Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3 – Begin with Bliss

The Goat Palace:  Journal account for Nov. 17, 2017

Yesterday I introduced stationary targets to Thanzi and Trixie.  I would have preferred working them individually, but they had a different idea.  Since Trixie is so very timid, I don’t want to send her back out of the gate.  I want her approaching me, not expecting that I will drive her away, so when both ladies ended up together in the far end, that’s what I decided to work with.

I had two very different targets for them.  Both were dog toys, dumbbells with tennis balls at the two ends, but one was considerably larger than the other.  I’ve had them for years.  They’ve been stored very differently so even if they had a similar shape, they would have had a different scent.  Thanzi got the larger of the two targets.  She was fairly consistent about orienting to the dumbbell.  When I clicked, I fed as usual so she had to back up to get the treat.  That meant she had to come forward several steps to get to the dumbbell.

I made no attempt to draw Trixie in, but when she came near, I held her target out to her.  I was pleased at how well she oriented to it, click and squeeze in a treat while Thanzi was still busy eating her piece of squash. I wasn’t always successful at having them take turns.  I definitely need to tidy up the details of managing them together.  I was pleased overall at how much more confident Trixie is becoming.  She’s much more willing to approach and engage in the game.

We used our panels again to separate the boys.  Galahad went first.  I had Marla continue to work him from outside the pen.  He did great.  He went straight to the target and then moved away to get his treat, then back to the target.  Marla moved it about, and he continued to orient to it.  He’s going to have a very strong targeting behavior because of these early sessions.  It should make it very easy to teach him to go to a stationary target hung on the wall.

I liked Galahad’s session so much, I decided to begin that way with Elyan.  Taking me out of the picture is a good way to strengthen his targeting behavior. I was using a target that was new to him. He did a good job going to it, but with the wall between us he was not as good at getting his treat. It’s a new set up for him, so I need to work out this part of the process so it becomes a cleaner loop.  Our learners always show us the missing elements that are needed to make the training better.

With Pellias, I began by working him on a lead. His session was interrupted by Elyan pushing his way through a weak spot in our panel system.  When you’ve been small all your life, you know you can get through the narrowest spaces.  So my session with Pellias abruptly changed to working two goats together.  I quickly set up two platforms for them.  We started out okay, but then little Elyan starting butting his brother away.  I abruptly ended the session.  In July I had begun to work them as a pair, but it was always at the end of sessions where they had both worked well individually on platforms.

After these sessions Marla and I continued to work on the construction.  It’s amazing how much more there is still to be done.  We finished the day by taking chairs in and sitting with the goats.  Galahad stayed with Marla for a few minutes for a head rub, then went over to the jungle gym to lie down in the sun.  Elyan and Pellias stayed longer.  The surprise of the day was Thanzi and Trixie came over and for the first time stayed for the beginning overtures of a head rub.  And that brings us to the theme of today’s July Goat Diaries which is about building relationships.

The July Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3: Begin with Bliss

Clicker training provides a fast track into a relationship. Yes, E and P were used to being handled, but on their first day, they wanted nothing to do with me. Then the peanuts arrived and the clicker game began. Suddenly, I was the center of attention, but they could have remained aloof, wanting nothing more from me except the treats in my pocket.

Clicker training is about so much more than that. I was providing them with so many things goats want. Food yes. But I was also a source of enrichment. I provided them with games and puzzles. And I sat with them for cuddle time. I was becoming an important part of the things that created well being for goats.  I was someone they liked, and just as important – I was liking them.

E’s 8:30 am Session Begin With Bliss

Goat Diaries E's Day 3 1st Platform Session - Begin With Bliss - 1 photo.png

Sweet E began his first training session of the day with a cuddle.

Goat Diaries E's Day 3 1st Platform Session - Begin With Bliss - Goat bliss 3 photos.pngIf only he could purr! For someone who loves cats, this was a heavenly way to start the day!

Goat Diaries E's Day 3 1st Platform Session - Begin With Bliss - Goat Bliss ends 3 photos.png

Video Goat Diaries: E’s 1st platform session – Begin with Bliss  To open this video use the following password: GoatDiariesDay 3 E Learns

Coming Next: Goat Diaries Day 3: Platform Training for E – Weeds and Behavior

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/ 

Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3

The Goat Palace

Yesterday was an odd day.  I had to leave the barn early so we didn’t have a formal training session.  When I was in the pen refreshing hay and water, I did suddenly find that I could close the middle gate so only Trixie was in the back area.  I took advantage of that so far rare opportunity to give her a short session by herself.

She was great.  She stayed with me following my target hand.  Thanzi stood up on the middle gate.  I kept an eye on her to see what she would do.  Apparently, she decided it wasn’t worth trying to jump the fence.  She dropped back to the ground and watched through the bars.  Normally this is what Trixie is doing while Thanzi has her turn.

I led Trixie to one of the platforms made up of a stack of plywood mats.  She stepped onto it, click and treat.  Then click and treat several times while she was still on the platform.  I led her to a second platform and repeated the rapid-fire clicks while she stood still on the platform.  I don’t think she was making any connection at all between the treats and her feet being on the plywood.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes for that awareness to emerge.

We went back and forth between the two platforms several times, then her attention began to wander.  She is definitely a candidate at this point for very short sessions. It’s interesting how closely these current training reports mirror what I am writing about in the July Goat Diaries. Today’s post focuses on the importance of beginning with short sessions. When I saw the rhythm of the treat delivery begin to change for Trixie, I opened the gate and Thanzi came rushing in.  I dropped treats for both of them into the feed tubs that are scattered about that area, and then continued on with the morning chores.

My overall impression of Trixie is she’s a very sweet, very soft individual.  I found myself questioning what sweet means.  Trixie is a nervous goat.  Her worry keeps her from approaching too close.  Thanzi, Pellias, and Galahad are all much bolder.  They will crowd in to get the treats.  Elyan and Thanzi stand back more.  So could “sweet” be translated as more nervous?

But then I wondered if we become how we are treated.  If I think that Trixie is sweet and treat her as such, will our relationship evolve so that those elements which match my label “sweet” are highlighted and reinforced?  I think that Thanzi is also very sweet (with me), and super smart.  We’ll see what emerges as our relationships develop.

On to the July Goat Diaries.  We are finally getting to day three of their clicker training experience.

The July Goat Diaries: Day 3

You never know what you have taught. You only know what you have presented.

With horses I have people begin by counting out twenty treats. That ensures that the first few sessions will be short. With so few treats in their pockets they have to step away from their horses to go refill their pockets. That gives them thinking time. How did the session go? What was working well? What needs to be changed? What do you want to do with the next round of treats?

Starting out this way gets people into the habit of thinking about their training session. It’s easy to jump in and just train, train, train, without giving much thought to what you are doing or how your animal is responding. That’s a recipe for a disaster. You need time to think about the responses your animal is giving you. I certainly needed time to think about what the goats were offering.

I definitely needed to make some changes. For starters, I put the cup filled with treats into my pocket.  When I held it, I thought it was just too much of a draw for their attention.  I had wanted a quicker way to get to my treats.  The cup gave me that initially, but now it was time to go back to using my pockets.

The goats’ response to this change would tell me if I had made a good choice.

8:30 am First Morning Session

IMG_2816 Both goats sleeping in hay.jpg

P’s session was first. They had had their morning hay and were both lying down when I went into the stall. I let P out into the outside run and left E with some treats scattered over the floor.

