A Year of Goat Laughter

We’re heading fast towards the end of January and I feel as though I haven’t yet caught my breath after the race that was 2019.  Revising my book, “The Click That Teaches, A Step By Step Guide in Pictures”, devoured huge amounts of my time, but that wasn’t my only project.  There were all the clinics and conferences, and the production of the weekly equiosity podcast.

SBS front cover in pictures revised edition

The new edition of the Step By Step Book

In October I decided my plate wasn’t yet piled high enough with things to do so I added a second podcast, “Horses for Future”.  Equiosity focuses on training.  Horses for Future explores what horse people can do to help mitigate the climate change crisis.  Please take a look.  This is something we all need to become involved in.

Filling in the non-existent gaps in my day were the goats.

IMG_0657 (1) Elyan looks on

Elyan surveying his domain from a high platform.

I haven’t written anything about the goats in a very long time so I have quite a lot of catching up to do.

To recap my goat adventure, the first of the goats arrived in 2017. These were Elyan and Pellias, two yearling wethers. They belonged to the Community of St. Mary’s. I won’t go into the details here. You can read the whole saga of these goats in the Goat Diary blogs beginning in October, 2017 (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/25/)

IMG_1567 Elyan Pellias 7:17

Elyan and Pellias new arrivals in 2017

Elyan and Pellias came originally for two weeks in June of 2017. They are still here.  I always feel as though I should quote from Edward Gorey when I write this:

“They came seventeen years ago and to this day they have shown no intention of going away.”

I certainly have no intention of sending them away.  I am utterly charmed by them. My goat herd reached a peak last winter of eleven. It is now down to a much more sensible five.

20191123_105538 goats grazing

Out for a walk – From left to right: Wren, Thistle, Finch, and in front Pellias. Elyan is not in the photo.  He was staying glued to my side which made it much easier to get a picture of the others.

These are all cashmere goats. Elyan and Pellias are very stylish silvers with long guard hairs.  Over the first winter, they were joined by two does, Thanzi and Trixie.

IMG_2175 Thanzi March 2018

Thanzi –

IMG_2177 trixie March 2018

Trixie – Can you see the difference in their personalities.  Thanzi is bold, smart, powerful, an enthusiastic learner.  In contrast to Thanzi, Trixie is very timid.  She was however, a much more attentive mother.

I wanted the experience of raising baby goats, handling and training them from the very beginning to see what difference there would be between hand-reared babies and the somewhat shy behavior of Elyan and Pellius.

Trixie gave birth first. To both my surprise and delight she had triplets, three darling little girls, all black with short curly fur. For the first few weeks they looked like poodles, until they turned around and showed you their pretty goat faces. I named them Patience, Prudence and Felicity.

IMG_4198 Felicity as newborn

Felicity and Prudence napping on my lap. A quick glance might mistake them for puppies.

Thanzi gave birth a few weeks later to twins, a girl Verity and a handsome boy, Valor.

IMG_2216 baby goats on planks

Every day I set up a new playground challenge for them.  Thanzi is looking on while the little ones play.

The goats stayed with me through the spring. In June just before I left for several weeks of teaching, all the goats went back to the convent.  In July Elyan, Pellias, Felicity, Patience, and Verity came back for more training. Prudence had been sold to a wonderful family and Valor stayed behind.

Handsome Valor was living up to the promise of having two grand champions as parents. Sister Mary Elizabeth hoped he would become a breeding buck for her herd which meant he needed to stay behind to be integrated into the herd.

I thoroughly enjoyed the three girls, but my camera didn’t. Their features were lost in their black fur.

Patience puts on her collar

Patience learning to put her collar on.  The behavior is great, but the camera struggled to capture her beautiful face.

And I was still wanting to have kids from the mother of Elyan and Pellias.  So in December 2019, just as I was starting the major project of revising the Step By Step book, I was also welcoming two more goats to the barn. Thanzi returned. She was joined by Yeni, the mother of Elyan and Pellias. They were both bred to Lancelot, Elyan and Pellias’ father. His health was failing so this was the last year he was able to breed. In fact it had looked for a while as though he wouldn’t be able to breed at all, but we got lucky.

IMG_1426 Lancelot

IMG_1431 Lancelot

Handsome Lancelot

I wanted January babies because of my travel season. Thanzi obliged. In the depths of one of the coldest January’s we’ve had in years she gave birth to twins, Thistle and her brother Thaddeus.

Thanzi baby goats photos day 1 1:4:19.001

Thistle and Thaddeus Day 1

IMG_5705 (1) Thaddeus on Thanzi as newborn

Thaddeus uses his mother as a jungle gym

I spent many hours sitting in the hay watching them play or acting as a hot water bottle as they slept in my lap.

Thistle Thaddeus 1:10:19 12

Thistle is on top.  Thaddeus is squashed underneath.

Thistle Thaddeus 1:10:19 1

Thistle – January 2019

In March Yeni gave birth to Wren and her brother, Finch. These were the two I had most looked forward to, full siblings to Elyan and Pellias.

