The Goat Diaries – Clicker Training Day Four

I have finally made it to Day Four of the July Goat Diaries.  It’s only the start of Day Four but already the goats have had 14 training sessions, and I’ve learned a lot.  One of the main things I’ve learned is that goats are like horses, except that they’re not.  On Day Four I continued to build on their platform training by adding in multiple platforms.

I’ve decided to wait though to post this part of the Goat Diaries until after the Thanksgiving Holidays.  That may give me time to get some pictures of the current Goat Palace training.  I can describe what I am doing, but without pictures you are missing out on how utterly charming these goats are.

Last night I went in intending only to check hay and water, but Elyan and Pellias were looking so eager.  I couldn’t resist letting them each have another session out in the storage area.  They were super.  They had the game down.  Go to the platform, wait for the click, go to the food bowl, and then head back to the platform.   I do like this kind of training, especially at the end of the day.   All I have to do is sit in a chair and toss treats into a food bucket.  I’d spent the afternoon emptying one of the composter bays.  It’s hard work and I was tired, but I could handle this.

I worked with Pellias first.  He was so solid.  Yesterday he was still learning to go to the food bowl to get his treats.  Last night he had that down.  I love the focus of these goats.  It was after dark.  He was by himself, in a new area.  There were night sounds to listen to, but he never lost his focus on the game.  It was go to the platform, click, go to the food bowl, then back to the platform.

I’ve been thinking a lot about horse training, but in this game they moved much more like dogs.  They have the quickness and flexibility of dogs.  Pellias would get his treats and lightning fast he’d back up to get onto the platform.  It’s going to be fun to look at the teaching strategies dog trainers have developed.  I am working with an animal that is the size of a dog, has the agility of a dog, and loves treats like a dog, so it makes sense to take advantage of what canine clicker trainers have been learning.

Elyan also got a turn.  I was especially impressed by him.  I was holding a large bowl containing cut up squash.  I wanted to use up what was left from the morning sessions, but I didn’t want to mix it in with my horse treats.  The horses are telling me they don’t really like squash, but the goats are happy to eat it.

Elyan ignored the bowl!  When I clicked, he dashed to the food bucket to get the squash.  He ignored the bowl on my lap.  He could have been a terrible pest trying to get to the squash that was so openly available in the bowl, but he didn’t try even once.  The time I spent in July focusing on good food manners was time well spent.  I now have an individual who can focus on the game.  He delights in the treats, but his attention is on the activity, not the food.  That’s the shift that I worked on in July.  Now we can really have fun!

The Goat Palace - The three boys together.png

The three youngsters – from left to right, Galahad, Elyan and Pellias.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

 

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: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/ 

Goat Diaries: Keeping Things in Balance

The Goat Palace: Structure Matters – Nov. 14, 2017

When I first started teaching, I often traveled to people’s home barn to help them with their horses.  If you board your horse in a big barn, there’s usually plenty of help around,  but the people who keep their horses at home are often stuck.  They might have a trailer, but they have a horse who won’t load, so getting help can be a problem.  I was willing to travel, and I was also willing to make do with whatever training environment (or lack thereof) they had.

I learned fast that structure really does make a difference.  The right size space, good footing, good fencing, these really do make things so much easier.  I also learned to be creative with what I had.  In my first book, “Clicker Training for your Horse” I described a situation with a very aggressive thoroughbred mare.  There was no suitable outdoor space where we could work safely.  No matter.  Her stall was built into the structure of an old dairy barn, and it provided us with the perfect “theater in the round” where we could begin with protective contact. That horse really taught me how useful a starting point this can be.

Our first training day with the goats showed me that structure was going to matter with them, as well.  We began our day by closing off the gaps in the fence that separated the two areas.  That eliminated one problem.  We didn’t have to deal with little E squeezing through the boards to join in the game.  All the goats were together in the front section while we put up the boards.  That made it easy to open the gate and let the first goat through.  No surprise, Thanzi was first at the gate.

She started out by ignoring the target and checking out my pocket.  She’d looked like such a ringer the day before going so consistently to the target.  It was interesting to see what she had processed from that experience.  It was clearly, when there’s food involved, head straight to the pockets.

When she got too focused on my pockets, I would shift position so the target was more in view.  She would sniff at my pockets and then notice the target, touch it, get reinforced, then it was back to my pockets for another hopeful investigation.  This went on for a few minutes before she abruptly switched and went consistently straight to the target, click, treat, back to the target.

I used what the horses have taught me about food delivery.  As I got the treat from my pocket (winter squash rind), I moved into her space so she had to back up to get the treat.  She would take a step back without any fuss.  This is a very pushy, domineering goat.  Moving her away from the treats right from the start seemed to be nipping in the bud any tendency to crowd into me demanding treats. Yes, she was sniffing at my pockets, but it never escalated beyond that.

I know some goat enthusiasts have worried that moving goats back might trigger a head butting response, but so far, there has been no sign of this.  When I back her, I am stepping into her chest, just as I would a taller horse. And it is having the same good effect on reducing crowding that stepping into a horse’s space to deliver the treat does.