P went straight to the platform and stood looking out over the top field. He seemed to be scanning for the dogs. His fixed attention worked in my favor. It let me take a step or two away. Click. He stayed on the platform while I stepped forward to give him the treat. He went back to staring. I stepped even further away. Click. He continued to stare. It was clear the sound of the click did not yet hold any significant meaning.  It was only as I stepped toward him and reached into my pocket that he turned his head.  That was a cue he understood. Treats were coming!

Goat Diaries Day 3 platforms Pt 1 12 panels distractionI continued to step further and further away from him until I was back by the stall door. He was being a perfect statue. What a handsome goat! He was standing in perfect balance. This was the picture I wanted to train towards. Head up, but not stretching out to me. Expression alert, interested, but not afraid.

It was time to take him off the platform. He hesitated. Following a target was still too new to draw him off his sentinel post. I settled for less.  A nose stretching towards the target was enough to earn a click and a treat. I watched him making a choice between staying on the platform or leaving to follow me.

Goat Diaries Day 3 Platforms: Pt leaving platform 8 photos.png

Cuddle Time Pays off

Approaching the target earned a click and a treat. It also presented me with an opportunity to make physical contact. He stood quietly for a prolonged head scratch.

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Head scratching was followed by another opportunity to follow the target onto the platform. Just moments before he had stood staring up at the top field. Now he had a softer gaze, but he was still staying on the platform while I took several steps away from him. He also stayed put while I stroked his back and rubbed his head, click and treat. We’d come a long way in a very short time. On their arrival day they had stayed as far away from me as they could. Now P was calmly accepting a head rub.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 2 - targeting to platform.png

P was still slow to follow a target. Those dots were not fully connected. But the platform work! He had that down.  He was showing me again how smart he is – Robin smart.

When I offered the target, he was always hesitant. It’s hard to leave a platform. Goats like being up on things. Why leave a preferred location, especially when that’s where the treats were? I could see him choosing between the platform and the target. I just needed to give him time to work out the puzzle.  He chose the target each time. Smart goat!  More good learning – you get clicked for lots of different things.

As the session continued, I saw many good things that I liked. His attention had come off the far field. His focus was now inside the pen with me. While he stood on the platform, I could see him tracking my position as I circled around him.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 3 - build distance 2 photos.png

He likes being on the platform. Leaving it to touch a target created a conflict. Which did he value more? I was pleased that he was making the choice to orient back to me and the target. Click and treat.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 3 - targeting off platform 4 photos.png

And I was very pleased that I could scratch his head and neck out here, and he very much seemed to enjoy it.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 3 - time for a scratch.png

Coming Next: Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3: Begin with Bliss

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/ 

Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 2 Goats are Like Horses Except That They’re Not

The Goat Palace – Nov. 16, 2017

Yesterday I wrote that structure matters.  The day’s training sessions confirmed it.  Things went so much more smoothly with the panels in place.  Thanzi has figured out our system.  She is now first at the gate ready to shift into the back area.  She’s becoming much more consistent orienting to and following a target.  She also has no interest in shifting back to the front area after her session, so we let Trixie join her. I’d like to work them one after the other, but Thanzi disagrees with that system. So yesterday she got a second targeting session with Marla while I worked with Trixie.

We were more successful than we had been the day before. Thanzi stayed better with Marla which let me focus on Trixie. I’m using my hand as a target with her.  I target with one hand, feed with the other. She’s becoming increasingly comfortable approaching me and staying with me rather than running to Thanzi for security.

We left them and set the panels up for the boys.  We have three different goats so they got three very different sessions.  Pellias was reinforced for staying on a platform, something he excels at.  Galahad had another protective contact session orienting to the target while we stayed outside the enclosure.  He did great.  He went consistently to the target, moved several steps to get his treat and then returned to his target.

We’ll see how he progresses, but I suspect starting this way will give him a very strong targeting skill.  When you reduce the noise in the system, the behavior you’re after can really stand out.  Our presence in the pen adds a lot of extra noise.

For Elyan, I built on yesterday’s session where I had him follow a target around me in a circle.  If he had been a horse, I would have said he was lunging around me.  Towards the end of his session I hooked his lead to his collar.  We were picking up on lessons I had started in July.  He continued to follow his target, and he kept slack in the lead.  I remarked that it is so much easier to teach leading when there is no where to go.

So yes, structure matters.  In the case of these five goats structure lets us work them individually without the chaos and competition that having them all together creates.  I had originally thought we would be able to have all the goats together in the back area while we let them one at a time into the front training area, but I hadn’t factored in Thanzi’s influence.  She is too aggressive to the younger goats for this to work.  So structure matters because it lets us adjust our training to include considerations of the social structure of the group, as well as the needs of each individual.

In the evening this time it was Pellias who stayed on the platform for a cuddle and Elyan who watched from the back training area.  The ladies were at the hay feeders.  Galahad scooted past them but then discovered that Pellias didn’t want to share his top spot on the platform.  He wanted all the scritching to himself.  I stayed for quite a while, then left via the back gate so I could give Elyan a few minutes of attention as well.  The ladies so far want nothing from me except food.  They will approach to sniff my hands, but they scoot away if I try to touch them.

Onto the July Goat Diaries:

Clicker Training Day 2: Goats Are Like Horses Except That They’re Not

Platform Training Begins

I use mats a lot when I work with horses.  In fact mats are such a useful tool, learning to stand on a mat is one of the six foundation lessons I use to introduce a horse to clicker training.  The more you play with mats the more uses you find for them. Many horses begin by being wary of the strange surface. So the first step in using mats is to convince the horse that they are safe to stand on.

Robin on mat 1.png

Think door mat size for mats.  You can use plywood, rubber mats, carpet squares.  You want something that contrasts with the underlying surface.

Standing on a mat highlights one of those places where goats are like horses – except they’re not. They are like horses in that mats are also an incredibly useful tool for them. They are unlike horses in that they are mountain animals. They like being up on things. They had already demonstrated that they were more than happy to jump up on the platform I provided for them in their stall.  They didn’t need any special training to begin exploring that bit of environmental enrichment.

Normally with horses it would take multiple training sessions before they would be comfortable stepping up onto an elevated platforms. These goats might have been afraid of me on that first day they were in the stall, but they were very willing to jump up and play king of the mountain on the platform.

Goat on platform P up, E on floor.png

The goats were very willing to jump up on the platform I built for them.

Normally, for the horses I use pieces of plywood, or rubber mats, but I wasn’t sure the goats would even notice these.  Given their lack of concern over changes in footing, I thought my usual mats might not be very effective.  Would they even notice that there was something different underfoot?

I decided that their mats should be platforms.  If one foot slipped off, they were much more likely to be aware of it and to self-correct.  That would be less frustrating for them than asking them to care about whether or not their nimble feet were all four on a regular mat.

5th Session 7 pm: King of the Hill – Platforms

Horses were again my guide as I thought about what to do next. P had so many good traits. He was a quick learner. He was eager for attention. He was greedy for treats. He was full of energy.  That makes him a fun candidate to train. But all that eagerness can get in the way.  He reminded me of some of the clicker-trained dogs that I see.  They share these same good characteristics that make them fun to train.  They are quick, eager, agile, and very food motivated.  It’s easy to get them so excited during training, they can’t think. They become so fixated on the food they are unable to settle. It’s go, go, go, with anxious tight movement and emotions to match.

