A Year of Goat Laughter

We’re heading fast towards the end of January and I feel as though I haven’t yet caught my breath after the race that was 2019.  Revising my book, “The Click That Teaches, A Step By Step Guide in Pictures”, devoured huge amounts of my time, but that wasn’t my only project.  There were all the clinics and conferences, and the production of the weekly equiosity podcast.

SBS front cover in pictures revised edition

The new edition of the Step By Step Book

In October I decided my plate wasn’t yet piled high enough with things to do so I added a second podcast, “Horses for Future”.  Equiosity focuses on training.  Horses for Future explores what horse people can do to help mitigate the climate change crisis.  Please take a look.  This is something we all need to become involved in.

Filling in the non-existent gaps in my day were the goats.

IMG_0657 (1) Elyan looks on

Elyan surveying his domain from a high platform.

I haven’t written anything about the goats in a very long time so I have quite a lot of catching up to do.

To recap my goat adventure, the first of the goats arrived in 2017. These were Elyan and Pellias, two yearling wethers. They belonged to the Community of St. Mary’s. I won’t go into the details here. You can read the whole saga of these goats in the Goat Diary blogs beginning in October, 2017 (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/25/)

IMG_1567 Elyan Pellias 7:17

Elyan and Pellias new arrivals in 2017

Elyan and Pellias came originally for two weeks in June of 2017. They are still here.  I always feel as though I should quote from Edward Gorey when I write this:

“They came seventeen years ago and to this day they have shown no intention of going away.”

I certainly have no intention of sending them away.  I am utterly charmed by them. My goat herd reached a peak last winter of eleven. It is now down to a much more sensible five.

20191123_105538 goats grazing

Out for a walk – From left to right: Wren, Thistle, Finch, and in front Pellias. Elyan is not in the photo.  He was staying glued to my side which made it much easier to get a picture of the others.

These are all cashmere goats. Elyan and Pellias are very stylish silvers with long guard hairs.  Over the first winter, they were joined by two does, Thanzi and Trixie.

IMG_2175 Thanzi March 2018

Thanzi –

IMG_2177 trixie March 2018

Trixie – Can you see the difference in their personalities.  Thanzi is bold, smart, powerful, an enthusiastic learner.  In contrast to Thanzi, Trixie is very timid.  She was however, a much more attentive mother.

I wanted the experience of raising baby goats, handling and training them from the very beginning to see what difference there would be between hand-reared babies and the somewhat shy behavior of Elyan and Pellius.

Trixie gave birth first. To both my surprise and delight she had triplets, three darling little girls, all black with short curly fur. For the first few weeks they looked like poodles, until they turned around and showed you their pretty goat faces. I named them Patience, Prudence and Felicity.

IMG_4198 Felicity as newborn

Felicity and Prudence napping on my lap. A quick glance might mistake them for puppies.

Thanzi gave birth a few weeks later to twins, a girl Verity and a handsome boy, Valor.

IMG_2216 baby goats on planks

Every day I set up a new playground challenge for them.  Thanzi is looking on while the little ones play.

The goats stayed with me through the spring. In June just before I left for several weeks of teaching, all the goats went back to the convent.  In July Elyan, Pellias, Felicity, Patience, and Verity came back for more training. Prudence had been sold to a wonderful family and Valor stayed behind.

Handsome Valor was living up to the promise of having two grand champions as parents. Sister Mary Elizabeth hoped he would become a breeding buck for her herd which meant he needed to stay behind to be integrated into the herd.

I thoroughly enjoyed the three girls, but my camera didn’t. Their features were lost in their black fur.

Patience puts on her collar

Patience learning to put her collar on.  The behavior is great, but the camera struggled to capture her beautiful face.

And I was still wanting to have kids from the mother of Elyan and Pellias.  So in December 2019, just as I was starting the major project of revising the Step By Step book, I was also welcoming two more goats to the barn. Thanzi returned. She was joined by Yeni, the mother of Elyan and Pellias. They were both bred to Lancelot, Elyan and Pellias’ father. His health was failing so this was the last year he was able to breed. In fact it had looked for a while as though he wouldn’t be able to breed at all, but we got lucky.

IMG_1426 Lancelot

IMG_1431 Lancelot

Handsome Lancelot

I wanted January babies because of my travel season. Thanzi obliged. In the depths of one of the coldest January’s we’ve had in years she gave birth to twins, Thistle and her brother Thaddeus.

Thanzi baby goats photos day 1 1:4:19.001

Thistle and Thaddeus Day 1

IMG_5705 (1) Thaddeus on Thanzi as newborn

Thaddeus uses his mother as a jungle gym

I spent many hours sitting in the hay watching them play or acting as a hot water bottle as they slept in my lap.

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Thistle is on top.  Thaddeus is squashed underneath.

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Thistle – January 2019

In March Yeni gave birth to Wren and her brother, Finch. These were the two I had most looked forward to, full siblings to Elyan and Pellias.

IMG_5796 (1) Wren Finch newborns

Newborn Wren (left) and Finch (right).  They had lots of warm cozy hay to curl up in, but chose to nap by the door with a cold draft on their backs.

I’m not sure how I managed to get anything done, much less a book written with four baby goats in the barn. Through the winter they lived in the barn where I could keep better watch over them, and it was a little warmer than out in the goatery.  Because of the age difference I kept them separate which meant I had to make time for two separate play sessions. Wren and Finch would have been completely overwhelmed by their much larger cousins. IMG_5831 (1) Thanzi Thistle Thaddeus 3:20:19     IMG_5806 (1) Wren Finch 3:19

 Size comparison: The photo on the left is Thanzi with Thistle to the left and Thaddeus to the right.  To the right is Yeni with Wren looking up at the camera. Two months makes a huge difference.

IMG_0220 (1) Wren finch on upper platforms

Wren (standing) and Finch at 1 month

IMG_0086 (1) Thaddeus Thistle in goatery

Thaddeus with Thistle behind him  – three months old

 

IMG_0104 (1) Thaddeus Thistle in goatery

Handsome Thaddeus at 3 months.  They have just been weaned and moved out to their own section in the goatery.  Thaddeus left a few days later to join the larger herd at the convent.  He was also going to be a breeding buck for the herd.

Thaddeus was gorgeous. The year before Valor had stood out as a potential breeding buck, and now Thaddeus was doing the same. So when he was three months old and it was time for weaning, Thanzi and Thaddeus went back to the convent, along with Felicity and Verity. I was worried about the two girls fitting into the larger herd. They hadn’t grown up within the social structure of their age cohort. They were much larger than the other goats of their age, but sadly that didn’t give them an advantage.

Sister Mary Elizabeth put them in with a small group where she thought they would fit in. The other goats were all much smaller, but they ganged up on my two girls and bullied them. That didn’t last. Thanzi was a herd leader, and her daughter took after her. When I saw her at the end of the summer at the county fair, she was very much THE ONE IN CHARGE.