We let Trixie through the gate next.  My idea was that I would work with one goat and Marla could work with the other, but the goats didn’t cooperate.  Thanzi wanted whatever Trixie was getting so she hovered too close.  She wasn’t yet strong enough on the targeting to be drawn away.  We may have to work with her for a few days, and then catch Trixie up once Thanzi is able to stay solidly engaged with one person without being distracted by what other goats are doing.

We left the two ladies in the large area and then tried the boys.  I engaged E and P down at one end.  I had two platforms set up. I was trying to reinforce them for staying each on his own station.  I glanced over to the other end of the pen.  Marla was working Galahad using the protective contact of the fenceline.  The only problem was she had Thanzi trying to be part of the session as well.  I didn’t want Thanzi practicing behaviors that would create problems down the road so I suggested that Marla move Galahad away from the fence.  But Marla said she needed the protective contact.  Galahad was so focused on the food he couldn’t think about anything else.

Fair enough.  That’s very much what you would expect at this early stage.  It was interesting to compare E and P with Galahad.  They had started out in exactly the same way.  Peanuts meant two things: mug your person for treats and butt at your brother to drive him away.  They could think of nothing else.  But now they could work together in close quarters.  Instead of mugging, I had the beginnings of taking turns.  I was sure Galahad would catch up fast, but again structure matters.

If he needed protective contact, rather than muddle through making do, we needed to create a space that would work for him.  So we withdrew to think about how best to construct what we needed.

I didn’t think we needed to build a permanent second fence in our training space.  What we needed were panels that we could put up on a temporary basis.  I had just the right solution.  I had some lightweight training panels that could be made goat proof with a few simple additions.  We pulled them out of storage and began to weave a spider’s web of baling twine through the gaps.  When we were finished, it looked as though several very drunk spiders had been at work!

We set the panels across the width of the front training area using the jungle gym on one side to help hold them in place.

Little E was first into our new training area.  Now that he and his brother have become long-term residents, it’s time to call them by their proper names, Elyan and Pellias (though I’ll still refer to them as E and P in the July Goat Diaries).  Elyan had a super session.  He followed a new target – a green target on the end of a long stick) as I moved it around on a circle.  I had fun taking him up onto part of the jungle gym, and the down again to continue our circle.

Periodically, I stopped and held the target straight down to the ground in a neutral position.  Elyan paused by my side, and even backed up a little away from me.  Click and treat, then click and treat again to reinforce the stillness.  The title of today’s Goat Diary report is: Keeping Things In Balance.  That’s what we were working on here.

Galahad was next.  Marla and I both moved outside the goat enclosure and worked with him through the outer fence.  There was a post in the way, so we ended up working as a team. I held the target out to him and Marla fed.  He was surprisingly fast at catching on to the game.  He went consistently to the target, click, and then moved back to Marla as she reached for the treat.  The barrier made a huge difference for him.  And separating the target from the person who was feeding probably also helped.

Pellias was next.  We were just getting started, when little Elyan squeezed his way through the one gap in our fence.  I had thought the jungle gym would be enough to block it off, but I was wrong.  So again, I did a double session with them.  I got away with it, but my preference for now is to work them individually to strengthen their stationing behavior on platforms before asking them to work as a pair.  We will need to fortify our panels for the next session in order to do that.

We spent the rest of the afternoon on construction.  We finished the outer gates and further goat proofed the outer fencing.  There’s still a lot to do before we can declare the Goat Palace finished.

Again, in the evening after the horses were tucked in, I went out to sit with the goats.  This  time it was Elyan who stayed for a visit.  He was on the top platform of the jungle gym.  I set my chair beside him and reached up to scratch his chin.  He closed his eyes in blissful enjoyment.

Galahad came over a time or two but didn’t stay.  Pellias watched from the back area.  He would have had to run the gauntlet of the ladies to join us.  If they hadn’t been there, I don’t know if he would have come over or not.  It was nice to have a few minutes just with Elyan.  Every time I took my hand away, he leaned down to invite me to continue.  Back in July when I began this project, I had no idea how cat like goats are.  It’s one of their greatest charms.

So now it’s on to the double feature of today’s installment of the July Goat Diaries.  I hope this isn’t confusing you going back and forth between these two time lines. 

The Goat Diaries: Day Two Session 4: Keeping Things in Balance

 

goats backing up to get treats.png

Moving back out of my space gets treats.

In an earlier Goat Diary blog I described how P had discovered that backing up got him treats. Surprise, surprise! This discovery was clearly messing with his head. Why did this work? This evening session was confirming for him that he was right. Backing did work! But why? That was clearly still perplexing him.

One of the core principles I follow in my training is this:

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

Backing away is great, especially when you are working with an animal that comes equipped with horns! But coming forward to me is also useful. I didn’t want to lose one behavior while I worked on the other. So I also offered him the target to touch.

This is such an important stage in an animal’s introduction to clicker training. It’s easy to be right when there is only one answer. Touch a target – get clicked. That’s easy. But if the only way to get reinforced is when there’s a target around, that’s really limiting. I want my learners to understand that there are many ways to get reinforced. Touching a target is only one option.  But adding in other behaviors complicates the game. Now you have to figure out what is going to work. Is it backing? Is it targeting?  What’s the right answer? If you are guessing, it is easy to become frustrated.

This is when clues begin to morph into cues and a whole new dimension is added to the game.

4th Session 5 pm

P’s Session: Backing Confirmed

You never know what you have taught. You only know what you have presented.

