Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 2 Goats are Like Horses Except That They’re Not

The Goat Palace – Nov. 16, 2017

Yesterday I wrote that structure matters.  The day’s training sessions confirmed it.  Things went so much more smoothly with the panels in place.  Thanzi has figured out our system.  She is now first at the gate ready to shift into the back area.  She’s becoming much more consistent orienting to and following a target.  She also has no interest in shifting back to the front area after her session, so we let Trixie join her. I’d like to work them one after the other, but Thanzi disagrees with that system. So yesterday she got a second targeting session with Marla while I worked with Trixie.

We were more successful than we had been the day before. Thanzi stayed better with Marla which let me focus on Trixie. I’m using my hand as a target with her.  I target with one hand, feed with the other. She’s becoming increasingly comfortable approaching me and staying with me rather than running to Thanzi for security.

We left them and set the panels up for the boys.  We have three different goats so they got three very different sessions.  Pellias was reinforced for staying on a platform, something he excels at.  Galahad had another protective contact session orienting to the target while we stayed outside the enclosure.  He did great.  He went consistently to the target, moved several steps to get his treat and then returned to his target.

We’ll see how he progresses, but I suspect starting this way will give him a very strong targeting skill.  When you reduce the noise in the system, the behavior you’re after can really stand out.  Our presence in the pen adds a lot of extra noise.

For Elyan, I built on yesterday’s session where I had him follow a target around me in a circle.  If he had been a horse, I would have said he was lunging around me.  Towards the end of his session I hooked his lead to his collar.  We were picking up on lessons I had started in July.  He continued to follow his target, and he kept slack in the lead.  I remarked that it is so much easier to teach leading when there is no where to go.

So yes, structure matters.  In the case of these five goats structure lets us work them individually without the chaos and competition that having them all together creates.  I had originally thought we would be able to have all the goats together in the back area while we let them one at a time into the front training area, but I hadn’t factored in Thanzi’s influence.  She is too aggressive to the younger goats for this to work.  So structure matters because it lets us adjust our training to include considerations of the social structure of the group, as well as the needs of each individual.

In the evening this time it was Pellias who stayed on the platform for a cuddle and Elyan who watched from the back training area.  The ladies were at the hay feeders.  Galahad scooted past them but then discovered that Pellias didn’t want to share his top spot on the platform.  He wanted all the scritching to himself.  I stayed for quite a while, then left via the back gate so I could give Elyan a few minutes of attention as well.  The ladies so far want nothing from me except food.  They will approach to sniff my hands, but they scoot away if I try to touch them.

Onto the July Goat Diaries:

Clicker Training Day 2: Goats Are Like Horses Except That They’re Not

Platform Training Begins

I use mats a lot when I work with horses.  In fact mats are such a useful tool, learning to stand on a mat is one of the six foundation lessons I use to introduce a horse to clicker training.  The more you play with mats the more uses you find for them. Many horses begin by being wary of the strange surface. So the first step in using mats is to convince the horse that they are safe to stand on.

Robin on mat 1.png

Think door mat size for mats.  You can use plywood, rubber mats, carpet squares.  You want something that contrasts with the underlying surface.

Standing on a mat highlights one of those places where goats are like horses – except they’re not. They are like horses in that mats are also an incredibly useful tool for them. They are unlike horses in that they are mountain animals. They like being up on things. They had already demonstrated that they were more than happy to jump up on the platform I provided for them in their stall.  They didn’t need any special training to begin exploring that bit of environmental enrichment.

Normally with horses it would take multiple training sessions before they would be comfortable stepping up onto an elevated platforms. These goats might have been afraid of me on that first day they were in the stall, but they were very willing to jump up and play king of the mountain on the platform.

Goat on platform P up, E on floor.png

The goats were very willing to jump up on the platform I built for them.

Normally, for the horses I use pieces of plywood, or rubber mats, but I wasn’t sure the goats would even notice these.  Given their lack of concern over changes in footing, I thought my usual mats might not be very effective.  Would they even notice that there was something different underfoot?

I decided that their mats should be platforms.  If one foot slipped off, they were much more likely to be aware of it and to self-correct.  That would be less frustrating for them than asking them to care about whether or not their nimble feet were all four on a regular mat.