Verity at fair 8:19 2

Verity with Sister Mary Elizabeth at the County Fair.  They were getting in some clicker training practice in the ring before the start of the show.  The jacket was keeping her beautiful fleece clean.

All the goats moved out to the goatery in the spring. Wren and Finch were weaned in June and Yeni and Patience went home. I missed Patience. She had become a little super star through the training. Felicity and Verity had picked on her, so she was always eager to scoot through the gate ahead of them. That meant that she was easy to bring out on her own for extra training. It was striking how much of a difference that made. A few extra minutes every day added up. Her repertoire expanded. She was great in the obstacle training. I taught her weave poles in addition to the platforms and jumps. She loved racing through the course, and I loved how eager and always up for every game she was.

Patience sitting

Patience with Wren joining in.

I also taught her to lie down on a verbal cue. When she went back to the convent, this later behavior turned her into The Favorite. Her training gave her freedom. I went up for a visit just before the county fair. Patience was out on her own, following Sister Mary Elizabeth around like a dog.  While Thaddeus was up on a grooming stand getting combed out, Patience tagged along trying to be “mother’s little helper.”.

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Patience “helping out” while Thaddeus is groomed.  Training gives animals freedom.

 

I barely recognized Thaddeus. He was huge. And as for Valor! I truly didn’t recognize him.

20190927_145222 Valor

Handsome Valor

 

IMG_2250 Five babies 2018

It’s hard to believe he was ever this little. Valor is to the left in the foreground. And now he is this very magnificent young buck.

We waited until fall to wether Finch. Apparently there are long-term health benefits when you wait until at least six months before withering a buckling. That meant that Finch had to be separated from the girls. He spent his summer in with Elyan and Pellias. He learned very fast to stay out of their way, and for the most part they left him along. The girls got on great together even with the difference in age and size.

In November I redid the interior of the goatery so the goats could live together in one group. That’s where we now.

So let me introduce each goat properly. I’ll do it by sharing a morning training session. When I open the gate, I can be sure that little Wren will be the first to scoot through, even ahead of Elyan. She is the smallest of the goats and just darling.

Wren

Over the summer I taught her to lie down. From there I taught her to rest her chin in my hand. That part of the behavior was like super glue. Standing, kneeling, lying down, it doesn’t matter.  She wants her chin in my hand. I built duration into the behavior, and I also used it as a great recall signal. She not only comes. She races to me to press her face into my hand.

Wren chin resting in hand

Darling Wren learning chin targeting.

Elyan

Elyan leading 2020

Elyan

Elyan is normally next through the gate. He’s always eager even though we often focus on grooming which he hates. His long guard hairs make him look like an afghan hound. I don’t know how they are to keep groomed, but Elyan is horrible. So we prep for the spring shedding season by doing a lot of work on the new grooming stand. So far he’s eager to jump up onto it and to keep his nose by the target I’ve got mounted at the front – so long as I don’t do anything that resembles combing. We have time. (I started writing this at the beginning of the month.  It is now Jan. 18, and I am able to groom Elyan!  Progress! And yes that was fast.)

When I finish with Elyan, I tie him. If I don’t, he drives the other goats away. What I find so very interesting is how cooperative he is with this. Tying means putting on his collar and taking him to the post where the lead is anchored. He has developed the procedure for this. I just follow his initiative. He stands front feet up on a wooden block that is half buried in the hay. I put the collar on him – no fussing from him. I then lead him over to the tie. He remains there perfectly calmly without fussing or fretting while I work the other goats.

Pellias

Pellias Thistle and Finch running to me 1:22:20

Pellias is in the lead. Behind him with her ears flapping up is Thistle and then Finch. We’re out for a morning walk where we practice lots of recalls.

Next through the gate most often is Pellias. Without his brother driving him off he’s an eager student. Interestingly, he was the last of the goats to jump up on the new grooming stand. It took him several days to decide that it was something to be trusted, but now he heads straight to it as soon as he is out.

Our sessions are generally much shorter than he would like simply because there are so many goats to work with. When we’re done, he also gets tied. That makes it easier to work with the little ones and get everyone back in the pen. He is as cooperative with the tying as Elyan which again surprises me.

Finch

Finch 1:22:20

Finch

Next through the gate is Finch. He looks as though he’s going to have long guard hairs very much like Elyan’s so I am making sure that he is introduced now to the grooming stand and combing. Unlike his older brother, so far he has no objection to being combed.

When we go out for solo walks, he glues himself to my leg. He’ll also follow a target around on a large circle. When I have had horses follow a target in this way, it puts them on the forehand – something I don’t want. But for the goats it doesn’t seem to have this negative effect on their balance.

Our work space is limited because of snow, but there’s enough room to teach the basics of moving out around a figure. I haven’t put any obstacles out. That will have to wait until after the snow melts.

When we go out for group walks, Elyan drives Finch away from my side, so these solo training sessions are precious.  He’s so eager to play.  When he has any competition from the others, he gets anxious and begins to vocalize.  That’s unfortunate fallout from spending three months on his own with Elyan and Pellias.  In the private sessions he doesn’t have to worry about being driven away by anyone else. He’s able to relax and be the superstar that he is.

Thistle

Thistle 1:22:20

Thistle – keeping herself very warm inside her thick cashmere coat.

Thistle comes out last. She would like to be first, or at least second. And she would like to have the longest session, instead of the last and often shortest session. She has learned that lying down gets lots of reinforcement so she offers it readily in many different locations. She is learning to rest her chin in my hand. She’s not yet as solid as little Wren, but she’s catching on to what is wanted.

She has the thickest coat of all of the goats. She is already beginning to shed, so grooming is an important part of her sessions.  The fleece that is combed out will be sent back to the convent to be processed and spun into cashmere yarn.

When Thistle’s session is over, I have the challenge of getting all the goats back inside and the gate shut behind them. This is where it is very helpful to have Elyan and Pellias on their ties. On the days when I don’t do this, they will drive the little goats scurrying back through the gate.

Eventually I would like to have all five goats go to their stations both when I enter and when I leave. But that’s off in the future. Tying Elyan and Pellias now means the little ones can learn. Sometimes training involves major managing of the environment.

To further reduce the chaos, I have the three little ones go to their stations: Finch up on a wooden box, the two girls on platforms. This stresses Finch. Living under the constant threat of being rammed by either Pellias or Elyan once he was weaned was not a good thing for him. I really didn’t have a good alternative, and he did learn to dodge them and stay out of the way. But his behavior here reveals the stress. He stays on the box, but his vocalizations sound increasingly anxious. I am hoping that the time he gets working with me by himself will help him to relax so he can enjoy sharing the training time with the girls.

For now they take turns targeting and getting clicked and reinforced. After a few rounds of this, I put treats at their feet and beat a hasty retreat. Elyan and Pellias are tied to posts that I can reach from the outside. After I unhook their collars, I offer them extra treats, as well.