In this session I asked P what he was learning. What would he do when he came forward into my space? The answer: back up away from me. Wow! Was he ever a fast learner! What fun! Now my challenge was to stay a step or two ahead of him.

Goats Day 2 Backing Confirmed P 3 photos.png

Backing Confirmed

With E I continued with some target practice in his stall.  His session showed that he was still unclear what to do with the target. He hesitated between moving to the target and staying attached to my pockets.

It is never a race to see which goat learns the fastest. E was experimenting, learning what worked and what didn’t. This is such an important part of clicker training. One of the main things E was learning was that mistakes were not punished.  It was safe to be close to me, and it was safe to guess wrong.  It was safe to experiment.

With many horses their training history has taught them not to experiment.  In command-based training you wait to be told what to do.  Anything else can get you punished. The first steps into clicker training can feel very unsafe for these individuals.  Instead of enthusiasm, you get worry and caution.  It can be a slow process unraveling the fear that comes wrapped up in their training expectations.  I was glad with these goats we could go straight to enthusiasm.

Video: Goat Diaries Day 2 E following a target  Note:You will need a password to open this video.  Use: “GoatDiariesDay 2 E Learns”

 

Coming Next: Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 2
Goats are Like Horses Except That They’re Not – Platform Training Begins

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/ 

Goat Diaries: The Goat Palace

We’re off and running!  I can’t say we finished the goat palace yesterday.  There’s still a lot left to do, but it is enough done to receive the goats.  I’m sure the three yearlings were thinking “and about time, too!”  Spending the last couple of days locked in a stall with a very dominant older doe cannot have been fun.  She made it very clear that they could venture out of their corner to get hay only when she was completely satisfied that she had gotten all the best bits.  We were racing to get it done as much for their sake as for our own desire to see it finished.

IMG_3948 the goats in the stall

E, P and Galahad are together in the corner.  Trixie is in the middle of the stall, and Thanzi has her head down eating.  The blankets are to keep their coats clean, not to keep them warm.

We were ready just at dusk.  We took the two ladies out first.  Marla ended up with the “pleasure” of being sled-dogged down the barn aisle by both of them while I kept the boys from going through the stall door.  It was not elegant.

Thankfully they headed in exactly the direction we wanted them to go.  They zipped into their new home.  I had buckets scattered about the enclosure with treats in them: cut up pieces of winter squash.  Thanzi found the buckets right away and quickly forgot about being nervous in a new space.  Trixie was a different story.  She  stayed close to Thanzi, but she was too nervous to check out the feed tubs on her own or to approach us.  As Thanzi found all the treats in one bucket, I dropped others in the next which moved her from bucket to bucket.

When Trixie was close enough to me, I held out my hand as a target.  She was curious enough to reach out towards me. Click, I handed her a treat.  She was also nervous enough to keep her distance, so at this point mugging was not an issue.  That is mugging was not an issue until Thanzi noticed that we were handing out treats.

Trixie was over by Marla and Thanzi shoved her way into the game.  With two it became too confusing.  I suggested that we only try to have them target when only one goat was involved.  I didn’t want the competition, the mugging, or the confusion over what was being clicked.  Marla moved away, and that was enough to interrupt the game for the moment.  As the ladies settled into their new space, we dropped more treats and withdrew to get the boys.

I should pause here to describe what we have built.  The original lean-to ran part way down the long side of the arena.  It was seventy feet long by twelve feet deep.  In the winter the snow sliding off the arena roof often blocked access to the entrance and in the summer it became too hot, so we used it for storage only.  Mainly what it stored were leftovers from the original construction.

For the goat palace we extended the roof out another nine feet to the edge of the gravel roadway that runs along that side of the barn.  So the entire enclosure is 70 feet by approximately 20 feet.  The goats palace is divided by an interior fence into two sections.  The back section is 40 feet by 20.  The front section is 30 feet by twelve.  We reserved the outer half of this section for equipment storage, a 9 by 30 foot space.  So the new entrance to the enclosure sits further out from the barn giving us better access in the winter.

IMG_3934 goat palace under construction

The Goat Palace a week ago.  A lot has changed in a week!

I learned from the July visit. We have built out goat enclosure very much with training in mind.  The entire enclosure is fenced and then covered with mesh both to keep goats in and predators out.  The fence line that runs along length of the equipment area has a narrow gap between two fence boards so we can fill hay feeders from the outside of the pen.  And we can also use this fence line for any protective contact training we want to do.  These two areas for the goats are divided off one from the other by an interior fence line so we separate the goats for training.

For now we had the two ladies locked in the back half so we could get the boys in without a struggle at the gate.  They were very eager to be out of the stall.  I led the way with E and P.  They definitely did not lead with the good manners they had left with!  They pulled all the way down the barn aisle.  Again, it was not elegant, but we got them out to their new home and turned them loose.

We had four home made hay feeders hanging along the rail of the front enclosure.  They found those quickly enough.  We let them explore and eat for a couple of minutes, then we opened the gate that separates the front and back half, and let the ladies join them.  Actually, it was the other way around.  The boys went to them.  They all ran around exploring, then they settled down at the hay feeders.

Marla and I were sitting on some elevated boards that are part of a jungle gym I built for them out of a couple of saw horses, and a big wooden box.