IMG_5796 (1) Wren Finch newborns

Newborn Wren (left) and Finch (right).  They had lots of warm cozy hay to curl up in, but chose to nap by the door with a cold draft on their backs.

I’m not sure how I managed to get anything done, much less a book written with four baby goats in the barn. Through the winter they lived in the barn where I could keep better watch over them, and it was a little warmer than out in the goatery.  Because of the age difference I kept them separate which meant I had to make time for two separate play sessions. Wren and Finch would have been completely overwhelmed by their much larger cousins. IMG_5831 (1) Thanzi Thistle Thaddeus 3:20:19     IMG_5806 (1) Wren Finch 3:19

 Size comparison: The photo on the left is Thanzi with Thistle to the left and Thaddeus to the right.  To the right is Yeni with Wren looking up at the camera. Two months makes a huge difference.

IMG_0220 (1) Wren finch on upper platforms

Wren (standing) and Finch at 1 month

IMG_0086 (1) Thaddeus Thistle in goatery

Thaddeus with Thistle behind him  – three months old

 

IMG_0104 (1) Thaddeus Thistle in goatery

Handsome Thaddeus at 3 months.  They have just been weaned and moved out to their own section in the goatery.  Thaddeus left a few days later to join the larger herd at the convent.  He was also going to be a breeding buck for the herd.

Thaddeus was gorgeous. The year before Valor had stood out as a potential breeding buck, and now Thaddeus was doing the same. So when he was three months old and it was time for weaning, Thanzi and Thaddeus went back to the convent, along with Felicity and Verity. I was worried about the two girls fitting into the larger herd. They hadn’t grown up within the social structure of their age cohort. They were much larger than the other goats of their age, but sadly that didn’t give them an advantage.

Sister Mary Elizabeth put them in with a small group where she thought they would fit in. The other goats were all much smaller, but they ganged up on my two girls and bullied them. That didn’t last. Thanzi was a herd leader, and her daughter took after her. When I saw her at the end of the summer at the county fair, she was very much THE ONE IN CHARGE.

Verity at fair 8:19 2

Verity with Sister Mary Elizabeth at the County Fair.  They were getting in some clicker training practice in the ring before the start of the show.  The jacket was keeping her beautiful fleece clean.

All the goats moved out to the goatery in the spring. Wren and Finch were weaned in June and Yeni and Patience went home. I missed Patience. She had become a little super star through the training. Felicity and Verity had picked on her, so she was always eager to scoot through the gate ahead of them. That meant that she was easy to bring out on her own for extra training. It was striking how much of a difference that made. A few extra minutes every day added up. Her repertoire expanded. She was great in the obstacle training. I taught her weave poles in addition to the platforms and jumps. She loved racing through the course, and I loved how eager and always up for every game she was.

Patience sitting

Patience with Wren joining in.

I also taught her to lie down on a verbal cue. When she went back to the convent, this later behavior turned her into The Favorite. Her training gave her freedom. I went up for a visit just before the county fair. Patience was out on her own, following Sister Mary Elizabeth around like a dog.  While Thaddeus was up on a grooming stand getting combed out, Patience tagged along trying to be “mother’s little helper.”.

20190927_144545

Patience “helping out” while Thaddeus is groomed.  Training gives animals freedom.

 

I barely recognized Thaddeus. He was huge. And as for Valor! I truly didn’t recognize him.

20190927_145222 Valor

Handsome Valor

 

IMG_2250 Five babies 2018

It’s hard to believe he was ever this little. Valor is to the left in the foreground. And now he is this very magnificent young buck.

We waited until fall to wether Finch. Apparently there are long-term health benefits when you wait until at least six months before withering a buckling. That meant that Finch had to be separated from the girls. He spent his summer in with Elyan and Pellias. He learned very fast to stay out of their way, and for the most part they left him along. The girls got on great together even with the difference in age and size.

In November I redid the interior of the goatery so the goats could live together in one group. That’s where we now.

So let me introduce each goat properly. I’ll do it by sharing a morning training session. When I open the gate, I can be sure that little Wren will be the first to scoot through, even ahead of Elyan. She is the smallest of the goats and just darling.

Wren

Over the summer I taught her to lie down. From there I taught her to rest her chin in my hand. That part of the behavior was like super glue. Standing, kneeling, lying down, it doesn’t matter.  She wants her chin in my hand. I built duration into the behavior, and I also used it as a great recall signal. She not only comes. She races to me to press her face into my hand.

Wren chin resting in hand

Darling Wren learning chin targeting.

Elyan

Elyan leading 2020

Elyan

Elyan is normally next through the gate. He’s always eager even though we often focus on grooming which he hates. His long guard hairs make him look like an afghan hound. I don’t know how they are to keep groomed, but Elyan is horrible. So we prep for the spring shedding season by doing a lot of work on the new grooming stand. So far he’s eager to jump up onto it and to keep his nose by the target I’ve got mounted at the front – so long as I don’t do anything that resembles combing. We have time. (I started writing this at the beginning of the month.  It is now Jan. 18, and I am able to groom Elyan!  Progress! And yes that was fast.)

