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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

Goat Diaries: Day 5 – Excitement!

Excitement

I love the enthusiasm and excitement a new learner brings to clicker training.  There’s food!  There’s attention.  There are puzzles to be solved.  It’s very exciting.  The goats were reminding me of some of the clicker-trained dogs I’ve seen.  Everything is go, go, go.  Throw behaviors at your human, wolf down the treat then throw something else at them.  And above all watch the treats.  Don’t let those goodies get out of your sight!

My challenge was to build calm confidence while keeping the enthusiasm.  With the horses that comes from a deep understanding of the clicker game.  If you absolutely know the treats are not going to be taken away from you, you can afford to take your eyes off of them.  You’ll get them whether you are watching them or not.  This is in part what it means for the learner to trust the process.

Settling into enthusiastic calmness doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen.  Accumulate enough consistent reinforcement around what you want, and it becomes the norm.  I was still a long way from that with Elyan and Pellias in July, but that was the direction I hoped we were heading.  Time would tell.

Before I jump into today’s installment of the Goat Diaries, I want to share an email that got my day off to a great start this morning.

“Hi Alexandra,

I’m loving the Goat Diary installments. I’m finding them a whole refresher course in themselves, especially with the annotated photo sequences. I have 2 friends firmly hooked on them as well.

One of these friends, Anne-Marie and I, about 6 months ago, rehomed a Palouse pony, now named Nugget, who had become “unmanageable” for several previous owners who used either the “traditional” or increasing pressure approach with him. We introduced him to Life with a Clicker and he’s great. The goat diaries have been very timely, as Nugget is athletic, smart, eager with a high play drive and greedy for treats!

 We had Anne-Marie’s vet come and do his teeth a couple of weeks ago. When we told the vet Nugget’s previous name, he went a shade of grey and asked if we seriously expected him to do the horse’s teeth. This vet had met the horse about 2 years ago, because the owners suspected he was a rig (because of his behaviour) and they wanted his blood tested to see if this was the case (it wasn’t). We found out quite a bit from the vet that we hadn’t known when we agreed to rehome him.

 I asked the vet if he would just handle Nugget a bit, before giving him a sedative in case (by some miracle) he, the vet, didn’t think that would be necessary. Nugget was a model child!!!!  He stood quietly and straight (while playing GrownUps with me at his side) while the vet stroked his head and neck, asked him if it was OK to look at his teeth and proceeded to lift Nugget’s lips around and run his fingers along the teeth. Then he did some “trial” rasping before putting the gag on and saying that he certainly didn’t need a sedative!

The vet was super impressed with the change in him, and told us to “keep doing whatever you are doing with him  because it’s working”! Anne-Marie explained a bit about positive reinforcement and the clicker. We have since heard that the vet has been telling almost anyone who will listen about Nugget and his Clicker Training ( I will have to ask him to refer those who do listen to him to your website).

Your post yesterday on “Eager” was perfect to remind us to balance forward moving games with stillness.”

Talk about a great way to begin my day!  Thank you, Amanda Goodman, for your lovely email and for your permission to share it with others.  This is exactly why I am writing the Goat Diaries.  I hope my experiences with the goats will provide good reminders for all of us working with horses.  So now on to the goats and more excitement from Pellias!

The July Goat Diaries: 9:30 am First morning session

I made certain to feed the goats first before working with them and to give them plenty of time for their breakfast. When I went in to play with them, they were both napping in the hay.

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Pellias has his head curled around and Elyan is looking at me with sleepy eyes.

P’s Session:

I set up two platforms as usual. I had decided to use a different approach with the pole.  If P didn’t want to go over it, that was fine.  I set two poles on the ground with a wide gap between them.  He didn’t need to jump them.  He could easily go through the gap to get to the next platform.

P was much more settled.  He went right to the first platform and waited for me.  I was able to take a couple of steps back from him, click and treat.  He was standing solidly on the platform, not stretching out trying to get to me.  It seemed as though he was beginning to  understand that I would bring the food to him.