5th Session 7 pm: King of the Hill – Platforms

Horses were again my guide as I thought about what to do next. P had so many good traits. He was a quick learner. He was eager for attention. He was greedy for treats. He was full of energy.  That makes him a fun candidate to train. But all that eagerness can get in the way.  He reminded me of some of the clicker-trained dogs that I see.  They share these same good characteristics that make them fun to train.  They are quick, eager, agile, and very food motivated.  It’s easy to get them so excited during training, they can’t think. They become so fixated on the food they are unable to settle. It’s go, go, go, with anxious tight movement and emotions to match.

These goats could easily become like one of those over-excited dogs. They were in the game. They wanted the food. They were quick, agile, eager to play. It’s easy to get carried away and reinforce all this playful, full-of-life behavior. But the training mantra is:

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

With these goats it was clear emotional balance was going to be important. I needed a way to let them know that standing still was a good thing. It would bring them more treats than anything else they tried.

With horses I have always used mats to help teach “stay put”. The mat gives the horse a clear criterion to follow. Keep your feet planted on the mat and you will get clicked and reinforced.

As busy as the goats were, I wasn’t sure they would notice a simple mat. I thought platforms might work better for them, and I already knew that they liked being up on things. Unlike horses who tend to be wary about stepping onto unfamiliar surfaces, I didn’t think getting them up on a platform would be a challenge for them.

I began with P in the outside run. He was ready before I was!  He went right to his platform and got clicked and reinforced for staying on it. This was so unlike horses who would have needed a lengthy introduction to mats and platforms. There are some advantages to working with a mountain climber!

Goat Diaries Day 2 P on Platform 7 panels

I used targeting to get P off the platform. I didn’t want to keep him up there so long it became the one and only thing he was willing to do. I wanted him to understand that there are many ways to get reinforced, including leaving the platform to go to a target.

Goat Diaries Day 2 Platforms 3 photos targeting.png

He threw in a little backing as he returned to the platform. After being reinforced so much for backing in the previous sessions, this was not a surprise.

Goat diaries Day 2 backing up.pngHe came up forward again to go onto the platform.  Once up there, I reinforced him several times for staying on it.

Goat diaries Day 2 Platforms -  2 photos return to platform.pngAgain, I targeted him off. Click and treat. He wanted to back up. So he backed up then came forward with tons of energy to the platform. Hmm. I need to think about that.

“Don’t make your animal wrong for something you have taught him.”

That’s another of my training mantras. The backing was clearly a lesson well learned. In the previous sessions backing had produced treats. But backing wasn’t always going to be what I was looking for.

Too much of a good thing can get in the way of learning new lessons. I didn’t want to frustrate him and send him into the downward spiral of an extinction burst, but I also didn’t want backing to be inserted into everything that I trained. I needed to expand his repertoire so I could keep the backing in balance with all the other things I wanted him to do. Teaching him to stand on a platform was an important next step in this process.

Video: Goat Diaries Day 2 Platforms (The password to open this video is: GoatDiariesDay 2 P Platforms)

If these photos and the short video clip were all I showed you of this session, you would think all was smooth sailing. This goat training is easy!

But immediately after all this good work, P backed off the platform. I invited him forward with the target. He trotted back to the platform. The added energy tipped the balance.  He jumped up several times. I’ve seen behavior like this before, but it’s usually coming from an overly excited dog.  With dogs it can be entertaining, even flattering when your family pet jumps up on you with such enthusiasm.  But with horses this kind of behavior will just get you hurt.  It’s not a behavior I want to encourage in horse or goat.

Goat Diaries Day 2: Excitement - 2 photos where manners?.png

Video Goat Diaries Day 2/ Excitement  (The password that opens this video is: GoatDiariesDay 2 P Platforms)

I got myself clear, got us reorganized, and P went back to being able to stay four feet on the floor.  I restored his good manners by keeping my rates of reinforcement high.  It was click for staying still on the platform – feed.  Click for staying still on the platform – feed.  I wanted to emphasize that four feet on the floor worked much better than jumping up.