When I finish with Elyan, I tie him. If I don’t, he drives the other goats away. What I find so very interesting is how cooperative he is with this. Tying means putting on his collar and taking him to the post where the lead is anchored. He has developed the procedure for this. I just follow his initiative. He stands front feet up on a wooden block that is half buried in the hay. I put the collar on him – no fussing from him. I then lead him over to the tie. He remains there perfectly calmly without fussing or fretting while I work the other goats.

Pellias

Pellias Thistle and Finch running to me 1:22:20

Pellias is in the lead. Behind him with her ears flapping up is Thistle and then Finch. We’re out for a morning walk where we practice lots of recalls.

Next through the gate most often is Pellias. Without his brother driving him off he’s an eager student. Interestingly, he was the last of the goats to jump up on the new grooming stand. It took him several days to decide that it was something to be trusted, but now he heads straight to it as soon as he is out.

Our sessions are generally much shorter than he would like simply because there are so many goats to work with. When we’re done, he also gets tied. That makes it easier to work with the little ones and get everyone back in the pen. He is as cooperative with the tying as Elyan which again surprises me.

Finch

Finch 1:22:20

Finch

Next through the gate is Finch. He looks as though he’s going to have long guard hairs very much like Elyan’s so I am making sure that he is introduced now to the grooming stand and combing. Unlike his older brother, so far he has no objection to being combed.

When we go out for solo walks, he glues himself to my leg. He’ll also follow a target around on a large circle. When I have had horses follow a target in this way, it puts them on the forehand – something I don’t want. But for the goats it doesn’t seem to have this negative effect on their balance.

Our work space is limited because of snow, but there’s enough room to teach the basics of moving out around a figure. I haven’t put any obstacles out. That will have to wait until after the snow melts.

When we go out for group walks, Elyan drives Finch away from my side, so these solo training sessions are precious.  He’s so eager to play.  When he has any competition from the others, he gets anxious and begins to vocalize.  That’s unfortunate fallout from spending three months on his own with Elyan and Pellias.  In the private sessions he doesn’t have to worry about being driven away by anyone else. He’s able to relax and be the superstar that he is.

Thistle

Thistle 1:22:20

Thistle – keeping herself very warm inside her thick cashmere coat.

Thistle comes out last. She would like to be first, or at least second. And she would like to have the longest session, instead of the last and often shortest session. She has learned that lying down gets lots of reinforcement so she offers it readily in many different locations. She is learning to rest her chin in my hand. She’s not yet as solid as little Wren, but she’s catching on to what is wanted.

She has the thickest coat of all of the goats. She is already beginning to shed, so grooming is an important part of her sessions.  The fleece that is combed out will be sent back to the convent to be processed and spun into cashmere yarn.

When Thistle’s session is over, I have the challenge of getting all the goats back inside and the gate shut behind them. This is where it is very helpful to have Elyan and Pellias on their ties. On the days when I don’t do this, they will drive the little goats scurrying back through the gate.

Eventually I would like to have all five goats go to their stations both when I enter and when I leave. But that’s off in the future. Tying Elyan and Pellias now means the little ones can learn. Sometimes training involves major managing of the environment.

To further reduce the chaos, I have the three little ones go to their stations: Finch up on a wooden box, the two girls on platforms. This stresses Finch. Living under the constant threat of being rammed by either Pellias or Elyan once he was weaned was not a good thing for him. I really didn’t have a good alternative, and he did learn to dodge them and stay out of the way. But his behavior here reveals the stress. He stays on the box, but his vocalizations sound increasingly anxious. I am hoping that the time he gets working with me by himself will help him to relax so he can enjoy sharing the training time with the girls.

For now they take turns targeting and getting clicked and reinforced. After a few rounds of this, I put treats at their feet and beat a hasty retreat. Elyan and Pellias are tied to posts that I can reach from the outside. After I unhook their collars, I offer them extra treats, as well.

All that’s left is the leaving ritual of giving them each treats through the fence, and then it’s out the gate leaving cries of “surely you’re not leaving!” behind me.

I’ve left out many of the individual behaviors we work on, but hopefully this gives you a general sense of their personalities. I am focusing what we work on towards our Spring Science camp. They are going to help us in our exploration of errorless learning.  My winter training goal is to build up a repertoire of useful building block behaviors to make it easier for people to work with them.

Through the winter I’ll share some updates on their training – unless I get distracted by another major project which could happen.

Happy New Year Everyone!

Do It Differently

It was bound to happen.  At the start of this year I said every month this year I was going to use this blog to write a thank you to some of the many people who helped bring clicker training into the horse community.  This is my way of marking the twentieth anniversary of the publication of “Clicker Training for Your Horse”.  Sometimes it was just by a whisker, but I managed to get this done every month – except August.  I will blame the extreme heat that slowed me down to a snail’s pace.

