a cautious inspection from a distance of Ann.  What was she doing out in the middle of the arena?  Having a new person in the arena was clearly a concern.

After a few minutes of non-performance, I decided to put them back.  They followed me into the barn aisle and went eagerly into their stall, knowing that I would be dropping treats on the floor.  It turns out that I neglected to turn on my camera, so none of their non-interest was recorded.

I let the goats settle back into the comfortable familiarity of their stall, then I took them out again individually for another leading session.  The main focus of the session was on treat delivery and their behavior around food.  I was continuing with the work I described in the previous two goat diary posts. (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/01/29/  and https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/02/02/

A Panda Story

This focus on treat delivery and the time it takes to establish good manners was reminding me of Panda’s early training.  Cold winter days are a good time for stories, so I’m going to indulge in a couple, beginning with a favorite Panda story.  Panda is the miniature horse I trained to be Ann’s guide.  I remember when I first started working with Panda, she was as eager as the goats were to get into my pockets.

A week into her training – at about the stage I was now with the goats – I took Panda with me to a clinic I was giving at a barn that was about an hour away.  Ann rode in the front seat with her new guide dog curled between her feet.  Another of my clients was driving.  I was in the backseat with Panda essentially in my lap.  I was definitely a captive audience.  Doing a short session and then putting her back in her stall to process was an impossibility.  I had an hour’s drive with a horse in my lap!  What’s more I had a horse who knew I had treats in my pocket.

For the duration of the drive I clicked and treated anytime Panda’s nose moved even fractionally away from my pocket.  The idea was to keep her on such a high rate of reinforcement that she didn’t have a chance to mug me.  Over and over again, through the food placement I was saying to her – this is where the treats are delivered.  Going to my pocket gains you nothing.  Out here away from me, this is where you will find treats.  You might as well keep your nose here and not waste your energy going to my pockets.

Ann was in the front seat listening to the constant barrage of clicks.  I know they were making her anxious.  She had only recently taken on a new guide dog.  Everything about this dog was a struggle.  He should never have been placed.  The school was hoping that because Ann was such an experienced guide dog user, she would be able to make him work.

“Make the dog work” was truly the philosophy behind this dog’s training.  The result was a dog who showed extreme avoidance behavior.  Ann had one problem animal.  She didn’t want another.  How could she have a guide who needed to be clicked and treated every couple of seconds?  Ann knows how training works.  She knows that we would be building duration, but in that stage where the mugging is still such a strong reaction, the future good manners can seem impossibly far away.

Good manners emerge over time.  They are the result of consistent handling and a growing confidence in the learner.  By the time I handed Panda over to Ann, the guide dog had gone back to the school to be re-trained for a different job.  He went into search and rescue work, a job that suited his temperament much better.  And Panda became Ann’s full time guide much sooner than we had originally planned.

We celebrated the transfer by going out to dinner.  Panda kept her nose to herself and stayed quietly by Ann’s side throughout the evening.  Even when the salad course arrived, all she did was have a curious sniff before ducking her head back under the table to continue her nap. That’s great duration in a behavior that had begun with barely seconds between clicks.

Good manners emerged for Panda, and I was confident that they would also become the norm for the goats.  Time and consistency would create the behavior I wanted.

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Dining out with Panda

(If you want to learn more about Panda and her training, read the Panda Reports on my web site: theclickercenter.com.  Some of her early training is also featured in my DVDs: An Introduction to Clicker Training and Lesson 4: Stimulus Control.

Treats: Whatever Is Logical Do The Opposite

At some point in the distant future, it might be fun to travel with the goats in my car.  But at this point the thought of spending an hour trapped in the backseat of a car with an eager, greedy goat sounded exhausting.  We had a long way to go before they would be as settled about treats as Panda.

You meet your learner where he is not where you want him to be.  When I took P back into the arena, the session was very much focused around food delivery.  The children in the 4-H program may have giggled and let him snatch pretzels from their mouths.  With me P was learning that we played a very different game.

I brought P back out on a lead.  He continued to show good progress. He backed away from my closed hand.  He did a bit of head flinging which means he was feeling frustrated by having to back up.  I’m sure it did conflict with how he thought things should be done.  He wanted to push forward to get to the treats.  That’s what he had always done, but now he had to remember to back up instead.

Whatever is logical, do the opposite.  I could sympathize with his frustration.  From his point of view it made no sense that backing should work.  Going forward was how you get children to spill treats all over the ground.  Why should backing work?!!  We have all been given directions that make no sense.  Why should turning left instead of right get us to our destination?