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He moved well at first from one platform to the next.  But as the session progressed, he stepped off the platform prematurely.  Conflict!  What was he to do?  He had a difficult choice to make.  His desire for treats and his enthusiasm for platforms collided and sent him rearing up onto his hind legs.  He could have charged, but instead a dramatic leap landed him back on the platform!

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This seemed to sort out his choices because after that he settled into good work.  He was back to being a calm, patient learner.

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I’ll wait to describe E’s session because it involves another important step in their training – the re-introduction of the lead.

The Goat Palace Dec 18 2017

I said at the start of this post that the goats were reminding me of dogs.  The similarities were becoming more and more apparent.  Horses can certainly buck and twist and kick out their heels, but they do not have anything like the range of movement that goats have.  Goats can twist and squirm and turn themselves inside out in ways that are much more similar to dogs.

My focus with all the goats has been very much to build a stable base.  For that I was drawing on the foundation lessons that I teach the horses I work with.  The goats had learned basic targeting skills.  I had used the food delivery to introduce backing.  Platforms had given their feet a place to be so we could work on grown-ups.  They were understanding that, yes, I would give them treats, but first they had to figure out the puzzle.  The dots were connecting

We had some basic skills.  We had enthusiasm.  We had agile, quick learners.  It was time to shift in my thinking from horse to dog training.  So recently I’ve split my training along two separate lines of thought.  I had been using the platforms with Elyan and Pellias to teach them to position themselves relative to me and each other.  I’ve been expanding that recently to bring in some of Michele Pouliot’s work with platforms.  I’ll expand on that later.  It’s time to catch you up with Thanzi and Trixie.

I’m experimenting with a different technique with them.  I’ve been thinking about how best to prepare them for leading.  I have no doubt that if I put a lead on them right now, they would both pull like freight trains.  Thanzi in particular is a very powerful goat.  They both know how to put their heads down and just muscle their way into what ever they want.  They are also both super enthusiastic about the training.  They understand platforms and targets.  So why not have some fun and experiment with bird’s nests?

Now what in the world does that mean!?  It’s a technique Kay Laurence has developed to introduce dogs to leading and heel work.  The idea is that dogs are very good at watching bird’s nests because you never know when something yummy might fall out of them.  So one technique is to walk along with treats in your hand and randomly, occasionally let a few treats fall through your fingers.  The dogs very quickly learn to follow you and watch your hand.

This then evolves into putting a small cup onto the end of a target stick.  You put a treat into the cup and walk along with the stick held out above the dog’s head.  The dog looks up at the cup and walks along beside you.  Click – a flick of the wrist sends the treat flying out of the cup.  The dog chases it down – what fun! – and then immediately returns to the cup.  The dogs are learning to move with balance, to stay oriented to Kay, to stop, back up, come forward, to walk at her side, or to move out around her on a circle.  (If you want to learn more directly from Kay, bookmark her web site: learningaboutdogs.com  It is going through a massive redesign at the moment so it is currently off line.  When Kay unveils her new site after Christmas, it will be full of good things to explore.)

I have been thinking about this technique for quite a while, especially for Thanzi.  She’s such a powerful goat.  Before I ever attach a lead to her collar, I want her to understand how to stay with me.  So I built a “bird’s nest” target stick for the goats.  I duct taped a small plastic container to one end of a wooden stick and a clicker to the other.  The cup was just big enough for a goat to eat out of. That turned out to be an important criterion.

The first time I used the target cup, the goats were confused by the food delivery.  I had to teach them to look for the food falling out of the cup.  That part was okay.  They could do that, but then they didn’t want to eat the pumpkin pieces once they had fallen into the gravel.

So we’re back to horse training constraints with the food delivery.  We don’t want our horses eating off of the footings we typically work them in.  The goats were saying they didn’t consider the gravel walkway to be a suitable dinner plate.  Fair enough.  So I switched from dropping the treat out of the cup, to lowering it so the goat could eat the treat from the cup.  (If you’re reading this, Kay, don’t shudder at the corruption of your method.  I had to adapt your technique to my learners’ persnickety eating habits.)

