Goat Diaries Day 5 – E Leads the Way

This is going to be a fairly long post because at long last we have come to leading.  We lead many of our animals, horses, dogs, even cats and rabbits.  Always the question is what has the animal learned?  Has he simply given in to avoid being dragged?  Or have we worked in a fair and systematic way to teach him how to respond to the tactile information a lead presents?

E in particular is a tiny animal.  I could so easily MAKE him follow me on a lead.  Making isn’t teaching. Too many of our animals – both small and large – learn that they MUST.  At it’s core, the lead communicates do-it-or-else.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  I am hoping that as I describe the teaching process with these small animals, it will help people understand how leads can be used in a very clicker-compatible way with our horses.

Lots of Roads

There is always more than one way to teach every behavior.  That’s definitely the theme both of what I’m writing about today and what I’m working on with the goats.  This is good news because it means you can very much tailor your training to the individual needs of your learner, to the constraints of your training environment, to your own personal ethics, to your training skills and physical abilities, and to the ways in which a particular behavior is going to be used in the future.  The beauty of clicker training is it is wonderfully creative and flexible.

That’s also why we sometimes get “camps”, with each group convinced that they have the “best”, “right”, “only” way to train.  Sigh.  I want to understand and be good at using lots of different training strategies.

In clinics we tend to focus a lot of our time on learning good rope handling skills.  There are many reasons for this.  Personally, I like work in-hand.  I enjoy the connection, the communication, the lightness of feel that you experience via a lead rope.  Liberty work, riding, ground work, they all connect through an understanding of shaping via a lead.  I love using targets and freeshaping.  That kind of training is loads of fun, but the tactile sensation of a horse connecting with you via a light lead is a delight.

Rope handling is also the hardest of all the training techniques to get right.  It’s so much easier to use a target.  You can’t pull, push, or drag an animal around on a target.  (That doesn’t mean you can’t get an animal into some very contorted positions using targeting.  You just can’t drag him into them.)

The challenge with a lead is to slide to a point of contact and then to wait for the animal to respond by moving his own body.  That takes practice, focus, and attention to details.  And for many it also means changing some old habits.  So in clinics the spotlight is often turned towards rope handling. That’s not because other teaching strategies such as targeting aren’t equally valid, but because rope handling is the one that gains the most from direct coaching.

Being Creative
I recognize that there are many ways to train every behavior.  We have broad categories of teaching strategies, and then within each of those we have so many different training options.  Look at how many different ways I can use something as basic as a target to teach the same behavior.  How creative and inventive can you be?  One of the most creative trainers that I’ve had the privilege to watch is Kay Laurence (learningaboutdogs.com).  With Thanzi and Trixie my current version of being creative is to explore (and probably totally corrupt) her version of using a target stick with a cup on the end.  I described the beginnings of that training in the previous post.

Another very creative trainer is Michele Pouliot.  Michele is well known both in the world of guide dog training and canine musical freestyle.  As the Director of Research and Development at Guide Dogs for the Blind, (the largest school for guide dogs in the US), Michele was able to convert their entire training program to clicker training.  She’s now consulting widely helping other schools transition their programs to clicker training. Talk about training skill! It is one thing to train an animal.  It is something else again to change the entire training culture within an organization.

Michele’s most recent training hobby has been canine musical freestyle.  That’s choreographed dance routines with your dog.  As a member of the Clicker Expo faculty, she has shared her technique of using platforms to teach basic positioning.  It’s a very clever use of environmental prompts.

So with the goats I am making use of all of these techniques.  In July I re-introduced the lead via shaping on a point of contact (my work).  Now that I have the luxury of more time to experiment, I am using Kay’s targeting techniques with Thanzi and Trixie, and Michele’s platform training with Elyan and Pellias.  No technique is more “right” than the others.  It is just fun to explore different ways of teaching.  Every method will produce it’s own good results and it’s own wonderful surprises.  And the more ways I present an idea, the stronger it becomes.