I can’t blame my travel schedule because I travel every month.  August was no exception.  I was out in Washington State at Ken Ramirez’s Ranch for his “Animal Training for Professionals” course.  For twenty years he taught this as a semester long course at the University of Illinois.  He also taught a concentrated week-long version of the course at the Shedd Aquarium.  Most of the time is spent in the classroom but twice a day students get to have some animal time.  For the week-long course at the Shedd attendees got to watch the trainers working with animals.  At the Ranch attendees get hands-on experience working with goats, miniature donkeys and alpacas.

IMG_5425 Ken Ramirez with alpacas

Ken Ramirez with his alpacas

For this course I got to be Ken’s assistant which was a great fun, especially since most of the training sessions involved his herd of dairy goats.  I enjoyed very much seeing what Ken was teaching his herd of clicker-trained goats – what was a match up with what I was teaching my goats and what were some good ideas to take back to them?  It was also very interesting to see how Ken structured the course.  What did he put in his foundation?  What stair steps did he use to take people into the more advanced aspects of training?

Ken Ramirez teaching husbandry behaviorsOn the third day Ken focused on husbandry, especially as it relates to medical care.  He is uniquely qualified to speak on this subject.  Both at the Shedd and through his consulting work, he has overseen the teaching of cooperative husbandry procedures not just to more animals than most of us will ever handle in a lifetime, but to more species as well.

Ken’s basic strategy can be summed up in a very simple phrase: do it differently.  Every day in your training you should be practicing some form of husbandry skills, but the key to success is don’t try to mimic a procedure someone else is going to be doing.  Your touch is going to be different, so even if you try to make everything the same as the real thing – you won’t succeed.  And besides, you don’t know what you are preparing your animal for.  Is it to stand quietly while you doctor a wire cut on your horse’s leg, or to put eye drops into an infected eye?  We don’t have crystal balls that can tell us what medical procedures our horses will need to tolerate.  X-rays might be standard, and certainly shots, but beyond that what are you preparing your animal for?

So Ken says do it differently.  Get your animal accustomed not just to being touched all over his body, but to being touched in different ways.

Do it differently also applies to getting an animal comfortable with changes in the environment.  Every day introduce some change, something different.  You aren’t trying to scare your horse.  You just want him to get used to the idea that change happens and it’s nothing to worry about.

Do it differently is a great life metaphor.  Sometimes we need to follow the rules, to do things the way “they have always been done” because the way they have always been done works.  The motto here would be “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

But even if it “ain’t broke”, can it be better?  Are we stuck in a rut just mindlessly copying what has been done before?  Horses have been trained for thousands of years.  On the surface the training that I learned from experienced horse trainers didn’t appear to be broken.  They could get on and ride their horses.  They could make them jump and cross scary streams.  They could make them go where they wanted.

“Make” was the operant word.  The end result could be very appealing, but if you scratched too far below the surface, you discovered a very broken system.  It was littered with discarded horses and far too many frightened would-be riders.  Something needed to change.

I was very lucky to be learning about horse training at a time when two very important change makers were shaking up the horse world.  One was Sally Swift who brought the Alexander technique into the horse world and changed the way riding was taught in the United States. Sally came regularly into my area so I was very fortunate to have been able to attend many of her workshops.

The other change maker was Linda Tellington-Jones, the founder of T.E.A.M. training (Tellington-Jones Equine Awareness Method).  Through Linda the horse world was introduced to the Feldenkrais work.  Early on I encountered T.E.A.M. training through a magazine article.  In it Linda described the body work she had developed, including the T.E.A.M. circles.

Peregrine’s mother was a wobbler.  She had a spinal cord injury that impaired her balance and made her very body defensive.  When she was a yearling, if I tried to touch her anywhere, I was met with gnashing teeth and pinned ears.  Her whole body couldn’t hurt, but I couldn’t figure out what was wrong because she wouldn’t let me in to ask questions.

I was reading everything and anything related to horses, and I was eager to learn.  These funny T.E.A.M. circles Linda was describing sounded intriguing.  I tried them on my mare and her world changed.  In minutes her eyes had grown soft.  Her head was drooping.  She was letting me in all over her body – except in one area around her right shoulder.  That was where the pain was.  For the first time she could relax enough to let me know what was wrong.

Within a few weeks I was on an airplane headed to the mid-west to attend a workshop Linda was giving.  I had to learn more!

That was the first of my many travels for horses.  At first I was traveling to learn, and then I was traveling to teach (which really means to learn even more!)

At one of the T.E.A.M. workshops Linda was letting us experience for ourselves the T.E.A.M. body work.  She let me feel one version of the T.E.A.M. circles, and then she did it another way.  She had her hand on my back so I couldn’t see what she was doing, but, oh my goodness!  It felt so very different!

I turned to face her.  “What did you do!?”

Her answer meant nothing to me.  “I breathed up through my feet.”

Now I’ve been trained in the biological sciences.  I’ve studied anatomy and physiology.  I’ve done dissections.  I know we breathe through our lungs, not our feet.  And beside, I had hay fever when I was little.  I was constantly congested.  Even breathing through my lungs felt like a foreign notion.  My breath got clogged somewhere at the top of my chest.

