The July Goat Diaries
I don’t know which label to give this session:
The longer you stay with an exercise the more good things you see that it gives you.
You can never do one thing.
These both work.
E was very cautious around people. He had shown me that many times over. When Panda first arrived at eight months of age, she was more than cautious. She was afraid to the point of charging anyone who leaned over her. She hadn’t shown this behavior when we first met her in July, but it’s what she arrived with in September. Panda was a Florida girl. That’s where she was born. We had to wait the extra two months for it to be cool enough to transport her North. She arrived sporting the most gorgeous show clip. Because she is little, I suspect the clipping was imposed not trained. She was probably the victim of the “three men and a boy” school of horse handling, meaning she was wrestled into submission and made to stand still while someone towered over her with a pair of clippers.
So the horse we received in September pinned her ears and snaked her neck out whenever someone came near. If I had seen any sign of this behavior when we looked at her, I would have passed on her as a potential guide. But here she was. Florida was a long way away, so this was the horse I was going to train. I had enormous confidence that clicker training would get this sorted – and of course it did. Not only did Panda become a super guide, these lessons led to her favorite game – Panda catch.
So now with E I had a goat who was afraid of people. I found myself using many of the lessons that had worked so well with Panda. Who knows how many good things these simple lessons would bring us.
E’s 7 pm session
I brought E out on a lead into the arena. He was very good. He showed me that he was understanding the morning lesson. When I clicked, he was moving away from my treat pocket to get the treat.
Ann joined us in the arena. I led him up to her. He reached out cautiously to sniff her. Click, treat. I repeated this a couple of times, then he decided he wasn’t interested in going towards her again.
If his caution had been only that, discovering that approaching Ann produced treats might have been enough to break the ice. But his caution was a reflection of real fear. I have to be careful under these conditions. If I am afraid of cats, but I really need the fifty dollars you are offering me if I touch the hissing kitten, I might do it. I’m still afraid of all things feline. Take away the fifty dollars, and I won’t go anywhere near the kitten. That’s always a question when you are using positive reinforcement to get an individual “over” their fear. Are you really changing the underlying concern, or are you just masking that worry? And is it really fair to ask someone to make that choice?
It is possible that when I touch the kitten, it turns into a soft ball of purring contentment. Instead of being afraid, now I’m enchanted. Being clicked and reinforced for approaching the kitten has shown me that I have nothing to be afraid of.
Being clicked and reinforced for approaching Ann, was not enough to convince E that she was harmless. I changed the game.
I clicked E as he walked beside me keeping slack in the lead, but instead of giving him the treat directly, I walked over to Ann and put the treat into her outstretched hand. She was now the “food bowl.” The first time I had to hold my hand over hers to get him to approach and take a treat. After that he was willing to eat directly from her hand.
I wanted E to discover that people can be the source of good things. I did a lot of this with Panda. It began just as I was doing here. Gradually, as Panda became more comfortable approaching people, we added in more people and changed the game to a targeting lesson. At clinics I would have people form a large circle. Each person would have a target, but only one person at a time would hold out the target. When Panda approached and oriented to the target, click, that person gave her a treat. Then that target disappeared, and someone else would hold out a target.
This game gradually morphed into its current form. Panda gallops from one person to the next. As she approaches, she runs around behind the chosen person and comes to a halt neatly at their side. Very fun! They click, give her a treat, and then off she goes – galloping to the next person. If you asked her, she would say she invented the game, and in many ways she would be right.
I was borrowing from the beginnings of Panda catch to help E make several important discoveries. I was hoping this lesson would help him to become more comfortable approaching people other than myself. I also thought it might direct him away from my treat pocket. When I clicked, I immediately headed over to Ann. This took the focus off my pocket. It wasn’t click and then zero in on my hand reaching towards my pocket. Now it was click and follow me to the “food bucket”.
After he got his treat, he had to decide what to do next. Should he stay where he just got fed, or he should follow me? Decisions, decisions. The choice he made was to follow me. Excellent!
So now we had a new game. I used the lead to direct E away from Ann. I was careful not to drag him. If he didn’t follow right away, I waited. The contact from the lead told him I wanted something. It was up to him to figure out what – and to be willing to do it. As soon as he moved towards me and away from Ann, click, I walked the treat back to her outstretched hand.
Once he had his treats, I used the lead to ask him to move away from her hand and to come to me. I know many dog trainers use versions of this game. They’ll toss the treats so the dog has to move away from them to get them. Or they’ll have the treats stashed in a bowl. When they click, they’ll take the dog with them to get the treat. These are all good strategies for keeping our animal learners from becoming locked onto our pockets.
The photos below show a wonderful progression. E gets a treat from Ann and then walks off with me. Click! (Fig. 1 – 4) We return to Ann. (Fig. 5-8) But now when I ask E to leave, he’s conflicted. Ann has the treats! Here again the rope handling becomes important. It would be so easy to pull him into motion. The learning for him in that case would be follow or be dragged. That’s not what I want him to learn.
Instead I wait for him to make his own choice. (Fig. 9-13) E walks off with me. Click. (Fig. 14) E watches me hand the treat to Ann and walks with me so he can get to her. (Fig. 15-17) This time when I ask E to follow me, he backs with me away from Ann. (Fig. 18-19) We walk back to Ann.
Walking back to Ann gives E more practice walking with me. That’s one of the great benefits of this process. (Fig. 20-22). E is becoming comfortable enough with Ann for her to be able to stroke him. (Fig. 23) This time when I ask him to walk off with me, he leaves readily and we walk a large circle past Ann. Click! (Fig. 24-27) We return to Ann for a treat. (Fig. 28-30) That’s a lot of progress from sequence to sequence
When we left the arena, E was in a hurry to get back to the stall. I did a lot of stopping and asking him to come back to me. As he came off the pressure of the lead, click, I gave him a treat and we continued on. We hadn’t gone half way down the aisle before he was walking beside me keeping slack in the lead. These goats are such fast learners. He was becoming a pleasure to lead. Gone was the sled dog impersonation we had started with.
The Goat Palace – Current Training
In my previous post I shared a story about Thanzi and Trixie dating back to the end of December. https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/02/14/ January was a brutally cold month here in the Northeast. The temperatures stayed in the single digits often dipping well below zero (Fahrenheit). Training sessions shrunk down to the bare minimum. It’s so easy to think that you aren’t getting anything done during these long stretches when the weather is against you, but the reality is good things emerge out of little steps.
So I described in the previous post how I reinforced Thanzi and Trixie for staying on their platforms and waiting patiently for their treats. Every time I fed them, I would open their gate and let them out into the hallway. While I was filling their hay feeders, they were waiting for me on their platforms. It was bitter cold, but how could I resist? So I would spend a couple of minutes clicking and reinforcing first one, then the other. I wanted them to learn to take turns.
We are now in February, and it is shedding season. This is very relevant because these are cashmere goats. Their fleece has to be combed out of their coat and collected. I was not looking forward to this, especially for Trixie who has been so body shy.
Sister Mary Elizabeth came out last week to check on their coats. They weren’t yet starting to shed, so we sat and visited with them instead. As she told me about Trixie’s background, she remembered that she had been one of three goats who were attacked by a dog last summer. She wondered if this contributed to the fear Trixie often showed. It is certainly possible.
A couple of days later Trixie started to let go of her coat. She and Thanzi were on their platforms. I started to comb across her back. She stayed on her platform!
Thanzi has just started to shed as well. Yesterday both goats took turns. I would comb Thanzi while Trixie waited on her platform. Then I would comb Trixie while Thanzi waited.
This was a huge step for both of these goats – to let me comb them without any restraint was an enormous gift. To have it completely volunteered turned what could have been a horrible struggle into something all three of us can look forward to. Instead of destroying the good work I had been doing with them, the combing was building trust.
This is what I love about positive reinforcement training. You ALWAYS get more good things than just the one thing you are focused on.
These two photos tell the story. I love how patiently each goat waits while the other is groomed. And I am delighted that I can lean over them to comb out their fleece. All that patient prep was paying off!
And by the way, not only do I not want to stress them. I don’t want to stress their babies. Both goats are due in March. It won’t be long now before we have baby goats in the barn!
Coming Next: The Goat Diaries: Day 11 – A Walk in the Park
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.