All that’s left is the leaving ritual of giving them each treats through the fence, and then it’s out the gate leaving cries of “surely you’re not leaving!” behind me.

I’ve left out many of the individual behaviors we work on, but hopefully this gives you a general sense of their personalities. I am focusing what we work on towards our Spring Science camp. They are going to help us in our exploration of errorless learning.  My winter training goal is to build up a repertoire of useful building block behaviors to make it easier for people to work with them.

Through the winter I’ll share some updates on their training – unless I get distracted by another major project which could happen.

Happy New Year Everyone!

“I Need Goats!”

Preparation – it’s a wonderful thing.  All winter long “I need goats!” has been my call to bring the goats back into their pens.  “I need goats!” means food awaits.  Come fast!

Yesterday “I need goats!” was put to a new test.  We took our little herd of seven goats – Trixie and her triplets and Thanzi and her twins – into the indoor.  I put Thanzi on a lead and had her follow a food-in-a-cup target stick.  She boldly – or perhaps I should say greedily – led the way.  Trixie held back but couldn’t resist when all the babies started surging through the outer gate of the Goat Palace.  We had the side door of the arena open so it was a short walk into the arena.

I had put a bucket down with some grain in it.  Thanzi made a bee line for it which helped draw all the others in.

Goats Thanzi eating in bucket.png

Everyone in

We got everyone inside, closed the gate, turned Thanzi loose and stood back to watch the fun.  At first they packed closely together.  Thanzi led them on a survey of the arena.  We’d set out some mats for the youngsters to climb over, but Thanzi and Trixie needed to check out the arena.

Goats - checking out arena.png

Checking out the arena

I left them alone for a bit.  When they had made the full circuit of the arena and they were back by the gate, I wandered out into the center of the arena.

“I need goats!”  It was Thanzi who picked up her head first.  She turned and trotted straight towards me bringing a stream of goats with her.

Goats coming first time 5 panels.png

“I need goats!”

At first Trixie was too worried to come all the way to me.  I clicked and treated Thanzi then turned and walked away from the group.

“I need goats!” They streamed towards me again.  Trixie was becoming braver.  Thanzi was always the first one to reach me, but now Trixie was coming up to get her treat.  When I turned to leave them, they followed behind me.  And when I called, they all came running and clustered around me while the two does got their treats.

Goats clustering around.png

Getting braver!

When I’m trying to teach a horse to be okay riding out by himself, there are times when I wish we hadn’t domesticated such a social animal, but watching as these goats came running towards me all as a group, I could definitely see the benefits of a herd species.

I could also see the benefits of a little preparation.  Without the connection that had been well established, Thanzi and Trixie might have spent their time in the arena keeping their babies as far away from me as possible.  Training – it’s a wonderful thing!

Goats going to far end of arena

goats coming 3 panels

Preparation let me become the Pied Piper of my little goat herd.

We saw another benefit of training when we brought the boys into the arena.  We set the mats out in a line at a distance from the mounting block.  The three of them would run to the mounting block, turn and race back to their mats.  When we first brought the three goats into the arena together, there was a lot of sparring.  Pellias and Elyan would drive Galahad away.  He was interfering with their play.  He was on the wrong mat – theirs, which ever one that was.  And he might just get one of their treats.

Now there was no head butting.  Not between Elyan and Pellias and not between the two of them and Galahad.  Even when they crossed paths, they just kept going without needing to spar.

Training it’s a wonderful thing!

Goats Pellias the acrobat.png

Play Time!

This past weekend I gave a clinic at Cindy Martin’s farm.  We worked with her yearling mule.  Rosie’s mom is a draft cross and her dad is a mammoth donkey, so Rosie is definitely not petite.  What she is is wonderfully endearing.  She is so very sweet.  And so wonderfully well mannered.  We played an early version of Panda catch with her.  All the participants stood in a circle around her.  Each person had a target.  One by one they held the target up and invited Rosie to approach.

Rosie targeting

Darling Rosie approaches a target. 

To keep things safe with so many people around her Rosie was on a lead.  Cindy handled her at first.  As the target was offered, Rosie walked confidently up to each person, ears forward, totally relaxed.  This was a completely new set up for her, but she had no worries about approaching people she didn’t know.  After getting her treat, Cindy asked her to back up.  At first, she was sticky.  Why leave?  As she caught onto the pattern, it was easier to ask her to back up.  Backing led to another opportunity to go to a target.

It’s a great lesson for teaching emotional balance.  Yes, you want to go to the target and the treats, but backing also produces lots of goodies, so leaving the person is okay.

The next day when we repeated the lesson, Rosie was eager to play.  Cindy started her, but I couldn’t resist having a play.  Rosie didn’t know me, but she was very accepting of a new handler.  She very quickly became super light.  A touch on the lead was all that was needed to initiate backing.  We’d back to the center of the circle, then Rosie would put those wonderful mule ears forward and off we’d go to the next target.

I directed people to shift their position on the circle.  Through a series of small weight shifts I asked Rosie to yield her hips.  That lined her up with the next person on the circle.  Each one of those weight shifts was clicked and treated so for Rosie a serious lesson remained a playful game.  Softening her neck and stepping under behind will let her handler interrupt her should she want to head off in a direction other than the one indicated.  It also lays the ground work for lateral work.

She was such a delight to work with.  Preparation!  It’s a wonderful thing.

That’s what Rosie and the goats were showing us.  Training usually feels as though you aren’t doing much of anything.  You’re teaching your young mule foal to follow a target. You’re calling your goats in from a play session.  Little things add up.  It isn’t just that you now have an animal that stays with you and responds to your cues.  What really stood out for me with all three of these groups – the does and their babies, Pellias, Elyan and Galahad, and now Rosie – was how solid they were emotionally.  Because of the training, they were able to handle changes in their environment.  The does became much more confident in the arena.  Their babies switched from being worried to being playful.  The boys could play without fighting, and Rosie could be a superstar learner.

Training.  It’s a wonderful thing.  Don’t leave home without it!

Rosie walking to a target

Good training.  It’s a wonderful thing!

Learning Fast!

Learning!  That’s what we’re born ready to do.  That’s what the baby goats are showing me.

Thanzi’s twins were born on Wednesday, March 21.  On Friday, March 23 I was on a plane heading to the Art and Science of Animal Training conference so I barely got to say more than hello to them.

At the conference I presented a new program on a very familiar topic – balance.  I had some great before and after photos showing how much a horse’s balance can be transformed just using the foundation lessons.  I also had some new videos showing how those changes were made.  You don’t need advanced skills and complex lessons.  You just need to direct your attention to your horse’s balance to make a huge difference for him.

