The Goat Diaries – Day 3: Arrange the Environment for Success

The Goat Palace – Journal Report for 11/19/17: You Never Know What You Have Taught

Galahad had the first session of the day.  He’s an eager, happy learner, and he very much chose to go into the far end to play.  I stayed for a few minutes down in the front section visiting with the other goats. Elyan and Pellias were up on the top platform of the jungle gym.  They were eager for head scratches. Surprisingly, so was Thanzi.

By the time I extracted myself from their appeal for more, Marla had already begun Galahad’s session.  She commented that what she thought she had taught him was not what he had learned.  Ah yes, that’s the clinic mantra: You never know what you have taught.  You only know what you have presented.  Yesterday he had been going to his target, click, followed by Marla dropping a treat in one of the food buckets.  He went promptly to the bucket, got his treat, and then touched the target again. Marla would then drop his treat in a second bucket, so he was going back and forth between buckets with a quick stop in between to touch the target.

His takeaway from that was just to go from bucket to bucket – never mind touching the target.  It reminded me of the table games that we play to learn about training and to work out procedures for teaching concepts.

Training game

Playing the table game during the Five Go To Sea Caribbean conference cruise.  I’m hiding from the sun under the funny hat.  Kay Laurence is sitting behind us.

Kay Laurence is the originator of these games. Several years ago we were together at an airport, both with long waits for our flights home.  So we found a quiet corner and pulled out a table game kit.  I was the learner, something when I’m teaching I rarely get to be, so that was a treat.  Kay had a plan in mind for teaching me to use the pieces from the game to draw a pentagon.  Of course, I had no idea what she had in mind.  But I was a contented learner because I was making lots of correct choices and getting clicked and reinforced  at a high rate.  The only problem was the rules I was using to produce the actions she was reinforcing were not the same rules Kay was trying to teach.  So I was coming up with the right answer but for the wrong (from Kay’s perspective) reason.

Every time Kay presented me with a puzzle moment I got stuck.  Puzzle moments are small tests to check to see if what you think you are teaching is what your learner is learning.  It was a fascinating and fun experience, though it could easily have been a frustrating experience if either of us had brought a different mind set to the game.

My flight was coming up, so we had to end the game.  Kay explained what she wanted me to do.  My reaction to being told the “answer” was interesting.  I felt deflated.  I wanted to go on and work through the puzzle.  Being told the answer was far less satisfying than discovering the answer on my own.  I missed the puzzle solving, and I missed seeing what strategies Kay would have used to get things sorted out. But my plane wasn’t going to wait for us to finish the game, so we had to jump straight to the final answer.

Galahad had come up with a solution to the puzzle that made total sense to him.  Go from bucket to bucket and expect your person to drop a treat in when you get there.  He had completely by-passed the target.

Watching him, I also didn’t think he was noticing Marla’s tongue click. With horses I suggest that people begin with an actual clicker.  The sharp sound that a box clicker makes is very noticeable, and the horses seem to catch on fast to the significance of the sound.  After a couple of targeting sessions with the clicker, you can switch to a tongue click, and the horses are very aware of the new marker signal.

I suggested to Marla that she get an actual clicker.  At the stage where you’re using target sticks, clickers are easy to use. You can duct tape a box clicker onto the end of the target stick so you have easy access to the clicker.

Marla got a box clicker and continued on with the lesson.  Galahad quickly remembered that he was supposed to touch the target. Yesterday’s fluid pattern was back. Now it was: orient to the target, click, go to the indicated food bucket for a treat, look for the target. A clean loop was reappearing.

This experience highlights another part of the start-up process.  I like to begin with very short sessions.  With horses I have people count out twenty treats.  That means handlers who are new to this process have to stop frequently to reload their pockets. This also gives them time to think about what has just occurred and to consider what, if any, changes need to be made.