But I knew that breathing up from her feet meant something to Linda, so I went in search of the translation to that phrase.  One of the teachers I found lived in my area. She had a horse with a hard-to-diagnose lameness.  She contacted me to see if I could help her with him.  It turns out that the lateral work I was learning helped enormously.  When he carried himself in good balance, there was no sign of the lameness.

His owner, Marge Cartwright, was an Alexander practitioner, and she had also studied the Feldenkrais work.  So we ended up doing trades.  I worked with her horse to help him to be sounder, and she worked with me. Overtime I learned not only what it means to breath up through my feet, but to breathe up from the ground.  Learning that changed how horses relate to me.  It isn’t magic.  It isn’t some mystical gift of a horse whisperer.  It is simply the systematic unblocking of tension.  One metaphor that I love is the shining of a light on the dark places.  These are the places where movement become stuck, and we hide from ourselves the reasons for the stiffness.  This image comes via Anita Schnee, a Feldenkrais practitioner and regular attendee at the clinics I give at Cindy Martin’s farm near Fayetteville Arkansas.

The work Marge shared with me stands as one of the central pillars of what I teach today.  It is woven into every lesson both the ones that I give directly to horses and the lessons that I teach to their handlers.  Unless you live in my area and had the good fortune to learn from Marge, you won’t know her name.  But I owe her a huge thank you for enriching my life beyond measure.  Her work is woven into what I mean by equine clicker training.  If you have participated in a body awareness lesson at one of my clinics, you have been the direct beneficiary of her work. If you have thought about your own balance as you feed your horse a treat, that’s Marge’s influence again.  If you are learning about school figures – circles, lateral work, diagonals, etc. – by walking them without your horse, Marge has a hand in that, as well.

An awareness of balance, no much more than that – an appreciation for balance, an understanding that balance and soundness go hand-in-hand is something that I explored with Marge.

Clicker training for horses might have been little more than the teaching of tricks if it weren’t for this fascination and appreciation for balance.  Instead clicker training is a complex, wonderfully rich and diverse training system that can meet all needs. It includes the fun of tricks, but it doesn’t stop there.  The central core, the pillar that supports everything else is balance.

So thank you Marge for sharing your work so generously.  When you suggested we trade services, I’m sure you had no idea the ripple you were about to set into motion.  You helped make clicker training so much more than simply the pairing of a marker signal with treats.  What we teach and how we teach have become woven together to create a magnificent whole new way of doing things.  We dared to to it differently and look what grew out of it!

Thank you!

Learning Fast!

Learning!  That’s what we’re born ready to do.  That’s what the baby goats are showing me.

Thanzi’s twins were born on Wednesday, March 21.  On Friday, March 23 I was on a plane heading to the Art and Science of Animal Training conference so I barely got to say more than hello to them.

At the conference I presented a new program on a very familiar topic – balance.  I had some great before and after photos showing how much a horse’s balance can be transformed just using the foundation lessons.  I also had some new videos showing how those changes were made.  You don’t need advanced skills and complex lessons.  You just need to direct your attention to your horse’s balance to make a huge difference for him.

By the time I got home, Thanzi’s twins had met Trixie’s triplets.  The two family groups were living and playing together in the front pen.  And it was still cold.  In fact it has continued to be cold even into April.  This morning when I looked out there was fresh snow on the ground!  Not much, but still it snowed overnight – and it’s April.  The cold limits how adventurous I want to be getting them out.  But it doesn’t limit their need for enrichment.  So every morning I have been building a new play ground for them to explore.

For Trixie’s triplets, their very first obstacles had been my outstretched legs as I sat with them in the hay.  They were determined to master climbing up and over.  And they delighted in trying to climb up onto my shoulder.  Patience, in particular, was determined to get to the top of the “mountain”, even if it meant stepping on Felicity who preferred to curl up in my lap.

Goats First Obstacles

Their next obstacles were blocks of wood, and then plastic jump blocks. Every day I gave them something new to explore, so for them novelty is something you play with, not run from.

When I got back from the Art and Science conference, both sets of babies were clearly ready for even greater challenges so their playground expanded.  My raw materials were a couple of two by fours, six plastic jump blocks, some odds and ends of wood, and three pieces of plywood.  It is amazing how many different ways you can set up these elements to create a fresh challenge every day.

I began with the two by fours elevated just a little way off the ground.  The goats were immediately testing out their balance.  They wobbled a couple steps along the boards, fell off, got back on again, got bumped off by another goat, fell off, got back on again.  A day later they weren’t wobbling any more.  They could very nimbly walk the plank.

Goats learning to walk the plank

The next morning I added the plywood, but I set it so it sloped from the two by fours to the ground.  The goats slipped and slid down the plywood.  The two by fours were yesterday’s game.  This new challenge had them crowding onto the plywood.  One would be trying to go up the down escalator.  Her feet would be scrambling as she slid inexorably back down the plywood.  Another would be sliding towards her.  They’d collide mid-way, fall off and be right back for another turn.  What resilient, eager learners!