By the time I got home, Thanzi’s twins had met Trixie’s triplets.  The two family groups were living and playing together in the front pen.  And it was still cold.  In fact it has continued to be cold even into April.  This morning when I looked out there was fresh snow on the ground!  Not much, but still it snowed overnight – and it’s April.  The cold limits how adventurous I want to be getting them out.  But it doesn’t limit their need for enrichment.  So every morning I have been building a new play ground for them to explore.

For Trixie’s triplets, their very first obstacles had been my outstretched legs as I sat with them in the hay.  They were determined to master climbing up and over.  And they delighted in trying to climb up onto my shoulder.  Patience, in particular, was determined to get to the top of the “mountain”, even if it meant stepping on Felicity who preferred to curl up in my lap.

Goats First Obstacles

Their next obstacles were blocks of wood, and then plastic jump blocks. Every day I gave them something new to explore, so for them novelty is something you play with, not run from.

When I got back from the Art and Science conference, both sets of babies were clearly ready for even greater challenges so their playground expanded.  My raw materials were a couple of two by fours, six plastic jump blocks, some odds and ends of wood, and three pieces of plywood.  It is amazing how many different ways you can set up these elements to create a fresh challenge every day.

I began with the two by fours elevated just a little way off the ground.  The goats were immediately testing out their balance.  They wobbled a couple steps along the boards, fell off, got back on again, got bumped off by another goat, fell off, got back on again.  A day later they weren’t wobbling any more.  They could very nimbly walk the plank.

Goats learning to walk the plank

The next morning I added the plywood, but I set it so it sloped from the two by fours to the ground.  The goats slipped and slid down the plywood.  The two by fours were yesterday’s game.  This new challenge had them crowding onto the plywood.  One would be trying to go up the down escalator.  Her feet would be scrambling as she slid inexorably back down the plywood.  Another would be sliding towards her.  They’d collide mid-way, fall off and be right back for another turn.  What resilient, eager learners!

Goats Adding a slide to the playground

Goats every day something newAs their skills increased, I raised the two by fours, and added a couple more props.  One day I made a loop so they could run along the two by fours, slide down to a lower level, bounce from there across a plywood plank to another jump block and from there scramble up another slide back to the two by fours.  They made lap after lap, always with the obstacle of another goat wanting to go in the opposite direction.  Head butting on the slide was the best.  The mornings routinely begin with laughter as we watch the goats play.

Goats the playground changes every day

Goats carboard boxes make great playgroundsLast weekend I shared the laughter with Caeli Collins, the organizer of the up-coming clinic in Half Moon Bay, California.  What a treat it was having Caeli visiting.  She attended the Art and Science conference then flew out last Wednesday to spend a few days enjoying goats and horses.

Caeli is an experienced clicker trainer.  When you are meeting a new group of animals, it is never clear what you’re going to work on.  Will they settle right in and show you the leading edge of what they know, or will they ask for some other lesson?  With the baby goats the goal was laughter.  That was easily provided.

With the older Clicker Center residents there were other important lessons to be explored.  Caeli was learning how to transfer her clicker training skills to animals (and species) she didn’t know.  And I was learning how to introduce the goats to someone new.

On the first day I opened the back gate into the boy’s section to let them out into the hallway while I fed.  They all poured out and raced to their stations.  That was before they realized there was someone new in the hallway.  I filled the hay feeders and then gave Caeli some hay stretcher pellets.  Pellias was willing to take a treat from Caeli, but not Elyan.  When I called the goats back into their enclosure, he scooted past her as fast as he could.  That was our baseline.

Day one was spent quietly letting the goats get to know Caeli.  She interacted with Elyan through the fence.  “Hmm.  This person knows how to play the clicker game.  Maybe she isn’t quite so scary after all!”

On day two they could both engage with her a little, and by day three I could step outside their pen and let Caeli train the goats on her own.  She worked with each one on targeting and platform training.  Pellias surprised her by deciding that after he got his treat from her, he should back up to the platform that was behind him.  And Elyan wanted to offer her his foot, something I had been working on a lot with both goats.

Goats Elyan working with Caeli

In addition to training time in the hallway, we took them into the arena so they could run around and play on the mounting block. And we went out for walks with them. We took advantage of one sunny, almost warm day to venture out on their longest walk yet, out into the back field.

And then there were the babies.  Every morning we set up a new playground for them.  As soon as we started moving pieces into place, they would be climbing all over them.  There was no worry, no concern over some new element we’d introduced.  These are confident, eager puzzle solvers, exactly what I want.  So our mornings started always with laughter.  Mixed into that was amazement over how fast they were learning.

Caeli also got to play with horses.  Robin and Fengur thought she was an entertaining guest, but mostly Caeli worked with the newest equine resident in the barn.  His name is Tonnerre.  He’s an eighteen year old, very pretty paint.  In his previous life he worked hard, and he has the stiffnesses and on-again-off-again lameness to show for it.

Through the winter the lameness has been more off than on, so I am hopeful that the microshaping gymnastics will help keep him comfortable.  That’s my main interest in having him at the barn.  I want to document the change in his body over time as he works more consistently with these lessons.

Last fall when he arrived, he really struggled to settle in.  For the first month or more the sessions were all about helping him not to panic when Marla took her mare into the arena.  For the first couple of weeks Marla had to spend most of her training time keeping Maggie in the barn aisle or just going into the arena briefly and then coming right back out again.  Thank goodness Marla was willing to play this game and had the skill to know how far and how fast to take Maggie out of sight.  Both horses were latching on to each other.  If we hadn’t spent the time to build their confidence that the other could go out of sight, we would today have two horses joined at the hip instead of two independent workers.

During those sessions Tonnerre was always loose.  He had his stall, outside run and part of the barnyard to move around in.  I had just pulled his shoes, and I didn’t want him doing a lot of frantic running back and forth.  So I stayed with him whenever Maggie was out and offered him the opportunity to target, to drop his head, and to back up, three very familiar behaviors.  He was able to stay with me, playing the clicker training game and only occasionally would he feel the need to break away and check on where she was.

Gradually, I was able to move away, engage with him less, and Marla was able to work her horse more normally.  It was very time intensive in the beginning, but definitely worth it to have both horses comfortable being out of sight of the other and able to work independently in the arena.

Tonnerre is proving to be an excellent student.  He’s always eager for his training sessions, but he’s not so sure about the goats.  He hasn’t quite come to terms with the strange sounds that come from that side of the arena.  When they are playing, goats make a lot of noise!

The first time he was in the arena with Caeli, they were just making the occasional banging sounds, but the wind was blowing hard. And of all things a squirrel decided to jump into the arena and run up a post into the rafters.

Tonnerre didn’t know Caeli, but he did know this was a scary day.  He wanted back into the barn away from all these strange noises and alarming creatures.  He was at liberty.  The door back to the barn aisle was open, so that’s where he went.  We had our baseline.  Relationship matters.

So we back tracked through his training, letting Caeli and Tonnerre get to know one another through the structure of the foundation lessons and in an environment where he was more comfortable.  It is always: “Train where you can, not where you can’t.”

