The Goat Diaries: More Catching Up

The Goat Palace – Finding Stillness

In my last post I caught you up on some of the changes that occurred over the Thanksgiving Holiday.  I transformed what was to be a storage bay for equipment into a training area for the goats.  And I started working Elyan and Pellias as a pair.  Now it’s time to catch you up with the ladies.

I’m going back over my notes as I’m thinking about what to write.  On Nov. 21st all the goats were still living together which meant we had the problem of separating one out for training.  The problem wasn’t getting one to leave the group.  The problem was convincing all the others that they had to stay behind and wait for their turn.

At one point I had Trixie by herself in the back area.  We were definitely making progress in that she was now okay being by herself.  I wasn’t seeing the extreme worry that had been there only a few short sessions before when I tried to work her by herself.  As you’ll recall, initially I had to give her the “security blanket” of training her with Thanzi. That made all of our sessions feel more than a little chaotic.

Trixie and Thanzi together

An early training session: Trixie is on the left.  She’s just touched her target.  Thanzi is on the right.

Now that I could have Trixie by herself I would have liked to have worked her with protective contact. The only way that could be done in the back pen was to use the side gate, but that would take her out of sight of the other goats.  That was too big of a stretch for her to make.  So I went into the pen with her.  She immediately crowded in next to me trying to get to my treats.

In a way this was progress.  When you are working with timid animals, there is a point where you celebrate mugging.  I’ve done that many times with people who are working with very shut down horses.  “He mugged me!” is said with great excitement.  It means the horse is finally feeling safe enough to experiment and explore.  It is a sign of huge progress, but it is also a behavior that needs to be replaced quickly with something that we find more acceptable – and safer.

I couldn’t work Trixie with a fence between us, but I could use the next best thing which was one of the large posts supporting the lean-to roof.  I hid behind the post which effectively blocked access to my pockets. I could now be stationary which took me out of the picture and brought the target into focus.

I had a feed tub next to the post. I held the target up directly next to the feed tub so it was easy to find.  It took a few minutes for anything consistent to emerge. At first Trixie just tried to get to me, but I held my position and let the post block access to my pocket.

Trixie on mats

Trixie with the “protective contact” post in the background.

She looked at the target often enough for me to click and drop treats into her food bowl. The dots were finally beginning to connect. She would dive for her treat and then lift her head up and immediately orient back to the target.

She has been so much slower than the other goats to make the connections between her actions, the click and my delivering a treat.   Her worry has definitely gotten in the way and made it harder for her to figure out the game.

She is much more settled now than she was when she first arrived. That’s helping her to understand the training.  The fact that she was trying to get to my pockets shows how much more comfortable she is now both with me and the environment.  So even though it felt like chaos in those first few days when I had to work her with Thanzi and about all I could ask her to do was come to my hand for a click and a treat, it was a good starting point for her.  Before I could ask for anything more, she first had to discover that she was safe.

She was now making her next discovery which was that it is an advantage to be by herself.  When she doesn’t have to compete with Thanzi, she gets a lot more treats.  I am hoping that as she and the other the goats learn that they don’t have to rush to get a treat ahead of the others, they will settle down and slow down to a more relaxed learning rhythm.

But now I was hiding behind a post so I could bring myself into stillness.  When I am trying to dodge away from her to avoid being mugged, she is not noticing the target.  She’s just thinking about getting to my pockets.  Using a post as a barrier was an odd way to create protective contact, but it worked.  Again, the environment matters and you learn to make creative use of what you have.

Trixie has also given me a new training mantra:

In stillness comes understanding.

I’ve practiced this for years.  It’s something I’ve known, but the goats have really helped to crystallize this concept so I can put it into words.  With the horses we begin with stillness both with targeting and the “grown-ups are talking please don’t interrupt” lessons.  When I first introduce the target, I am behind a barrier so I can be as non-reactive and quiet as possible.  I put the target up in approximately the same place each time I present it.  I don’t move it around a lot and have the horses follow it – not yet.  That comes later.  In this first introduction I work to get a clean loop by having the behavior remain very much the same through a series of repetitions.  Keeping things constant means it is easier to notice the things that are most relevant to getting your person to reach into her pocket and hand you a treat.