The July Goat Diaries

E’s morning Session

We warmed up with a review of what E already knows.  I had two platforms set up in his stall.  I worked on having him stay on a platform while I stepped back away from him.   Click and treat.  I didn’t want him to get stuck on a platform so after a few clicks and treats on one platform, I used my target to move him to the other platform.  E was his usual sweet self.  I was setting the stage for leading, putting into repertoire the components that would make leading easier for him to learn.

E learning to lead Day 5 platforms panel 4 photos .png

E learning to lead Day 5 platforms panel 2 2 photos.png

Part way through his session, I put one of the platforms away and put a lead on him for the first time.  E ignored the presence of the lead and went straight to the platform.  That’s not a surprise since that was what we had just been doing.

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

That’s a good training mantra to follow.  I didn’t want to create a conflict between the lead and the platform, so I let the lead go slack as he headed to the platform.  I reinforced him, as before, for staying on the platform.  Now it was time to step down off the platform.

He was stuck.  Following the lead didn’t make sense.  I added in the target, but he was still stuck.

Okay, that was a trial balloon.  The platform wasn’t going to help me with leading.  It was just going to overshadow the prompts from the lead and create confusion.  I needed to think about how best to proceed, so I ended the session.

Leading

In our next session I didn’t set up any platforms.  I wanted E to be able to focus on the information coming from the lead.  It was an advantage that we were working in a small space.  There was nowhere that E particularly wanted to go.  The lead could become what I wanted it to be – a communication tool not a restraint device.

E is tiny.  It would be very easy to drag him with the lead.  That’s not what I wanted.  With the horses I refer to the way in which I use pressure and release of pressure as “shaping on a point of contact”.  I take the slack out of the lead.  That’s my signal that I want something to change.  If E’s feet stick, my rule is I can’t pull him or make the pressure more intense to scare him into moving.  Instead I wait for him to move his own body.  When he shifts in the direction I want, click, I release the lead, and I reinforce him with a treat.

Initially when he moves in response to the lead, I only ask him to go a step or two before I click and treat. I want us both to be successful so I’m only looking for little steps in the right direction. I know these small steps will accumulate fast.

Goat diaries E learning to lead panel 1.png

We ended the session with a back scratch. I let him go out to the outside run, and let P in for a leading session.

Goat Diaries E learning to lead back scratch 1.png

A great end to a great session on leading.

P’s Leading Session

E is so soft.  He readily moves when I move so teaching leading flows easily from that.  P also follows me, but he’s a much stronger goat.  Both goats came to me with a history of begin led.  My understanding was leads were introduced when the goats were small enough to handle.  Typically the goats resist, fight the constraint of the lead and then finally give in and follow the pull of the lead.  I knew both goats could pull like freight trains so it was not a given that P was just going to follow the suggestions I was offering from the lead.

I needed to be attentive to this.  If he didn’t come with me, I needed to pause as soon as I felt the slack going out of the lead.  This is where I would wait.  I’m shaping on a point of contact.   I don’t want to add more pressure to drag him forward.  That’s something people tend to do with any animal they have on a lead whether it is something small like a goat (or dog), or large like a horse.  We pull.  And when the animal digs in it’s heels, we add even more pressure until the animal complies.

The learning here for the animal is to move or be dragged.  After a while a handler can feel very kind and gentle because now you just begin to move off and the animal follows.  But trace the history of this response back to the way it was originally taught, and what you’ll see is the escalating pressure.  This animal appears to be soft, but really he has just agreed to be dragged.  The threat is always there.  If he doesn’t follow the next time, the escalating pressure will return.

This is NOT what I am teaching.  I begin to walk off.  If my learner follows, great.  We can continue on – click and treat.  But if he doesn’t respond to the lead cue, I pause.  It’s as though we’re in a freeze frame of a video.