Goat Diaries Day 2: Excitement - 9 photos C:T.png

We were doing a fair bit of sorting/experimenting when the neighbors two dogs came out along the top fence line. One is a great Dane cross and the other is a dachshund. The little dog was moving about in a very odd way that caught everyone’s attention. One of the horses went on the alert. P tried to jump back into the stall and didn’t make it. I opened the door and tried to let him back in, but E came out instead. They both stood transfixed staring up at the dogs. Then the neighbor started weed whacking. That was too much.

The goats stared, tuning me out completely.  They needed to work this out on their own.  The environment is always changing.  They needed to decide what was a threat and what was just normal background noise.   I sat in the chair with them for a while, then went to get some hay to entice them back into the stall. P finally went in. I tried a little targeting, but he was having none of it. They went back and forth, in and out before I finally got them both in and closed the door. This time I closed the top as well as the bottom. I wasn’t going to have any more unwanted escapes.

Once in the stall, they settled right away. I gave them fresh hay which helped them forget the scare they had just had. While they were eating, I stood next to them and stroked their backs. They stopped eating and didn’t move. That seemed like such an odd reaction. Couldn’t they walk and chew gum? When they were touched, why did they stop eating? I read it as worry. It almost looked as though they were freezing.

With horses when you scritch them, you look for their lips to twitch. You look for a softening of the eyes, an arch of the neck as they move into your hand. With the goats I saw none of this. I couldn’t find any good places to scratch or any this-feels-great-don’t-stop spots. They accepted the stroking, but they weren’t seeking it out.

In the evening Panda’s owner, Ann, came out to the barn.  Ann is a partner in the barn and her Icelandic, Fengur is one of our permanent residents.  Ann is blind so she hadn’t really had a chance yet to meet the goats.  On the first evening when they wanted nothing to do with people, all I’d been able to do was describe their behavior.  Now for the first time, she could begin to interact with them.  When she went into the stall with me, the goats stayed at the hay bucket. She was able to stroke both of them, which I took as real progress.  P stood better for her than E.   E quickly scooted away, clearly worried by a person he didn’t know.

Ann went off to take care of Fengur. I stayed and brought out my chair again. I was beginning to think of this last session of the day as cuddle time. After the excitement of all these training sessions, it seemed important that I spend some time just hanging out with the goats. I took my chair in and sat with them while they ate hay.  If they came over, they got scratched. My rule was I could touch them, but I could not restrain them in any way. If they wanted to leave, I let them.

The goats were going to be with me for such a short time, I wanted to stack the deck as much as I could in my favor. I didn’t want to be just a treat dispenser. I wanted the treats, the puzzles, the entertainment, the time spent just hanging out to all add up to a real relationship. One of the common metaphors that trainers often use is they equate relationship building to building up a bank account. The “cuddle” time I was spending with these goats felt as though I was depositing gold bricks into my account.

I was also making some interesting discoveries about goats. Years ago I had three llamas. True to their species’ reputation for aloofness none of them liked being handled. These goats were not at all like the llamas. They were starting to seek out my attention.

My horses enjoy a good scratch, but the goats were different again. What they were really like were cats. All the ways cats enjoy having their heads rubbed and their chins scratched these goats seemed to love. I was beginning to see a tiny wiggle of the lips as I scratched them around their ears and the base of their horns. Their eyes were getting softer, and their ears were definitely getting floppier. If only they could purr, they would have been perfect!

I was also making another interesting discovery.

P was considerably bigger than little E. He was much bolder, much more of an adventurer. But when it came to hay and cuddles, E was the pushy one. When I set the hay bucket down for them, it was E who pulled the hay away with his foot. If P tried to share, E would butt him away. I tried spreading the hay out in separate piles so P could have some. E claimed them all and left P only what could be scrounged along the edges.

E loved having his head and back scratched. If P was under my hand first, he got butted away. E would then station himself by my side. If I stopped scratching him, he would lean into me or give me a gentle nudge with his nose to remind me that I needed to keep scratching. P could stand on my other side and was allowed a scratch as well, just as long as I kept my fingers going for E.

Their coats were also so very different. I was enjoying the contrast. P’s coat was soft and deep. You could sink your hands into his undercoat of luxurious cashmere. E’s long guard hairs gave a very different feel. His coat wasn’t soft to the touch and he was much bonier, but he so loved being scratched he was even more reinforcing.

