Training happens fast and it happens slowly. Training happens fast. Within every session I see changes. At the beginning of a session, I might be able to get only the briefest of brief hesitations in grown-ups. At the end of the session, there will be a definite pause. At the start of the session, I may be able to ask for only a couple of steps forward on a lead. By the end we can go five or six steps at a time. This may not sound like very much, but when you watch an individual figuring out the pieces, the learning seems lightening fast. The challenge is always staying that step or two ahead so you can keep moving the training along.
Training is also very slow. That’s because the fast learning is taking place in tiny steps. It takes time for these tiny steps to accumulate into the big steps people are used to seeing. It takes time for all the little triumphs to add up into consistent performance.
That’s certainly true when it comes to good manners around food. I want the goats to want the treats. I want them to be eager for them. I don’t want to make it so hard to get to them that the goats begin to dread the sound of the click. Incrementally over these ten days of training, I had been teaching them grown-up “table manners”.
When I first introduced the treats, it was feed, feed, feed, without making the availability of the treats contingent on any behavior.
Then the target was introduced. Now it was touch the target, and click, I’ll reach into my pocket to get you a goody. The goats didn’t notice these relationships at first. The click only gradually took on meaning. Now at day ten, when I clicked as they were racing forward to the mounting block, and they instantly spun back to me, I knew that sound had meaning. (Watch the video of their mounting block games that’s in the previous post, and you’ll see this response.
The click is a cue – an invitation. To the goats it says: “come get your treats.”
Getting treats often included surging forward towards my pockets. They were charming about it. It didn’t feel at all threatening, but these were still little goats. Would I feel the same once they matured to their full size? So I began to add in more rules. I actively used the food delivery to move them out of my space.
When I took P back into the arena after our wonderful play session on the mounting block, I experimented with a new rule. I would never have asked for so much on Day 1 of his clicker training education, but my sense was he was ready for this next criterion.
When I clicked, I presented the treat where the perfect goat would be. That often meant he had to back up to get the treat. This much had been the consistent requirement for several days. Now I added a new element. Instead of moving my arm towards him to encourage the backing, I stayed still and kept my hand closed until he had moved out of my space. Only then would I open my hand to present the treat.
The first couple of times I tried this, he was definitely confused. He fussed at my hand. Why was I not giving him the treat?
I was putting him into an extinction process, but the “pump was well primed”. Earlier behaviors began to pop up. The hottest of these behaviors was backing. Perfect! My hand opened, and he got his treat. I also got a confused goat. What was going on! Why did moving away from the treat get him the treat? What an upside down, inside out world!
A couple of clicks later, he was beginning to catch on. I was pleased that I could work on this detail in this session. Just minutes before he had been racing across the mounting block with E, but now on the lead, he walked like a gentleman, keeping a comfortable distance between us.
When I clicked, I held the back of my hand to him, and he backed up. All the overrunning, crowding into me, and pulling like a sled dog was gone. That doesn’t mean it couldn’t all come back in a flash, but he was learning alternatives that worked better. Crowding didn’t get you treats. Backing did!
When you get to know an animal over an extended period of time, you see how solid they can become around food. They move from this training level stage of eager anticipation, to “Grand Prix” level emotional control. They still want the food, but they have the confidence to wait because they understand so fully how the game is played.
P was still learning. Each time I clicked it was like Christmas morning for him – so exciting!
I wanted to give him more practice being patient so I began to take a little longer to get the treat out of my pocket. Here’s how this unfolded: we would be walking. I’d click. He’d stop, but he’d end up a little forward of perfect heel position. I’d reach promptly into my pocket. He could see that I was getting him a treat, but instead of getting it to him as quickly as I could, now I fished around a bit in my pocket before bringing my hand out.
While I was fishing, he’d back up. That was my cue to bring my hand out of the pocket to present the treat.
Now someone might say: aren’t you lying with your click? You’ve always said that if you click, you treat. Now you’re adding on all of these conditions.
The click is a cue. It is a cue for two individuals. It is a cue to my animal learner to interrupt whatever activity he was just engaged in and to check in with me. My body position will then tell him what he needs to do to get his treat – stand still, come forward, back up. I’m going to be feeding where the perfect learner would be. Perfection depends upon the activity.
The click is also a cue for me. When I click, I’m to interrupt what I was just doing and go into treat delivery behavior.
This is where I need to be under full stimulus control. I don’t want any treat delivery behavior before the click, and each and every time I click I want to respond by shifting into treat delivery.
I also want to understand that reinforcement is an event not an object. Reinforcement is so much more than ingesting a couple of peanuts. Reinforcement is the whole process. Think about the experience of going out to dinner at a favorite restaurant. The anticipation through the day is part of the whole process. Looking over the menu, making the selection, talking with your friends, watching the waiter bring out the tray, seeing each person’s meal being placed before them, are all part of the experience.
A small child gets impatient and just wants his cake and ice cream NOW! Gradually, over time, he learns patience. He learns to enjoy the anticipation. He understands that it is all part of the pleasure of the experience.
I used to use peppermint candies as special treats for my horses. They came individually wrapped. Especially in the summer, they could get very sticky. It would take a bit to get them unwrapped. Under saddle it was fun to feel the anticipation of my horse. He could hear the crinkle of the wrapping. He knew what was coming. His favorite treat! Waiting didn’t make him anxious. Waiting just intensified the experience. What evidence do I have that all this increased the value of the reinforcer? As soon as we started up again, he would offer me something even more spectacular. It was as if he was saying: if you thought that last bit was good, now look at what I can do!