And it is: “Go to a place in the training where you can get a consistent yes answer and proceed from there.”

Caeli could get a consistent yes answer in the barn aisle which then became a consistent and much more relaxed yes answer when she returned to the arena. Often the most important lessons come not from the fancy “stuff” a horse can show you, but from the simple things applied well.

Caeli and Tonnerre

At the Art and Science conference I talked about balance.  The baby goats are learning fast about physical balance.  When I turned the older goats and Tonnerre over to Caeli, the focus was very much on emotional balance.   Both are part of a complete picture.

I’d like Tonnerre and the goats to be good teachers even for novice clicker trainers.  Caeli was helping them make that leap to being comfortable with people they don’t know.  Her visit showed me that they will all be great co-teachers for anyone who wants to sharpen their clicker training skills – and enjoy some laughter along with it.

I made a short video of our daily play ground for the youngsters.  Enjoy!

 

Caeli wrote a wonderful post about her visit which I am including here.  It is fun to read about the same event from two different perspectives.  And Caeli added in her visit to Ann and Panda – always a treat.

A visit to Alex’s (long) – written by Caeli Collins and posted in The Click That Teaches facebook group April 7, 2018.

I spent four wonderful days with Alexandra Kurland at her barn in Albany just about a week ago. The goat babies were better than a movie, providing endless entertainment as they bounced around. Alex and Marla Foreman built new puzzles for them on a daily basis and they just kept bouncing to the challenge – walking a 2×4, turning a slanted board into a sliding contest, and chewing any clothing we didn’t quickly redirect. We decided a YouTube channel streaming baby goat antics would be a huge stress buster. Trixie and Thanzi are good moms and have amazing patience with them.

That was the several-times-a-day funfest. I also got to meet Ann and Panda, and go for a walk with them. Ann and Panda walk out! They walk faster than Sebastian and I doing in-hand trot work. But what I was really, really blown away by was Panda’s decision-making abilities. She watches for unevenness in the road, driveways, changes in slope, finds the crosswalk buttons, moves over for cars and more. It’s one thing to read about it, it’s another thing to see it in person. They are an amazing pair.

All of this was wonderful, but I was really there to expand my training knowledge and practice, which was so much fun. The boy goats (Pellias, Galahad and Elyan) and a horse named Tonnerre contributed to my education. Tonnerre is new to Alex’s barn since the fall, and is in long-term training with her to be a clicker training school horse (he’s the very good looking paint in the pictures). Alex has been working with him for some time.

My breadth of training is not wide – I work with my horse, Sebastian, and my dogs, but I’ve been a practicing and committed clicker trainer for about seven or eight years. I’m not a novice, but I’m also not a professional. For those of you who don’t know me, I organize and host Alex’s clinic in Half Moon Bay, CA, which is coming in three short weeks.

I learned so much. More than I ever hoped for. For me, it wasn’t about how do I teach shoulder-in or half-pass, it was how can I take what I know and use it with other animals as well as do better with my own. How do I make good decisions about what to work on with a different horse, or a different species. And with the help of Alex and the kindly animals at the barn, I have started on the building blocks to do this.

Here are some of the things I learned:

• Training begins with a relationship. If you are working with an animal you don’t know, you have to get to know each other. It’s that first date feeling, where everything feels a little (or a lot) awkward. And the less experience you have with the species the longer that might take
• Species appropriate foundation lessons are so important. The ones we use with the horses help them establish self-control and give them a measure of control over their learning. All animals deserve that
• Goats are really, really fast. Their heads can go in circles, and it’s very distracting. If I focused on what I was working on, and ignored the bits that don’t contribute I could get past this, but it was sooooo easy to get drawn in. I can see where this is true for my dog and my horse as well.
• Unexpected things happen. Really, they do! Can I be flexible enough to make the learner right? Pellias hit me with one – we were doing a bit of off leash practice and I was feeding where I wanted him to be (by my side) and he turned that into backing to the mat! It was funny and clickable and oh so not what I was thinking, but worth every bit of the click. And that became our routine in that spot, and I learned to take what was offered
• Food delivery is so, so important. The poor goats. Until I got consistent at putting the food where the perfect goat would be, the heads were twisting sideways to get it. But very much like the horses, the right food delivery moved them out of my space and set up the next cue, and calmed some of the frenetic activity down. The food delivery was predictable. It was very cool, and helped establish rhythm and stability

Tonnerre really helped me understand the importance of relationships. He was part of all that I learned, but deserves a few words of his own. Tonnerre can be safely handled, but he was pretty indifferent to anyone but Alex when we started. Alex suggested just grooming him while we got to know each other. There was no ear pinning or any overt aggression but he did grind his teeth. That became my cue that whatever we were currently doing was too much for him. So move to something else, or stop. Mats in the aisle, targets, the pose, walking from mat to mat, targeting while working in protective contact, mats and cones in the arena were all available. Working in the arena was too much, too early, and between a squirrel and noise from the goats he left – back to his stall. But the good news is that he had the choice to leave. Isn’t that cool? How often are our learners given the ability to say “sessions over, I’m done?”

Tonnerre reminds me of Sebastian, only kinder. He responded to short sessions of things he knew and we could expand on those. Alex could coach me on how to work with him, and we both could learn to work with someone new. Since Sebastian started out similar to Tonnere in his opinion of people, only more overt in expressing it, it wasn’t unfamiliar territory to either of us. And now I have better skills to deal with it (however did Sebastian and I survive those early days of clicker training?) and I had Alex there every day to help. And nothing but admiration for how Alex deals with the strange horses she’s presented with at every clinic.

And there you have it. Sorry for the length but it was an amazing, wonderful experience. This write-up was very worthwhile for me – it helped imprint the four days. And there is one other great thing – sitting there with Alex dissecting things over tea, while we took a break.

If you are interested in exploring this for yourself, Alex is doing private/small group sessions at the barn, so please contact her directly. It is amazing, and I highly, highly recommend it. And I can’t thank Alex enough for the opportunity. If I can figure out a way, I will be back.

Caeli Collins

Ending Well

Episode #3 of our new Equiosity podcast is now available.  Last August Dominique and I sat down at her dining room table and turned on our microphones so all of you could listen in to what turned into a very long conversation.  Mid way through we took a break to take her dogs for a walk.  Of course the conversation just kept going.  Dominique shared with me several training stories that I thought were worth adding to our recording so when we came back in, the conversation shifted to the topic of how to end a training session – something she’d had to work on, not just with her horses, but with her dogs.

It’s an important question.  We may need to stop to go to work, or to fix dinner, or just to get out of the cold, but our horses want us to keep going and going.  Ending well is the title of this episode, and that’s what we discuss.

I hope you enjoy it.

Visit Equiosity.com to listen to the podcast, or find it on itunes.

Now for a goat update.