Goat Diaries Day 2 Cuddle Time.png

How To Scratch a Goat

 

Coming Next: Goat Diaries Day 3 of Clicker Training

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 – 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/

 

 

 

Goat Diaries: Day 1 Continued – Lessons From Panda

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/

p5_TrainerAlexandraKurlandPandaWithLittleBoys AtPostOfficeDelmarNYNeilSoderstrom.jpgThese goats were not the first dog-sized herbivore I have worked with. Panda, the miniature horse I trained to be a guide for the blind, has that honor. I was quickly discovering that the principles and lessons I had used in her training were going to apply very much to these goats. They may be very different species, but their training needs were similar. The rules I set myself for Panda very much applied to the goats.

One of the primary rules was a core training principle:

You can’t ask for and expect to get something on a consistent basis unless you have gone through a teaching process to teach it to your horse.

That meant I couldn’t ask Panda for anything that I had not taught her. If I wanted her to stand still while I talked to my neighbors, I had to first teach her what I wanted her TO DO. I couldn’t expect her to just know how to be patient. And she had to learn to be very patient because people were bubbling with curiosity when they saw me walking a miniature horse around my suburban neighborhood.

Panda at curb in neighborhood.png

Panda at 10 months out for a walk around the neighborhood – fall 2001.  I am reinforcing her for stopping at the curb after crossing the street.

I also had to be consistent. I kept in mind a phrase I had learned from John Lyons many years ago: “The horse doesn’t know when it doesn’t count, so it always has to count.” Panda’s blind owner would never be able to see a curb crossing, or a root sticking up through a sidewalk. If I wanted Panda to be consistent in her guide work, I needed to be 100% consistent in her training.

These two training rules served me well when I took them to the goats.

Panda napping goats nappingSession 7: 4 pm
I took the chair back in and set it in the middle of the stall. Both goats were eager for food, so eager in fact they were practically in my lap. I decided to work on “grown-ups” to get a feel for how that would work with them.  Grown-ups is short for a lesson I refer to as “the grown-ups are talking, please don’t interrupt.”  Grown-ups means the goat (or horse) stands beside me in his own space. Ideally he is looking straight ahead so his nose is well away from my treat pockets.

Sitting as I was in a chair, I was thinking about Panda. One of the early behaviors I worked on with her was this one of having her position herself beside my chair.  In fact, my second book, “The Click That Teaches: A Step-By-Step Guide in Pictures” was written while I was teaching Panda to stand next to me while I worked on the computer.  It was the start of teaching her a base position out of which so much of her guide work evolved.

Panda guiding - great walk.JPG

Panda as a working guide

Panda is tiny. At nine months of age when her training started, she weighed about 120 pounds. I could easily have pushed her into any position I wanted, but that would have broken one of the rules I had set for her training. It’s worth repeating that my primary rule was I could not ask her for anything that I had not first introduced to her through a teaching process. If I hadn’t taught her how to stand next to my chair, I couldn’t ask her to do so and expect her to be successful.

Connected to this rule, I could not physically move her around. It was always up to Panda to move her own body in response to my request. If she was standing with her hind end swung too far out away from my chair, I could not push her back into position.

With small animals that’s so easy to do. We can push, pull, and drag them around. We can even pick them up and carry them.  Who needs training when you can do that!

With ponies that is so often why they get such awful reputations for being stubborn and for “misbehaving”.  They may not get picked up like a baby goat, but they certainly get pushed and shoved around.  They aren’t really being taught what is wanted.  While they are still too small to put up much of a fuss, they are just pushed around. It’s easy. It’s quick. It gets the job done, but it leaves behind negative fallout.

With Panda if I wanted her to move her hip over, I could put my hand on her hind end. I could indicate a direction I’d like her to move, but I had to stop at that point of contact and wait. Another wonderful phrase for the point of contact is point of attention. I would wait there for Panda to notice my hand and then make a response.

When she shifted her weight even the tiniest bit, I would take my hand away as I clicked. The click was always followed by a treat. Pushing her over would have been faster in the moment. Waiting took more focus, but the results were well worth the wait.

Panda has been working as a guide for over fourteen years.  Following these rules in the foundation of her work helped build this long-term durability in her work.

Panda walk 1.1.17  cross delaware.png

Winter 2017

I was following the same rules with the goats. They were so much smaller than Panda. E probably weighed only about thirty or forty pounds. I could easily have picked him up, moved him around any way I wanted. That would get him from point A to point B. It would be easy – this time. But the more I followed that path, the less he would want to have anything to do with me. He might approach me because I had peanuts, but the minute my pockets were empty, he’d be off. That wasn’t enough. That wasn’t the relationship I wanted to build.

P was the first one to come over to visit. He came around the right side of my chair and got lots of clicks and treats for staying by my side. E was still eating hay which made it easier to focus just on P.  When E joined us, it was harder to separate out who was getting clicked for what. We were very much where you would expect to be at this stage – eager chaos with some order beginning to appear.

I kept this session short. Better to do a little and then leave to think about what to do next next than to stay and let their eagerness turn into unwanted behaviors.

(Note: each of these sessions were only about five or six minutes total.)

Session 8: 8 pm
For their final session for the day I went in without treats and set my chair down near their hay pile. They were comfortable enough with me to continue eating. I reached out and stroked their backs. They didn’t run away but they stopped eating. Curious.

I haven’t worked with goats enough to know what – if any – stroking, scratching, rubbing they enjoy. Are they like llamas who really don’t want the contact? Or are they more like horses who enjoy a good social grooming? I scratched the base of E’s ears. He stopped eating, but he stayed.

His body was tight. He showed no outward signs of enjoyment. His lips weren’t wiggling the way a horse’s would. His eyes weren’t getting dreamy. But he was staying. I scratched some more around his ears and the back of his neck. P crowded in so I switched to him. As soon as my hand left him, E went back to eating.  As I scratched P, he also froze.   When I stopped scratching, he put his head down and began eating hay. Scratch – the eating stopped. Interesting.

I sat with them for about half and hour and then left them for the night.

Goat Diaries Day 2 Cuddle Time

Evening “cuddle” time.

Coming Next: 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/

And to learn more about clicker training visit my web site: theclickercenter.com

Goat Diaries – Day 1 Continued: Cups of Tea

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/

Collecting Data

tea cupI frequently tell people that it’s time to put their horse away and go have a cup of tea.  Yes, we want to spend time with our animals, but in these initial forays into clicker training less is often better.

When I’m coaching horse owners, I have them count out twenty treats.  When they begin their sessions, that’s all they have in their pockets. That forces them to step away from their horses to refill their pockets.  They can go right back to their horses after they have replenished their twenty treats, but that brief break in the training gives them time to think and adjust.  I was doing a lot of adjusting as I introduced myself and clicker training to these goats.

In all I did eight sessions on this first day.  That may sound like a lot, but they were each just a few minutes long, and they were spread out throughout the day.

Session 5: 1 pm

I tried working from the outside of the stall. The goats were interested in the target, but it was too hard to deliver the treat, so I kept this session short.  My stalls are perfect for starting horses with the clicker.  I designed them with that in mind.  I wasn’t thinking about goats.

Targeting over the stall wall was worth the experiment if only to show me that wasn’t going to work.  I would have preferred separating them and working them one at a time, but I thought that might really stress them.  The compromise was a less than ideal set up.

So many of the people who have their horses at home are in the same boat. They have a paddock with a run-in shed that’s shared by three horses. Chaos! At least the goats were little so we could all three tolerate a bit of chaos.

In this respect they were more like dogs than horses. Size does make a difference.  People are much more casual getting dogs started with clicker training than I am with horses.  Just imagine trying to work with goats that weighed in at a thousand pounds each! It’s challenging enough at times with horses, but remember goats have horns, and they can jump and wiggle in ways a horse simply can’t.

Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

Just because I could manage two goats at once didn’t make it ideal.

I wanted to step away from the goats and think some more about how best to work with them. These short sessions let me test the waters. I was giving things a try, seeing what worked and what didn’t, and then I was stepping away to think about how to do it better.  Goat or horse, this would be the pattern.  Always it is the animals who show you what they need to work on and what you need to change to make things better for each individual.

Session 6: 3 pm:

In my previous sessions I had sat in a chair and let the goats come to me.  This gave them a sense of safety.  As long as I was sitting in the chair, it was clear I wasn’t going to try to corner them in the stall and grab them.  But now that they were eagerly coming up to me to get peanuts, it was time to make a change.  I wanted to be able to move around more, so this time I went in without the chair.  My plan was to see if they would begin to follow the target.

When I went in, they were both eating hay out of the bucket. I was struggling to remember their names  – Sir Elyan and Sir Peleus, so I simply referred to them as E (the little one with the long hair) and P.

E and P are easy to tell apart. P is the larger goat with short guard hairs (on the left).  E is much smaller, and he has long hair (on the right). I was quickly discovering that they were as different in their personalities as they were in their physical appearance.

goats in stall Day 1

“P” is on the left.  “E” on the right.

As soon as I stepped through the door, P left the hay and began to follow the target. He stayed in the game. E joined us when he realized P was getting treats. P seemed to be making connections fast. It was clear he was beginning to understand the game. Little E was too busy butting in (literally) to get his brother’s treats to notice what was going on.

I began testing the waters a bit more in this session. They were definitely eager for treats. If they had been horses, I most certainly would have wanted some kind of barrier between us. That much eagerness in a thousand pound body can quickly become overwhelming.

I didn’t want to punish them for being eager, but I did need them to understand that while treats might come from my pockets, I was not an open salad bar.  You have to wait for your “dinner plate” to be brought to you.  With horses I would begin delivering the treat so the horse had to take a step or two back to get to it.  The best set up for teaching this is to have the horse in a stall with a stall guard across the door.

Robin targeting in stall

A great set up for introducing a horse to clicker training.

The horse reaches forward to touch a target, and then the treat is delivered so he has to take a step back. It’s such an easy way to introduce a horse to the idea of backing out of your space. The mantra is feed where the perfect horse would be. In this case the perfect horse takes a step back to get his treat.

Robin backing for food delivery

Backing to get the treat

Backing is one of six foundation lessons that I teach in the initial set up of clicker training.  These foundation behaviors become the ones a horse will offer if he’s feeling unsure. If something frightens him, much better that he backs up out of your space than that he runs over the top of you.

I was pretty sure there would be times when I’d want the perfect goat to be moving out of my space. I certainly didn’t want them crowding into me, so after I clicked, I extended my arm well out away from my body.  This kept them from crowding into me for their treats.

Day 1 targeting 3 pm panel 1

E and P were wary of movement. When I shifted towards them, they backed right up. I didn’t want them backing because they were afraid, but at least I knew that feeding them out away from me was going to be easy to get. Data collected.

I also checked out what P’s response was to my holding him by his collar. The answer: head shaking and resistance.

I asked E the same question.  When he felt me take his collar, he dragged forward against the pressure.  I kept a soft but steady feel.  When he softened in response, click, I released his collar and gave him a treat.

Goat diaries Day 1 targeting 3 pm collar panel 1a.pngI knew from the way the goats had sled-dogged their way into the barn the day they arrived that leading was a high priority, but it was also going to need a lot of work. This just confirmed it. The goats were used to being grabbed, but they didn’t know how to release to pressure.  The data I collected told me this was a lesson that would have to wait.

Before we could work directly on leading, I needed to teach them the underlying skills that would make this a fair and successful lesson. Approaching the leading directly would result in a train wreck. A better way is to come at a training goal indirectly and with lots of small steps.

Big step stool, little step stools.png

Good training breaks new tasks down into many small steps.

Coming Next: The Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Begins – Day 1 – Session #7: Lessons From Panda

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: Day 1 – Begin By Breaking the Rules

Goats Not Horses
I’m a horse trainer.  That’s what I know, but here I was with two young goats trying to stay as far away from me as was possible in the space of a stall.   The goats belonged to St Mary’s Convent.  They were raised both for their beautiful cashmere fiber and to be part of a 4-H program.   They had grown up being held in the laps of young children.

The rest of their experience with people was very conventional farm handling. When you needed to move a particular goat into another pen, you grabbed the collar around his neck and propelled him forward as best you could. No wonder they were suspicious of me! They clearly expected to be grabbed and held. The Sister who had raised them very much loved her goats and was wonderfully kind to them. But the handling was done within the constraints of traditional farm management.