With five goats to juggle I was certainly finding I needed to do a lot of adjusting.  It wasn’t just what was happening with the individual I was focusing on.  What was going on with the other goats?  When I had Pellias out by himself, he was having a grand time, but how stressed was Elyan?  Was he being chased by Thanzi?  Yes.  When I took Thanzi out, was Trixie able to cope?  There was a lot to think about, a lot to keep shifting around to find the right training combinations.

Keeping your initial training sessions short lets you check in with your animals more frequently to see what they are actually learning. Each time you go back in and start up the session, you get to see what’s been processed from the previous session. If your learner has come up with a different answer, these short sessions mean it hasn’t become so entrenched that it is now hard to shift the pattern.

It is ironic that I am writing about short sessions, because I am known for using long training sessions. With an established learner I’ll fill my pockets with treats and keep going. That seems to suit the learning style of horses, but these long sessions are broken up into smaller units. I give breaks through the behaviors I’ve taught. For example, I might be working on lateral flexions. We’ll have a bit of success, then it’s off to find a mat. The mat acts both as a conditioned reinforcer and a way to give a break. The change in the rhythm of the training provides a break without having to stop the play.

At the heart of this is the training principle: for every exercise you teach there is an opposite exercise you must teach to keep things in balance.

The balance that I thought was needed now for the other goats was a morning session of quiet visiting.  I was very pleased that Thanzi wanted to participate in some head scratching.  I had the two ladies in the back section so the three youngsters could relax and not worry about dodging out of Thanzi’s way.  She stayed by the gate while I scratched her head.  Normally, she’s been drawing away when I try to touch her, so I consider this real progress.  Trixie came up to me repeatedly through the morning, but she’s not yet ready for a proper scratch.  The boys, on the other hand, had a blissful time enjoying a prolonged cuddle session.

Afterwards, Marla and I worked some more on the Goat Palace.  We’re getting close to the finish line, but there always seem to be a few more things to do.  Years ago my family did some remodeling to the house.  The process dragged on and on.  Every day my father would make a list of things that the builders still needed to get done before he could sign off on the job.  He remarked that they always seemed to get done only half the remaining jobs.  You would think on a finite project like that, you would be able to check everything off the list, but it never seemed to happen.

At the moment we seem to be caught in that twilight zone of always completing just half the remaining tasks.  One of yesterday’s tasks was tidying up the section we’ve designated for storage.  I was very pleased to see how little we have left to store.  We have managed to use up an amazing amount of miscellaneous clutter.  So perhaps when we run out of stuff to find a use for, we will also run out of tasks that still need to be done. That will finish off phase one of the goat palace.  (I say phase one because phase two is obviously going to be expanding the goat jungle gym. That will be as much for our entertainment as it will be for theirs.)

One of the things that contributed to the tidying up of the storage area was the snow blower went out to be serviced for the winter.  That left a clear area that could be used for training.  So in the early evening I took advantage of this space to work with Elyan and Pellias.  It was a good time for training.  The goats were beginning to settle down for the night.  It was easy to close the middle gate so only Pellias and Elyan were in the front section.

I had everything set up for them out in the storage area.  I had my chair, a food bucket and a couple of platforms, including the very distinctive foam platform I had introduced them to in July.

Elyan came out first.  I brought him out on a lead, and then turned him loose.  He stayed nearby.  He was clearly interested in playing, but he wasn’t sure what to do.  I let him explore for a couple of minutes, then I brought out the baton and directed him towards the foam platform.  He hopped up onto it, click, I dropped the treat into the bucket.  He had to step down from the platform to get to the bucket.  So now the question was what would he do?  The answer was he backed up to get back on the platform. Click! Drop treats in the food bucket.

Elyan seemed to catch on fast.  The “rule” was get back to the platform, and you’ll get clicked.  At least that’s what was happening.  His “rule” might just as easily have been: back up, and you’ll get clicked. The platform was just in the path of the backing. I’ll need to have a puzzle moment to check whether he is going to the platform or simply backing up.

In any case, while he was getting his treat, I nudged the platform a little further away.  He continued to back himself onto the the platform.  We could have kept going all night, but this was a session that should be kept short.  I got up from my chair, and he followed me back in to the front section.