These goats could easily become like one of those over-excited dogs. They were in the game. They wanted the food. They were quick, agile, eager to play. It’s easy to get carried away and reinforce all this playful, full-of-life behavior. But the training mantra is:

For every behavior you teach, there is an opposite behavior you must teach to keep things in balance.

With these goats it was clear emotional balance was going to be important. I needed a way to let them know that standing still was a good thing. It would bring them more treats than anything else they tried.

With horses I have always used mats to help teach “stay put”. The mat gives the horse a clear criterion to follow. Keep your feet planted on the mat and you will get clicked and reinforced.

As busy as the goats were, I wasn’t sure they would notice a simple mat. I thought platforms might work better for them, and I already knew that they liked being up on things. Unlike horses who tend to be wary about stepping onto unfamiliar surfaces, I didn’t think getting them up on a platform would be a challenge for them.

I began with P in the outside run. He was ready before I was!  He went right to his platform and got clicked and reinforced for staying on it. This was so unlike horses who would have needed a lengthy introduction to mats and platforms. There are some advantages to working with a mountain climber!

Goat Diaries Day 2 P on Platform 7 panels

I used targeting to get P off the platform. I didn’t want to keep him up there so long it became the one and only thing he was willing to do. I wanted him to understand that there are many ways to get reinforced, including leaving the platform to go to a target.

Goat Diaries Day 2 Platforms 3 photos targeting.png

He threw in a little backing as he returned to the platform. After being reinforced so much for backing in the previous sessions, this was not a surprise.

Goat diaries Day 2 backing up.pngHe came up forward again to go onto the platform.  Once up there, I reinforced him several times for staying on it.

Goat diaries Day 2 Platforms -  2 photos return to platform.pngAgain, I targeted him off. Click and treat. He wanted to back up. So he backed up then came forward with tons of energy to the platform. Hmm. I need to think about that.

“Don’t make your animal wrong for something you have taught him.”

That’s another of my training mantras. The backing was clearly a lesson well learned. In the previous sessions backing had produced treats. But backing wasn’t always going to be what I was looking for.

Too much of a good thing can get in the way of learning new lessons. I didn’t want to frustrate him and send him into the downward spiral of an extinction burst, but I also didn’t want backing to be inserted into everything that I trained. I needed to expand his repertoire so I could keep the backing in balance with all the other things I wanted him to do. Teaching him to stand on a platform was an important next step in this process.

Video: Goat Diaries Day 2 Platforms (The password to open this video is: GoatDiariesDay 2 P Platforms)

If these photos and the short video clip were all I showed you of this session, you would think all was smooth sailing. This goat training is easy!

But immediately after all this good work, P backed off the platform. I invited him forward with the target. He trotted back to the platform. The added energy tipped the balance.  He jumped up several times. I’ve seen behavior like this before, but it’s usually coming from an overly excited dog.  With dogs it can be entertaining, even flattering when your family pet jumps up on you with such enthusiasm.  But with horses this kind of behavior will just get you hurt.  It’s not a behavior I want to encourage in horse or goat.

Goat Diaries Day 2: Excitement - 2 photos where manners?.png

Video Goat Diaries Day 2/ Excitement  (The password that opens this video is: GoatDiariesDay 2 P Platforms)

I got myself clear, got us reorganized, and P went back to being able to stay four feet on the floor.  I restored his good manners by keeping my rates of reinforcement high.  It was click for staying still on the platform – feed.  Click for staying still on the platform – feed.  I wanted to emphasize that four feet on the floor worked much better than jumping up.

Goat Diaries Day 2: Excitement - 9 photos C:T.png

We were doing a fair bit of sorting/experimenting when the neighbors two dogs came out along the top fence line. One is a great Dane cross and the other is a dachshund. The little dog was moving about in a very odd way that caught everyone’s attention. One of the horses went on the alert. P tried to jump back into the stall and didn’t make it. I opened the door and tried to let him back in, but E came out instead. They both stood transfixed staring up at the dogs. Then the neighbor started weed whacking. That was too much.

The goats stared, tuning me out completely.  They needed to work this out on their own.  The environment is always changing.  They needed to decide what was a threat and what was just normal background noise.   I sat in the chair with them for a while, then went to get some hay to entice them back into the stall. P finally went in. I tried a little targeting, but he was having none of it. They went back and forth, in and out before I finally got them both in and closed the door. This time I closed the top as well as the bottom. I wasn’t going to have any more unwanted escapes.

Once in the stall, they settled right away. I gave them fresh hay which helped them forget the scare they had just had. While they were eating, I stood next to them and stroked their backs. They stopped eating and didn’t move. That seemed like such an odd reaction. Couldn’t they walk and chew gum? When they were touched, why did they stop eating? I read it as worry. It almost looked as though they were freezing.

With horses when you scritch them, you look for their lips to twitch. You look for a softening of the eyes, an arch of the neck as they move into your hand. With the goats I saw none of this. I couldn’t find any good places to scratch or any this-feels-great-don’t-stop spots. They accepted the stroking, but they weren’t seeking it out.

In the evening Panda’s owner, Ann, came out to the barn.  Ann is a partner in the barn and her Icelandic, Fengur is one of our permanent residents.  Ann is blind so she hadn’t really had a chance yet to meet the goats.  On the first evening when they wanted nothing to do with people, all I’d been able to do was describe their behavior.  Now for the first time, she could begin to interact with them.  When she went into the stall with me, the goats stayed at the hay bucket. She was able to stroke both of them, which I took as real progress.  P stood better for her than E.   E quickly scooted away, clearly worried by a person he didn’t know.

Ann went off to take care of Fengur. I stayed and brought out my chair again. I was beginning to think of this last session of the day as cuddle time. After the excitement of all these training sessions, it seemed important that I spend some time just hanging out with the goats. I took my chair in and sat with them while they ate hay.  If they came over, they got scratched. My rule was I could touch them, but I could not restrain them in any way. If they wanted to leave, I let them.

The goats were going to be with me for such a short time, I wanted to stack the deck as much as I could in my favor. I didn’t want to be just a treat dispenser. I wanted the treats, the puzzles, the entertainment, the time spent just hanging out to all add up to a real relationship. One of the common metaphors that trainers often use is they equate relationship building to building up a bank account. The “cuddle” time I was spending with these goats felt as though I was depositing gold bricks into my account.

I was also making some interesting discoveries about goats. Years ago I had three llamas. True to their species’ reputation for aloofness none of them liked being handled. These goats were not at all like the llamas. They were starting to seek out my attention.

My horses enjoy a good scratch, but the goats were different again. What they were really like were cats. All the ways cats enjoy having their heads rubbed and their chins scratched these goats seemed to love. I was beginning to see a tiny wiggle of the lips as I scratched them around their ears and the base of their horns. Their eyes were getting softer, and their ears were definitely getting floppier. If only they could purr, they would have been perfect!

I was also making another interesting discovery.

P was considerably bigger than little E. He was much bolder, much more of an adventurer. But when it came to hay and cuddles, E was the pushy one. When I set the hay bucket down for them, it was E who pulled the hay away with his foot. If P tried to share, E would butt him away. I tried spreading the hay out in separate piles so P could have some. E claimed them all and left P only what could be scrounged along the edges.