I’ve only been experimenting with this approach for a couple of days, but so far I really like it, especially for Thanzi.  She is so smart and so much fun to work with.  She has caught on with lightening speed to the game.  She positions herself by my side and walks in very measured steps, head up, nose pointing to the cup.  I pause.  She pauses.  Click, lower the cup.  She takes the treat.  I reload, and off we go for a few more steps of very controlled, measured walk.  Pause. Wait. She backs up.  Click.  Lower the cup.  Reload.  I hold a handful of treats in my free hand.  When they are gone, we walk together over to the gate.  High up on a post out of reach for goats I have more treats stashed.  I get a resupply and we’re off.  I think this is going to be a really fun way to teach Thanzi both great leading skills and also some fun liberty work.  Thank you, Kay.

It’s also been good for Trixie.  She very deliberately chooses to be the first one through the gate when it’s time to train.  I let her through into the hallway and throw some treats to Thanzi so she’s not feeling too left out.  Trixie has definitely got the idea of stationing on platforms.  Following the target cup is an easy way to move her from platform to platform and to build her confidence.  I could use a regular target and hand feed her.  This is an experiment.  I want to see what I get when I deliver the food in this way.

This is the fun of clicker training.  There is always, always more than one way to train every behavior.  Part of the reason for working with the goats is they get me out of the “rut” of doing things the way I know how to do things.  That’s always good for training.  So far, I’ve treated them like horses.  Now I’m having the fun of borrowing ideas from dog trainers.  There’s always another way to solve every puzzle.  And there’s always more to learn.  That’s as true for me as it is for Thanzi and Trixie.

Happy Holidays Everyone!  I wish you the joy of your own mad scientist experiments!

 

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We’re in the midst of the Holiday Season. If need a thank you gift for your horse sitter, a stocking stuffer for your riding partners, a grab bag present for your animal loving friends, here’s a thought. Share the links to the Goat Diaries: theclickercenterblog.com

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Goat Diaries – Still Catching Up

The Goat Palace – Foot Targets and Puzzle Moments

This will teach me to take time off from these Goat Diaries for the Holidays.  It feels as though I have entered Alice in Wonderland territory – always running and never getting anywhere.  By the time I catch up, I will be behind again.  Oh well.  We’ll see how far I get today.

I think the easiest approach is to describe where we are and not worry too much about the details of how we got there.  In my previous post I wrote about stillness: in stillness comes understanding.  I needed stillness, especially with Thanzi.  She’s so used to getting what she wants by pushing her way in.  Touching a target was easy.  That part was great, but after the click she was pushing in trying to go directly to the treats.

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Thanzi has just touched her target, but now she’s trying to go directly to the treats.

In loopy training both sides of the click have to be clean for a loop to be clean.  The food delivery was a long way from being what I wanted.  I could move on with the targeting, but I would be dragging along with it all the unwanted food manners.  So I changed tactics and introduced both ladies to platforms.

Platforms give the feet a place to be.  I could click them for being on the platform. That was the behavior side of the click.  On the food delivery side I positioned myself so they remained on the platform while they got their treat. That meant staying very close to them which made my treat bowl even more of a target, but at least I had their feet more or less planted.  It was funny watching how much they could stand elephant-on-a-drum at the edge of the platform.  They would look as though they couldn’t possibly keep from tumbling forward, but they spread their toes and somehow managed to stay on.

When I first set out the platforms,  Trixie predictably was suspicious of the platforms.  She able to be by herself in the hallway, but she was uneasy about moving too far away from Thanzi.  She certainly wasn’t ready yet to go as far as the second platform which was set further down the hallway.  Both platforms were initially something to avoid. She was the most horse-like of all the goats.  It wasn’t that she was afraid to step on raised surfaces, but she was definitely suspicious of anything new in her environment.