I was away over the weekend at the Art and Science of Animal Training conference.  It was a tremendous event.  I suspect it will provide much material for future Equiosity podcasts.  This week Caeli Collins, the host and organizer of the clinic I’ll be giving the end of April in Half Moon Bay California, is visiting.  We started the day yesterday with the triplets climbing all over her lap.  Thanzi’s babies weren’t as bold about approaching us, but three little goats kept her busy enough.

Watching them all play together the challenge became telling everyone apart.  Thank goodness Prudence has a spot of white on her rump and Verity has a pretty white fringe on her forehead otherwise we’d be lost.  Felicity is easy to tell from the others.  She’s the one who wants to be curled up in your lap!  What a charmer.

IMG_2216 baby goats on planks

The girls enjoying the day’s enrichment.

More Fun News!

I have two fun announcements.  I wasn’t sure which I should start with so I tossed a coin, and here’s what I’ll share with you first.

The second episode of my new podcast, Equiosity, has just been published.  In case you haven’t heard, this podcast is my latest project.  I have teamed up with Dominique Day, one of the co-founders of Cavalia, to create the Equiosity podcast.

We taped the first four episodes last August.  They were part of one long conversation that we split into four episodes.  I was in the midst of writing the Goat Diaries, so naturally that was what I was thinking about.  So these first episodes of a podcast that is about horses start out with goats.

That’s not all we talked about.  These first two episodes cover a lot of ground.  The overall theme of Episode 2 is emotional balance.  How can we have the enthusiasm we love coupled with the calmness we need for optimal learning?

You can learn more about the podcasts and listen to the first two episodes at Equiosity.com

The second piece of exciting news is our goat herd has expanded.  Yesterday Thanzi gave birth to twins.  If they were horses, I would say she has a colt and a filly.  Baby goats don’t seem to have names that indicate gender.  They are just referred to as kids.  So I will say she had a boy and a girl, both black, but thankfully the little girl has a spot of white on her forehead.  She will be easy to tell apart from her brother and Trixie’s black triplets.

They came during the day which is good, but at an awkward time for me.  Yesterday afternoon I had an appointment with my tax accountant.  When I checked on Thanzi before leaving for a few hours, she was just starting into labor.  What to do!  At this time of year you don’t cancel tax appointments.  But I couldn’t leave Thanzi.  So my tax accountant, who doesn’t even know about the goats, got what has to be for him a unique excuse for canceling an appointment.  At least it’s better than my dog ate my homework.

Thanzi did great.  I got to watch her twins being born, and thankfully I didn’t have to help out.  That’s exactly what you want.  I helped dry them off just so they would get to know me, and then I stepped back and let Thanzi bond with her babies.

After barn chores were done, I spent the evening with Trixie’s three curled up in my lap.  Thanzi’s newborns were sleeping within reach so I could stroke them as I welcomed them to the world.  We are in for a lot of laughter at the Clicker Center this spring!  Come join us!

Thanzi drying off her twins

Thanzi is drying off her first-born twin.

Thanzi's newborns visited by patience 3:21:18

No, Thanzi didn’t have triplets.  This is one of Trixie’s babies come to meet the new arrivals.

You will need a password to watch this video.  Since it shows Thanzi giving birth, the password is Thanzi.

 

Baby Goats!

We have babies!

IMG_4126 Trixie with newborns 3:7:18

Count them: One, two, and look closely – number three is under Trixie’s belly.  That was the surprise that was waiting for me when I checked on Trixie during last week’s snow storm.  Triplets!  Trixie had three totally charming little girls – small, medium and large.  Their names quickly changed to Felicity, Prudence and Patience.

They were born on Wednesday, March 7th during the afternoon.  When I stepped out of the barn, I heard voices I didn’t recognize and knew Trixie’s babies had arrived.  I spent a delightful evening helping Trixie to dry them off and keeping them warm.  Outside our snug goat house the snow was falling closing us into a private world of bliss.

I have been indulging this past week in spending many hours sitting with baby goats on my lap. I alternate between being a hot water bottle for them to sleep on and a mountain to climb.  They delight in trying to climb over my outstretched legs.  I know it won’t be long before they are agile, sure-footed little beings.  Now they fall and tumble over my legs, always determined to get up and try again.  They are born to learn and that’s what they are doing – fast.

Get ready for cute pictures.

IMG_2193 Patience close up ?

The babies weren’t the only ones who were cute!  Elyan wanted his cuddle time, too!

IMG_2191 Elyan looking in 3:18

So that’s one announcement.  We have triplets in the barn.  So much fun!

Here’s the other announcement:  The Equiosity podcast is almost ready to launch.  It’s so like waiting for the baby goats.  You know it’s coming.  Any day now I’ll be able to say: it’s ready!  I don’t know which is more exciting, the baby goats or a new podcast!  Both are great fun.   I’m enjoying the babies.  I hope you enjoy the podcast just as much.

Goat Diaries Day 12 Last Day

I started sharing the July Goat Diaries on October 2, 2017.  I knew in the two weeks that the goats were with me they had generated enough material to fill a book, but I really didn’t think they had also generated enough posts to fill five months!  But here finally I am at the last day of the July Goat Diaries.  I certainly learned a lot.  One of the main things I learned was how entertaining goats are!

When I started this project, my goal was a simple one.  I wanted to get to know goats a little better, to see if they would make a good addition to the barn.  My training goals for the goats were also simple.  I wanted to introduce them to clicker training and to get the basics stabilized enough that they would not frustrate or be frustrated by novice clicker trainers.

I had started with two timid goats who wanted nothing to do with me.  They spent their first evening in the barn trying to stay as far away from me as possible.  I had observed them, and they had observed me.  The following morning the peanuts arrived and greed took over.  They forgot about being afraid and tried instead to raid my pockets.  The clicker training was under way!

Mid-way through their stay I was wishing I had more time.  They were delightful.  They were charming.  They were enthusiastic learners.  But they were oh so very were greedy for treats.  Stable, polite manners seemed like a very distant goal.

I was feeling greedy myself – for more training time.  On this their last day with me I wanted to squeeze in a couple of extra sessions before they were collected in the afternoon.  I decided for these sessions to experiment with putting platforms out in the arena.  I began with P.  As we entered, he veered off towards the mounting block.  I unclipped his lead and walked beside him as he ran across the mounting block.  At the far end he jumped down.  I backed up a few feet.  As he followed me, I clicked and reinforced him.  Then I directed him towards one of the platforms.

We went from platform to platform then back to the mounting block.  It was fun to engage with him in some goat play.  As he jumped off the mounting block, I turned, and he trotted with me all the way to the first platform.  There are all kinds of fun ways we could build on this.

Goats day 12 our playground fig 1-7

Goat Diaries Joy of being a goat 2.png

Goat Diaries Joy of being a goat 3.png

Things changed dramatically when I put P on a lead.  Everything would have been fine if I had simply gone with him as he forged ahead to the next platform.  But I didn’t.