E loved having his head and back scratched. If P was under my hand first, he got butted away. E would then station himself by my side. If I stopped scratching him, he would lean into me or give me a gentle nudge with his nose to remind me that I needed to keep scratching. P could stand on my other side and was allowed a scratch as well, just as long as I kept my fingers going for E.

Their coats were also so very different. I was enjoying the contrast. P’s coat was soft and deep. You could sink your hands into his undercoat of luxurious cashmere. E’s long guard hairs gave a very different feel. His coat wasn’t soft to the touch and he was much bonier, but he so loved being scratched he was even more reinforcing.

Goat Diaries Day 2 Cuddle Time.png

How To Scratch a Goat

 

Coming Next: Goat Diaries Day 3 of Clicker Training

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/ 

 

 

 

Goat Diaries: Keeping Things in Balance

The Goat Palace: Structure Matters – Nov. 14, 2017

When I first started teaching, I often traveled to people’s home barn to help them with their horses.  If you board your horse in a big barn, there’s usually plenty of help around,  but the people who keep their horses at home are often stuck.  They might have a trailer, but they have a horse who won’t load, so getting help can be a problem.  I was willing to travel, and I was also willing to make do with whatever training environment (or lack thereof) they had.

I learned fast that structure really does make a difference.  The right size space, good footing, good fencing, these really do make things so much easier.  I also learned to be creative with what I had.  In my first book, “Clicker Training for your Horse” I described a situation with a very aggressive thoroughbred mare.  There was no suitable outdoor space where we could work safely.  No matter.  Her stall was built into the structure of an old dairy barn, and it provided us with the perfect “theater in the round” where we could begin with protective contact. That horse really taught me how useful a starting point this can be.

Our first training day with the goats showed me that structure was going to matter with them, as well.  We began our day by closing off the gaps in the fence that separated the two areas.  That eliminated one problem.  We didn’t have to deal with little E squeezing through the boards to join in the game.  All the goats were together in the front section while we put up the boards.  That made it easy to open the gate and let the first goat through.  No surprise, Thanzi was first at the gate.

She started out by ignoring the target and checking out my pocket.  She’d looked like such a ringer the day before going so consistently to the target.  It was interesting to see what she had processed from that experience.  It was clearly, when there’s food involved, head straight to the pockets.

When she got too focused on my pockets, I would shift position so the target was more in view.  She would sniff at my pockets and then notice the target, touch it, get reinforced, then it was back to my pockets for another hopeful investigation.  This went on for a few minutes before she abruptly switched and went consistently straight to the target, click, treat, back to the target.

I used what the horses have taught me about food delivery.  As I got the treat from my pocket (winter squash rind), I moved into her space so she had to back up to get the treat.  She would take a step back without any fuss.  This is a very pushy, domineering goat.  Moving her away from the treats right from the start seemed to be nipping in the bud any tendency to crowd into me demanding treats. Yes, she was sniffing at my pockets, but it never escalated beyond that.

I know some goat enthusiasts have worried that moving goats back might trigger a head butting response, but so far, there has been no sign of this.  When I back her, I am stepping into her chest, just as I would a taller horse. And it is having the same good effect on reducing crowding that stepping into a horse’s space to deliver the treat does.

We let Trixie through the gate next.  My idea was that I would work with one goat and Marla could work with the other, but the goats didn’t cooperate.  Thanzi wanted whatever Trixie was getting so she hovered too close.  She wasn’t yet strong enough on the targeting to be drawn away.  We may have to work with her for a few days, and then catch Trixie up once Thanzi is able to stay solidly engaged with one person without being distracted by what other goats are doing.

We left the two ladies in the large area and then tried the boys.  I engaged E and P down at one end.  I had two platforms set up. I was trying to reinforce them for staying each on his own station.  I glanced over to the other end of the pen.  Marla was working Galahad using the protective contact of the fenceline.  The only problem was she had Thanzi trying to be part of the session as well.  I didn’t want Thanzi practicing behaviors that would create problems down the road so I suggested that Marla move Galahad away from the fence.  But Marla said she needed the protective contact.  Galahad was so focused on the food he couldn’t think about anything else.

Fair enough.  That’s very much what you would expect at this early stage.  It was interesting to compare E and P with Galahad.  They had started out in exactly the same way.  Peanuts meant two things: mug your person for treats and butt at your brother to drive him away.  They could think of nothing else.  But now they could work together in close quarters.  Instead of mugging, I had the beginnings of taking turns.  I was sure Galahad would catch up fast, but again structure matters.

If he needed protective contact, rather than muddle through making do, we needed to create a space that would work for him.  So we withdrew to think about how best to construct what we needed.

I didn’t think we needed to build a permanent second fence in our training space.  What we needed were panels that we could put up on a temporary basis.  I had just the right solution.  I had some lightweight training panels that could be made goat proof with a few simple additions.  We pulled them out of storage and began to weave a spider’s web of baling twine through the gaps.  When we were finished, it looked as though several very drunk spiders had been at work!

We set the panels across the width of the front training area using the jungle gym on one side to help hold them in place.

Little E was first into our new training area.  Now that he and his brother have become long-term residents, it’s time to call them by their proper names, Elyan and Pellias (though I’ll still refer to them as E and P in the July Goat Diaries).  Elyan had a super session.  He followed a new target – a green target on the end of a long stick) as I moved it around on a circle.  I had fun taking him up onto part of the jungle gym, and the down again to continue our circle.

Periodically, I stopped and held the target straight down to the ground in a neutral position.  Elyan paused by my side, and even backed up a little away from me.  Click and treat, then click and treat again to reinforce the stillness.  The title of today’s Goat Diary report is: Keeping Things In Balance.  That’s what we were working on here.

Galahad was next.  Marla and I both moved outside the goat enclosure and worked with him through the outer fence.  There was a post in the way, so we ended up working as a team. I held the target out to him and Marla fed.  He was surprisingly fast at catching on to the game.  He went consistently to the target, click, and then moved back to Marla as she reached for the treat.  The barrier made a huge difference for him.  And separating the target from the person who was feeding probably also helped.

Pellias was next.  We were just getting started, when little Elyan squeezed his way through the one gap in our fence.  I had thought the jungle gym would be enough to block it off, but I was wrong.  So again, I did a double session with them.  I got away with it, but my preference for now is to work them individually to strengthen their stationing behavior on platforms before asking them to work as a pair.  We will need to fortify our panels for the next session in order to do that.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on construction.  We finished the outer gates and further goat proofed the outer fencing.  There’s still a lot to do before we can declare the Goat Palace finished.

Again, in the evening after the horses were tucked in, I went out to sit with the goats.  This  time it was Elyan who stayed for a visit.  He was on the top platform of the jungle gym.  I set my chair beside him and reached up to scratch his chin.  He closed his eyes in blissful enjoyment.

Galahad came over a time or two but didn’t stay.  Pellias watched from the back area.  He would have had to run the gauntlet of the ladies to join us.  If they hadn’t been there, I don’t know if he would have come over or not.  It was nice to have a few minutes just with Elyan.  Every time I took my hand away, he leaned down to invite me to continue.  Back in July when I began this project, I had no idea how cat like goats are.  It’s one of their greatest charms.

So now it’s on to the double feature of today’s installment of the July Goat Diaries.  I hope this isn’t confusing you going back and forth between these two time lines. 