I always feel as though I am in a film strip where someone has just stopped the projector.  I wait.  I’m not passive.  The intent is clear, but I don’t escalate.  I wait for my learner to move his own body.  That’s what distinguishes shaping on a point of contact from molding.  In molding the handler moves the learner’s body.  The animal learns to comply and follows rather than being dragged forward.

In shaping on a point of contact the animal moves his own body in response to cues from the lead.  This can seem like semantics.  In both you are using a lead.  You are taking the slack out, so there’s pressure either way, but figuring out the puzzle and moving your own body is a completely different kind of puzzle solving compared with just giving in to an increase of pressure.  It produces a very different outcome both emotionally and physically.

Emotionally it creates confident puzzle solvers who WANT to participate.  They aren’t looking for a way out of the “game”.  They want to keep playing.  And physically, it produces lighter, better balanced steps.  You can hear the difference when you listen to animals that have been taught via escalating pressure versus shaping on a point of contact.

As soon as my learner finds the direction I want and puts slack back into the lead, click, he gets reinforced.  This is such an important point.  I want the animals I work with to be comfortable with the lead.  I don’t want them to fear it.  Instead I want the lead to be a predictor of good things.

P’s initial response to having a lead attached told me that was not how he thought about leads.  We were starting out in a training hole of past history which meant I had to be all the more careful in how I handled the lead.

Goat Diaries E learning to lead panel 1.png

P learning to lead 6 panels.png

I’m showing the following two photos as a teaching aid.  It’s a case of learning from example, non-example. I don’t mean to pick on the handler’s in these photos.  I could just as easily have taken pictures of the dogs being walked in my neighborhood, or young horses learning how to lead.  We are very good at adding pressure.  In the case of goats and other farm animal this is just standard livestock handling.  It needs to be expedient.  When you are managing a lot of animals, you don’t have time to teach the niceties of leading.  You just need to get the animals moved.  With clicker training we can add another criterion  to this process.  We can move them thoughtfully.  We can move them with kindness.

contrast teaches goats being pulled.png

goat diaries E being led early leading lesson -1

If you were on the animal’s end of the lead, it’s pretty obvious which style of leading you’d want your handler to be using.  Molding is easy which is why it is so prevalent.  Shaping on a point of contact takes much more deliberate focus.

One of the best ways to appreciate shaping on a point of contact is to experience it from the animal’s end of the lead.  Whether you work with small animals such as these goats or dogs, or big animals such as horses, you will appreciate the difference.

Hold the snap end of the lead while a friend asks you to take a step forward or back.  Try out the different versions.  Don’t step forward as she walks off, but have her continue to walk.  What does it feel like to be dragged?  How balanced are you?

Now have her wait on a point of contact.  When you give to the lead  and step forward, what does that feel like?  If you’ve never handled a lead in this way, the differences may not yet be very clear, but once you begin to understand how to use a lead in this way, there’s no going back.  You will always be looking for the conversation that shaping on a point of contact creates.

Shaping on a point of contact is such an important concept to understand I’ll let it stand on it’s own in this post.  I’ll wait to catch you up with the fun sessions I’ve been having over the last couple of days with the goats.

Please Note: If you want to learn more about rope handling and shaping on a point of contact, please refer to my books, DVDs and on-line course, or come join me at a clinic.  Visit theclickercenter.com for more information.  I’ll also be teaching a lab on rope handling at this year’s Clicker Expos.

Coming next: Don’t Take Score Too Soon

Elyan - Is it Christmas yet?.png

Remember to share the link to the Goat Diaries with your friends.

 

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

Cues Evolve: Part 4

JOY FULL Horses: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 8.) Cues Can Change and Be Changed 

Consistency
In the previous post I shared with you some stories from Panda’s early training.  Panda’s manners developed over time because she lived in a world of total consistency.  Throughout the early part of her training I was the only one who handled her.  She didn’t have to figure out how the rules worked with different people setting different standards.

Ann’s first guide dog, Bailey, had been a great guide.  I learned a guide’s job in part by watching him.  The job description is pretty straight forward.  The real key to training a guide is consistency.  I knew that Ann would never be able to see the raised curb in front of her, so I knew that Panda and I always had to stop at each and every curb.

By the time Panda went to live full time with Ann, it was actually a relief sending her off.  Maintaining that level of consistency when you yourself don’t need it is a challenge.  There is always the temptation to cut across the parking lot because you’re in a hurry instead of following the edge the way a guide should.  I remember being at a conference where there where several guide dog trainers in attendance.  One of them spotted us and cut through several rows of empty chairs to come talk to us.  She had a dog with her who was about a week away from being placed.

I was horrified.  I would never have cut through those chairs with Panda.  We would have walked to the end of the aisle and gone through all the navigational checks that a blind handler would use to move to a different row of chairs.

There’s a great horse training expression that applies here:

“The horse doesn’t know when it doesn’t count, so it always has to count” John Lyons

The more consistent I was, the more consistent Panda was going to be.

Over-eager Students
But what happens when you can’t maintain this standard of handling?  What happens when clicker training isn’t a consistent part of a horse’s life?  That’s often the case with the horses I work with.  I see them for short periods of time, and then they are back to handling as usual.

Pico head down 1One such horse was Pico, a wonderfully clever horse who right from the start adored clicker training.  I began with him, as I do all horses, with protective contact, but I quickly moved to a larger work space where he had more room to move.  We worked on basics – grown-ups, targeting, the beginnings of mat work, backing and head lowering.

On my first visit I spent four days with him during which time he had two short sessions per day plus some casual interactions over his stall door.

For four days his world was completely turned upside down.  He was singled out from a group of fifty horses for all this special attention.  Every morning I greeted him as I walked into the barn.  I gave him extra attention.  He got to play this very neat game out in the arena.  He had the goodies, all the social interaction, and then I left and there was nothing.  From his perspective I simply disappeared. What a topsy turvy world it must have seemed to him.  I was gone.  There was no morning greeting, no play time after coming in from the day’s turnout.  Nothing.

I was gone for about a month, and then I suddenly popped back into his life.  Pico was so excited he could barely think straight.  During my first visit he’d been a superstar, but now he was a mess.  He was in my space, mugging my pockets, forgetting the manners he’d been showing me so beautifully before.  He was truly like a small child the day before Christmas.  He was just so excited, he couldn’t do anything right.

I certainly didn’t want to punish this enthusiasm, so I turned it instead into a game.

The game was: “What’s the new cue?”

I thought of it for Pico because I truly enjoyed his company.  I wasn’t training him.  I wasn’t working him.  “Working” opens one set of files.  It gives you access to tried and true methods.  It doesn’t open the creative files that bring you to new solutions.  Those are opened only when you are playing.  Play and creativity are like two vines that have grown together and hold one another up.

Creating New Cues
So what is this “What is the new cue” game?

It is based on the process of creating a new cue for an established behavior.

Here’s the process:

Suppose you have taught a puppy to sit.  You’ve added a cue to the behavior.  When you say “sit”, your puppy sits readily.

But now you would like to change the cue.  There are many reasons you might want to do this.

Your puppy may at first have sat with his hips off to the side.  That’s how young dogs often sit.  Over time you’ve cleaned up the behavior for the show ring, and he now sits with his hips squarely under him.

By changing to a new cue, you are creating a performance cue that refers only to this tidied up version of sit – not the original sloppy sit.  If you kept the original cue, under the pressure of competition, your puppy might revert back to the first-learned version of the behavior.

Or perhaps you have been sloppy with your stimulus control.  “Sit” means sometimes, if you feel like it, when the spirit moves you.  It doesn’t mean now.  So you tidy up the behavior and give it a new cue that has none of the old sloppiness associated with it.

Or maybe your puppy sits just fine.  There’s nothing wrong with the original cue, but you’d like to do some freestyle with your dog, and you’d like to use some props.  When you knock over a suitcase, you’d like your puppy to sit.

You can come up with lots of different situations where changing to a new cue for an established behavior would be useful.  Whatever the reason for wanting a new cue, they all depend upon the same process:

1.) Build the behavior.

2.) Attach a cue to the behavior.

3.) When this first cue is solid, you can begin to transfer the behavior to a new cue.

You’re going to give the new cue first, followed immediately by the old cue.  This will trigger the behavior – click then treat.

Repeat this process several times.  You will begin to see the animal initiating the behavior before you can give the old cue.  So now you can give the new cue and get the behavior – click then treat.

So it’s:

transfer cue process

Sleight of Hand Magic Tricks
This is the underlying process I used for Pico to turn an unwanted behavior – mugging my pockets – into the cue for a desirable behavior – head lowering.

That’s straight forward enough.  What changed was turning this into play.  The end result was great manners taught without the frustration of extinction.  I didn’t want to just fold my arms and wait for Pico to stop trying to get past me into my pockets.  As excited and eager as he was, that would have spoiled his game.  From his perspective he’d be saying: “I put my quarter into the candy machine.  Why isn’t my carrot bar coming out?!”

What do we do when a vending machine isn’t working?  We get frustrated.  We jiggle the vending machine, and if that doesn’t work, we bang on it harder.

Eventually, we’ll give up and leave, but we’re not going to be very eager to try again.

This was not the downward emotional spiral I wanted for Pico.  I loved his enthusiasm.  I just needed to redirect it.

So I began with head lowering.  I used my hand as a target.  I invited him to drop his head by following my hand down.   Targeting made the behavior “hot”.  Follow my hand down – click and treat.  Easy.  The cue became the combination of my targeting gesture and a slight bend of my body.

Next I transferred the cue to a light touch on his poll.  I reached out towards him and rested my hand briefly on his poll.

By itself this is a very standard “horse training” way to ask for head lowering that can be easily adapted for clicker training.  You rest your hand lightly on your horse’s neck just behind his ears.  Your horse won’t at first know what you want.  The most normal reaction is he’ll lift his head up, or he’ll brace against you.  You’ll follow his head movement, keeping your hand in place with a steady, neutral pressure.  You aren’t trying to push his head down.  That’s his job – to drop his own head.  You’ll simply wait with your hand on his poll.  Eventually, he’ll drop his head, and you’ll remove your hand.  If you’re a clicker trainer, you’ll add a click followed by a treat.

This strategy is based on the following:

A little bit of pressure over a long period of time will create a desire for change.

Understanding Pressure
If your cat is sitting on your lap while you read this text, eventually, no matter how much you love her, you will need her to move.  A little bit of pressure from her curled up on your lap has created a very great need for a change.  You’ll be squirming out from under her.  (Of course, she will then go to work training you.  She will turn into a boneless rag doll and very mysteriously manage to pin you down even more.  And she will charm you into providing even more of a lap to sit on by purring loudly.)

Your horse will eventually get tired of having your hand resting on his head.  Up doesn’t dislodge you, so he’ll try down.  At the slightest drop of his head, you’ll take your hand away. Click then treat.

This method works, but it can take a lot of patience on the part of the handler.  What usually happens is the person gets impatient and begins pushing down.  The horse pushes back, and suddenly you’re moving a long way away from play.

Play and the Transferred Cue
So instead of waiting for Pico to discover the answer, I used the transferred cue process.  I put my hand on Pico’s poll, but I didn’t linger there.  I wasn’t trying to trigger the behavior by leaving my hand there.

I rested my hand on his poll long enough for Pico to be aware that I had done so, then I offered him my hand as a target. He dropped his head.  Click then treat.

I repeated this process:

Hand on poll graphic

After the third or fourth repetition, I hesitated just fractionally after reaching out to his poll.  He dropped his head.  Click and treat.

After that, all I needed was my new hand-on-poll cue.  If he hesitated at all, I could offer a reminder by shifting to the hand targeting.  I only needed the reminder a couple of times before the new cue was solid.

So then I moved to the next transfer.  I used the simplest version of asking for head lowering from a lead.  I milked the line down.

This is a curious expression.  It means I slid my fingers along the line to create a slight downward suggestion.  My hand didn’t close around the lead.  I stroked down a couple of inches and then brought my hand back up to the snap and stroked down the lead again.  But remember this was a transfer-cue process.  I wasn’t waiting until the stroking of the lead triggered the head lowering response.  Instead I stroked the lead just a couple of times, and then I reached up and touched his poll.

He wasn’t expecting that, so I continued on back through my chain of cues and targeted him down with my hand.  He dropped his head, click then treat.

milked line transfer cue

On the next repetition I got as far as my hand on his poll before he dropped his head.

And then he had it.  As I milked the line down, he dropped his head.  Very neat.

The Transfer Continues
We practiced this for a few more reps, and then I made the next transfer.

Now the cue was a bump of my hand against his nose.

So here was the sequence of cues he knew:

transfer cue full sequence

I could go as far back into this sequence as I needed to trigger head lowering.

I thought of it like learning how to say “horse” in five different languages.  When I say “horse” as part of a children’s game, you’ll point to the picture of a horse – not the cow or the sheep.

Pferd is the German for horse.

If I say “pferd”, I want you to point to the picture of the horse.  At first, this odd word won’t mean anything to you, but if I say “pferd”, then “horse”, you’ll point to the picture I want.  Click and treat.  I’ll only need to repeat this a couple of times to have you pointing to the horse when I say “pferd”.

Okay, got that.  Before I need to remind you what pferd means, you’re pointing to the picture of the horse.

Caballo is the Spanish for pferd.

So now I say “caballo”, followed by “pferd” and you point to the picture of a horse.

“Caballo”. You don’t need the extra hint. You point right away to the horse.

Cavallo is the Italian for caballo.  So again I say “cavallo” followed by “caballo”.  The new word trips you up for a moment, so I continue on to “pferd”.  Now you have it.

“Cavallo.”  You point to the horse.

Cheval is the French for caballo.

So now I say “cheval” and you point to the horse.  This is an easy game – as long as I don’t mix in other farm animals.  That’s when it becomes a real test of memory.  Right now I am simply transferring the cue through a chain of words.

By the time I get to cheval, you’ll have no trouble making the switch.  You know the game.  Pointing to the horse is the hot behavior.  Played at this level of difficulty, this is a game you are guaranteed to win.

Pico was guaranteed to win.

I bumped his nose – he dropped his head, click and treat.

Sleight of Hand Magic – The Trick Revealed
Now if you are thinking all of this was built over a period of many sessions – think again.  These transfers happened in rapid fire succession, one after another.  It was like watching a magician’s trick.  Where’s the quarter that was just in my hand?  Oh look!  It’s on your shoulder.  How did it get there?  And how did your watch get on my wrist?  You weren’t watching.  Oh look!  When I bump his nostril, your horse is dropping his nose to the ground .  That’s a funny reaction!

So now I could fold my arms into “grown-ups”.  If Pico bumped me looking for treats, his own mugging behavior cued him to drop his head.  Magic!

But then it’s all just child’s play!

Coming Next: Ten Things You Should Know About Cues: Number 9: You Can’t Not Cue

Remember, if you are new to the JOY Full Horse blog, click on the JOY Full Horses tab at the top of this page to find the full table of contents and links to each of the articles I have published so far.

I hope you will want to share these articles by sending links to this blog to your friends.  But please remember this is copyrighted material.  All rights are reserved. Please do not copy any of the “JOY Full Horses” articles without first getting written permission from Alexandra  Kurland, via theclickercenter.com

Also note: these articles are not intended as an instruction guide for introducing your horse to clicker training.  If you are new to clicker training and you are looking for how-to instructions, you will find what you need at my web sites:

theclickercenter.com                    theclickercentercourse.com