Thanzi was the complete opposite.  When I opened the gate, she would dash out.  She would then stick to me like glue.  If I went to the far end of the hallway, she dashed right along with me.  She certainly had no concerns about being away from Trixie.  Instead it was hurry, hurry, hurry to stay glued to me.

The platforms, however, were also something to be avoided.  At first, I just worked on targeting and ignored the platforms.  Thanzi was getting pretty solid with the targeting so it was time to make the platforms part of the lesson.  I had my green target stick with me. I had her orient to it a couple of times. Click.  I fed so she had to back up away from me.  Then I kept changing my position.  To get to the target, the most direct route was to step up onto the platform.  This is so very different from the way I would do it with horses!

Thanzi put her front feet up on the platform, and then it was easy.  She stepped up all four onto the platform.  Click then treat while her feet were on the platform.  Finally, with her feet still, I could work on grown-ups. I held the target stick straight down in a neutral position and waited for her to take her nose away from my pocket. Click – treat.  It helped so much having her feet anchored on the platform.

In stillness comes understanding.

The platform is a foot target.  Keeping her planted on one spot helped her to notice what the rest of her body was doing.  I was standing right beside her, close enough for her to easily reach my pocket.  If I had stepped away even a little bit, my movement would have drawn her off the platform.  When she was pushing at my pocket, no treats, but as soon as her nose moved away from my pocket, click, I fed her.

When she wasn’t on the platform, her feet moved along with her nose so it wasn’t clear what she was being clicked for.  Here it was so much clearer.  I clicked because you moved your nose.  That sound you just heard is a predictor that treats are coming.  Thanzi was putting two and two together fast.

With people we often find rules restricting.  The more rules we have, the more we feel caged in.  But here rules were liberating.  Stand on this platform, look straight ahead, and you are in control. You can make this very odd person reach into her pocket and hand you a much desired piece of squash.  For Thanzi understanding created even more of an eagerness to play the game. That eagerness was expressed not with anxiety, but with an ever-growing confidence.

Once Thanzi was on a platform, she was super at staying on. I would click and treat for a short round, then I walked to the other platform holding the target out for her to follow. Thanzi raced after me, but she didn’t automatically jump up onto the platform.  She’d by-pass it on her way to get to me.  I had to maneuver myself so the most direct route to me was via the platform.  Click as she stepped up, and then another round of clicking for all four feet on the platform and her head in good “grown-ups” position.

Trixie’s sessions were similar.  They were just done in slow motion compared to Thanzi.  I noticed with her that when I switched sides, she completely lost track of the target. She had not yet generalized so I could present the target from different orientations.  I had to be on her left side, and the target needed to appear as expected.

Certainly with horses if I don’t vary my presentation, I can end up with a very one-sided learner. Trixie’s reaction to the target was more than this.  It made me wonder if her nervous personality made it harder for her to notice patterns. And then does that contribute to her feeling even more nervous because it is harder for her to predict what is going to happen? She starts out nervous and becomes more nervous because all that worry gets in the way of making connections.

Or do nervous individuals start out having more trouble making connections, and that’s what gets the ball rolling.  They start to feel anxious because they don’t understand why things are happening the way they are.  Which comes first the chicken or the egg?  Either way, it’s a snowball scenario.

As very young horses, Robin and Panda were both superb at making connections and they are both supremely confident. Thanzi is so like them.  She’s very quick and very confident. If we collected data, would this correlation between pattern recognition and confidence hold?

Is this one of the reasons clicker training helps nervous learners? By slowing things down for Trixie I am helping her make connections.  She was understanding that A leads to B in a predictable way.  That was making her bolder and more confident in her responses.