The Goat Diaries: Day Two Session 4: Keeping Things in Balance

 

goats backing up to get treats.png

Moving back out of my space gets treats.

In an earlier Goat Diary blog I described how P had discovered that backing up got him treats. Surprise, surprise! This discovery was clearly messing with his head. Why did this work? This evening session was confirming for him that he was right. Backing did work! But why? That was clearly still perplexing him.

One of the core principles I follow in my training is this:

For every exercise you teach there is an opposite exercise you must teach to keep things in balance.

Backing away is great, especially when you are working with an animal that comes equipped with horns! But coming forward to me is also useful. I didn’t want to lose one behavior while I worked on the other. So I also offered him the target to touch.

This is such an important stage in an animal’s introduction to clicker training. It’s easy to be right when there is only one answer. Touch a target – get clicked. That’s easy. But if the only way to get reinforced is when there’s a target around, that’s really limiting. I want my learners to understand that there are many ways to get reinforced. Touching a target is only one option.  But adding in other behaviors complicates the game. Now you have to figure out what is going to work. Is it backing? Is it targeting?  What’s the right answer? If you are guessing, it is easy to become frustrated.

This is when clues begin to morph into cues and a whole new dimension is added to the game.

4th Session 5 pm

P’s Session: Backing Confirmed

You never know what you have taught. You only know what you have presented.

In this session I asked P what he was learning. What would he do when he came forward into my space? The answer: back up away from me. Wow! Was he ever a fast learner! What fun! Now my challenge was to stay a step or two ahead of him.

Goats Day 2 Backing Confirmed P 3 photos.png

Backing Confirmed

With E I continued with some target practice in his stall.  His session showed that he was still unclear what to do with the target. He hesitated between moving to the target and staying attached to my pockets.

It is never a race to see which goat learns the fastest. E was experimenting, learning what worked and what didn’t. This is such an important part of clicker training. One of the main things E was learning was that mistakes were not punished.  It was safe to be close to me, and it was safe to guess wrong.  It was safe to experiment.

With many horses their training history has taught them not to experiment.  In command-based training you wait to be told what to do.  Anything else can get you punished. The first steps into clicker training can feel very unsafe for these individuals.  Instead of enthusiasm, you get worry and caution.  It can be a slow process unraveling the fear that comes wrapped up in their training expectations.  I was glad with these goats we could go straight to enthusiasm.

Video: Goat Diaries Day 2 E following a target  Note:You will need a password to open this video.  Use: “GoatDiariesDay 2 E Learns”

 

Coming Next: Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 2
Goats are Like Horses Except That They’re Not – Platform Training Begins

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/ 

The Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 2 – Different Learners

The Goat Palace

It seems very appropriate that today’s Goat Diary entry is titled different learners because that’s certainly what I have in the five goats.  Yesterday we began the formal introduction to clicker training for our new arrivals.  Thanzi, not surprisingly, was first because she pushed her way through the gate ahead of all the others.  They stayed in the smaller front area with the hay feeders, and Thanzi worked in the back section.

She was brilliant.  I held out my coloured baton as her target.  She touched it, I clicked and gave her a treat so she was well away from me.  I held the target out again.  She touched it.  Click – treat.  There was no mugging, just consistent target touches.  It was as though she already knew the game.  I’ve met horses who were like this.  Robin was one of them.  He caught on instantly to the connections, faster than any horse I had ever met.  Thanzi was Robin smart.

She did decide after a few consistent touches that my pockets needed investigating.  I stayed quiet while she sniffed for treats.  Nothing.  She touched the red ball, click, a treat appeared.  These puzzle moments are golden.  Our animals have to test, to experiment.  What works?  What doesn’t? This is why it is so important to create a good environment for learning.  I don’t want the other goats trying to push their way in distracting her and creating more “noise” in the system.  I want the simplicity of the process to be clear.  Mug my pockets, nothing happens.  Touch the target, click, you can get me to hand you treats.  Simple.

Thanzi reached over and touched the target.  Click, I gave her a piece of squash rind. She was standing still.  Click – treat, click – treat, click – treat in rapid succession for standing still.

I kept her session short, in part because these early sessions should be short, and in part because we still had four more goats to play with.  I opened gate.  Thanzi charged back in scattering the other goats.  I had no preference for order.  Whoever came next would be next.  I had thought P would be first out, but it was little E who rushed through the gate.  He was clearly eager for a turn.

I had set out stacks of plywood to serve as platforms, something I had introduced E and P to during their July visit.  E followed the target, but he was so excited he kept overshooting the platforms.  He clearly remembered the game.  I had no mugging, just lots of eager enthusiasm. I’ve known horses who were like this. After an absence from clicker training, they are so excited to be back in the game, it’s like watching a small child waiting for Christmas.

E is so very sweet.  I could have played with him all morning, but there were others waiting.  We opened the gate again and everyone swarmed into the back area.  Galahad was last.  I managed to close the gate before he could go through, so now it was Marla’s turn to play, this time in the front section.

I was getting the camera set up, when little E squirmed his way through the fence and joined us.  We had planned on putting a hay feeder in the section he got through and then changed the plan, but forgot to change the fence, so now we had two goats eager for attention.

Galahad was having his formal introduction to clicker training.  We knew already that he is very sweet.  We also had discovered that he is a terrible mugger.  So I suggested to Marla that she drop his treats into a feed bucket to make a clear separation between the treats and her pockets.  I wasn’t able to watch because I needed to keep E entertained.

This session was an interesting one for E.  There was a huge pull towards the feed bucket, especially when he heard Marla click.  But I was able to draw him away with the target. He was clearly remembering all the good things he had learned in July.

In the next swap we got everyone back into the front section.  Now I wanted P to have a turn, but first we had to move two hay feeders onto the dividing fence so little E couldn’t join us again.  The juggling of feeders and eager goats was not elegant.  In fact, I would say that described all the swaps.  Teaching each of the goats to go to a station is definitely going to be a high priority.  Today’s chaos was data collecting.  I don’t like the chaos at the gate, but I haven’t yet decided what to do about it.

We got P into the back section where I had all the platforms set out.  He was brilliant.  He followed the target to the indicated platform and stood rock solid on it while I stepped away.  It was as though no time at all had passed since his last clicker training session.  He picked up right where we had left off.  You’ve already seen in the Goat Diary reports that he is a quick learner.  His performance today just confirmed it.

The only problem with this session was little E wanted to join us. He tried several times to come over to the fence, but Thanzi drove him away.  Hmm.  I didn’t like this.  P was having a great time, but E was stressed.  I kept P’s session fairly short in large part for E’s sake.

So now it was Trixie’s turn.  We managed somehow to get everyone but her into the back area.  She’s so much more cautious.  I had a target for her, but she wasn’t ready for that.  Instead I held my left hand out to her.  She was able to come forward to sniff my fingers.  Click. I took my hand down and fed her with my right hand.  For her I was using sunflower seeds, a premium treat.

Thanzi was hovering by the gate.  I moved a feed tub to her side of the fence and offered her the target to touch.  She reached over and touched it.  I dropped some sunflower seeds down into the feed tub.  It took her a few moments to find all the seeds so I had time to return to Trixie.

I thought it might help her confidence to have Thanzi nearby. With the fence between them, Thanzi couldn’t drive her away.  Trixie could have the comfort of her presence without the worry. I also knew I didn’t need to worry about the three boys pushing their way into the game.  They knew better than to go anywhere near Thanzi and the feed tub.