And how many of us turn right because we’re convinced that should be the correct answer.  Even when we do turn left, it feels wrong.  Surely we’re heading in the wrong direction.  This can’t be right.  We’ll never get there.  Oh look, there’s our destination just ahead. How did that happen!?

It can take a while to relax and trust the directions.  That’s the stage I was in with P.  With a little more reinforcement history behind us, he would relax into the confidence that treats were coming.  There was no need to rush to get them.

The Goat Palace written Dec. 27 – Our Animals Always Tell Us

Meeting your learner where he is, not where you want him to be makes me want to share this story.  It was prompted by the goat’s current training.  If E and P’s treat taking manners were reminding me of Panda, a session I did with Trixie and Thanzi at the end of December made me think of Robin.  There are several of training mantras that apply to this session:

Our animals will always tell us what they need to work on next.

You get what you reinforce. 

My favorite, though, is this one:

If you don’t notice a little resistance, don’t worry about it.  It will get bigger.  And eventually, it will get big enough that you will do something about it.

Before I describe the goat’s training, here is Robin’s story:

Over the winter when Robin was still very new to clicker training, he started to snatch his treat from my hand.  I’d click, he’d grab, and then he’d eagerly be offering me the next clickable behavior.  I ignored the snatching.  He was eager.  It was cold.  He was offering lots of great work.

The snatching increased.  You get what you reinforce.  I didn’t like the snatching, but if it was getting worse, something in our interactions was reinforcing it.

I ignored it.  Robin was eager.  It was cold.  We were having fun – until I wasn’t.  The snatching was becoming more than annoying.  I was starting to count fingers after I gave him a treat.  It was time to do something about the way he took treats.

If you don’t notice a little resistance, don’t worry about it.  It will get bigger.  And eventually, it will get big enough that you will do something about it.

I’ve told the story many times about the way I solved this particular problem.  It’s detailed in both my Riding book and The Step-By-Step Guide in Pictures.  I went back to basics.  I put Robin in his stall with a stall guard across the door.  I stood across the aisle from him and held out the biggest carrot from a bag of big carrots.  Robin stretched his neck out to try and reach it.

I immediately turned my back, removing the carrot from sight and counted to three.  Then I turned back and held the carrot out again.  Robin stretched out his nose.  I turned my back and counted to three.

I again offered the carrot.  This time Robin hesitated ever so slightly.  I clicked, reached into my pocket and handed him a piece of carrot. I was using negative punishment.  I was taking away something Robin wanted – the carrot – to decrease a behavior I didn’t like – the reaching out towards me to get a treat.

(When an activity decreases – it is being punished, either by adding something unpleasant or by taking away something the individual enjoys (positive punishment and negative punishment – it’s just math adding or subtracting).  When an activity increases, it is being reinforced, either by adding something the individual wants or taking away something he doesn’t like. So again there is positive and negative reinforcement.  When the behavior increases it is being strengthened, i.e. reinforced.  When it decreases, it is being punished.  In both – the positive and negative refer to adding or subtracting, not value judgements.)

I offered the carrot again.  Robin hesitated.  Click, I handed him a piece of carrot from my pocket.  Robin is a super fast learner.  He had the dots connected.  If he drew back away from my hand, he got treats.  I could hold the carrot directly under his nose and instead of snatching it off my hand, he arched his neck and drew up away from it.  Click and treat.

I was enchanted.  He looked like a beautiful dressage horse.  Robin being Robin, he quickly made the connection.  If he arched his neck, click, I would give him a treat.  He wasn’t snatching anymore.  Instead he scooped the carrot slice gently off my hand with his enormous soft lips.

He started to offer what I have since called “the pose”.  When I walked by his stall, Robin would draw himself up and arch his neck.  Click.  I’d pause in my barn chores and give him a piece of carrot.  Through the winter I reinforced him a lot for this behavior.  I might have begun with negative punishment as I tried to stop an unwanted behavior – snatching treats off my hand.  Now I was actively reinforcing him for something I wanted – “the pose”.

I should add that this is not the way I teach the pose today.  It popped out when I was working on something else.  Now that I know this behavior is worth going after, I shape it more directly, most often with the aid of targeting.  And in general, when I find myself reaching towards a negative punishment strategy to solve a problem, I go have a cup of tea instead. I think about what I want and look for reinforcement-based teaching strategies instead.