Pellias was eating hay.  He hadn’t been at all fussed having his brother outside the pen.  But now I wanted to do a swap, and they were both at the gate.  I got Pellias out and sat down in my chair.  He went straight to the platform.  Click.  I dropped treats in the bucket.  He stepped off the platform, got his treat and went straight back to the platform.  I repeated this a couple of times, and then I exclaimed; “Wait a minute.  You’re not Pellias!” In the fading light I hadn’t noticed that little Elyan had pushed past his brother for a second turn.  With his jacket on to keep his coat clean, it was harder to tell them apart. No wonder he was so good!

I got them switched around so now it truly was Pellias’ turn.  He’s always been a platform superstar.  He went straight to the foam platform.  Click.  But now the food delivery was different.  He’s used to getting the treat from my hand, not a food bucket.  I moved the bucket close to the platform and helped him find the hay stretcher pellet.  He got his treat and then stepped off the platform. He wandered away from the platform. I waited.  He began to eat the leaves that we hadn’t swept out of this area.  I got out my baton target and gave it a little shake.  That got his attention.  He followed it to the platform, click, drop the treat.

The hay stretchers make a very sharp noise as they fall into the bucket.  That helped draw Pellias’ attention, and he began to look in the bucket for his treat.  He only had to take his front feet off the platform to get to the bucket, so it was easy for him to step back onto it and get clicked.  My concern was the sound of the treat dropping into the bucket might become the functional marker signal, so I clicked, and began to wait to see him react to the click before I made any move to drop the treat into his bucket.  I got lucky several times with that.  He had turned on the platform so he could look down the driveway.  The sound of my tongue click turned him around, so it was clear, at least in this situation, that he was responding to the sound of the click.

Again, I kept the session short.  When I opened the gate to let him back in, I dropped treats on the floor to distract Elyan.  Pellias came in to get the treats, as well.  I’m not sure I want the others out in this area yet, but for these two their July visit prepared them well for going outside of their pen.

I filled their hay feeders, opened the middle gate and left the goats tucked in for the night.

Today’s July Goat Diary appropriately enough continues with the initial training of platforms.

The July Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3: Arrange The Environment for Success

I described earlier the morning sessions of day three in which I introduced both goats to platforms.  This was an errand day so I wasn’t able to fit in as many sessions as usual. When I got back to the barn around 5, E and P were clearly hungry. They were standing on a bed of hay, but none of it was to their liking. I gave them fresh hay and left them to eat while I did barn chores.

7 pm session with P

P was very rambunctious – literally. He reared up several times. I managed to dodge him and get him on the platform, but the session didn’t feel very productive.

I wasn’t satisfied with the way he was orienting to the target. I thought a second platform might help. If a platform was the end destination, it might make more sense to him why he was following a target. I decided to consider this a data collecting session.  I knew where I needed to head, but I would wait until tomorrow to add the second platform.  Training success depends very much upon having a good set-up.  I suspected adding the second platform would help smooth things out.  Instead of continuing on with a session that wasn’t going well, I would wait until I had a better set up.

In contrast to P, E’s session was great. He was so very soft and sweet. I had him target the baton, click, treat. Then I scratched him around his ears. His eyes got soft, and he leaned into my hand, clearly enjoying the feel. I asked him to follow the target again, click, treat, scratch.  Who knows what E was learning.  I certainly found it very reinforcing!  I began his day with bliss, and that’s how I ended it.

The password to open this video is: GoatDiariesDay 3 E Learns

Note: When I was in town, I stopped at the new bird store that’s just opened.  I bought some black sunflower seeds which the goats really like. So now they are getting a mix of sunflower seeds, peanuts and hay stretcher pellets.

8 pm final session of the day.

We ended the evening with “cuddle time”.  While Ann groomed Fengur, I took my chair into the stall and enjoyed a few minutes of goat bliss.