So I offered my hand again to Trixie, and she was able very cautiously to touch it.  Click and treat.  I loved how gently she licked the sunflower seeds off my hand.  I could see her looking at my target stick, so I held it out for her, and she nosed the target. Click and treat.

Thanzi had finished her sunflower seeds, so I offered her the target again.  Click, I dropped more treats into her bucket.  I worked back and forth like this, easing Trixie gently into the game, and keeping Thanzi nearby with opportunities to touch the target.

Again, I kept this session short. We left to work on the construction.  We still had a very important outer gate to build in case a goat slipped past us while we were going in and out of their enclosure.  I do like “air locks” so even if someone gets out, they are still contained in a fenced area.

I’ve detailed these introductions to highlight how much you have to tailor the training to the individuals you are working with.  I like to begin with targeting.  It’s such an easy way for an animal to begin to make the connection between the behavior he’s offering and the treats I’m handing him.  Going directly to the treat pocket doesn’t work, but you can get me to hand you goodies just by touching this target.  From an animal’s perspective it must seem like magic.  And then there’s that funny clicking sound which begins to take on significance.  When you hear that, you know this person is about to hand you a treat.  Get ready.

It’s very black and white, both for the animal and for the handler.  And it’s also normally a very clean slate.  There’s no prior experience with targeting.  That’s especially important with horses.  They often have had such negative training experiences.  If I put a lead on, I’m often instantly into poisoned cue territory because the lead has been used to correct the horse.  Make a mistake and you’ll be punished.  That’s been the message.

So now I have a lead on, and maybe I want the horse to take his nose away from my pockets to earn a click and a treat.  He has no way of knowing what the “right” answer is.  But he knows if he guesses wrong, he’s in trouble.  I don’t want that kind of expectation weaving it’s way around these first clicker training sessions, so I try to begin with something that has no previous training history.  Normally that’s targeting.

A short targeting session can tell me a lot about the animal I’m working with.  That was certainly true with the goats.  The morning session showed me that I have five very different learners.  Normally I would say it was time to have the proverbial cup of tea while I thought about what to do with all the data I had collected.  In this case the “cup of tea” meant go work on the construction while I thought about what to adjust.

Marla and I built the outer gates and then I had to head off for the afternoon so there wasn’t time for another round of training.  In the evening after the horses were settled in, I went out to the goatery to check on everyone and to spend a few minutes just hanging out.  I left my vest outside so no treats were on offer.  Thanzi and Trixie came up to sniff my hands, but they weren’t ready to stay for a scratch.  E and P would have liked to come up to me, but Thanzi drove them into the back area.  Gallahad slipped past her and jumped up onto the top platform of the jungle gym.  I don’t know if he is just bolder than the other two, or she is more tolerant of him.  In either case, he was allowed to stay.

He loved the attention.  I scratched his face and his eyes became dreamy.  There was no more mugging, no more pushy behavior, just total bliss.  He has the softest teddy bear fur, so he wasn’t the only one enjoying the attention.  I did feel bad for E and P though who made several attempts to come forward, but each time Thanzi drove them away.  I have to think how best to deal with this.  It was certainly much easier when it was just the two of them.  And speaking of just the two of them, today I will include a Goat Diary report.  If I don’t, I’ll never get back to E and P’s introduction to clicker training.

 

The July Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 2: Two Different Learners

In the last Goat Diary report I shared with you how P was picking up the nuances of the clicker game at lighting speed. He reminded me of my horse, Robin.  Robin is so very good at seeing connections. He’s like the child in math class who gets to the correct answer without having to write out all the steps. When the teacher tells him to show his work, he gets annoyed. Why do I have to go back through all those little steps when I already have the answer?

With P I recognized the quick brain I was working with. The question was had I learned enough working with Robin and all the other smart horses I’ve met so I could stay at least a couple of steps ahead of this clever goat? And what new twists and turns (literal ones in the case of these very agile goats) would P throw into the mix?

E was a very different learner. He was very sweet, much more timid around people and in new environments, and not nearly as quick at making connections. I started with some simple targeting. He was a much more gentle mugger than P, but he was a mugger nonetheless. So I asked him step back to get his treat, as well.

Target PracticeGoat Diaries Day 2 E learns about food delivery 6 panels

It was clear the connections were not yet being made. He knew that I had treats. He just didn’t know the best way to get them from me. In his frustration he tried pawing and jumping up, two behaviors that definitely were not going to get him what he wanted.

If you don’t know what else to do to get what you want, of course you’re going to try things that have worked in the past.  I had seen E use pawing to pull the hay bucket away from P.  Pawing was a behavior that worked to get him things he wanted.  Why shouldn’t he try it with me?  I needed to expand his behavioral repertoire to give him other possibilities.

Goats E What not To Do pawing

Goats E What not to do jumping

What not to do.

Instead of punishing the unwanted behavior, I used the food delivery to set up an opportunity to click and reinforce him while he was still in his own space.  I hoped he would figure out that staying away from my pockets got him more treats than crowding me.

E wasn’t making the connections. He came forward to check out my pockets. I tried waiting to see what he would do. One of the functions of training is to broaden an animal’s repertoire, to show him more alternatives. By waiting to see what he does you are in effect saying: In this situation where you are feeling frustrated, you could do what feels natural – jump up or paw at my leg – or you could back up away from the treats.

Instead of punishing E for jumping, I want to give him alternatives that work even better to get him what he wants – the treats. As I build a reinforcement history around these more desirable behaviors (from my perspective), I will make it increasingly unlikely that he will choose to jump up.

E hadn’t been doing the intense mugging that P had, so in previous sessions there had been less of a need to use the food delivery to move him out of my space.  After he got his treat, I wanted him to look away from my pockets.  He was struggling to come up with the answer.  I didn’t want to frustrate him so I gave him something he could do. I presented him with the target.

He stretched out his neck to touch it with his nose. Click treat, and then click again for standing still. He was showing me he could keep his nose away from my pockets.  Since the behavior was now occurring fairly frequently, it was fair game to make that the clickable criterion.  I began to wait for him to move his head away from my pockets.  In other words, I began to teach him “the grown-ups are talking, please don’t interrupt.”

Goats day 2 learning to wait E -12 photos
Learning To Wait
E was very sweet, very gentle to work with, but I wasn’t sure he was understanding what I wanted. I was getting the behavior I wanted, but I’m not sure he was really making the connection yet between his behavior and the click/treat. We’ll see what the next session brings.

You can watch a brief excerpt from E’s training session. You’ll need a password to watch the video.   Use: “GoatDiariesDay 2 E Learns”

(Just a quick word about why I have these videos password protected.  They are intended to accompany these diary accounts.  If they are public videos, they could be passed around the internet and taken out of this context.  I’m delighted if you share the links to these blogs with your friends.  In fact I hope that you do.  I wrote them to share, but please do not share the videos outside the context of these blogs.)

Video Goat Diaries Day 2 E Learning to wait

It’s interesting to look at the contrast between the two learners. P picked up really fast that backing away from me for some peculiar reason got me to hand him treats. E didn’t make this leap. He was very sweet, very gentle to work with, but he was not the quick thinker that his brother was proving to be.