The “pose” is not the best name that I could have come up with for this behavior.  For many people, a pose is a fixed, rigid, stilted posture.  It’s that awful grimace so many of us have when we’re forced to have our picture taken.

Instead, for me, the pose is a very dynamic behavior.  For Robin it has become a default behavior.  I was the cue.  In the absence of any active cue from me, if Robin posed, I would click and reinforce him.  It meant that if he wanted attention from me, he could get me to engage with him using a behavior I actively liked.

Horses are always doing something.  A horse in a stall has a long laundry list of behaviors to choose from.  Some are behaviors that I like, some are behaviors that I can ignore, and some are behaviors that I never want to see.  The laundry list includes taking a nap, eating hay, having a drink, watching the activities in the barn aisle – all perfectly acceptable and easy to ignore.

A horse could also be fighting with his neighbor, kicking the stall door to get attention, cribbing, raking his teeth up and down the wall, pacing, weaving.  These are behaviors I definitely do not want.  But if I fuss at a horse when I see him engaging in them, I could easily be reinforcing them through my attention.  Think of the small child who bangs the kitchen pots and pans while mother is on the phone.   Even negative attention is attention, and that can be better than no attention at all.

Robin doesn’t have to kick the wall to get me to notice him.  All he has to do is pose.  Click and treat.  I love having behaviors which my horses can use to ask for my attention. They know I will always acknowledge their request for connection.

Think of all the ways people interact with one another:  “Good morning.”  “How are you?” “Never better.”  These quick exchanges connect us.  Think how chilling and unpleasant an environment becomes when these social pleasantries are absent.  We need them to tell us things are okay between us.

Robin says good morning by posing.  I respond with a click and a treat.  All is well between us.  Our social bond is strong and getting stronger with each click and treat.

I reinforced Robin for the pose because he looked pretty.  I wasn’t heading for anything in particular beyond that.  This is what makes training so much fun.  Sometimes the next unexpected piece just pops out.

Here’s what happened to the pose.  One evening I had Robin in the arena.  I was asking him to trot around me on a circle.  He was giving me a nothing of a trot.  He looked like an old plow horse.  There was no energy, no pizzazz, nothing I wanted to reinforce.

Robin was expecting me to click.  He went once around the circle.  Nothing.  The way I tell the story was you could all but see the cartoon bubble appearing above his head.  “I’m not being reinforced.”

He went around again.

“What can I do to get reinforced?”

On the third time around he had the answer: “I know! I’ll try the pose!”

The way Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz tells this story is this: by withholding the click I was putting Robin into an extinction process.  He began to regress back through behaviors that had been successful in the past.  The pose had been highly reinforced, so it was the first thing that he tried.

Whichever version of the story you prefer, Robin had to add energy to the trot in order to get into the pose.  Suddenly, his trot looked as though it belonged on a magazine cover.  He was gorgeous!  I clicked and gave him a treat, all the while gushing over how pretty he was.  I sent him back out around me.  It took him a few strides to find his balance, but he once again added the pose to the trot.  It was just one stride that I was clicking – but wow! What a gorgeous stride it was!  The rest is history.  Robin led the way.  He showed us that we could shape the beautiful, suspended balance of a classical dressage horse just through well timed clicks and treats.

Why am I telling this story? Because this morning’s session with Thanzi and Trixie made me think of Robin and the pose.  It reminded me of the expression:

If you don’t notice a little resistance, don’t worry about it.  It will get bigger.  And eventually, it will get big enough that you will do something about it.

In December I had been trying to work them individually.  We had snow Christmas eve and then the temperatures dropped and the wind rose.  Trixie was nervous about being out in the hallway by herself, so I let Thanzi join her.  Suddenly with two goats I had lots of crowding.  Hmm.  You get what you reinforce.  I knew at night when I was tucking them in, I was in a hurry.  It was cold.  It was late.  I just wanted to get done with the final chores and get back inside where it’s warm.  Had I been letting them crowd me and hurry the treat deliver?  Apparently the answer was yes.

I needed to sort out the crowding so in this session I set two mats out face too face.  Trixie hopped on one, Thanzi on the other.  I stood in the middle with both goats crowding into me begging for treats.  I waited.

“Oh right.  Crowding doesn’t get treats.”  They took their noses away from me.  Click. I reached into my pockets.

They were right back, pushing against my hands.  I got the treats out of my pockets and then drew my hands together.  I stood as though in calm meditation, waiting.  First one then the other took her nose away.  I waited until they were both good, then held out the treats to them.