Trixie came over first and very tentatively held her nose out to Marla’s offered hand.  Click, Marla reached into her pocket and gave her a hay stretcher pellet.  I was holding a big bowl of cut up squash rind.  So after a couple of target touches with Marla, I offered my hand as a target.  Trixie very tentatively switched over to me.  Click and treat.  Then Marla offered her hand as a target.  Trixie went back to her.  We did a couple of these exchanges then Thanzi came over and Trixie retreated to the hay feeders.

Thanzi went first to Marla who was sitting closest to her.  Marla held out her hand and clicked as Thanzi reached out her nose towards her.  She fed so Thanzi had to turn her head to the side to get her treat.  I offered my hand as a target.  Thanzi came right over, click, but then she spotted the food bowl and went straight to helping herself.  Marla snatched it away and put it up out of reach on the top part of the jungle gym.

That seemed to sort the mugging, at least for the moment.  Marla held out her hand as target and fed so again Thanzi  had to turn her head to the side to get the treat.  Marla did this a couple of times.  It helps to have a spotter when you train.  I suggested that instead she feed so Thanzi would have to take a step or two back to get the treat.

This worked like a charm.  Thanzi stepped back beautifully, and after only two or three clicks, she was staying back.  I clicked for that.  Marla had to feed because she was in reach, but I did the clicking.  Thanzi is very bold.  Mugging is definitely a potential problem, so to see her so quickly step back and stay back was exciting.

She was staying back beautifully.  And then Galahad left the hay feeder and climbed up the back side of the jungle gym and discovered the treat bowl.  E and P quickly joined him.  Game over.  We were too busy laughing to train.  Now everyone was up on the jungle gym.  I do wonder what the poor horses are going to think of all this racket.

It was starting to get cold, so we left them to their play and went in to finish the barn chores.

I was going to include another post from the July Goat Diaries, but this is enough for today.  I’m eager to get the day started and to see how the goats are this morning.  I’ll get pictures of the finished goat palace soon.

 

Goat Diaries – Clicker Training Day 2: These Goats Are Smart!

The goat palace is almost finished.  We were hoping to get it done yesterday afternoon, but we didn’t quite make it.  The three yearlings are feeling very squashed in the stall by the oldest female, Thanzi.  She is making it very clear that they are TO STAY IN YOUR CORNER.  I am glad we decided in our construction to use the entire space the lean-to provided and didn’t just settle for making a small goat pen.  They will have plenty of room to spread out.

So for this morning it is back to July and the Goat Diaries.  I had gotten as far as mid-morning of E and P’s second day of clicker training.

Training Rhythms

Good training begins to have a rhythm to it, especially in these early stages where you are asking for simple behaviors, and you’re keeping the rates of reinforcement high. It’s get the behavior – click and feed, get the behavior – click and feed, – get the behavior, click and feed. It becomes a training loop. We’re looking for clean loops.

When a loop is clean you get to move on, and not only do you get to move on you should move on. That’s the mantra of loopy training. Often people change criteria too fast which ends up confusing the learners. Or they stay too long at one step so they build a glass ceiling into their training.  To the learner backing up means three steps and only three steps. If the handler asks for four, there’s frustration. The learner knows the behavior. It’s three steps and three steps only!

The mantra of loopy training helps you to know when to move on. It also helps you to know when you should pause for a moment to let your learner show you what he has learned. Canine trainer, Kay Laurence refers to these pauses as puzzle moments.

In these early sessions with these goats I was beginning to establish some training loops. P in particular was such a fast learner, it was time to give him some puzzle moments to see what dots he was connecting.  If you aren’t sure what a puzzle moment looks like, P is about to show you.

Session 3: 11 am
I started with P out in the pen. He was ready, eager to touch a target, but my attention was elsewhere.  I was busy setting up the camera. I was very aware that I might be missing a window of opportunity. We began with a little targeting. He oriented to it, I clicked, fed, and then clicked and fed again while he was still out of my space. The jumping up on me to try to get the food that he had been doing in the previous session was almost completely gone.  My active use of food delivery was paying off.

Click for targeting. Feed where the perfect goat would be. The perfect goat would have all four feet on the ground. He would be looking straight ahead, and he would be outside my personal space.

After I clicked, I fed P so he had to take a step or two back to get the food. My concern here was the food delivery caused him to curl his neck so his head was in the orientation it would be for butting with his horns. I didn’t want to trigger that behavior. But head butting is a forward moving behavior. Here he was moving back, so I hoped that his feet would keep his head from thinking he should be charging me.

Get them while they’re standing still.

I fed P so he had to back up a couple of steps to get to the treat in my hand. Before he could come forward again, click, I was giving him a treat – this time where he was standing. I wanted him to get the idea. Standing still, away from me, is a good thing. Click treat, click treat. I was tightening the training loop down to the tiny fraction of a second in which he was standing still looking straight ahead.

The neighbors were mowing the hill up above the barn. P kept turning his head to the side to check them out. His feet were still, but I didn’t want to make such a full head turn part of the behavior. I had to wait, hoping his feet would be still when he finally looked back in my direction. Click then treat.

When I clicked, I used my food delivery to move him back a couple of steps. I wanted to be able to click again while he was still standing back out of my space. I also wanted his head to be straight. If I clicked too many times when his head was turned, I was concerned that I would build that into the base behavior. So I had to wait to click until his feet were still AND he had his head straight. Asking for two criteria at once was pushing my luck. The first couple of times he was too quick for me. He straightened his head, but just as I began to click, he was shifting forward.

I moved him back again with the food delivery. He took his treat from my hand.  Before I could click again, he had come forward into my space.

I work hard to avoid putting my learners into a macro extinction process.  Here’s what that means: This behavior has been consistently working to get me to hand you treats. Only now suddenly, it’s not. You’re not going to be reinforced for this very successful behavior.

We all know how frustrating this can be. You put your money in the vending machine and nothing comes out. Time to shake the vending machine!

My training rhythm was broken and P didn’t yet have enough experience in the game to know what to do. His repertoire of behaviors was still too limited to offer me something I could reinforce. Instead he was trying to go directly to my pockets. I suspect by this point the small children he had grown up with would have dropped pretzels and peanuts all over the floor and everyone would be happy. The children would be giggling, and P would be gobbling up the goodies. Only this wasn’t how I played the game. How annoying!

P gave a little chuff of a sneeze. I had llamas years ago, so I recognized this sound as a sign of frustration. He tried both my pockets. Nothing. He gave a head toss which I dodged, and then I got lucky. He dropped his head away from me enough so that I could reinforce him. The food delivery moved him out of my space, and we were back on track building good behavior.

Goats day 2 what frustration looks like 4 photos.png

 

Goats Day 2 back up to get clicked 3 photos.png

Training is not without moments of frustration. I was beginning to recognize what this looked like in a goat. A little tail wiggle, a snort, a head butting gesture – these all told me that P was struggling a bit to make sense of what was happening. Why wasn’t I just giving him treats! That’s what the children would have done. And if they didn’t give him treats, he’d just jump up on them, and that was sure to make them scatter their peanuts and pretzels on the ground!

But here this was different. He was clearly frustrated. Doing what had always worked in the past, namely crowding into me didn’t work. Looking away, taking a step back, produced treats!  It made no sense to him, so while it produced treats it also produced a puzzled goat.  And a puzzled goat can very quickly become a frustrated goat.  Noted.

I was monitoring carefully. Always I am asking myself is this working? Is this the best strategy? How much frustration is too much? What should I change? Should I stop?

Puzzle solving!

There is a time to be clicking, and a time to just wait it out and let your learner work out the puzzle. Through the food delivery, I had shown P the answer. Back away and you get treats. Would he put the pieces of the puzzle together? I waited. The skill here is to be quiet, to remain as non-reactive as you can be and let him figure out the answer. A puzzle you solve for yourself, is an answer you will own.

He could sniff at my pockets. I remained non-reactive. How frustrating! I was not playing the game fair. The children would have been flailing their arms about and pushing him away. Which meant they would also have been dropping treats. Push on the vending machine, and it scatters goodies over the ground, except not now.

His feet took him back a couple of steps. Click – treat. The next time the backing was even more definite.

He caught on fast and began to back away from me. When he came forward into my space, now I could wait. It was a puzzle moment. What would he do? I had shown him the answer through the food delivery. Would he find it now on his own?

The answer was yes! He backed up, not just a little, but multiple steps. And he backed with energy. Very neat!

Goats day 2 Quick study 5 photos.png

P was definitely a quick study. He was beginning to understand that he could get the food by doing other things besides jumping up or bumping my pockets. It was a really fun session watching him catch on so fast. Though I got the impression that he was still very confused. Backing was clearly working, but it didn’t make sense to him. How could backing up get treats to appear? He was a very puzzled goat.

I sympathized. We’ve all been given sets of instructions that make no sense. Whatever is logical – do the opposite. How maddening is that! Especially when it works!

I would find out in the next session if P could reconcile himself to this new inside-out world order.

(Note: we had moved on in the treats. I was now using a mix of peanuts, peanut hulls, sunflower seeds and hay stretcher pellets as treats.)

Training time for this session: 6 minutes.

Video: Video: Goat Diaries Day 2: A Quick Study: Note you will need a password to watch this video: GoatDiariesDay 2 E Learns
“A puzzle solved is a behavior owned.” P showed me he was making the connections – fast!

Video: GOAT DIARIES/Day 2/Problem Solving: Note you will need a password to watch this video: GoatDiariesDay 2 E Learns

 

Coming next: Day 2 Continued – Two Different Learners

Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 2 – Quick Learners!

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/

Protective Contact
I talk a lot about protective contact. I like to begin with a barrier between the animal learner and the handler.  The more I worked with the goats, the more I appreciated just how important beginning in this way can be.  Now I am sure there are many who will read this with eyes rolling. These are baby goats! Are you so afraid of them that you need a barrier?

There are times with certain individuals where the answer would be: “Yes, absolutely I’m afraid of this animal – and so should you be.  Whether it’s a tiny terrier, or a giant horse, this individual has demonstrated that he will defend himself.   While we’re working out our relationship, I’ll keep myself safe by working behind a barrier.

aries protective contact.png

In this case it’s the human who is on the inside of the round pen panels. The horse is free to leave.  What he’s chosen is to stay and interact.  What he can’t do is charge his person which was the behavior he was showing earlier.

Safety can also work the other way.  It’s the animal who is afraid of us. The barrier means the handler can’t get any closer. The animal can choose when he feels comfortable enough to approach, and he can also retreat any time he needs to. That freedom of choice builds confidence. The barrier may feel restricting to the handler. We want to be in with our animals, actively doing things with them, but in the long run beginning with a barrier can help build the truly connected relationship we are looking for.

Barriers aren’t just about safety. They also limit options which means that your learner isn’t practicing behaviors you don’t want. If I don’t want mugging behavior to become woven into the matrix of these early lessons, the barrier can help. I can just step back out of range so my horse can’t reach my pockets, or my dog (or goat) can’t jump up on me.

When these unwanted behaviors aren’t present, it’s so much easier to find and reinforce behavior that works well for both of us. I’m not punishing the behaviors I don’t like. I am simply arranging the training environment so it’s easier for my animal learners to offer behaviors I like.

With the goats I didn’t have a set up that let me begin with protective contact. So instead I borrowed again from the horses and used the treat delivery to help create some spatial separation.

8 am 2nd session

At 8 am I  gave the goats hay in their stall. P left to come to me, so I had him follow the target into the outside pen. E wanted to come, but I managed to close the door before he could join us. P was very eager. I was holding a cup of grain and peanuts in my hand. I wanted to keep their treats separate from the horses’ so the cup seemed the best option.

The first session or two of clicker training can seem so easy, especially with a nervous learner. He’s just beginning to figure out that treats are involved, but he’s still a little worried about approaching too close so mugging behavior is manageable. But give him time to think, and this is what he may come up with: Why bother with the target. Why not just go straight for the treats?

This was clearly what P had concluded. He kept jumping up on me. I could deflect him easily, but hmm. This was decidedly not what I wanted. If my set up had allowed, I would have gone to protective contact to keep him from practicing this behavior. Instead I borrowed another technique from the horses. I followed the mantra: “Click for behavior. Feed where the perfect horse (or goat) would be.” The perfect goat would most definitely not be jumping up to get his treat. When I clicked, I fed him so he had to take a step or two back.

Goat diaries Day 2 P jumping up.png

This is obviously NOT behavior I want.

Goat diaries Day 2 P being fed so he backs up.png

To help create some space between us, I fed him so he had to take a step or two back to get to his treat. Note: I am NOT pushing him back.  I simply imagine that there is a bucket sitting where I want to deliver the treat.  He moves with me and shifts out of my way just as he would if there actually were a bucket I needed to get to.  If you don’t yet have the feel of this kind of treat delivery, begin with an actual bucket.  When you can smoothly deliver treats to the bucket and your animal moves out of your way to let you get to it, you’re ready to shift to imaginary buckets.  Teaching your animal learner that he may have to move his feet to get to his treat opens up many more possibilities for shaping behavior.  The food delivery becomes a much more active part of the training.

You never know what you have taught. You only know what you have presented.

That is something I say often in clinics. As I deflected the jumping, I was thinking about that.  I was looking for something I wanted to reinforce. I didn’t want him practicing this behavior, and I most certainly did not want to chain it into something else that I did want. P was too fast a learner for that. I could see him figuring out the following sequence: jump up, then look at the target and voila – this human feeds you peanuts! Not good.

When I did click, I fed P so he had to back up away from the cup of treats. Definitely it was going to be interesting to see what he did in the next session. What learning was taking place in that clever head?

When I stopped with him, I dropped some treats on the ground. It was a bit of a struggle to get him to find them. He was orienting to my fingers, not moving to the treats. I finally just stood up, and that’s when he started eating the dropped treats.  That bought me the time I needed to slip back into the stall so I could work with E.

Little E was a perfect gentleman, especially compared with P. He followed the target pretty well, and backed up gently for his treat. It was overall a very pleasant session. On the previous day when I worked them together, I was seeing a lot of head butting between them.  Frustration and resource guarding was creating a problem.

Before P jumped over the dutch door and showed me that they could be separated, my plan had been to teach them to stand on platforms. With each goat on his own platform, I would be able to bring some order to our training.  Now that I could separate them, I could put that strategy on the back burner.

Goat diaries day 2 E getting his treat.png

E moves back to get his treat.  He was a perfect gentleman in this session.

Coming Next:  Day 2 – These Goats Are Smart!

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/

 

 

 

JOYFULL Horses: Cues Evolve Out Of The Shaping Process – Pt. 3

In the previous post I used the process of teaching a horse to back in a square to illustrate several ways in which cues evolve out of the shaping process.  I showed you how you can use food delivery to move your horse through a particular motor pattern.  When you first teach a horse to come forward to touch a target, it’s easy to have him step back to get to his treat.  Body language cues evolve easily out of the food delivery.  Now if you turn into him to ask for backing, he’ll know what you want.  The cue for backing evolved out of the shaping process.

Horses are masters at reading subtle changes in body language.  They are good at seeing what comes before what comes before what you are asking for.  In the wild a horse needs to be good at predicting the future to stay out of trouble, both within the herd and when a predator is on the hunt. So horses are good at spotting the little clues that tell them what you’ll be asking for next.  After all, the better they learn to read you, the more successful they’ll be.  Those clues help them to get to their reinforcers faster.

Starter Button and Constant-On Cues
In Part one of this section, I focused on teaching your horse to back in a square.  That’s the precursor to teaching head lowering.  So let’s continue on to that part of the lesson.  Remember you’ve been asking your horse to back from the front of his stall a step or two toward the back wall.  The stall may be his actual stall, or just a square marked out with cones or ground poles.  Once these steps come easily, you can begin to build duration.  You’ll need to decide if your cue is a starter button or a constant-on cue.

A starter button cue is exactly what it sounds like.  Think about how you use your key to turn on your car’s ignition.  You turn the key and as soon as you hear the engine start, you let go.  You don’t keep turning the key.  You assume that once your car starts it’s going to keep going until you turn it off.  If it does stall out, you’ll restart it with the turn of the key.

Your backing cue can work in the same way.  When you slide down the lead, you expect your horse to begin to back.  But do you hold on to the lead the whole time he’s backing, or do you let go once he’s initiated the movement?  The later would be a starter button cue.

If you hold on, you’re using the lead as a constant-on signal.  You’re in effect saying: “As long as this signal is present, you’re to keep backing.  When it goes away, you’re to stop.”

In her book, Lads Before the Wind, Karen Pryor described how she taught her dolphins to spin and to keep spinning as long they could hear a certain signal.  It was an easy way to build duration in a behavior, especially working as she was with multiple animals.

The problem with using the lead as a constant-on signal is it can effect your horse’s balance.  You can experience this yourself.  You’re going to hold the snap end of the lead so you get the horse’s perspective of this lesson. Have a friend slide down the lead to ask for backing.  First, she’s going to hold on until you have given her the number of backing steps she wants.  That’s the constant-on cue.

Next have her slide down, but she’s to let go AS SOON AS you’re in motion.  If you stall out, not sure what she wants, she’s to slide down again and restart the behavior.  Once you are backing freely, she’s to let you back several steps before she clicks.  That will bring you to a stop.  Remember, as you are backing, she is NOT keeping an active hold of the lead.

So now you’ve sampled both constant-on and starter button cues.

Question:  Which way did you prefer?  If you are like most people, you’ll prefer the starter button.  The other will feel heavier and more demanding.  You’ll also notice that there was a difference in how you backed.   With the starter button your steps will be longer, more even, better balanced.

The Horse’s Perspective
There’s a lovely expression that I refer to often in clinics: Go to people for opinions and horses for answers.  In this case you were the horse.  You don’t have to take my word for it.  You can test out the two different versions of how you ask for backing and decide for yourself which one you prefer.

One of the things I like about clicker training is we can experience directly so many of the lessons we give to our horses.  Holding on to the lead with a constant-on cue comes much more easily to most people.  You have to make a conscious effort to let go. If there’s no difference, there’s no reason to change.  But once you’ve experienced for yourself from the horse’s perspective the difference in the feel and the impact it has on your balance, it becomes a lot easier to pay attention to the detail of letting go.

Years ago at one of the big horse expos I had a trade booth set up directly across the aisle from a company that sells electronic shock collars for horses.  All weekend long I got to watch their sales video.  It featured a mare who had a foal at her side.  The mare was a cribber.  They were using the shock collar to discourage the cribbing.

Each time she reached out to the fence, they would zap her with the collar.  Over and over again as the video played, I got to watch her jump back from the shock.  That was hard enough to watch.  What made this even worse, when they shocked her, her foal had just started to nurse.  Think of the associations that was creating!

As part of their sales pitch they were letting people feel the shock the collar produced.  Toward the end of the weekend when things were quieting down, I went over to have a feel.  They had the collar set at the lowest setting.  You didn’t get a jolt. Touching an electric fence is much worse, but even so it was exceedingly unpleasant.  That was the lowest setting.

I asked to feel the setting the mare was given.

“Oh on.  We don’t let people take that level of shock.”

Soap Box Time
It made me appreciate clicker training all the more.  To the best of our ability to simulate experiences, there’s nothing we do to the animals that we do not also let people experience.  I can slide down the lead and let you feel what the horse feels at his end of the lead.  I can set up training games and let you go through the same puzzle solving process.  I can click and feed – maybe not hay stretcher pellets, but something more to your liking.

We are confronted by so many different opinions about how best to train our horses.  We can’t always know how something feels to a horse.  I can’t wear a bit or carry a rider on my back, so I can’t replicate every experience, but here’s my standard.  Your horse should not have to go through any training procedure which you are uncomfortable watching.

Note, I do not say which you are uncomfortable doing to your horse.  You may not have the skill to take your horse through a particular lesson.  You may be using a trainer to help teach your horse something that requires more experience than you currently have.  But you should be able to watch everything that’s done to your horse.  If something makes you squirm, it’s okay to speak up for your horse.  There is always, ALWAYS another way to train everything you want to teach.

A good trainer will respect you more for standing up for your horse, and a good trainer will find another way to teach the lesson.  A punitive trainer with a narrow tool box will tell you this way is for the good of the horse, and you have to let him finish.  He’ll tell you if you let the horse get away with being disrespectful, you’ll ruin him.

These are red flags.  Thank him very much for his opinion and take your horse home.  You don’t have to be a clicker trainer to know how to break a lesson down into small steps.  You don’t have to be a clicker trainer to be fair to a horse.  You just have to be a good trainer. So take your horse out of harm’s way, and find someone to help you who is a true teacher not a bully.

Backing with Starter Button Cues
That’s enough standing on a soap box.  Let me step down off of mine and get back to the backing in a square lesson.  Hopefully, you got a friend to help you, and you were able to feel the difference between a starter button and a constant-on cue.  You know for this lesson you want the lead to act as a starter button cue.  Once your horse initiates backing, you’ll release the lead and walk back with him.

Now note, this means that there is a constant-on cue in this process.  As he backs, you’re walking forward toward him. Walking toward him is your constant-on cue. You want him to keep backing out of your way as you walk into his space.  That cue is evolving out of the shaping process.

Again, if he stalls out too soon, you’ll restart the “engine” by sliding down the lead.

You’ll ask him to back a couple of steps, being mindful that you are still in a stall and there’s a wall behind him.

After the click, you’ll use your food delivery to reposition him forward.

This begins a new movement cycle.

As you ask him to repeat the cycle, you’ll see him backing with more confidence.  Not only does he understand what you want, he’s backing over ground he’s already stepped on.  He knows now that it doesn’t contain any hidden traps.  It’s safe to step back.  Each time you ask him, it becomes easier and more fluid.  That’s in part why you do this back and forth dance.  It is like bending a metal coat hanger.  At first the hanger is very stiff, but the more you bend it, the softer and easier it becomes.

A Change in the Game
Now that you have a horse backing easily, you’re going to change the game once again.  Instead of feeding forward after the click, now you’re going to feed right where you clicked.

Again, this can trip people up.  They spent so much mental energy figuring out how to feed forward, and now they have to change all that and keep their feet still.

Why the change?  You’re ready to tackle the puzzle that the back corner of the stall presents.  So many horses feel trapped in this kind of situation.  They forget that they can just swing their hindquarters over.  When they get in a corner, instead of simply stepping back and to the side, they panic and push forward into the handler.

You’re going to show your horse that he has another option.  You have him at a halt with his rear end close to the back wall.  You’re going to slide down the lead and ask him to turn his head away from you.  Your body orientation is still saying back, but you ARE NOT pushing into him AT ALL with the lead.  There is no backwards force on the lead.  There doesn’t need to be.

If you add a feel of pushing him back before he has figured out how, he’ll just feel trapped.  All the pressure will go down into his hocks.  Especially if he has any arthritis in his hocks, this will make him feel even more anxious, and it will be harder yet for him to figure out what he’s to do.

More “Being the Horse”
Instead you are simply going to ask him to turn his head away from you.  You can experience what this does simply by standing up for a moment.  Put your hands on your hips so you can really feel the effect.  Begin by looking straight ahead.  Now turn your head to one side and look over your shoulder.  What did your hips do?  They counter balanced the movement by swinging in the opposite direction.

As you ask your horse to bend his nose more and more to the outside, he’ll become aware of the answer to the puzzle.  All he has to do is follow the turn of his hips, and he can back up out of this corner.  Putting him in the corner makes it easier for him to figure out the answer.  The structure helps you.  I just don’t want to put him prematurely in the corner before he’s comfortable enough with backing to be able to find the answer in a relaxed manner.  That’s the reason for all the back and forth prep.

Robin back in square 3 photos

If your horse doesn’t understand your request to move his head away from you, there’s a simple way to prep this part of the lesson.  Use food delivery to set up the response.  Begin by asking him to stand next to you in the “grown-ups are talking” position.

Robin grown ups with caption

When you click, instead of presenting the food so he continues to keep his head in this position, you’ll extend your arm past where his nose is so he has to turn his head to get his treat.  As he moves, you’ll step forward, filling the space he’s vacating.  You’ll repeat this until the food delivery has created the weight shift you need to ask him to turn his hip so he can back through the corner.  This is an easy way to ask for what can be a very challenging maneuver for some horses.  The goal is to make this as easy and understandable as possible so your horse is very comfortable being asked to back through turns.  (For another view of how to use food delivery to set up the behavior you want refer to the May 6, 2016 post on Using Environmental Cues https://theclickercenterblog.com/2016/05/06/)

Robin back thru square with food delivery - captions

Whichever approach you use, you now have him backing one step through the corner.  Click and treat.  You can ask for another step, or perhaps it is time to walk him forward again out of the stall to give him a break.

Once your horse is comfortably backing through all four the corners of the stall, it is time to change the game yet again.  Now you’re going after head lowering.

Heating Up a Behavior
To get to this lesson, you’re going to take a little detour.  You’re going to leave the stall for a few minutes while you make head lowering a “hot” behavior.

Coming Next: Priming the Pump

Author’s note: Once again, I want to remind people that I am using these lessons to illustrate some important concepts.  These articles are not intended to give detailed, how-to instructions.  For those resources refer to my web sites, and to my books, DVDs, and on-line course.  In particular refer to my book, “The Click That Teaches: A Step-By-Step Guide in Pictures”, and the early DVDs in the DVD lesson series: Lesson 1: Getting Started with the Clicker, Lesson 2: Ground Manners, and Lesson 3: Head Lowering.  My on-line course will also provide you with a very thorough introduction to clicker training.

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