Goats Adding a slide to the playground

Goats every day something newAs their skills increased, I raised the two by fours, and added a couple more props.  One day I made a loop so they could run along the two by fours, slide down to a lower level, bounce from there across a plywood plank to another jump block and from there scramble up another slide back to the two by fours.  They made lap after lap, always with the obstacle of another goat wanting to go in the opposite direction.  Head butting on the slide was the best.  The mornings routinely begin with laughter as we watch the goats play.

Goats the playground changes every day

Goats carboard boxes make great playgroundsLast weekend I shared the laughter with Caeli Collins, the organizer of the up-coming clinic in Half Moon Bay, California.  What a treat it was having Caeli visiting.  She attended the Art and Science conference then flew out last Wednesday to spend a few days enjoying goats and horses.

Caeli is an experienced clicker trainer.  When you are meeting a new group of animals, it is never clear what you’re going to work on.  Will they settle right in and show you the leading edge of what they know, or will they ask for some other lesson?  With the baby goats the goal was laughter.  That was easily provided.

With the older Clicker Center residents there were other important lessons to be explored.  Caeli was learning how to transfer her clicker training skills to animals (and species) she didn’t know.  And I was learning how to introduce the goats to someone new.

On the first day I opened the back gate into the boy’s section to let them out into the hallway while I fed.  They all poured out and raced to their stations.  That was before they realized there was someone new in the hallway.  I filled the hay feeders and then gave Caeli some hay stretcher pellets.  Pellias was willing to take a treat from Caeli, but not Elyan.  When I called the goats back into their enclosure, he scooted past her as fast as he could.  That was our baseline.

Day one was spent quietly letting the goats get to know Caeli.  She interacted with Elyan through the fence.  “Hmm.  This person knows how to play the clicker game.  Maybe she isn’t quite so scary after all!”

On day two they could both engage with her a little, and by day three I could step outside their pen and let Caeli train the goats on her own.  She worked with each one on targeting and platform training.  Pellias surprised her by deciding that after he got his treat from her, he should back up to the platform that was behind him.  And Elyan wanted to offer her his foot, something I had been working on a lot with both goats.

Goats Elyan working with Caeli

In addition to training time in the hallway, we took them into the arena so they could run around and play on the mounting block. And we went out for walks with them. We took advantage of one sunny, almost warm day to venture out on their longest walk yet, out into the back field.

And then there were the babies.  Every morning we set up a new playground for them.  As soon as we started moving pieces into place, they would be climbing all over them.  There was no worry, no concern over some new element we’d introduced.  These are confident, eager puzzle solvers, exactly what I want.  So our mornings started always with laughter.  Mixed into that was amazement over how fast they were learning.

Caeli also got to play with horses.  Robin and Fengur thought she was an entertaining guest, but mostly Caeli worked with the newest equine resident in the barn.  His name is Tonnerre.  He’s an eighteen year old, very pretty paint.  In his previous life he worked hard, and he has the stiffnesses and on-again-off-again lameness to show for it.

Through the winter the lameness has been more off than on, so I am hopeful that the microshaping gymnastics will help keep him comfortable.  That’s my main interest in having him at the barn.  I want to document the change in his body over time as he works more consistently with these lessons.

Last fall when he arrived, he really struggled to settle in.  For the first month or more the sessions were all about helping him not to panic when Marla took her mare into the arena.  For the first couple of weeks Marla had to spend most of her training time keeping Maggie in the barn aisle or just going into the arena briefly and then coming right back out again.  Thank goodness Marla was willing to play this game and had the skill to know how far and how fast to take Maggie out of sight.  Both horses were latching on to each other.  If we hadn’t spent the time to build their confidence that the other could go out of sight, we would today have two horses joined at the hip instead of two independent workers.

During those sessions Tonnerre was always loose.  He had his stall, outside run and part of the barnyard to move around in.  I had just pulled his shoes, and I didn’t want him doing a lot of frantic running back and forth.  So I stayed with him whenever Maggie was out and offered him the opportunity to target, to drop his head, and to back up, three very familiar behaviors.  He was able to stay with me, playing the clicker training game and only occasionally would he feel the need to break away and check on where she was.

Gradually, I was able to move away, engage with him less, and Marla was able to work her horse more normally.  It was very time intensive in the beginning, but definitely worth it to have both horses comfortable being out of sight of the other and able to work independently in the arena.

Tonnerre is proving to be an excellent student.  He’s always eager for his training sessions, but he’s not so sure about the goats.  He hasn’t quite come to terms with the strange sounds that come from that side of the arena.  When they are playing, goats make a lot of noise!

The first time he was in the arena with Caeli, they were just making the occasional banging sounds, but the wind was blowing hard. And of all things a squirrel decided to jump into the arena and run up a post into the rafters.

Tonnerre didn’t know Caeli, but he did know this was a scary day.  He wanted back into the barn away from all these strange noises and alarming creatures.  He was at liberty.  The door back to the barn aisle was open, so that’s where he went.  We had our baseline.  Relationship matters.

So we back tracked through his training, letting Caeli and Tonnerre get to know one another through the structure of the foundation lessons and in an environment where he was more comfortable.  It is always: “Train where you can, not where you can’t.”