These goats had also grown up being fed peanuts and pretzels by children.  No safety rules attached. The herd had gained the nickname of Piranha Goats. That tells it all. Apparently, the children loved having the baby goats jump up and take pretzels out of their mouths. Cute maybe, but these weren’t babies anymore.

I had just discovered that the goats were willing to set aside their suspicion of me for the prize of peanuts.  Gone was their shyness around me.  Suddenly, I had two goats all but in my lap eagerly taking the peanuts from me.  Okay.  That was one hurdle crossed.  Now what?

With horses I would normally begin with targeting. Now that the goats knew food was involved it seemed a reasonable starting point for them, as well. I would also normally begin with protective contact. I would be on one side of a barrier with the horse on the other. And I would be working with only one horse at a time.

Nick target in stall 2.png

I often get emails from people asking for help getting started.  They’ve gone out into the only work space they have – their paddock – and tried to clicker train several horses at once.  That’s a recipe for disaster.  We’ve all seen one horse run another off a hay pile. Now the handler has essentially become the “hay pile” – a hay pile with a particularly tempting stash of carrots hidden in it’s pockets.

If the handler doesn’t get kicked or run over, she runs a high risk of getting one of her horses kicked.  And even if the herd gets along beautifully and doesn’t quarrel over a scarce resource, there’s the problem of sorting out what to do after you click.

Do you feed everybody, even the horse who was doing completely the opposite of what you wanted?  Or do you just feed the horses who were good?  What kind of confusion and frustration are you weaving into your first clicker lessons?

It’s so much better to work one horse at a time.  There are lots of ways to do this.  You may not be able to afford metal round pen panels, but you can make inexpensive wooden panels to create a safe work space for your horse.  You can set these panels up in your paddock, so all the other horses can watch.  A horse who worries about being away from the herd will still have his family nearby.

Maggie in round pen panels.png

These wooden panels are both inexpensive and easy to make.  They provide a good safety barrier for you and your horse.  Note the horse is on the outside.  This gives her more power of choice.  She’s free to leave at any time.  The handler has to become more creative to keep her horse engaged with her.  If her horse does leave, the panels keep her from chasing after her to get her back.

I didn’t do this with the goats.  I began by breaking my own rules.  My work space was their stall.  I had no barrier and two goats – with horns – who were jostling one another to get to the treats. That’s a recipe for chaos, but I didn’t want to stress the goats by separating them.

Instead I took my chair into the stall, set a bucket of hay down in front of it and began. The chair served one of the functions of protective contact. While it didn’t provide me with any protection from them, it did give the goats a sense of safety. They could stay on their platform as far from me as they could get, or they could come see what I had to offer.  I was planted in my chair.  They could see that I wasn’t going to to chase them into a corner or make a sudden move to grab them.

Goat diaries day 1 goats on platform.png

While I watched the goats, they were watching me.

 

Session 3: 9:30 am

 

peanuts1.png

Peanuts!

I sat in my chair shelling peanuts (and eating some, as well.) It took almost five minutes for the goats to decide it was safe to check me out. In the end their curiosity coupled with lure of the peanuts proved too much for them. They came over to see what I was doing. Once they realized treats were involved, they were eager to play. And just as it does with horses, their curiosity helped me out. When I held my target (a colored baton that rattled when I shook it) out to them, they reached out to sniff it.

goat diaries day 1 baton2.png

My Target Stick

I was sitting in a chair so I could be at their level. That made it hard for me to get at my pocket after I clicked. Too slow. I didn’t like the lack of a smooth connection between the click and the treats. I’m so used to working with horses I hadn’t factored in the challenge of getting to my pocket.

I was accumulating too many errors – not good, so I ended the session after just a few rounds of targeting. I wanted us all to have a chance to think.

goat diaries day 1 targeting intro Taking Turns.png

Taking Turns: The photos make it seem as though this was a very orderly session, but it felt like chaos to me.  I’m used to introducing one animal at a time to the basics of clicker training.  I was reluctant to separate the goats, so I started with a less than ideal situation.  I quickly realized I needed to change my set up or I was going to accumulate a lot of unwanted behavior along with the target touches.  It was time to stop and rethink what I was doing.  Testing the waters is fine, as long as you don’t stay too long once you realize a change is needed.

Coming Next: Testing the Waters: Dress Rehearsals and Trial Runs