With horses mats let us work on two sides of the same coin.  At first, the horse is reluctant to step on an unfamiliar surface.  He’s right to be cautious.  Avoiding holes is how you keep from breaking a leg.

So the first half of the mat lesson is developing the horse’s confidence and comfort level around mats.  Stepping on mats is a good thing.  It produces lots of goodies.

The other side of that lesson is dealing with the mat once it has become a tractor beam.  Horses become eager to go to mats.  That’s where you get lots of goodies.  So instead of hanging back and avoiding the mat, now your horse is dragging you to them.  You’re dealing with the same kind of I-want-to-go-somewhere emotions, the same pull that you encounter when you take him out to his paddock or you turn for home out on the trail.  He doesn’t want to wait for you.  He’s in a hurry!

Except heading for the pasture gate or for home after a long ride generates even more excitement than a mat.  So the mats provide a way of having this conversation but at an emotional level you can both handle.  With P I was now having that conversation.  “What do you mean I can’t just run to the mat!?”

The first time I redirected him from the mat, he handled it okay, but in the middle of the lesson things disintegrated.  He reared up and spun around, bumping into me in the process.  I felt as though the mats had turned into Borg ships from Star Trek – Resistance is Futile.

In my neighborhood I can watch lots of excited dogs behaving just like this.  It’s one thing to manage this when the animal is the size of a dog.  I was thinking what this behavior would look like in a horse.  Standing up your hind legs is not a behavior I want to encourage, no matter the size.

I used the lead to redirect him and just rode out the wave of energy.  “I know you want to go to the mat, but that’s not what we’re doing right now.”

The Sister had described to me how they introduce the lead to the goats.  They put the lead on the young goats and let them work out the restriction of the lead.  There’s no step by step progression of lessons, so this twirling, leaping, rearing behavior that I was getting was very much in P’s repertoire.

Once all four feet were back on the ground, I used the mat to help me teach him how to stay with me instead of pulling ahead.  We walked in the general direction of a mat, but I asked him to keep going past it.  When he turned in my direction and put slack back in the lead, click, I reinforced him.  I then added another layer of “yes! – aren’t you clever!” by letting him go to the next mat.  Click and treat.

Note in Figures 2-3 in the series of photos below it might look as though I am dragging him away from the mat.  If that’s what your used to seeing, that’s how your eye will translate this.  But actually, as soon as the slack goes out of the lead, I am waiting for P.  I don’t keep walking.  Instead I wait for him to turn back to me. Click and treat.

Goat diaries day 12 tractor beams 2.png

Goats day 12 Pellias 5-9

The value of mats is they begin to have this magnetic draw.  I want P to be eager to go to them.  But that draw can mean the sight of a mat overrides all other cues.  I wanted to teach P how to stay with me so we could walk together to the mats.

Goat diaries day 12 magnetic draw of mats 1.png

 

Goat diaries day 12 magnetic draw of mats 2.png

Goats day 12 P panels 9-13

Goats Day 12 Fig 14-19 with Pellias

P began to figure it out.  Now we could walk past a mat without it dragging him into it’s magnetic orbit.  When I released him to a mat, we could go to it together with slack in the lead.  I ended the session at that point.  The last day of training didn’t really feel like the time to be opening a whole new chapter.

E’s Session with the mats

Now it was E’s turn.  As usual, he was completely different from his brother.  There were times when he spotted a mat and started to head there without me.  Instead of going with him, I changed course.  The lead would go tight.  I’d pause, waiting for E’s next move. He’d redirect back to me.  There was no leaping about as there had been with his brother.

To picture what he was like with the mats think eager dog who wants to greet another dog or say hello to a person.  He was all happy wiggle.  When he turned back to me, click he got a treat.

All the work we had done with the backing was paying off.  If he started to surge past me to get to a mat, I would stop.  The answer was sitting right there, fully primed, ready to open at the top of his rolodex.  All he had to do was back up and we were right back together.

Goat diaries Day 12 e encounters mats 1.png

More good leading:

Goat diaries Day 12 e encounters mats 2.png

Once E was “parked” on a mat, I focused on grown-ups.  When we left the mat, he let me redirect him with the lead.  I was thinking what a pleasure it would be to walk him round my neighborhood at home.  I’m not sure what the dogs would think, but I would certainly have the most elegant of companions on the end of my lead!

Goat diaries Day 12 e encounters mats 3.png

The importance of Shaping on a Point of Contact:

Goat diaries Day 12 e encounters mats 4.png

E makes choices:

Goat diaries Day 12 e encounters mats 5.png

Goat diaries Day 12 e encounters mats 6.png

Because it was their last day at the barn, I wanted to get in as much training time as possible.  So I brought P back in after E’s session.  Just a half hour earlier he had struggled to go past a mat.  Their magnetic attraction was very evident.  We had to weather the storm of an extinction burst as he tried to get to the mats.  He had been like a fish on the end of a line, rearing, spinning, trying everything he could think of to get to a mat.  None of it had worked.  Landing back on the ground, moving away from the mat, that had earned a click and a treat.

This is where it is so important to stay on a point of contact and not add pressure.  If I add make-it-happen into the mix, I run a very high risk of poisoning the process.  Yes, absolutely, I could have dragged him away.  He’s a small goat, and I’m used to handling much larger animals.  I could have punished the rearing.  I could have forced him to follow me.  He would have learned his lesson, and I would also have broken everything I was trying to create with these goats.

Instead I stayed on the point of contact, moving with him, not against him.  This is very much like holding onto a squirming cat.  You don’t try to confine the cat, you simply keep moving with it, redirecting it as it tries to wiggle out of your arms.

There is always a chance that this lesson was too much.  Remember the training mantra: you never know what you have taught.  You only know what you have presented.

When I brought P back out for this second session, he showed me what he was learning by walking with me past the mats.  If a mat started to draw him in, I could easily redirect him.  He was learning that there are many ways to get treats.  Going to mats was a bonus, but going away from mats was also good.  Hurray!

P’s late morning session

I did another round of training in the late morning.  I thought I would make things easier if I put just one tempting mat out.

This lesson is all about the now/not now nature of cues.  It is learning that the lead has priority over other cues.  This is what I want him to learn: The mat may be sitting out in the middle of the arena, but until I release you to it, I want you to just ignore it.

When P started to surge towards the mat, I would say “wait” as the slack went out of the lead.  That’s a useful verbal cue for an animal to understand.  The meaning evolves with usage.  P very promptly changed direction and came back to me.  Click and treat.

I began to tack back and forth past the mat.  He got reinforced for ignoring it.  With the horses I can use the draw of the mat as a preliminary step towards teaching them to leave something they want, such as yummy spring grass.  It is much better to begin this lesson in the safety of a familiar paddock than out in a complex environment that’s full of distractions.