And it is: “Go to a place in the training where you can get a consistent yes answer and proceed from there.”

Caeli could get a consistent yes answer in the barn aisle which then became a consistent and much more relaxed yes answer when she returned to the arena. Often the most important lessons come not from the fancy “stuff” a horse can show you, but from the simple things applied well.

Caeli and Tonnerre

At the Art and Science conference I talked about balance.  The baby goats are learning fast about physical balance.  When I turned the older goats and Tonnerre over to Caeli, the focus was very much on emotional balance.   Both are part of a complete picture.

I’d like Tonnerre and the goats to be good teachers even for novice clicker trainers.  Caeli was helping them make that leap to being comfortable with people they don’t know.  Her visit showed me that they will all be great co-teachers for anyone who wants to sharpen their clicker training skills – and enjoy some laughter along with it.

I made a short video of our daily play ground for the youngsters.  Enjoy!

 

Caeli wrote a wonderful post about her visit which I am including here.  It is fun to read about the same event from two different perspectives.  And Caeli added in her visit to Ann and Panda – always a treat.

A visit to Alex’s (long) – written by Caeli Collins and posted in The Click That Teaches facebook group April 7, 2018.

I spent four wonderful days with Alexandra Kurland at her barn in Albany just about a week ago. The goat babies were better than a movie, providing endless entertainment as they bounced around. Alex and Marla Foreman built new puzzles for them on a daily basis and they just kept bouncing to the challenge – walking a 2×4, turning a slanted board into a sliding contest, and chewing any clothing we didn’t quickly redirect. We decided a YouTube channel streaming baby goat antics would be a huge stress buster. Trixie and Thanzi are good moms and have amazing patience with them.

That was the several-times-a-day funfest. I also got to meet Ann and Panda, and go for a walk with them. Ann and Panda walk out! They walk faster than Sebastian and I doing in-hand trot work. But what I was really, really blown away by was Panda’s decision-making abilities. She watches for unevenness in the road, driveways, changes in slope, finds the crosswalk buttons, moves over for cars and more. It’s one thing to read about it, it’s another thing to see it in person. They are an amazing pair.

All of this was wonderful, but I was really there to expand my training knowledge and practice, which was so much fun. The boy goats (Pellias, Galahad and Elyan) and a horse named Tonnerre contributed to my education. Tonnerre is new to Alex’s barn since the fall, and is in long-term training with her to be a clicker training school horse (he’s the very good looking paint in the pictures). Alex has been working with him for some time.

My breadth of training is not wide – I work with my horse, Sebastian, and my dogs, but I’ve been a practicing and committed clicker trainer for about seven or eight years. I’m not a novice, but I’m also not a professional. For those of you who don’t know me, I organize and host Alex’s clinic in Half Moon Bay, CA, which is coming in three short weeks.

I learned so much. More than I ever hoped for. For me, it wasn’t about how do I teach shoulder-in or half-pass, it was how can I take what I know and use it with other animals as well as do better with my own. How do I make good decisions about what to work on with a different horse, or a different species. And with the help of Alex and the kindly animals at the barn, I have started on the building blocks to do this.

Here are some of the things I learned:

• Training begins with a relationship. If you are working with an animal you don’t know, you have to get to know each other. It’s that first date feeling, where everything feels a little (or a lot) awkward. And the less experience you have with the species the longer that might take
• Species appropriate foundation lessons are so important. The ones we use with the horses help them establish self-control and give them a measure of control over their learning. All animals deserve that
• Goats are really, really fast. Their heads can go in circles, and it’s very distracting. If I focused on what I was working on, and ignored the bits that don’t contribute I could get past this, but it was sooooo easy to get drawn in. I can see where this is true for my dog and my horse as well.
• Unexpected things happen. Really, they do! Can I be flexible enough to make the learner right? Pellias hit me with one – we were doing a bit of off leash practice and I was feeding where I wanted him to be (by my side) and he turned that into backing to the mat! It was funny and clickable and oh so not what I was thinking, but worth every bit of the click. And that became our routine in that spot, and I learned to take what was offered
• Food delivery is so, so important. The poor goats. Until I got consistent at putting the food where the perfect goat would be, the heads were twisting sideways to get it. But very much like the horses, the right food delivery moved them out of my space and set up the next cue, and calmed some of the frenetic activity down. The food delivery was predictable. It was very cool, and helped establish rhythm and stability

Tonnerre really helped me understand the importance of relationships. He was part of all that I learned, but deserves a few words of his own. Tonnerre can be safely handled, but he was pretty indifferent to anyone but Alex when we started. Alex suggested just grooming him while we got to know each other. There was no ear pinning or any overt aggression but he did grind his teeth. That became my cue that whatever we were currently doing was too much for him. So move to something else, or stop. Mats in the aisle, targets, the pose, walking from mat to mat, targeting while working in protective contact, mats and cones in the arena were all available. Working in the arena was too much, too early, and between a squirrel and noise from the goats he left – back to his stall. But the good news is that he had the choice to leave. Isn’t that cool? How often are our learners given the ability to say “sessions over, I’m done?”