For grown-ups the handler stands next to her horse with her hands held together in front of her.  This position helps to block access to her treat pockets, and it brings the handler into stillness.  She is learning to be non-reactive to behaviors she does not like.  Instead of pushing her horse’s nose away, or correcting the unwanted investigation of her pockets in any way, she stays quiet.  As soon as her horse takes his nose away even for an instant, click, she hands him a treat.

The stillness gives her a neutral base position.  When she moves out of stillness to ask her horse to back up or to come forward, the change is much more noticeable to both of them.  When you begin with noise, it’s much harder to notice a small change.  When the environment is chaotic, it’s much harder to pick out the one piece of information that’s relevant.  Isn’t that how mystery writers try to confound us?  They clutter up the landscape with lots of characters and side stories.  The more red herrings they throw in, the harder it becomes to spot the relevant clues.

What stillness does is strip all away all the extra noise that’s coming from us.  For Trixie that meant the target suddenly became the one noticeably element in her environment.  Now she could quiet down the noise in her brain.  Where was Thanzi?  Where were the treats?  What was this person going to do?  All of that could drift into the background.  Finally, just the target could come into focus, and she could begin to make connections.  And the connections could begin to rewire her brain, to bring all the frazzled ends together in a way that made more sense and could help her to settle.

I was going to write so much more to get you completely caught up to the current training, but I think this concept of stillness is one that needs mulling over.  So I will be still and end the day’s post here.

 

 

 

JOY FULL Horses: Part 3: Going Micro: Unit 2: Base Behaviors

Base Behaviors
In the previous post I introduced you to Kay Laurence’s definition of microshaping.  Often when people are freeshaping behavior, it is very hit or miss training.  They are too macro in their shaping plan, resulting in long dry spells between clicks.

Microshaping takes a very different approach.  In microshaping you are using very small steps, clear criterion, and well thought out training plans to create a success rate of 98% or better.  Base behaviors help to create this high degree of success.

A base behavior is similar to the tap root behavior I described earlier.  (Refer to: Cues Evolve: Part 2 published Sept. 1, 2016 https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/09/01/) Returning to these behaviors over and over again creates a deep history of reinforcement and helps builds the learner’s confidence.

The base behavior is just what the name implies.  It is a behavior you keep returning to that serves as the end of one movement cycle and the starting point for the next.  Kay will often click as the dog returns to the base behavior, but she will toss the treat out away from the dog.  The dog runs to get the treat and then returns promptly back to the base behavior for another click.  If you’re clever, – and Kay is – you can build a huge repertoire of reaction patterns using the concept of base behaviors.

A base behavior might be a dog coming to a balanced stop with all four feet on a platform.  The dog returns to the platform because he knows he will get clicked.  As he lands on the platform, Kay clicks and tosses the treat so the dog must leave the platform to get it.  As soon as he gets the treat, the dog returns to the platform to get clicked again.

Kay tosses the treat out very strategically.  The path the dog takes to get back to the platform produces the behavior Kay wants.  That might be trotting around a cone to get back to the platform.  Kay gradually moves the cone out to the side.  The dog could by-pass the cone and go straight to the mat, but he’s learning that going out in a wide arc around the cone is part of the behavior.

Another function for base behaviors is they let you bring your learner into stillness so you can draw his attention to a small muscle movement. Kay offers a great example of how this works.  Suppose you want to teach your dog to wag his tail on cue.  When he’s with you, tail wagging is almost always present, so it may be hard for him to realize that’s what he’s being clicked for.  The solution: have your dog lie flat on his side.  This is your base position.  The rest of your dog is still.  Only his tail is moving.  As you click each time his tail lifts up off the floor, he’ll begin to realize that’s the desired behavior.

Grown-ups and standing on a mat are two great base behaviors we use with the horses.  Both keep the feet still so you can focus on ears forward, the pilates pose, or any other muscle pattern you may be working on.
robin-on-mat-1a
Tossing Treats
With horses we don’t generally toss treats the way you can with dogs.  It isn’t that horses aren’t capable of tracking a thrown treat.  It’s more that we don’t usually work on the kinds of surfaces that we want horses eating off of.  Tossing a treat out into a sand footing raises concerns about sand colics.  And the trouble with tossing a treat out into grass doesn’t need explaining.