Dragging me to grass, to other horses, back to the barn, these all have similar emotional roots, just different levels of intensity.  I would much rather begin with the mats.  The draw they have is one I’ve created, and it is nothing like the draw another horse or a field of fresh grass can have.

I begin the discussion with mats.  My horse can learn to manage his emotions as I show him that there are alternatives that work just as well.  Going to the mat earns treats, but so does walking past the mat.

When they arrived, the goats had sled-dogged their way into the barn. I knew they could pull!  Now P was learning to lead even past something he very much wanted to get to. Click and treat.

E’s session:

Goat Diaries Day 12 – If Goats could purr . . .

E’s last session in the arena was a lot of cuddling, and a little bit of leading.  If goat’s could purr, that’s what he would have been doing.

Goats day 12 if goats could purr fig 1-2

Goats day 12 if goats could purr fig 3 -8

I took E back to his stall, finished my barn chores and then went in to sit with them for for another round of goat “purrs”.

Their ride would be collecting them in a few minutes.  I decided on one last adventure.  I put the leads on both goats and took them outside for the first time since their arrival.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to be trying to manage two sled dogs going in opposite directions, but they were perfect.  All that work on basic training was paying off.  I’m sure to many all this caution where I spent so much time first in their stall and then in the barn aisle must have seemed silly.  These are goats!  Just get on with it.

But I’ve seen what “just getting on with it” means for both horses, and dogs.  I’ve watched enough dogs pulling against their leads to know that just getting on with it isn’t my idea of a fun walk.  When the goats arrived, they showed me they could pull as hard as any dog.  Now they were keeping a soft feel in the line.  Because I had taken my time in the beginning, we could all three enjoy a walk together now.

Trailer Loading – Goat Style
Sister Mary Elizabeth arrived in her pickup truck.  When the goats first came, my question had been how do you get them out of the back of a pick up? Now I had the reverse question.  How do you get them in?  E was small enough to lift up, so that was easy.  I tossed some treats on the floor of the pick up and showed P a target.  He jumped right up onto the tailgate.  Easy!  I wish all horses were as easy to load.

And then they were off.  My two weeks of goat training were drawing to a close.  There was just one more piece to describe and that’s graduation day.

Graduation Day!
That’s how I think of the following three days.  I drove up to the convent to give a clicker training workshop to the 4-H group that the Sister runs.

We had a great set up for introducing goats and children to clicker training.  The goats were in pens made from metal livestock panels.  We could begin with protective contact, introducing the goats to targeting with the children staying on the outside of the panels.

Most of the children had brought their own goats, so they already had relationships well established.  Even so, the panels were a great help.  We started all of the goats out with protective contact.  The barrier helped explain the “rules” of the game to both the goats and the children.  Touch the target and click – treats appear.  The panels stream-lined the process.

E and P showed what they had been learning.  P came in first and was a super star.  I set out two wooden platforms and showed the children how he would follow the target from one platform to the next.  Some of the children were sitting up on top of the panels.  P never even so much as glanced at them.  His focus was entirely with me, inside the pen.

With E I used a different approach.  I put him on a lead and had five of the children come into the pen with us.  Each child had a target stick.  One by one they held their target out for E to orient to.  He was very cautious at first.  From his perspective the children must have looked very predatory leaning towards him with their outstretched sticks.  But he did reach his nose out to touch the target, click, treat, on to the next child.  He caught on and began to move with much more confidence from target to target.

We did the same game with P.  He was much more confident.  It was good for him to move from target to target.  It’s a great way to generalize targeting to many different objects.

Both goats were great.  They led beautifully, took their treats politely, oriented to the target, worked for other people.  It was truly graduation day for them.

My own special treat was leading them down from the upper barn where most of the herd was housed.  It was cooler up there.  There was more of a breeze and the goats could shelter in the barn from the sun.  We’d tried the day before keeping all the goats down below where we were working, but it was just too hot for them.   On the second day only the goats we were going to be using were brought down to our work area.  I went up with the Sister to bring E and P down.  We got them through the gates of the upper pasture and into a fenced lane way.  The goats followed me one on each side, just as they had at the barn.  When an animal chooses to be with you that is indeed a great honor.

The goats were fun visitors. I enjoyed having them in the barn.  The training I did with them was just the beginning steps.  It was nothing unusual or fancy.  It was just clicker training basics, the same basics I would be using with a new horse. But basics are never boring or ordinary.

Always it is a study of one. And in that study of one, you discover the individual.

What do you do?
On forms that ask for your occupation I am never sure what to say.  I’m a writer, a teacher, a business owner.  For convenience I often say I’m a horse trainer, but really that is the least accurate description of them all.  I never really think of myself as a horse trainer.  To me that title refers to people who train other people’s horses for a living.

Very early on I tried having people send me their horses to train.  I hated it.  I felt as though I was running an assembly line.  It was get this horse worked and then move on to the next so I could get everyone done.  I barely had time left in the day for my own horses, and it began to feel as though they were also part of the assembly line.  The horses I had in training left my care knowing a lot more than when they came, but I didn’t enjoy it.

Training for me is about love.  I open my heart to each animal I work with.  When I sat with the goats, it wasn’t about training them to perform a particular task.  It was about making a connection with them.

Perhaps this is why far too often professional training can be so hard on horses.  The trainers certainly love horses.  They love the talent a particular horse shows.  But, do they love the individual?  Do they have time for that?  After so many horses have passed in and out of their barns, do they have the heart space for it?  Do they thank them, appreciate them, love them, each time they see some little breakthrough of understanding?

That’s what a marker signal lets us do.  Each time I click, I am celebrating the success of my learner.  I am building a relationship – a history of reinforcement.  That matters to me.  It is why I do not have a barn filled to the rafters with animals.  It is why I am a teacher not a trainer.  I want to have the time with each individual to make it a study of one.  That is what I share not by training horses, but by teaching the people who love them.  Together we are on a voyage of discovery.

It would have been fun to have had the goats stay a little longer.  Their two weeks of intensive training laid the ground work for so many grand adventures yet to come.  The goats were clearly eager learners.  Their leading skills meant we could have gone for walks around the property together.  I could have set up obstacle courses for them and taught them about agility.  As clever as they were, I could have taught them match to sample, color discrimination, counting and other forms of concept training. Mostly, I would just have enjoyed their company.  Because at the end of the day, that is what training lets us do – enjoy one another.

Instead they were going back to the children who love them.  They will be taking back with them the gift of clicker training.  Hopefully, it is a gift the children will be able to open.

The Goat Palace – Update

As you know the goats left in July, but came back to spend the winter.  So while this marks the end of the July Goat Diaries, it does not mark the end of my goat experiences.  In fact Trixie is due to give birth in just a few days so I suspect there will be many more goat reports once we have baby goats in the barn.

I have some other exciting news to share, but this has been a long report so I will wait for another day to tell you about my next great adventure.

 

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.