March Discoveries

March is slipping away fast and I have not yet written this month’s celebration of the twentieth anniversary of the publication of “Clicker Training for your Horse”.  It’s been a jammed packed month.  The Clicker Expo and the Art and Science of Animal Training conferences were back to back this year.  Both conferences become endurance tests because I can’t resist the late night conversations with the other faculty members.  We typically don’t stop until one or two in the morning, and then only because we know we have presentations to give the next day.

For most of the month I had the added endurance test of night checks on the goats while I waited for Trixie and Thanzi to give birth.

Prepping for the conferences would have been enough to fill this month, but I also added the launching of the new Equiosity podcast with Dominique Day.

Episode 3 just went live yesterday.  The conferences are done, the goats are all doing great, so finally I can write my thank you to the people who helped open the doors to these great adventures.

It’s always a challenge to pick one person out of the many hundreds who have played principle roles in bringing clicker training so actively into the horse community.   This is the last day in March.  Spring is coming which means the clinic season is about start up again.  So it seemed like a good choice to celebrate the clinics and the many organizers and attendees.  I couldn’t possibly list all the names.  I’d be bound to leave someone out, so instead I am going to thank just one person, Kate Graham who, along with Lin Sweeney, for years hosted the Groton New York clinics.

I’m choosing Kate for two reasons.  One, the Groton clinics were one of my first clicker training clinics, and the first that turned into a recurring event.  Two or three times a year we would gather in Lin’s living room for the start of a great weekend.  Many people who became very instrumental in helping to expand clicker training were regulars at these clinics.

My main memory of the first Groton clinic was not of horses but of snow.  Saturday night we went out to dinner as a group.  We drove through near white out conditions to get to the restaurant.  In spite of the cold weather that weekend people were hooked.  We’d just scratched the surface of what is possible.  None of the horses in that first clinic had any clicker training experience so most of the training involved basic targeting.  But even so people were excited by the changes they were seeing in their horses.

I will always be grateful to Kate and Lin for saying – “Let’s do this again!”  If I had spent all my travel time just giving start-up clinics, I would never have been able to take clicker training past the basics of simple targeting.  My own horses would have known the joys of beautiful balance and all the other great gifts that clicker training brings us, but I wouldn’t have been able to share it with others through the clinics.  Instead clinic by clinic we moved the work forward.

We had a core group of regular attendees which meant I got to see horses advance through the stair steps of the training.  Katie Bartlett was among this group.  I got to see her senior horse, Willy, turn into a clicker super star, and then I watched her young Dutch warmblood, Rosie, develop from gawky youngster into a beautiful riding horse.

One of Lin Sweeney’s horses, a standardbred named Button, became a school horse for clinic attendees. Button became a super teacher for anyone who wanted to learn about lateral flexions. And then there was Lucky, Kate’s horse.

Lucky is the second reason for saying thank you to Kate.  Watching the two of them together always made me smile.  Lucky was a Connemara cross (or so Kate was told.)  He started with that all too usual story.  The first time Kate rode him after she bought him, Lucky spun and bolted as she was getting on him.  Kate fell off and broke her ankle.

To get him to the point where he could be ridden safely Kate looked at John Lyons’ work.  She found one of his instructors living within driving distance in Canada.  She helped her enormously.  When I first met Lucky, Kate could ride him, but he was incredibly wiggly.  Straight lines were not in his riding vocabulary.

I knew about that stage from my own exploration of single-rein riding.  Teaching a horse to be soft is done through lots of bending into lateral flexions.  Your horse now feels wonderfully light.  He is safe to ride.  You don’t have to worry about the spooking or the bolting off.  Those terrors are now a thing of the past, but your rides seem to be mostly about going in small circles.  Lyons knew how to sort out all this bending for his own horses, but he was just beginning to figure out how to teach it to others.  So Lucky was stuck in the stage where going in circles and wiggly lines was the norm.

I had also studied Lyons work and was familiar with the single-rein riding, so I understood what Kate was working on with Lucky.  Peregrine had taught me how to insert clicker training into the process which dramatically changed the conversation.

With Lucky we began on the ground, first with the basics of targeting and the other foundation lessons.  In 1998 I was focused on three foundation lessons, targeting, backing and head lowering.  It was through the clinic process that I expanded the list to six.  The other three behaviors had always been something I taught, but I hadn’t yet understood how universally important they were.

What did the clinics add to the list?  Standing on a mat, “happy faces”, and the grown-ups are talking, please don’t interrupt.  Grown-ups gives us a base position, a calm settled launching point to balance out all the more active behaviors we ask for.  It simply means that your horse is standing beside you in his own space with his head oriented evenly between his shoulders so he’s looking straight ahead.  He’s not doing all the “I don’t want my horse to . . . ” behaviors, such as mugging your pockets or crowding into your space.  Grown-ups begins the process of focusing on what you want your horse TO DO, instead of the unwanted behavior.  So it is as much for the handler as it is for the horse.

I gave it that long, somewhat cumbersome name because I wanted to make it clear to people who were peeking in at clicker training that we may be using food, but we are not permissive trainers.  Our horses have good manners.

Getting a horse to stand still beside you can be a challenging behavior to teach well.  It’s easy for force-based trainers.  You simply say to your horse – move and I’ll hurt you.  Say it with conviction, back it up with action, and your horse will stand still until you tell him to move.

In clicker training we are taking away the threat of enforcement.  Instead we reinforce behaving.  Horses get reinforced for offering behavior.  Standing still is very much a behavior.  Getting to a point where your horse will stand still long enough for the grown-ups to truly have a conversation takes time to build.  You have to convince your horse that all those other charming behaviors that you’ve been teaching him – lifting his feet, walking off into lateral work, picking up your grooming brushes, backing up, rushing off to find a mat, etc. none of these things are what you want right now.  Standing quietly beside you is what will get you to click and hand him a treat.

So grown-ups lets you discover how to build duration.  It introduces cues and stimulus control.  It shows you how to balance one behavior with another, and how to expand a simple stand-beside-me behavior in many different directions – from neutral balance into the pilates pose, and from simple duration into solid ground tying.  Through the process it also shows you how the behaviors you are teaching become transformed into conditioned reinforcers which can then be used to help support other newer behaviors.

The clinic horses were helping me to see connections.  I was discovering things about these foundation behaviors that working with my own horses had not yet revealed.  They were showing me details that are now embedded into the core teaching.  They helped make clicker training better, more universally applicable, and so much more fun!

Lucky loved clicker training.  And even more he loved Kate.  Watching the two of them together was always a highlight of the Groton clinics.  It wasn’t just that Lucky was beautiful – which he was.  With each clinic he became more and more suspended, and more and more stunning to watch.  He was a head turner for sure.  But what made Lucky stand out was his sense of humor.  He and Kate laughed their way through every training session.  They never worked on anything I shared with them.  For them it was always play.

That’s the joy they shared and that I have been lucky enough to share with others.  Thank you Kate!  And thank you to all the other clinic organizers.  You played an important role in planting the seed of clicker training.  Look how it is growing now!

Lucky-canter-for-web

This is one of my favorite photos.  Lucky is cantering beside Kate.  I love the canter in hand.  Kate is walking.  She’s not running to try to keep up with a cantering horse.  Instead Lucky is staying beautifully connected to her so she can walk beside him with her hand on his neck.  Talk about an addicting sensation!   You can feel all the power of your horse, and all the control.  It is magnificence itself, an experience like no other, especially when you know that your horse is offering you this connection, not because he has to but because he joyously seeks it out.

Every time I look at this picture I smile.  It represents so many of the good things clicker training can give us: laughter, fun, a great connection with our horses, an opportunity to explore – and succeed in training advanced performance skills, beautiful balance, and most important of all – a happy horse.

Thank you Kate and Lucky, and thank you to all the other clinic organizers.  Your desire to bring clicker training solidly into your own area has helped to build a world-wide clicker training community.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

Launch Day for Equiosity!

We’re ready!  Today Dominique Day and I are celebrating the start of a great new adventure.  We are launching our podcast, Equiosity – the podcast about all things equine.

Equiosity banner for blog

To listen to the podcast visit: Equiosity.com

If you find yourself tripping over the spelling, take Equus and combine that with curiosity.  You get both our name Equiosity and a great description of the podcast.  Whenever the two of us get together, it’s always a non-stop conversation about horses and training.

Last August I visited with Dominique at her farm and we recorded our first four podcasts.  I was in the midst of writing the Goat Diaries so what did we talk about in this podcast that is about all things equine?  Goats, of course.  So if you are missing the Goat Diary journals, this first podcast will take you back to the start of that great training adventure.

All roads lead to horses and that, of course, is where the goats take us.  In these Equiosity podcasts we intend to dig deep into the layers of training, to tease apart nuances and details that make a difference to our horses.  But first you need to meet us.  These introductions are not done in a stiff, formal way.  Instead you will meet us through a conversation that begins with goats and then takes us straight into what matters most to both of us, the well-being of our horses.  That’s the underlying theme of our first four podcasts.

Good things often take a long time in the oven.  There’s no rushing them.  We’ve been preparing for this launch day for a long time.  And now finally it is here!  I hope you enjoy our first podcast.

You can listen to it at Equiosity.com, and you’ll also find it on itunes.

Equiosity tile
Enjoy!
Alexandra Kurland
theclickercenter.com
theclickercenterblog.com
theclickercentercourse.com
and now also Equiosity.com

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.

A Happy Announcement!

Last week I finished posting the July Goat Diaries.  So now I am on to the new project.

I am teaming up with Dominique Day, one of the co-founders of Cavalia to create a podcast.  We’ll be presenting a series of conversations centered around our horses and our training experiences.  Dominique is one of the most articulate proponents for positive, horse-friendly training methods that I have met.  Whenever we get together we have non-stop conversations that dig deep into the nuances of training.  We’re having an email exchange right now about conditioned reinforcers that is crying out to be turned into a podcast conversation.

We’re still putting the final touches on the podcast so we don’t yet have an official launch date.  I am hoping it will be the end of this week, but if baby goats arrive to pull me away from the computer we may not be ready until next week.

What is the name of our new podcast?  Combine equus and curiosity and you get Equiosity, the perfect name for our conversations.  So look for the official announcement coming soon of Equiosity – the podcast about all things equine.

And for those of you who are missing the Goat Reports, there will be more updates on the current training.  Any day now we’ll have baby goats in the barn.  I know I won’t be able to resist sharing.

For now here’s a quick just for fun video:

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.