Tonnerre reminds me of Sebastian, only kinder. He responded to short sessions of things he knew and we could expand on those. Alex could coach me on how to work with him, and we both could learn to work with someone new. Since Sebastian started out similar to Tonnere in his opinion of people, only more overt in expressing it, it wasn’t unfamiliar territory to either of us. And now I have better skills to deal with it (however did Sebastian and I survive those early days of clicker training?) and I had Alex there every day to help. And nothing but admiration for how Alex deals with the strange horses she’s presented with at every clinic.

And there you have it. Sorry for the length but it was an amazing, wonderful experience. This write-up was very worthwhile for me – it helped imprint the four days. And there is one other great thing – sitting there with Alex dissecting things over tea, while we took a break.

If you are interested in exploring this for yourself, Alex is doing private/small group sessions at the barn, so please contact her directly. It is amazing, and I highly, highly recommend it. And I can’t thank Alex enough for the opportunity. If I can figure out a way, I will be back.

Caeli Collins

Ending Well

Episode #3 of our new Equiosity podcast is now available.  Last August Dominique and I sat down at her dining room table and turned on our microphones so all of you could listen in to what turned into a very long conversation.  Mid way through we took a break to take her dogs for a walk.  Of course the conversation just kept going.  Dominique shared with me several training stories that I thought were worth adding to our recording so when we came back in, the conversation shifted to the topic of how to end a training session – something she’d had to work on, not just with her horses, but with her dogs.

It’s an important question.  We may need to stop to go to work, or to fix dinner, or just to get out of the cold, but our horses want us to keep going and going.  Ending well is the title of this episode, and that’s what we discuss.

I hope you enjoy it.

Visit Equiosity.com to listen to the podcast, or find it on itunes.

Now for a goat update.

I was away over the weekend at the Art and Science of Animal Training conference.  It was a tremendous event.  I suspect it will provide much material for future Equiosity podcasts.  This week Caeli Collins, the host and organizer of the clinic I’ll be giving the end of April in Half Moon Bay California, is visiting.  We started the day yesterday with the triplets climbing all over her lap.  Thanzi’s babies weren’t as bold about approaching us, but three little goats kept her busy enough.

Watching them all play together the challenge became telling everyone apart.  Thank goodness Prudence has a spot of white on her rump and Verity has a pretty white fringe on her forehead otherwise we’d be lost.  Felicity is easy to tell from the others.  She’s the one who wants to be curled up in your lap!  What a charmer.

IMG_2216 baby goats on planks

The girls enjoying the day’s enrichment.

More Fun News!

I have two fun announcements.  I wasn’t sure which I should start with so I tossed a coin, and here’s what I’ll share with you first.

The second episode of my new podcast, Equiosity, has just been published.  In case you haven’t heard, this podcast is my latest project.  I have teamed up with Dominique Day, one of the co-founders of Cavalia, to create the Equiosity podcast.

We taped the first four episodes last August.  They were part of one long conversation that we split into four episodes.  I was in the midst of writing the Goat Diaries, so naturally that was what I was thinking about.  So these first episodes of a podcast that is about horses start out with goats.

That’s not all we talked about.  These first two episodes cover a lot of ground.  The overall theme of Episode 2 is emotional balance.  How can we have the enthusiasm we love coupled with the calmness we need for optimal learning?

You can learn more about the podcasts and listen to the first two episodes at Equiosity.com

The second piece of exciting news is our goat herd has expanded.  Yesterday Thanzi gave birth to twins.  If they were horses, I would say she has a colt and a filly.  Baby goats don’t seem to have names that indicate gender.  They are just referred to as kids.  So I will say she had a boy and a girl, both black, but thankfully the little girl has a spot of white on her forehead.  She will be easy to tell apart from her brother and Trixie’s black triplets.

They came during the day which is good, but at an awkward time for me.  Yesterday afternoon I had an appointment with my tax accountant.  When I checked on Thanzi before leaving for a few hours, she was just starting into labor.  What to do!  At this time of year you don’t cancel tax appointments.  But I couldn’t leave Thanzi.  So my tax accountant, who doesn’t even know about the goats, got what has to be for him a unique excuse for canceling an appointment.  At least it’s better than my dog ate my homework.

Thanzi did great.  I got to watch her twins being born, and thankfully I didn’t have to help out.  That’s exactly what you want.  I helped dry them off just so they would get to know me, and then I stepped back and let Thanzi bond with her babies.

After barn chores were done, I spent the evening with Trixie’s three curled up in my lap.  Thanzi’s newborns were sleeping within reach so I could stroke them as I welcomed them to the world.  We are in for a lot of laughter at the Clicker Center this spring!  Come join us!

Thanzi drying off her twins

Thanzi is drying off her first-born twin.

Thanzi's newborns visited by patience 3:21:18

No, Thanzi didn’t have triplets.  This is one of Trixie’s babies come to meet the new arrivals.

You will need a password to watch this video.  Since it shows Thanzi giving birth, the password is Thanzi.

 

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/