He was, however, beginning to stay out of my space which meant I could reinforce him. for standing still. I didn’t want to build in a head turn with the standing. I wasn’t looking for perfection, but I was trying to pick and choose a good moment to click. The challenge was to get a click in before he moved, but not to click on head positions that would work against me in the long run.  I was not always successful.  I had to take his head turning away from me.  That’s what I could get.  I would have preferred to have him looking straight ahead but that wasn’t really there yet.  I would need to build the orientation I wanted  in other ways before I could make it a consistent criterion to go after.  Waiting would only intensify the mugging behavior.

It’s easy to feel frustrated at this stage.  I knew what I didn’t want – the nose stretched up to the treat pocket, or turned too far away to the side, but there didn’t seem to be much in between. What I didn’t want was to lose the standing back out of my space while I waited for something that wasn’t yet there. I was looking for the beginning kernel of a good loop. Find a loop that is tight and clean, and then let it expand. When the behavior you are looking for is already happening, you can make that the next clickable criterion. I was looking for that clean loop. From the beginning to the end of the session we were definitely making progress, just not at the lightning speed of his brother.

Total session time: 8 min.
Coming Next: Day 2 4th Session: Keeping Things in Balance
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/ 

Goat Diaries: The Goat Palace

We’re off and running!  I can’t say we finished the goat palace yesterday.  There’s still a lot left to do, but it is enough done to receive the goats.  I’m sure the three yearlings were thinking “and about time, too!”  Spending the last couple of days locked in a stall with a very dominant older doe cannot have been fun.  She made it very clear that they could venture out of their corner to get hay only when she was completely satisfied that she had gotten all the best bits.  We were racing to get it done as much for their sake as for our own desire to see it finished.

IMG_3948 the goats in the stall

E, P and Galahad are together in the corner.  Trixie is in the middle of the stall, and Thanzi has her head down eating.  The blankets are to keep their coats clean, not to keep them warm.

We were ready just at dusk.  We took the two ladies out first.  Marla ended up with the “pleasure” of being sled-dogged down the barn aisle by both of them while I kept the boys from going through the stall door.  It was not elegant.

Thankfully they headed in exactly the direction we wanted them to go.  They zipped into their new home.  I had buckets scattered about the enclosure with treats in them: cut up pieces of winter squash.  Thanzi found the buckets right away and quickly forgot about being nervous in a new space.  Trixie was a different story.  She  stayed close to Thanzi, but she was too nervous to check out the feed tubs on her own or to approach us.  As Thanzi found all the treats in one bucket, I dropped others in the next which moved her from bucket to bucket.

When Trixie was close enough to me, I held out my hand as a target.  She was curious enough to reach out towards me. Click, I handed her a treat.  She was also nervous enough to keep her distance, so at this point mugging was not an issue.  That is mugging was not an issue until Thanzi noticed that we were handing out treats.

Trixie was over by Marla and Thanzi shoved her way into the game.  With two it became too confusing.  I suggested that we only try to have them target when only one goat was involved.  I didn’t want the competition, the mugging, or the confusion over what was being clicked.  Marla moved away, and that was enough to interrupt the game for the moment.  As the ladies settled into their new space, we dropped more treats and withdrew to get the boys.

I should pause here to describe what we have built.  The original lean-to ran part way down the long side of the arena.  It was seventy feet long by twelve feet deep.  In the winter the snow sliding off the arena roof often blocked access to the entrance and in the summer it became too hot, so we used it for storage only.  Mainly what it stored were leftovers from the original construction.

For the goat palace we extended the roof out another nine feet to the edge of the gravel roadway that runs along that side of the barn.  So the entire enclosure is 70 feet by approximately 20 feet.  The goats palace is divided by an interior fence into two sections.  The back section is 40 feet by 20.  The front section is 30 feet by twelve.  We reserved the outer half of this section for equipment storage, a 9 by 30 foot space.  So the new entrance to the enclosure sits further out from the barn giving us better access in the winter.

IMG_3934 goat palace under construction

The Goat Palace a week ago.  A lot has changed in a week!

I learned from the July visit. We have built out goat enclosure very much with training in mind.  The entire enclosure is fenced and then covered with mesh both to keep goats in and predators out.  The fence line that runs along length of the equipment area has a narrow gap between two fence boards so we can fill hay feeders from the outside of the pen.  And we can also use this fence line for any protective contact training we want to do.  These two areas for the goats are divided off one from the other by an interior fence line so we separate the goats for training.

For now we had the two ladies locked in the back half so we could get the boys in without a struggle at the gate.  They were very eager to be out of the stall.  I led the way with E and P.  They definitely did not lead with the good manners they had left with!  They pulled all the way down the barn aisle.  Again, it was not elegant, but we got them out to their new home and turned them loose.

We had four home made hay feeders hanging along the rail of the front enclosure.  They found those quickly enough.  We let them explore and eat for a couple of minutes, then we opened the gate that separates the front and back half, and let the ladies join them.  Actually, it was the other way around.  The boys went to them.  They all ran around exploring, then they settled down at the hay feeders.

Marla and I were sitting on some elevated boards that are part of a jungle gym I built for them out of a couple of saw horses, and a big wooden box.

Trixie came over first and very tentatively held her nose out to Marla’s offered hand.  Click, Marla reached into her pocket and gave her a hay stretcher pellet.  I was holding a big bowl of cut up squash rind.  So after a couple of target touches with Marla, I offered my hand as a target.  Trixie very tentatively switched over to me.  Click and treat.  Then Marla offered her hand as a target.  Trixie went back to her.  We did a couple of these exchanges then Thanzi came over and Trixie retreated to the hay feeders.

Thanzi went first to Marla who was sitting closest to her.  Marla held out her hand and clicked as Thanzi reached out her nose towards her.  She fed so Thanzi had to turn her head to the side to get her treat.  I offered my hand as a target.  Thanzi came right over, click, but then she spotted the food bowl and went straight to helping herself.  Marla snatched it away and put it up out of reach on the top part of the jungle gym.

That seemed to sort the mugging, at least for the moment.  Marla held out her hand as target and fed so again Thanzi  had to turn her head to the side to get the treat.  Marla did this a couple of times.  It helps to have a spotter when you train.  I suggested that instead she feed so Thanzi would have to take a step or two back to get the treat.

This worked like a charm.  Thanzi stepped back beautifully, and after only two or three clicks, she was staying back.  I clicked for that.  Marla had to feed because she was in reach, but I did the clicking.  Thanzi is very bold.  Mugging is definitely a potential problem, so to see her so quickly step back and stay back was exciting.

She was staying back beautifully.  And then Galahad left the hay feeder and climbed up the back side of the jungle gym and discovered the treat bowl.  E and P quickly joined him.  Game over.  We were too busy laughing to train.  Now everyone was up on the jungle gym.  I do wonder what the poor horses are going to think of all this racket.

It was starting to get cold, so we left them to their play and went in to finish the barn chores.

I was going to include another post from the July Goat Diaries, but this is enough for today.  I’m eager to get the day started and to see how the goats are this morning.  I’ll get pictures of the finished goat palace soon.

 

Goat Diaries – Clicker Training Day 2: These Goats Are Smart!

The goat palace is almost finished.  We were hoping to get it done yesterday afternoon, but we didn’t quite make it.  The three yearlings are feeling very squashed in the stall by the oldest female, Thanzi.  She is making it very clear that they are TO STAY IN YOUR CORNER.  I am glad we decided in our construction to use the entire space the lean-to provided and didn’t just settle for making a small goat pen.  They will have plenty of room to spread out.