Kay uses tossed treats to tremendous advantage when she’s working with her dogs.  Suppose she wants to teach her dog to back up.  She’ll teach this using a mat.  Once again, coming to a balanced stop with all four feet on the mat is the base behavior.  She clicks, and then tosses the treat out in front of the mat so he has to leave the mat to get to it.

Once he’s got his treat, the dog is going to return to the base behavior.  Initially the food is tossed just a step or two away from the mat so taking a step back is the easiest way to return to the mat.  Click.  The food is tossed out a step or two from the mat and the cycle repeats.  The behavior Kay wants is backing.  She get this through the strategic use of treats and the return to the base behavior of stopping with all four feet on the mat.

Once the dog is consistently taking a step or two back to get the mat, Kay will toss the treat a little further away.  Note, the change she makes is in the distance she tosses the treat.  She doesn’t move the mat.  The dog knows where it is.  He’s learning how to return to it from increasingly greater distances and varied directions.  This creates a very confident backer.

Precision
A 98% success rate depends upon precise criteria.

So picture this.  Kay has just tossed a treat out in front of her dog.  It’s a short toss.  He only has to go a step or two forward to reach the food.  Returning to the mat means backing up a similar number of steps.

Many of us would watch the front feet, and as soon as they were both on the mat, we would click.  And we would be wrong.

We would be clicking an outcome not a behavior.  The outcome is the dog standing with all four feet on the mat.

The behavior Kay looks for is the right front steps back onto the mat, followed by the left front stepping back onto the mat – click.  That’s precision training.

What is the difference?  This level of precision means the same behavior is consistently being marked.  In the outcome driven view of the world the dog might back right front, left front this time; followed by left front, right front the next; followed by a half step forward, then right front, left front.  Those are three different approaches to the mat.  Precision training creates clean, precise results.

Dynamic Food Delivery
We may not be able to toss treats to our horses in the same way that Kay uses them with her dogs, but we can certainly put the concept of strategic treat delivery to work and use it to our advantage.  When I’m teaching backing, I turn and walk with my horse as he backs up.  After I click, I’ll turn forward and walk as I get the treat from my pocket.  I move my feet WHILE I am getting the treat out of my pocket.

I’ll end up exactly where we started when I initiated the backing.  This resets the whole behavior so I can repeat that unit over and over again until it is clean and fluid.  Then I’ll follow the mantra of loopy training: when a loop is clean, you get to move on.  Not only do you get to move on, you should move on.

I’m not asking the horse to back up, click and treat, and then back up again without going forward.  That may seem as though it’s the same behavior – backing. To the horse each additional step back is a step into unknown territory.  Is he about to step into a hole or onto unstable footing?  Is he getting too close to the electric fence or the other horses?  Each step presents a new question which means each step is a completely new behavior.

Resetting via the food delivery means I can ask for the same step over and over again, creating a consistent response for this simple reaction pattern.  I’m not being outcome driven – backing through a specific pattern.  Instead I’m focused on the reaction pattern that will create for me the ability to ask for backing at any time, for any number of desired steps, in any direction and in good balance.

Training via reaction patterns means I can be precise in my criteria.  It isn’t any step back I am looking for.   It is this foot stepping back.  And more than that, I will be watching how the horse lifts his foot.  I’ll time my click so I’m marking the upward lift of the foot, not the part of each step where his foot is returning to the ground.  I will do this until my loop is clean.  At that point it will be time to change criteria and move on to an expanded version of this movement cycle.

The video illustrates how to use strategic food delivery in combination with a request to back.  It also illustrates the difference between training for reaction patterns versus outcome.  The overall function of this set-up is to teach my horse to back in a square.  If I were training with that narrow goal in my sights, I would ask my horse to continue backing around the perimeter of the square.  Instead I build the underlying reaction pattern that will make this an easy outcome to achieve.

Precision and Play Go Together
Precision training creates precision results.

This sounds hard.  It sounds as though you have to really be focused and thinking every second.  Clicker training is supposed to be FUN! How can you play if you have to be thinking every second about which foot is moving and what part of the arc to click in?