P was in the early stages of learning about patience and the pleasures of reinforcement. In his first clicker training session I would never have asked for so much. It was click and get the treat to him quickly – never rushed but always quick. That’s why I shifted from keeping my treats in my pocket to holding them in a cup. Reaching into my pocket took too long on day one.
But now I was working with a more educated goat. He knew a treat was definitely coming, but now he had to figure out where I was going to deliver it. I could put more steps into the reinforcement procedure. I could reach into my pocket. I could fish around for the perfect treat, and I could wait until he was in the perfect position before opening my hand. As long as he could see that I was actively involved in getting a treat, he remained eager. The click wasn’t broken. The connection between the cue and the reinforcement process became even stronger. It didn’t turn into teasing and it didn’t create a frustrated animal.
So now P would walk along on a lovely slack lead, click, I’d deliver the treat out away from my body. Then I’d look for a moment of stillness to reinforce. I was remembering to insert some “grown-ups are talking” even if it was just for a brief second or two at this stage.
Not surprisingly, he was offering a lot of backing. I had shown him that was a good guess, but I really didn’t want that to be the final behavior. I wanted the backing to turn into stillness.
The challenge was getting the stillness and not a chain that included backing. This is where the power of the marker signal really shines. If I got my clicks in fast, I could capture being still.
I wanted to get to a consistent cue for being still. I tried: my hand going to the edge of my vest means go into stillness. If I could touch my hand to my vest before he moved, click, he got a treat. I did a few quick reps of this and then walked off with him following beside me on a slack lead.
The next time I stopped, he showed me that he was already beginning to notice the new cue. He is so smart and so eager. That makes him tremendous fun to work with.
On our way back to his stall he walked beside me on a slack lead. A couple of days ago he was rushing ahead to get back to the stall. It’s exciting to get back to the stall because he knows I’ll be dropping treats on the floor. Now he was walking beside me. He was stopping when I clicked, being polite about the treats, and then going on again with me. Learning happens fast!
The Goat Palace: Current Training – Foot Care
It has been so cold all of January, the goats’ training has consisted of just a few quick click and treats for going to their platforms, then it was a rush to get their hay feeders filled and my gloves back on. But even that little bit of training has paid off. Now when I open the door and let the youngsters out, all three head straight to their designated platforms. Even Galahad manages to stay put and wait his turn instead of pestering the other two.
The ladies also head for their platforms. Thanzi is always eager to play. What has been especially reinforcing for me is I can see Trixie’s confidence growing. These have been good accomplishments, but it also left undone so many things. This past week it warmed up slightly so I spent some time with Pellias working on foot care. What a fascinating project this has turned into!
I have been handling their feet for a while. I make it part of the cuddle sessions. Can I run my hand down your leg and touch your toes? Yes? Great. Instead of clicking and giving you a treat, I’ll take my hand away from your foot and scratch you in your favorite, go-into-bliss spots.
A couple days ago I asked for a bit more. Pellias was on a platform. I leaned down to run my hand down his leg. Leaning down triggered leaping up. Hmm. Clearly a goat behavior, but not one I wanted to encourage. However, you can’t leap up and keep your feet on the ground. So I just had to be quicker with my agenda than he was with his. I leaned down again. As he started his jump, I had my hand ready. As soon as his foot began to leave the ground, I was there. His foot contacted my hand, click, I stood up and gave him a treat. Repeat. I leaned down. He jumped up, I touched his foot, and gave him a treat.
I wish I had had the camera running. It was so fascinating how this played out. At first, someone watching would have been saying: are you crazy! You’re just going to teach him to jump up on you. Except that wasn’t what was happening. The jumping up quickly transformed into a lift forward of his leg.
He was ready for me to change the cue. I was on his left side. I had been using my right hand. Now when I leaned down, I held out my left hand first. He lifted his foot and placed it in my waiting hand. So much fun! I tried swapping sides, but that got us in a muddle. He was determined to lift his left front foot and started leaping up again. I swapped back to his left side and let him settle back into just lifting his foot, click and treat. That’s where the session ended.
The next day he was clearly eager to play this foot lifting game again. When I opened the gate to let everyone out, he hung back in the pen. He was standing on the platform I had used the day before, inviting me to come play. So I did. I leaned over and offered my left hand. He immediately lifted his foot up and placed it in my hand. He was using a pawing action. His foot didn’t stay in my hand. When his foot touched my hand, I clicked, gave him a treat, and offered my hand again.
Gradually, ever so incrementally, I began to look for relaxation. Now I didn’t click as soon as his foot touched my hand. I waited. He would paw, try again, paw, try again, and there it was – that barely detectable lessening of muscle tension. Click, treat, repeat. He was getting the idea. Lift your foot up and place it softly into my hand. That was quite a leap from the day before!
All this is to prepare him for a trim. That means I need him to give me both front feet. My attempt the previous day at asking for his right front had failed. This time I tried a different tactic. I used what he already knew. I asked him for “side” which means he lets me stand on his left side. Click, treat. Then I leaned down and offered my left hand. He placed his left front in my waiting hand. Click, treat.
I switched so I was standing in front of him. “Front” – click, treat.
Then I swung around so I was on his right side. “Off” – click, treat.
I leaned down and offered my right hand. He picked up his right front and placed it my hand!
Did I say these goats are smart!
Okay that could have been a fluke. But no. When I put the request for foot lifts into a context he already knew – the platform positions, he consistently lifted the foot I was asking for.
So here’s one of my favorite training mantras: Everything is connected to everything else.
That’s especially true when you are working with smart eager goats!
Here’s a short video clip showing where we were after just a couple of sessions. We’ve moved from the pen where I originally introduced this new behavior out into the hallway, so he is learning to generalize to new locations.
Coming Next: Goat Diaries: Day 10 Continued: Expectations
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 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.