Does predictability help reduce generalized anxiety by giving you more control over what is going to happen?  If I don’t understand how A and B are connected, it’s much harder to adjust my behavior to avoid the things I don’t like or to get to the things I want.  When you’re frazzled and worried about every little thing, all that noise makes it harder to understand what is really happening.  You see connections that don’t exist, and you miss the reliable predictors.  When the world seems to be built on shifting sands, of course you will be more nervous.  It remains to be seen if the stability that platforms offer will help Trixie to become an increasingly confident learner.

With both goats I had the beginning of platform training.  They would both step up onto a platform and stay there while I clicked and treated them.  But I wasn’t convinced that they were really aware that there was something special about being on a platform.  Once on, they tended to stay on, but when I took them off with a target, I had to direct them back to the platform.  Neither one of them went to a platform on her own.

So I switched tactics.  I set a food bowl down just far enough in front of the platform that they would have to take a step off to get to the bowl.  The question was what would they do after they got the treat.  Thanzi’s answer was she consistently backed herself onto the platform, looked regal, got clicked, dashed forward to get her treat and then backed herself onto the platform.

All the backing to deliver the treat had primed her well.  She easily solved this puzzle.  Trixie was similar, just slower.  So now I had two goats who could get themselves back onto a platform after getting their treats.  Progress!  For Thanzi in particular it was time to create a real puzzle moment for her.

Kay Laurence talks about puzzle moments.  This is when you set a test for your learner to see if what they have learned matches what you thought you were teaching.  When you play the table games, you often have times when the person gives you the correct answer.  You think they have the concept you were trying to teach.  Maybe you want them to touch only the yellow object.  You’re setting two objects out on the table, one yellow and one purple, and they are consistently touching the one you want.  Click and treat.  So now you add to the choices by setting out three objects, and they touch the purple one!  Surprise, surprise.  What is going on?

They’ve been operating under a different rule.  Maybe the yellow object was always the first one you put out, or the one you put closest, or the smallest, or the biggest.  There are lots of different variables to choose from in any system.  Your learner found a rule that worked to produce the correct answer – until it didn’t.  You can go on for quite a long time thinking your learner understands what you want, but unless you test it, you really don’t know for sure.

Maybe Thanzi had no idea that the platform was significant.  Maybe she was backing up after she got her treat because she’d discovered that backing up got me to click.  The platform just happened to be in the way.  That was certainly part of how I got her onto the platform in the first place.  The question now was had the platform itself become significant?  Did she understand that being on the platform mattered, not just backing up?

I had been gradually moving the food bowl further and further out from the platform.  That meant a couple of times after she got her treat, Thanzi was no longer lined up directly with the platform.  When she backed, she ended up broadside to it.   What would she do?

I love watching puzzle moments.  This is when you can really see your learner processing what is going on.  When you train in tight loops, a rhythm emerges.  It’s get the right answer, repeat.  Get the right answer, repeat.  You slide the criterion along so smoothly that your learner really doesn’t notice that you’ve been gradually making the lesson harder.  There’s no break in the rhythm until you stumble across a puzzle moment.  Now there’s a pause.  This is when you want to be very still.  No prompting.  No helping the learner.  No giving away the answer and depriving them of ownership of the solution.  You wait and watch.  If it’s clear your learner needs help, you offer it.  You give the clue that will make solving the puzzle possible, but first you wait to see if that extra clue is needed.

The reinforcer for waiting was seeing Thanzi step sideways up onto the platform.  Click and treat.  She was understanding.  Several more times in that session she got off line from the platform and each time she very deliberately deviated from where she was to step up onto it.  Her actions told me that she understood the platform was indeed significant.

So now she was ready for the next puzzle moment.  She was solidly on the platform.  I could click, and then walk to her to give her a treat.  She would wait for me to bring the treat to her.

And I could also drop the treat into the food bucket.  She would leave the platform, get the treat, and then back up onto the platform.  I was impressed by how well she understood the two forms of treat delivery.  There was no confusion between them.  She was reading my body language well, and she was waiting on the platform when that was indicated.

I was also impressed by how quickly I had been able to open up space between us and how solid she was about staying on the platform.  What a smart goat!