Coming Next: Clicker Training Day 4

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: 

JOYFull Horses: Using Environmental Cues

In the previous post I shared many examples of using environmental cues.  For one example I wrote:

“When you have a training challenge, instead of tackling it head on with your normal “horse training” solutions, think instead about how you might use props.  If your horse has trouble turning to move out of your space, how could you use mats to help with this?”

One of the reasons I wanted to share the JOYFull Horses book on line was I knew I wanted to include video along with the text.  That’s what I’ll be doing in today’s post.  To illustrate just how useful environmental cues can be in training, I’m going to explain more fully how you can use mats to teach basic balance and leading skills.  I’ll be combining the draw of  the mats with the set up for a turn that can be created out of food delivery.

These videos were taken during the spring 2015 Arkansas clinic at Cindy Martin’s farm.  Cindy is one of the coaches for my on-line course.  The video features her beautiful draft cross mare, Scout.  Scout is a fairly new arrival in Cindy’s family.  When she first started riding her, Cindy discovered two things.  First, Scout’s idea of steering meant going where she wanted to go regardless of the rider’s wishes.  And second, if you asked for forward, you were just as likely to trigger rearing as any forward impulsion.  These riding issues meant it was time to go back to ground work and teach Scout the basics of leading.

By the time these videos were taken, Scout was well versed in the foundation skills of clicker training.  She had become a mannerly, very pleasant horse to be around, but her tank-like qualities were still in evidence.  This was in part due to a lack of balance.  During the spring 2015 clinic, I introduced Cindy to a simple lesson in which food delivery was combined with the use of multiple mats to teach better leading skills.

These videos take you step by step through the process.

Part 1 establishes a baseline.  Cindy is asking for Scout to turn away out of her space.  In this short video you’ll see Scout push forward through Cindy’s request.  In many traditional forms of horse training we would have dealt with this push-through by getting after Scout.  We would have punished the forward push, but punishment brings with it many unwanted consequences.  Obviously, we used a very different approach, one that used positive reinforcement to teach Scout what was wanted.

In Part 2 you’ll see how Cindy begins to use food delivery to set up the balance shifts she wants.  If you aren’t familiar with clicker training, this can look as though Cindy is simply feeding Scout out to the side.  That’s only part of what is happening.

In the video you’ll hear me refer many times to “grown-ups”.  This is a short hand expression for a lesson which I call: “The grown-ups are talking, please don’t interrupt”. This is one of the foundation lessons of clicker training, one of the very first things we teach the horses when we introduce them to clicker training.  It’s a long name for a simple lesson.  What it means is the handler is able to stand next to her horse with her pockets full of treats, and her horse will stand quietly beside her.  I gave it this very long name because I wanted to emphasize that at the core of clicker training sits good manners.

Having a horse who is mugging you for treats takes the fun out clicker training.  I don’t want the mugging behavior.  And I also don’t want the horses to be anxious about the treats, so early on we teach them this foundation behavior.  Moving away from the treat pouch is what earns clicks and treats.

So many people avoid using food in training because they see it as a distraction.  They want the horse working for them, not any goodies in their pockets.  I ask a lot of my horses, and I want to reinforce their good behavior generously with something they really enjoy.  Being able to offer something they will actively work for adds enormously to my training. Plus, I find it reinforcing for myself to be able to say thank you for a job well done.

How do you know what your horse will actively work for?  Ask yourself what will he mug you to get.  At the top of the list for most horses is food.  I’m going to take that information and transform food from a distraction into a powerful teaching aid.  I do this by teaching the “grown-ups are talking” lesson.  Once a horse understands that treats come when he shows me good emotional self-control, I can use food as a reinforcer to help teach other things.  That’s what you’re seeing in this series of videos.

In Part 2 Cindy is using grown-ups.  First, she asks Scout to look straight ahead so her head is out of Cindy’s space. Click.  Normally, Cindy would feed Scout so her head continues to be centered between her shoulders.  But to teach her how to turn so she doesn’t crowd forward into Cindy’s space, Cindy is instead stepping into her and extending her arm out so Scout has to look to the right to get her treat.