So for this morning it is back to July and the Goat Diaries.  I had gotten as far as mid-morning of E and P’s second day of clicker training.

Training Rhythms

Good training begins to have a rhythm to it, especially in these early stages where you are asking for simple behaviors, and you’re keeping the rates of reinforcement high. It’s get the behavior – click and feed, get the behavior – click and feed, – get the behavior, click and feed. It becomes a training loop. We’re looking for clean loops.

When a loop is clean you get to move on, and not only do you get to move on you should move on. That’s the mantra of loopy training. Often people change criteria too fast which ends up confusing the learners. Or they stay too long at one step so they build a glass ceiling into their training.  To the learner backing up means three steps and only three steps. If the handler asks for four, there’s frustration. The learner knows the behavior. It’s three steps and three steps only!

The mantra of loopy training helps you to know when to move on. It also helps you to know when you should pause for a moment to let your learner show you what he has learned. Canine trainer, Kay Laurence refers to these pauses as puzzle moments.

In these early sessions with these goats I was beginning to establish some training loops. P in particular was such a fast learner, it was time to give him some puzzle moments to see what dots he was connecting.  If you aren’t sure what a puzzle moment looks like, P is about to show you.

Session 3: 11 am
I started with P out in the pen. He was ready, eager to touch a target, but my attention was elsewhere.  I was busy setting up the camera. I was very aware that I might be missing a window of opportunity. We began with a little targeting. He oriented to it, I clicked, fed, and then clicked and fed again while he was still out of my space. The jumping up on me to try to get the food that he had been doing in the previous session was almost completely gone.  My active use of food delivery was paying off.

Click for targeting. Feed where the perfect goat would be. The perfect goat would have all four feet on the ground. He would be looking straight ahead, and he would be outside my personal space.

After I clicked, I fed P so he had to take a step or two back to get the food. My concern here was the food delivery caused him to curl his neck so his head was in the orientation it would be for butting with his horns. I didn’t want to trigger that behavior. But head butting is a forward moving behavior. Here he was moving back, so I hoped that his feet would keep his head from thinking he should be charging me.

Get them while they’re standing still.

I fed P so he had to back up a couple of steps to get to the treat in my hand. Before he could come forward again, click, I was giving him a treat – this time where he was standing. I wanted him to get the idea. Standing still, away from me, is a good thing. Click treat, click treat. I was tightening the training loop down to the tiny fraction of a second in which he was standing still looking straight ahead.

The neighbors were mowing the hill up above the barn. P kept turning his head to the side to check them out. His feet were still, but I didn’t want to make such a full head turn part of the behavior. I had to wait, hoping his feet would be still when he finally looked back in my direction. Click then treat.

When I clicked, I used my food delivery to move him back a couple of steps. I wanted to be able to click again while he was still standing back out of my space. I also wanted his head to be straight. If I clicked too many times when his head was turned, I was concerned that I would build that into the base behavior. So I had to wait to click until his feet were still AND he had his head straight. Asking for two criteria at once was pushing my luck. The first couple of times he was too quick for me. He straightened his head, but just as I began to click, he was shifting forward.

I moved him back again with the food delivery. He took his treat from my hand.  Before I could click again, he had come forward into my space.

I work hard to avoid putting my learners into a macro extinction process.  Here’s what that means: This behavior has been consistently working to get me to hand you treats. Only now suddenly, it’s not. You’re not going to be reinforced for this very successful behavior.

We all know how frustrating this can be. You put your money in the vending machine and nothing comes out. Time to shake the vending machine!

My training rhythm was broken and P didn’t yet have enough experience in the game to know what to do. His repertoire of behaviors was still too limited to offer me something I could reinforce. Instead he was trying to go directly to my pockets. I suspect by this point the small children he had grown up with would have dropped pretzels and peanuts all over the floor and everyone would be happy. The children would be giggling, and P would be gobbling up the goodies. Only this wasn’t how I played the game. How annoying!

P gave a little chuff of a sneeze. I had llamas years ago, so I recognized this sound as a sign of frustration. He tried both my pockets. Nothing. He gave a head toss which I dodged, and then I got lucky. He dropped his head away from me enough so that I could reinforce him. The food delivery moved him out of my space, and we were back on track building good behavior.

Goats day 2 what frustration looks like 4 photos.png

 

Goats Day 2 back up to get clicked 3 photos.png

Training is not without moments of frustration. I was beginning to recognize what this looked like in a goat. A little tail wiggle, a snort, a head butting gesture – these all told me that P was struggling a bit to make sense of what was happening. Why wasn’t I just giving him treats! That’s what the children would have done. And if they didn’t give him treats, he’d just jump up on them, and that was sure to make them scatter their peanuts and pretzels on the ground!

But here this was different. He was clearly frustrated. Doing what had always worked in the past, namely crowding into me didn’t work. Looking away, taking a step back, produced treats!  It made no sense to him, so while it produced treats it also produced a puzzled goat.  And a puzzled goat can very quickly become a frustrated goat.  Noted.

I was monitoring carefully. Always I am asking myself is this working? Is this the best strategy? How much frustration is too much? What should I change? Should I stop?

Puzzle solving!

There is a time to be clicking, and a time to just wait it out and let your learner work out the puzzle. Through the food delivery, I had shown P the answer. Back away and you get treats. Would he put the pieces of the puzzle together? I waited. The skill here is to be quiet, to remain as non-reactive as you can be and let him figure out the answer. A puzzle you solve for yourself, is an answer you will own.

He could sniff at my pockets. I remained non-reactive. How frustrating! I was not playing the game fair. The children would have been flailing their arms about and pushing him away. Which meant they would also have been dropping treats. Push on the vending machine, and it scatters goodies over the ground, except not now.

His feet took him back a couple of steps. Click – treat. The next time the backing was even more definite.

He caught on fast and began to back away from me. When he came forward into my space, now I could wait. It was a puzzle moment. What would he do? I had shown him the answer through the food delivery. Would he find it now on his own?

The answer was yes! He backed up, not just a little, but multiple steps. And he backed with energy. Very neat!

Goats day 2 Quick study 5 photos.png

P was definitely a quick study. He was beginning to understand that he could get the food by doing other things besides jumping up or bumping my pockets. It was a really fun session watching him catch on so fast. Though I got the impression that he was still very confused. Backing was clearly working, but it didn’t make sense to him. How could backing up get treats to appear? He was a very puzzled goat.

I sympathized. We’ve all been given sets of instructions that make no sense. Whatever is logical – do the opposite. How maddening is that! Especially when it works!

I would find out in the next session if P could reconcile himself to this new inside-out world order.

(Note: we had moved on in the treats. I was now using a mix of peanuts, peanut hulls, sunflower seeds and hay stretcher pellets as treats.)

Training time for this session: 6 minutes.

Video: Video: Goat Diaries Day 2: A Quick Study: Note you will need a password to watch this video: GoatDiariesDay 2 E Learns
“A puzzle solved is a behavior owned.” P showed me he was making the connections – fast!

Video: GOAT DIARIES/Day 2/Problem Solving: Note you will need a password to watch this video: GoatDiariesDay 2 E Learns

 

Coming next: Day 2 Continued – Two Different Learners