So now I presented her with a puzzle moment that made her head hurt.

I tossed the treat into her food bowl.  The platform was behind her.  As she lifted her head, I began to take a further step back in the opposite direction from the platform.  The food was going away!

In the world in which she had lived up until now you followed food, and you made sure you were the first with your head in the bucket.  In this alternate universe that she now found herself in, backing up away from the food bucket got you treats.  She had worked her mind around that concept.  Going back to the platform got me to reach into the metal bowl I was holding and hand her a treat.  But I had never moved the bowl away.  Now it was leaving!

The question was could she back up as I backed up?  Could she allow the gap between us to keep expanding.  Would she be able to cope with this truly inside out world?  I backed just a little and waited.  It was so clear her head was hurting with all the computing she was doing.  As smart as she is, she wasn’t used to having to think so hard.  No, she just couldn’t do it.  Not yet.  Not this time.  I helped by stepping slightly forward.  She went onto the platform.  Click and treat.

I did another couple of rounds where things were kept as she expected them to be. I clicked and reinforced her a couple of times while she stayed on the platform.  Then I clicked and dropped a treat in the bucket.  She came forward to get her treat.  As she lifted her head out of the bucket, I took a step back.

And this time she could find the answer.  She let me take the food bowl further away as she backed up to the platform.  What a truly fast learner she is!  What a smart goat.  No wonder she’s such a powerful leader.  When she stood up on her platform waiting for me to click, she looked so regal.  I hope she was as pleased as I was by how well she had solved that puzzle!

So that is pretty much where I am with the four I am working with.  Elyan and Pellias are learning about working together and sharing.  It sounds like kindergarten.  Always I am reminded of Robert Fulghum’s charming book, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”.  The ladies are learning about platforms.   Marla has continued to work with Galahad on targeting.  She was away over the Thanksgiving Holiday.  When she got back, she also introduced him to platforms.  So all the goats have taken a major step forward in their basic education.

Coming next we’ll see where all of these good puzzle pieces are taking us.

 

 

 

 

The Goat Diaries – Day 3: Arrange the Environment for Success

The Goat Palace – Journal Report for 11/19/17: You Never Know What You Have Taught

Galahad had the first session of the day.  He’s an eager, happy learner, and he very much chose to go into the far end to play.  I stayed for a few minutes down in the front section visiting with the other goats. Elyan and Pellias were up on the top platform of the jungle gym.  They were eager for head scratches. Surprisingly, so was Thanzi.

By the time I extracted myself from their appeal for more, Marla had already begun Galahad’s session.  She commented that what she thought she had taught him was not what he had learned.  Ah yes, that’s the clinic mantra: You never know what you have taught.  You only know what you have presented.  Yesterday he had been going to his target, click, followed by Marla dropping a treat in one of the food buckets.  He went promptly to the bucket, got his treat, and then touched the target again. Marla would then drop his treat in a second bucket, so he was going back and forth between buckets with a quick stop in between to touch the target.

His takeaway from that was just to go from bucket to bucket – never mind touching the target.  It reminded me of the table games that we play to learn about training and to work out procedures for teaching concepts.

Training game

Playing the table game during the Five Go To Sea Caribbean conference cruise.  I’m hiding from the sun under the funny hat.  Kay Laurence is sitting behind us.

Kay Laurence is the originator of these games. Several years ago we were together at an airport, both with long waits for our flights home.  So we found a quiet corner and pulled out a table game kit.  I was the learner, something when I’m teaching I rarely get to be, so that was a treat.  Kay had a plan in mind for teaching me to use the pieces from the game to draw a pentagon.  Of course, I had no idea what she had in mind.  But I was a contented learner because I was making lots of correct choices and getting clicked and reinforced  at a high rate.  The only problem was the rules I was using to produce the actions she was reinforcing were not the same rules Kay was trying to teach.  So I was coming up with the right answer but for the wrong (from Kay’s perspective) reason.

Every time Kay presented me with a puzzle moment I got stuck.  Puzzle moments are small tests to check to see if what you think you are teaching is what your learner is learning.  It was a fascinating and fun experience, though it could easily have been a frustrating experience if either of us had brought a different mind set to the game.

My flight was coming up, so we had to end the game.  Kay explained what she wanted me to do.  My reaction to being told the “answer” was interesting.  I felt deflated.  I wanted to go on and work through the puzzle.  Being told the answer was far less satisfying than discovering the answer on my own.  I missed the puzzle solving, and I missed seeing what strategies Kay would have used to get things sorted out. But my plane wasn’t going to wait for us to finish the game, so we had to jump straight to the final answer.

Galahad had come up with a solution to the puzzle that made total sense to him.  Go from bucket to bucket and expect your person to drop a treat in when you get there.  He had completely by-passed the target.

Watching him, I also didn’t think he was noticing Marla’s tongue click. With horses I suggest that people begin with an actual clicker.  The sharp sound that a box clicker makes is very noticeable, and the horses seem to catch on fast to the significance of the sound.  After a couple of targeting sessions with the clicker, you can switch to a tongue click, and the horses are very aware of the new marker signal.

I suggested to Marla that she get an actual clicker.  At the stage where you’re using target sticks, clickers are easy to use. You can duct tape a box clicker onto the end of the target stick so you have easy access to the clicker.

Marla got a box clicker and continued on with the lesson.  Galahad quickly remembered that he was supposed to touch the target. Yesterday’s fluid pattern was back. Now it was: orient to the target, click, go to the indicated food bucket for a treat, look for the target. A clean loop was reappearing.

This experience highlights another part of the start-up process.  I like to begin with very short sessions.  With horses I have people count out twenty treats.  That means handlers who are new to this process have to stop frequently to reload their pockets. This also gives them time to think about what has just occurred and to consider what, if any, changes need to be made.

With five goats to juggle I was certainly finding I needed to do a lot of adjusting.  It wasn’t just what was happening with the individual I was focusing on.  What was going on with the other goats?  When I had Pellias out by himself, he was having a grand time, but how stressed was Elyan?  Was he being chased by Thanzi?  Yes.  When I took Thanzi out, was Trixie able to cope?  There was a lot to think about, a lot to keep shifting around to find the right training combinations.

Keeping your initial training sessions short lets you check in with your animals more frequently to see what they are actually learning. Each time you go back in and start up the session, you get to see what’s been processed from the previous session. If your learner has come up with a different answer, these short sessions mean it hasn’t become so entrenched that it is now hard to shift the pattern.

It is ironic that I am writing about short sessions, because I am known for using long training sessions. With an established learner I’ll fill my pockets with treats and keep going. That seems to suit the learning style of horses, but these long sessions are broken up into smaller units. I give breaks through the behaviors I’ve taught. For example, I might be working on lateral flexions. We’ll have a bit of success, then it’s off to find a mat. The mat acts both as a conditioned reinforcer and a way to give a break. The change in the rhythm of the training provides a break without having to stop the play.

At the heart of this is the training principle: for every exercise you teach there is an opposite exercise you must teach to keep things in balance.

The balance that I thought was needed now for the other goats was a morning session of quiet visiting.  I was very pleased that Thanzi wanted to participate in some head scratching.  I had the two ladies in the back section so the three youngsters could relax and not worry about dodging out of Thanzi’s way.  She stayed by the gate while I scratched her head.  Normally, she’s been drawing away when I try to touch her, so I consider this real progress.  Trixie came up to me repeatedly through the morning, but she’s not yet ready for a proper scratch.  The boys, on the other hand, had a blissful time enjoying a prolonged cuddle session.

Afterwards, Marla and I worked some more on the Goat Palace.  We’re getting close to the finish line, but there always seem to be a few more things to do.  Years ago my family did some remodeling to the house.  The process dragged on and on.  Every day my father would make a list of things that the builders still needed to get done before he could sign off on the job.  He remarked that they always seemed to get done only half the remaining jobs.  You would think on a finite project like that, you would be able to check everything off the list, but it never seemed to happen.