Remember that convenience store where all the lottery tickets are printed with winning numbers?  You look at your numbers and you’ve won!  Hurray!  You don’t have to think about what your lucky number is.  You don’t have to wonder if your non random numbers look random enough.  You can choose the same set of numbers over and over again.  Each time you’ve got a winner!  Easy!

Your horse steps back onto his mat – left front, right front.  You’ve won!

Hand him the food a step or two forward.

He steps back – left front, right front.
You’ve won again!

This is easy.  This is child’s play!

Learn to set up behavior, and it truly does become playful because laughter thrives on success.  Laughter dies away when there’s confusion.  When the clicks are few and far between, when your learner decides he’d rather go sniff the nearest manure pile than interact with you, that’s when play disappears.

Play evolves out of success.  Play evolves when both learner and teacher are relaxed and confident in the process.  Good technique, attention to detail, attention to your learner’s emotional needs are the breeding ground for play.

Coming Next: Part 3: Going Micro: Patterns

P.S. To learn more about Kay Laurence’s training visit: learningaboutdogs.com

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com

JOY FULL Horses: Cues Evolve: Part 2

Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 8.) Cues Can Change and Be Changed

Changing Cues
In the previous section you saw that cues evolve and change all the time.  You start out with one cue, and it quickly morphs and becomes more subtle.  You may think the cue is some large hand gesture you’re presenting, but really your horse is tuning in to much smaller signals.  All those hand gestures are just window dressing.  The real cue lies in some subtle shifts of balance.

These changes in the cues often happen without your even noticing.  It’s only after the fact that you realize your horse is changing gait when you breathe, not when you give him what you thought were the cues.

This is one way that cues can change.  Another, more deliberate, process involves changing an old cue to a brand new cue.  But before we get to the details of that process let’s review the basics of good clicker manners.

Basic Manners
With your pockets filled with treats, suppose you were to walk into the stall or home paddock of a horse who isn’t clicker trained. What’s likely to happen?  You’d be mugged.  That’s especially true if you gave him one of those treats.  He’d be sniffing around your pockets wondering how he can get to the rest of what you’re hiding.

Now walk into the paddock of a clicker-trained horse. What is likely to happen?  He’ll back up, or he’ll pose for you.  He’ll fetch the hat you dropped on the ground.  He’ll do anything but mug your pockets.  He’s learned that’s not how the game is played.

Mugging you, nudging your hands looking for goodies, biting at your sleeve, pawing in frustration – none of these behaviors will get you to reach into your pocket to hand him treats.  But moving out of your space and standing politely at your side will.

Robin pose on mat 2016-06-18 at 3.53.41 PM

Good manners are at the core of clicker training.

I call this base behavior “the grown-ups are talking, please don’t interrupt.”  I gave it this name very deliberately.  I wanted to say to people we may be feeding lots of treats, but we aren’t permissive.  Our clicker horses have great manners.  They are first and foremost safe to be around.

We don’t have to be strict to teach these good manners.  We just have to be consistent.  Finding the right images helps to keep the whole process fun.

Tap Root Behaviors
“The grown-ups are talking” is at the core of all clicker ground manners.  Canine clicker trainer, Steve White, has a great image for teaching this.  He calls behaviors like grown-ups tap root behaviors.

tap root behavior - carrots with captionThink of the tap root a plant puts down.  It goes deep into the ground with many smaller roots branching off from it.  Pull up a young plant before it has time to develop, and the tap root will be very small.  But give that plant time to grow, and the tap root will grow thick and reach deep into the ground.  It will have a complex network of smaller roots branching off from it.

In training we want to grow strong tap root behaviors.  The idea is simple.  You have a core tap root behavior, such as grown-ups. Every time you work on some other behavior, you return to the tap root.

So you might start with grown-ups and then add in a little targeting.

Back to grown-ups.

Next it’s head lowering.

Back to grown ups.

Now for some leg lifts.

Back to grown ups.

By returning each time to grown ups, you are strengthening this core behavior.  Like a tap root, it will grow stronger each time you return to it.  The reinforcement history becomes extra deep, and you’ll have a rich network of behaviors branching off from it.

Coming Next: Saying Please and Thank You 

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com