They got their treats, and then they were right back crowding me, pushing against me with their muzzles.  I waited.  They took their noses away.  Click.  Get the treat.  Wait again with hands held together in quiet meditation.  They both drew away from me.  I held out my hands and let them take the treat.

It only took a couple of repetitions. They were both working so hard to stay away from my pockets.  Click, pause, feed.  They were both so good.

I left them in the hallway while I filled their hay feeders.  I was just finishing up when I looked out into the aisle.  They were standing each on her own platform waiting for me.  How can you resist?  I went out and did another round of paying attention to their good manners.

Your animals always tell you what they need to work on.  I don’t know where this will lead me, but I know it is what they need.  If it makes me think of Robin’s pose, I must be on the right track.

Staying Consistent

It’s easy to be focused and consistent through one training session.  It’s much harder to maintain that consistency over time.  When we transferred Panda full time to Ann, it was actually a relief to hand her over.  I missed her constant presence by my side, but maintaining the level of consistency that is needed for a guide was demanding.  When you can see, you don’t need a guide to tell you that you’ve come to a curb. If I started cutting corners in Panda’s training because I didn’t need all the things I had taught her to do, it would undermine her performance as a guide.  Ann would never be able to enjoy the luxury of seeing the curb that’s in front of her.  She would be relying on Panda to point this out to her.  A horse doesn’t know when it doesn’t count so it always has to count.  I followed that mantra throughout Panda’s training.

The same thing applies to the goats.  The same thing applies to the goats.  If sometimes I let them push into me to get treats, I will never get to the consistent good behavior that I want.  But it’s been cold!  It is so easy to get in a hurry and let standards drop.  So their training has been a bit like a yo yo.  I let things slip in my hurry to get chores done and my gloves back on.  They begin to crowd me, but now I am catching it sooner.  The manners pendulum keeps swinging back and forth.  Over time the cumulative effect shows me that the balance is tipping towards good manners.

Just for Fun!

I told you the story of Robin’s pose.  Here’s one of my favorite videos of Robin.  He was only three when this was filmed.  He had not yet been started under saddle.  So he’d never had a rider on his back, and I had never lunged him in side reins or any other type of mechanical device.  This beautiful balance and cadence had been shaped entirely with the clicker.  You’ll see I am holding two dressage whips.  You can call them anything you want, but they are functioning as targets.  They give him points of reference to balance between.  I know the lighting is not good in this video, but this was a long time ago, and this was the best the video camera could do.  Enjoy!

 

Coming Next: The Goat Diaries Day 10: You Can Never Do One Thing

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 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.

 

 

 

Goat Diaries Day 10: Expectations

What is the Click?

What does the click mean?

I’ve told you many times throughout these diaries that I clicked and reinforced a particular action.  Those are good words, but we have to question – is that what really happened?

Absolutely, I did click.  But what, if any, effect did it have on the goats’ behavior?  Did they even notice it?

In July I could make a good case for the click being just meaningless noise for the goats.  At this stage in their training were they stopping and orienting back to me because they heard the click? Or were they stopping because I stopped?

There was one very consistent cue that they were responding to.  When I reached into my pocket, they surged forward for the treat.  It’s this behavior that I wanted to change.  There are many strategies for doing this.  The one I chose for these sessions was to turn the movement of my hand into a cue for backing.

Once they had this part of the sequence down, I expected that they would notice more what came before the movement of my hand – the click.  Hear that sound, and you know treats are coming – get ready.  I know some people drop the click out and let the movement of their hand become the marker signal.  I prefer to keep the click in the sequence.

We all have biases in what we use for our marker signals.  My strong preference is for tongue clicks so I don’t have to carry a clicker around with me.  That leaves my hands free for other things.

We also have biases in how we use marker signals.  Do we keep them in?  Do we change them over time to verbal signals?  Do we sometimes feed without using a marker signal?  Do we click but not feed?  (When you want your click to function as a cue, that’s a peculiar one.  What are you cueing?  It becomes like an unfinished sentence.  Think how annoying and not very useful that is when people make a habit of never finishing their . . . .

There are lots of variations on the theme.  I developed my approach to using the marker signal through working with horses.  I decided early on I wanted the click to be a gate keeper.  That means about the only time I give my horses treats is after I have clicked.  I want the message to be: “If you didn’t hear a click, don’t bother looking for food.”  The exceptions involve rituals I have created around greeting and leaving.  I give treats as I enter the barn and say hello to my horses, and again as I am saying good-bye, but the context is consistent and creates its own control of expectations.

At all other times, if I am giving a treat, it is for something I have clicked.  This creates very consistent rules around the food.  In the absence of the click, I can reach into my pocket to get my gloves or a tissue.  My horses won’t be expecting food because I didn’t click.

If you sometimes feed a “just because” treat, you can create a lot of frustration.  Your horse is left wondering what he just did that got you to reach into your pocket.  “Just because” treats usually aren’t very consistent.  That lack of consistency can throw a learner into an extinction process complete with all the “shaking of the vending machine” that goes along with it.

You’re wanting to be kind, and instead the carrots you’re feeding are just turning your horse into a scary monster.  The click helps to manage this.  Now he knows there’s no food unless and until he hears the click.

If you are new to clicker training, this may sound very restricting.  You want to feed treats.  Don’t worry.  Once you start clicker training, you will have lots of opportunities to click and give your horse a treat.

Initially, the click is barely noticed by the horse.  He sees you reaching into your pocket.  That’s what he focuses on.  You can get the same kind of mugging behavior that the goats were showing.  The only difference is all that eagerness for the treats comes in a much larger package.

Over time you will see your horse respond to the click.  It has begun to function as a reliable cue.  When he hears that sound, he will stop to get his treat.

How do I know this?  I do a lot of liberty work.  Often the horse is at a considerable distance from me.  In fact, I may be completely out of his sight.  When I click, he stops.  He heard that sound, and he knows what he needs to do to get his treat.  Usually that means waiting quietly while I walk (not run) to him with the treat.

When cues are linked with positive reinforcement, they become predictors of good things to come.  The sound of the click leads to good things, so my learner will want to figure out what he can do to get me to click again.

Pushing forward into my space, nudging my hands, pawing at me, if none of these things lead to a click, but backing up does, I’ll begin to see my learner actively backing away from me and these other less useful behaviors (from his perspective) will drop away.  My learner will be using the backing behavior to cue me to make that funny sound that predictably, reliably leads to treats.

Over time he will learn that there are many behaviors that can get me to click.  So now the noticing of cues moves back another step.  He begins to pay attention to the thing that comes before the thing that comes before the thing that . . . .  In other words he begins to notice the cues I am giving that signal to him what is the hot behavior that will most reliably lead to a click and a treat.

In all of this click serves as a gatekeeper.  On one side are the behaviors that I want.  On the other are the treats that my learner wants.  It’s a win-win situation for both of us.

That understanding of the click’s function isn’t there at the beginning.  Horses can be just as eager for their treats as the goats.  They can crowd every bit as much into your space.  But at liberty, I can show you that the click is a cue an educated horse is definitely responding to.

Why do I want this?  I know many dog trainers have a much looser system with the click.  They will often toss treats without first marking a specific behavior.  Instead I want to give my horses so much practice responding to the click that it becomes automatic.  They don’t even think about it.  They hear the click, and instantly they are stopping.

Again, why do I want this?  Simple answer – because I ride.  Under saddle when I click, my horses all stop.  I don’t have to actively stop them in order to get a treat to them.  They stop on their own, and they wait patiently while I fish around in my pocket to get their treat.  There’s no fussing or fidgeting.  They have learned how to be patient.  That’s a wonderful safety net to have when you are sitting on the back of your learner.

These goats were a long way from that standard.  Riding was obviously not where we were heading. Instead they were going to be around small children.  When someone clicks, backing up away from the treat pocket is a great response for a goat to have.  That’s what I was working on in this session.

E’s leading session

In the previous post I described P’s leading session and my focus on the treat delivery. Now it was E’s turn.  I brought him out into the arena on a lead.  He was also excellent.  He’s so very gentle.  He’s much easier to lead than P.  That actually made this lesson a little harder for him.  Because P can be very pushy, he’s had a lot more experience moving back from the treat.  It was easier for him to make the connection and to understand that backing up is what got me to hand him a goody.

E was slower to catch on.  When I clicked, I extended my closed hand out towards him.  Instead of finding my open palm with the treats there for the taking, I had the back of my hand turned towards him.  At first, he was confused.  What was he supposed to do?  I didn’t want this to turn into teasing, so I helped a little by lifting the lead up so it exerted a slight backwards pressure.  It was a suggestion only.  I was careful not to pull him back. The lead was there only to remind him about backing, to bring it further up in the “files” so he would give it a try.

In previous sessions I had introduced him to this collar cue.  He had learned that backing led to a release of the pressure AND a click and a treat.  I’d given the lift of the lead meaning.  Now it was time to put it to use.  The lead was acting as a prompt.  He got it right away.  I only had to use it three times, and then he was moving away from my closed hand on his own.

Goat diaries Day 10 food manners 1.png

So now it was click, and he backed up to get his treat.  When I extended my hand out where the perfect goat would be, he was exactly where he should be to get a treat.

Goat diaries Day 10 food manners 2.png

You’ll need a password to watch this video.  It’s:  GoatDiariiesDay10E

I started to take E back, and then decided to let him have another go at the mounting block.  E was a little uncertain at first but then he went across the mounting block all the way to the end.  I had some foam mats at the far end.  E jumped up on them.  Contact points!  Then he leapt high into the air for a twisting dismount.  What fun!

We went back to the beginning, and he ran across the mounting block again.  I loved the rat a tat tat sound of his hooves on the wood.  At the far end he did another wild leap off the mounting block.

The two runs seemed to satisfy him.  He followed me into the aisle and back to his stall.  Getting him to go back in was easy.  Dropping treats seems to be the incentive they need to turn going into the stall into a good thing.  They could so easily become sticky at going back.  They like to go exploring.  And they definitely like the treats, the social attention, and the game.  Planning ahead so returning to the stall is a good thing was paying off.

As always, I balanced the excitement of our training sessions with the quiet of cuddle time.  P was particularly eager for attention.  They are showing more and more enjoyment.  Now when I scratch, they lean into my fingers.  I can see their lips wiggling.  None of this was there at the beginning.  Now when I scratch them, I get a whole body response.  Talk about reinforcing me!

The Goat Palace – Catching Up With Current Training

All this good prep has created more opportunities to give the goats adventures.  Because they will now lead reliably, we can take the three youngsters into the indoor arena for playtime.  I can lead Pellias and Elyan together without being dragged in opposite directions or pulled off my feet.  On the rare days when the temperature is reasonable I’ve also been taking them out individually for walks.

Last summer Pellias was the bold one, but this winter oddly enough it is Elyan who has been up for longer adventures.  We started out just walking a large circle immediately outside the lean-to.  I would ask Elyan to go just a couple of steps – click and treat.  When I walked off, I was always mindful of his response.

If he hesitated or stopped to look at his surroundings, I would wait for him.  The slack was out of the lead, but I didn’t add any pull.  When he oriented back to me, click, I gave him a treat.

If he rushed ahead of me, I would say “Wait” and stop my feet.  As soon as he glanced back towards me, click, I gave him a treat.  “Wait” became a reliable cue within one session.

I discovered this the next day when we took the three youngsters into the arena for a playtime.  We turned then loose and let them do aerials off the mounting block.  After a bit I headed towards the far end of the arena.  Elyan was staying close to me.  Pellias was a little further off.  When they spotted a set of platforms, they started to run towards them.   I said “Wait”, and Elyan immediately turned back to me.  Click and treat.  What fast learners these goats are!  I hadn’t yet given Pellias the “Wait” lesson, but when he heard the click, he immediately turned away from the platform and came running back to me.

Walking out with them individually has confirmed even more for me that the click has taken on meaning.  Pellias and Elyan have both become very good at staying by my side and keeping slack in the line.  As we walk along, I’ll click, and they will immediately orient to me.  This is happening now before I stop my feet or reach into my pocket.  What began as just noise in the background has become a reliable and very clear signal – come get your treat!

I should mention that Thanzi has also gained walking out privileges.  The first time I put a lead on her, she dragged me the length of the hallway to get back to the security of her pen.  Now she stays glued to my side, and we can venture out for walks.  That’s enormous progress.  She was chosen to come here because she was such a strong puller.  She’s so powerful, and now she is also so wonderfully light on a lead.

Trixie is another matter.  The lead for her is definitely a cue – just not a positive one.  If I am holding a lead in my hand, she shuts down completely.  Never mind trying to put it on her.  Just holding it creates this response.  She is a work in slow progress.  But I have written enough for today without going into the unwinding of her poisoned cues.  That will have to wait for another day.

Coming Next: Day 10 Continued: Distractions!

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 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 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: 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.

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.

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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: 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.

 

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

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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).

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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).

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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: 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.