Once she does, Cindy again asks for grown-ups.  Scout’s head is still bent to the side.  To earn a click and a treat, she needs to keep her head away from Cindy.  When she does – click! – she earns another treat.  Again, Cindy extends her arm out to the side so Scout has to bend her head even more.  As she does, she discovers that she can move her feet.  That simple realization lets her straighten out into a more comfortable position.

So, while it might look as though Cindy is simply feeding Scout treats, and that’s how she is getting her to turn, the treats are in fact reinforcers that come after Scout has been clicked for keeping her head away from Cindy in the “grown-ups are talking” lesson.

When she does, she not only gets clicked and given a treat, she also gets to walk forward to a mat.  In previous lessons Scout has been introduced to mats.  She’s not only comfortable standing on them, the mats have become conditioned reinforcers.

This means that there is such a deep history of reinforcement that’s been built up around the mats, Scout regards them as a great place to be.  They are a predictor of good things – easy requests and lost of treats.  So Scout likes going to mats.  We can use them to reinforce previous behavior. We’re going combine the strategic use of the food delivery with her eagerness to go to mats to help her find her own balance through these leading turns.

Part 3 continues to develop Scout’s balance.  Not only will this teach great leading manners, but it also opens the door to lateral work.  So many good things come out of lessons that are taught with positive reinforcement.

Part 4 begins to introduce the lead back into the equation.  We don’t want to have to rely forevermore on food delivery to get turns.  Now that Scout understands the pattern we want, Cindy can begin to ask for the turns from the lead.  She may encounter some old history when she slides down the lead.  Scout’s old pattern was to push through pressure, so Cindy goes back and forth between the food delivery and the lead to set up the turns and and change Scout’s expectations.

You’ll see some beautiful rope handling in these videos.  Cindy is very light and tactful on the lead.   She is familiar with the rope handling techniques which I teach in my books, DVDs and on-line course.  If you aren’t familiar with this type of rope handling, refer to my web sites: and

The lessons I am presenting here are built around this style of rope handling.  The lead is taught as a clicker-compatible tool.  The horses trust the information it gives them.  It is not used as a correction tool.  I don’t want my horses to be afraid of the lead or to be worrying about what might happen if they make a mistake.  That would poison the cues the lead is giving.  If you are using a style of rope handling in which escalating pressure is at times used to enforce behavior, you will undermine the intent and the power of this lesson.

Part 5 takes us into the second day of the clinic and shows us steady progress in this lesson.  You might want to refer back to Part 1 as a reminder of the starting point.

Up to this point Cindy has just asked Scout to turn away from her.  In this lesson I have her ask her to turn in her direction, as well.  We’re following a basic principle of training: For every exercise you teach, there is an opposite exercise you must teach to keep things in balance.  These two turns are part of creating beautiful leading balance.

Part 6 continues the process of adding in the lead.  Again, I’ll refer you to my books, DVDs, clinics and on-line course for details on this rope handling technique.

Cindy and Scout are learning how to dance together.  Each small step is part of a larger flow that will let them move in balance one with the other.  This is the final video of this particular lesson.  Scout had been doing wonderfully well, but she was beginning to get a little slower in her responses.  That’s a good indicator that she might be getting tired.  So rather than push beyond what she could do, we noted this early sign of fatigue and brought the day’s lesson to a close.  Both Scout and Cindy had learned a lot.

This is a glimpse into the future.  This clip was taken during the fall 2015 clinic.  Scout and Cindy have made great progress in their dance together.  Lateral work is one of the many good results that comes out of teaching good balance.

The fun of teaching in this way is you always get so many good things popping out of simple lessons!

Have Fun!

Coming Next: Chapter 3: The Time Has Come the Walrus Said To Talk of Many Things: Premack, Asking Questions, Mats, Airplane Runways and Creativity

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 “Joyful Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via

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: