Goat Diaries: Day 4 – Eagerness

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We’re in the midst of the Holiday Season.  Do you need a thank you gift for your horse sitter, a stocking stuffer for your riding partners?  Here’s a thought.  Share the links to the Goat Diaries.

Goat Happy Holidays greeting

 

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.

The July Goat Diaries: Day 4 – Eagerness

Balancing Energy

I’ve been describing how I introduced a second platform into the training sessions.  This new game of moving from one platform to another was proving to be an exciting one for P.  He didn’t just walk from one platform to another.  He leapt with energy, bouncing between them and managing to land somehow with all four feet balanced even on the small wooden platform.

The sound of my click helped to stop him.  That’s a good sign that he was understanding it’s meaning.  It also shows the value of the marker signal.  If I had not been able to interrupt him, all this energy might have propelled him beyond the platform and into me.

Instead, once he was on the platform, we could shift into stillness.  With such a smart, energetic, always thinking animal I needed to be especially careful to include these long stretches of quiet.  It doesn’t make for an “exciting” training session.  The expression is: “good training should be boring to watch.”

It took only a second or two to charge from one platform to the next.  That was often followed by a minute and a half of reinforcing him for stillness.  That’s how important this balance is.  Energy was easy to get.  Being still was the more challenging element.

Stillness is built in tiny increments.  It was: “Can you stay on your platform while I shift back away from you?”  Yes, click and treat.  I reinforced him not just with peanuts and hay stretcher pellets, but with head scratching as well.

Stillness is even more important for horses.  After all we’re going to be sitting on them.  I want my horses to know how to add energy.  And I also want them to know how to find stillness.  I want to preserve the eagerness, and the enthusiasm for learning.  I want them to love playing the clicker game and interacting with me.  In other words, I want it all!

Eagerness can very quickly turn to frustration.  Quick thinkers expect quick answers.  An abrupt change in criteria can throw them off.  Think about a train traveling at high speed.  If the track divides, the train can easily go racing off in the wrong direction.

When the criterion changes, that high speed train is the horse who doesn’t see the second choice.  Suddenly, he’s traveling at high speed away from what you wanted.  No wonder these high energy, quick thinkers can truly feel like a train wreck about to happen.

The solution is to turn the train into the milk run that stops at all the local stations.  When we stop at a mat, that’s the milk run stopping at the next station.  The calm in between all the doing gives your fast learner time to think, to notice what you’re asking him to do, and to figure out the connections.

You don’t have to correct the unwanted behaviors that pop out of the energy.  You just need to redirect them into behaviors you want.  Over time as you build a solid repertoire of desired behaviors, they will push aside these other impulses.  And if your learner does suddenly feel the urge to butt you with his horns or whatever other behavior is normal for his species, the habit of going into stillness will derail this other impulse.  At least that’s the theory.  I was going to see over the next few days if it worked as well with goats as it does with horses.

Goat Diaries Day 4  Two platforms Pt 5 Lots of energy into stillness - Excitement.png

Goat Diaries Day 4  Two platforms Pt 5 Lots of energy into stillness - into stillness.png

E’s 11 am session

E was waiting for me to begin. He stood up at the door getting a soft head rub visit before we began. He really is sweet.  You’d think he would be the more submissive goat in the pair, but you would be wrong.  He’s definitely a very much strong-minded goat who knows how to get what he wants.  He may be small, but he drives P away from anything he wants.

I worked E in the stall with P in the outside run.  I set up the blue blocks again as platforms.  He was on them instantly.  Even though he was eager for the food, he kept his feet on the platform.  His toes were right on the edge, almost tipping him off, but he managed somehow to keep four feet on the platform.  As a small test, I stepped back away from the platform.  He stayed put.  Click and treat.  He was learning: the way to get the treats was to wait on the platform.

With him I clicked and gave him a treat for staying on the platform, then I scratched his head and back before beginning another next round.  I used the target to move him from platform to platform.  I was very much feeling the need for a larger work area so I could set up more platforms.  The next step clearly should have been a move into the barn aisle, but that would have to wait a day or two until after the swallows had fledged.  We had three nests this year in the aisle.  Nest 1 with five occupants was in the process of fledging.  I would be able to use the aisle without disturbing the other nests, but for now we had to wait.  I didn’t want to risk disturb the swallows by taking the goats out into the aisle.

Goat Diaries Day 4 E's session 2 platforms in stall 1 - Panel 1.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 E's session 2 platforms in stall 1 - Panel 2.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 E's session 2 platforms in stall 1 - Panel 3.png

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Goat Diaries Day 4 E's session 2 platforms in stall 1 - Panel 8.png

I had introduced the second platform to help both goats understand targeting better. I though if they had something to go to, the targeting might make more sense.

The following three panels (Fig. 1-12.) are taken from E’s session earlier in the morning.   He’s orienting to the target, but he’s very slow and inconsistent in his response.  It’s interesting contrast.  He’s not really noticing the target, but in the later session, once I added in the second platform, suddenly the target made more sense to him.

Early days with targeting panel 1.png

Early days with targeting panel 2.png

Compare this with the photos below.  With two platforms to move between, E seemed to be following the target much more consistently.  Or to be more specific, the target was becoming a release cue: you can move now from one mat to another.

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 1.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 2.png

What also pleased me was how much E was enjoying the scratching. We’d progressed from frozen immobility to active involvement. He was responding more and more to my contact with signs of real pleasure.

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 3.png

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Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 5.png

Moving from one platform to another, getting scratched, these were just elements in a larger pattern.  Each part of the sequence helped to build new skills.  Sometimes I wanted E to follow the target and move off the platform, and sometimes I wanted him to stay put while I moved away from him.  The contrast between these elements helped him understand better what I wanted him to do.  In other words, he was beginning to understand cues.

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 6.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 7.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 7.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 8.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 9.png

I have included this series of photos to show that good results come from repetition.  I ask over and over again for E to stay on the mat while I step back from him.  Gradually, I am able to step further away from him.  Eventually this will result in my being able to leave him both for extended distances and time as the photo below of Robin illustrates.  In this case I have left the arena completely.  Robin continues to wait on his mat.

Robin in runway on mat.png

Robin is presenting a beautiful illustration of how much distance and duration you can develop with mats.  I’ve left the arena and gone upstairs to take this photo.  He continues to wait patiently for me.

Stepping back from E is part of an overall pattern.  I work for a few reps on that skill, then I move on to a different part of the pattern.  In this case scratching comes next.

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 10.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 11.png

When I finished, I opened the door to the outside area.  Instead of E going out, P came in.  At first, they headed for the same platform.   Little E made it very clear that he wanted the platform.  There was a bit of head butting, but P gave in easily.  Without needing any help from me got themselves sorted out each on his own platform.  It was very clear from this quick exchange who rules this roost.  Standing one each on a platform minimized the competition.  They were learning that sharing is the way to get peanuts.

I only had a little bit of food left so we did a couple of click/treat rounds for staying on their platforms, then we had some head scratching.  When I was all done, I gave them some hay and left two happy goats to enjoy the afternoon.

The Goat Palace Journal – Dec. 17, 2017

Fast forward to their current work, and I still have two super eager goats.  With Christmas just around the corner it seems appropriate that I am writing about eagerness! These goats do remind me of small children.  “Pick me! Pick me!”  They are like the eager child in a classroom who is always shooting his hand up hoping the teacher will call on him.  Eager anticipation.  I do love it.  Now how to manage it?  That’s what we’re working on.

Our training sessions over the last few days have involved both goats working together with multiple platforms.  Elyan’s favorite platform is the large storage box.  When he’s up there, I can give him a squeeze of a hug which he seems to enjoy.  He’s very good at staying on the box even when I go to the opposite end of the hallway to give Pellias a treat for staying on his platform.

Pellias is a little less rooted to the spot.  He’ll often come forward to one of the platforms in the middle of the hallway.  When I turn to him to give him my attention, he races back with me to the end platform.  It’s very cute.  After a couple of rounds of this he usually stays put.

What is so interesting with him is the change that has occurred since July.  In July he was just beginning to figure out the game.  His previous experience before coming to the barn had taught him that jumping up on children got them to laugh and drop treats.  That didn’t work with me.  He couldn’t always figure out what he was supposed to do to get peanuts.  His enthusiasm would collide with his confusion, and produce frustration.  This was expressed with quick head butts towards me.  All of that has vanished.  He still gets excited.  When I call him, I love watching him come skittering to me, all eager energy.  The swing of the head in a frustrated head butt is gone.  It has been replaced with understanding and a repertoire of behaviors that work to get attention – and treats.

One of the cute things that’s evolving occurs when I am filling the hay feeders.  Galahad wanders off to scavenge in the hallway.  Since I don’t work with him, he’s less interested in trying to get my attention.  But Pellias and Elyan are very easer students.  Pellias generally stays in the hallway.  He jumps up on the storage box and looks expectantly in my direction.  Luckily I can reach through the railing to offer him a treat.  He has to get off the box to get it which gives him another opportunity to return to the box.

Meanwhile behind me little Elyan is waiting at his station, the “balance beam” of a thick piece of wood.  I sometimes don’t realize that he’s there because he is waiting so well.  There’s no little tappity tap, tap of his hooves as he waits in eager anticipation of his treat.  Instead he is standing all four feet planted on his post.  When I turn to give him my attention, he stretches out as far as he can without actually falling off his perch.  Please, please, please may I have a treat?  I will have to get a picture.  He is very cute in his eagerness.

When I call Pellias, he comes running in from the hallway to his station.  Then it’s click and treat for both of them several times before I drop treats in the hay.  They stay eating at their spots while I call Galahad in and leave him with treats to find in the hay.  We’ve gone from head butting competition to a much more peaceful exit.  Even little Elyan is learning to share!

Remember at the beginning of this post I wrote:

“You don’t have to correct the unwanted behaviors that pop out of the energy.  You just need to redirect them into behaviors you want.  Over time as you build a solid repertoire of desired behaviors, they will push aside these other impulses. At least that’s the theory.  I was going to see if it worked as well with goats as it does with horses.”

That is indeed happening with these goats.

Coming Next: Goat Diaries Day 4 – Patterns

 

Goat Diaries: If One Mat Is Good, Two Must Be Better

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.

July Goat Diaries – Day 4 Continued

Multiple mats serve many functions.  For starters having a second mat gives your learner something to move towards.  This is especially useful if you have a horse whose feet feel as though they are stuck in cement – or a goat who is learning about cues.

The first thing Pellias had learned with the clicker was you got treats for moving your nose to a target stick.  He could do that.

Then I had taught him the platform game, and with it came a “rule”.  You get treats for staying on the platform.  He had that one!

But now if I held a target out just beyond the platform, the “rules” seemed to conflict. What was he supposed to do?  I didn’t want him to feel confused or frustrated.  I thought adding in a second platform might help him solve the puzzle.  Now if he stepped off the platform to touch the target, it just took him to another platform.  What a good deal!

In effect the appearance of the target became the cue to go to another platform.  From his perspective I’m sure he was convinced that I was saying: “Stay on your platform until you see the baton.  When you see that, it’s your cue to move to the second platform.” Down the road I will want targets to have a more general meaning: “orient to this object”.  For now I was content with this as a starting point.  It was okay to attach that very specific meaning to the baton.  When I want to expand his understanding of targets, there are lots of other things I can use.

It’s important to notice the “rule” your animal is following and to understand what he thinks the cues you’re presenting mean.  You don’t want to make him wrong for something he thinks he is getting right.  After all, whatever odd conclusions he is coming to are a result of what you’ve taught him.  The training mantras to remember are:

“Don’t make them wrong for something you’ve taught.”

“You never know what someone has learned.  You only know what you’ve presented.”  (Your learner will tell you later what he thinks you’ve been teaching!)

I wanted Pellias to stay on platforms.  I also wanted him to leave them.  And I wanted him to orient to targets.  I needed to set up my training so the “rules” he was learning didn’t conflict.

When they did, I either needed to go have a cup of tea while I figured out a way to explain things better.  Or I needed to let his rule be right.  That sounds as though I am caving in to my animal, but really what I am doing is reinforcing him for what he already knows while I sneakily insert extra pieces.  As the behaviors expand, suddenly the rules can co-exist without conflict.

Essentially Pellias was learning about cues.  The platform was a cue – go stand on it.  The target stick was a cue – go touch it with your nose.  If the target was close enough to the platform, he could do both at the same time, but now he had to choose.  Do I stay or go?

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

In this case leaving meant going to the second platform.  The pull of both cues took him off the platform to the target.  Click – treat.  “That was right.  Now how about hopping up on this block of wood?”  He was learning that cues weren’t meant to put him into conflict.  What should I do?  What should I do?  Instead it’s: “You’re doing great, so here’s the next cue.”  That cue opens the door to another fun thing that you also get reinforced for.

The general takeaway is this: my learner has continued to be successful throughout, but now the training has gained a new layer of complexity.  Inserted into the mix is the control that cues give us:  You’re doing this now.  That’s great.  Now wait there.  That’s still great.  Now switch and shift to this other activity.  Perfect!  What does my learner experience?  You’re right, you’re right, you’re right.  Learning is easy!

My second platform was much smaller than the foam platform I had been using.  A horse would have needed some time to figure out how to get all four feet on such a small landing zone.  P’s mountain goat heritage meant he had no trouble not only balancing on the platform, but pivoting on it, as well.  Again, I was learning that goats are like horses, except they’re not.  This long series of photos shows how quickly I was able to open up space between us while he stayed on his platform.

Goat diaries day 4 two platforms Pt 3  panels 1-4.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two Platforms Pt 2 What a Nimble Goat - panels 5-8.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two Platforms Pt 2 What a Nimble Goat - panels 9-12.png

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Goat Diaries Day 4 Two Platforms Pt 2 What a Nimble Goat - panels 26-30.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two Platforms Pt 2 What a Nimble Goat - panels 31-34.png

Based on this series of photos, I wouldn’t want you to think that the training was all smooth sailing or that P was a perfect little angel.  He did have his moments.  The good news was he was beginning to have a repertoire of desirable behaviors that I could reinforce.  He very quickly recovered his good manners and returned to standing well on the platform.

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two platforms Pt 3 - A Less Than Perfect Goat - panel 1.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two platforms Pt 3 - A Less Than Perfect Goat - panel 2.png

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Goat Diaries Day 4 Two platforms Pt 3 - A Less Than Perfect Goat - panel 4.png

P was not lacking for energy. He jumped at speed from one platform to the next.  He needed to learn how to control his speed so he could land on the platform.  He was certainly fun to watch as he leapt from one platform to the next.  I loved the air-planing of his ears!  These goats are full of such joy.  That’s something I very much wanted to preserve in their training.

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two platforms Pt 3 - A Less Than Perfect Goat - panel 5.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two platforms Pt 3 - A Less Than Perfect Goat - panel 6.png

The Goat Palace Journal for Dec. 14, 2017

That was then.  This is now.  Pellias had a session by himself first thing in the morning.  We had the length of the hallway to play in – thirty feet.  I had all the platforms out: the storage box at the far end, the narrow platforms set at right angles to one another in the middle, the larger foam platform at the near end, a “balance beam” of a thick piece of wood, and a couple of wooden mats.  Pellias had a glorious time bouncing from one platform to another.

When I started with him in July his eagerness and energy would sometimes erupt into a charging head butt.  That behavior has completely disappeared (at least towards me. He’ll still have a go at Elyan and Galahad.)  I never punished him for these displays towards me.  Instead I stayed focused on showing him what I wanted.  Go from this platform to this one, and I will give you a treat.  Now he can bounce joyfully from one to another.  He can get excited and still stay in the game.  Training – it’s a wonderful thing!

I let Elyan join him for another game of leap frog.  Back and forth they went, from one platform to another.  Oh, and did I mention there was an open box of hay sitting by the gate?  I normally bring the hay out in empty shavings bags so the goats aren’t tempted.  I had run out of bags, so this morning I carried the hay out in a big plastic box.  While I was restocking my treat supply, the game stopped briefly.  They took advantage of the break to run over to the box to eat.  But as soon as the game was back on, they left the freely available food to play leap frog with me.  Training – it is a wonderful!

Coming Next: Goat Diaries Day 4 Eagerness