At the moment we seem to be caught in that twilight zone of always completing just half the remaining tasks.  One of yesterday’s tasks was tidying up the section we’ve designated for storage.  I was very pleased to see how little we have left to store.  We have managed to use up an amazing amount of miscellaneous clutter.  So perhaps when we run out of stuff to find a use for, we will also run out of tasks that still need to be done. That will finish off phase one of the goat palace.  (I say phase one because phase two is obviously going to be expanding the goat jungle gym. That will be as much for our entertainment as it will be for theirs.)

One of the things that contributed to the tidying up of the storage area was the snow blower went out to be serviced for the winter.  That left a clear area that could be used for training.  So in the early evening I took advantage of this space to work with Elyan and Pellias.  It was a good time for training.  The goats were beginning to settle down for the night.  It was easy to close the middle gate so only Pellias and Elyan were in the front section.

I had everything set up for them out in the storage area.  I had my chair, a food bucket and a couple of platforms, including the very distinctive foam platform I had introduced them to in July.

Elyan came out first.  I brought him out on a lead, and then turned him loose.  He stayed nearby.  He was clearly interested in playing, but he wasn’t sure what to do.  I let him explore for a couple of minutes, then I brought out the baton and directed him towards the foam platform.  He hopped up onto it, click, I dropped the treat into the bucket.  He had to step down from the platform to get to the bucket.  So now the question was what would he do?  The answer was he backed up to get back on the platform. Click! Drop treats in the food bucket.

Elyan seemed to catch on fast.  The “rule” was get back to the platform, and you’ll get clicked.  At least that’s what was happening.  His “rule” might just as easily have been: back up, and you’ll get clicked. The platform was just in the path of the backing. I’ll need to have a puzzle moment to check whether he is going to the platform or simply backing up.

In any case, while he was getting his treat, I nudged the platform a little further away.  He continued to back himself onto the the platform.  We could have kept going all night, but this was a session that should be kept short.  I got up from my chair, and he followed me back in to the front section.

Pellias was eating hay.  He hadn’t been at all fussed having his brother outside the pen.  But now I wanted to do a swap, and they were both at the gate.  I got Pellias out and sat down in my chair.  He went straight to the platform.  Click.  I dropped treats in the bucket.  He stepped off the platform, got his treat and went straight back to the platform.  I repeated this a couple of times, and then I exclaimed; “Wait a minute.  You’re not Pellias!” In the fading light I hadn’t noticed that little Elyan had pushed past his brother for a second turn.  With his jacket on to keep his coat clean, it was harder to tell them apart. No wonder he was so good!

I got them switched around so now it truly was Pellias’ turn.  He’s always been a platform superstar.  He went straight to the foam platform.  Click.  But now the food delivery was different.  He’s used to getting the treat from my hand, not a food bucket.  I moved the bucket close to the platform and helped him find the hay stretcher pellet.  He got his treat and then stepped off the platform. He wandered away from the platform. I waited.  He began to eat the leaves that we hadn’t swept out of this area.  I got out my baton target and gave it a little shake.  That got his attention.  He followed it to the platform, click, drop the treat.

The hay stretchers make a very sharp noise as they fall into the bucket.  That helped draw Pellias’ attention, and he began to look in the bucket for his treat.  He only had to take his front feet off the platform to get to the bucket, so it was easy for him to step back onto it and get clicked.  My concern was the sound of the treat dropping into the bucket might become the functional marker signal, so I clicked, and began to wait to see him react to the click before I made any move to drop the treat into his bucket.  I got lucky several times with that.  He had turned on the platform so he could look down the driveway.  The sound of my tongue click turned him around, so it was clear, at least in this situation, that he was responding to the sound of the click.

Again, I kept the session short.  When I opened the gate to let him back in, I dropped treats on the floor to distract Elyan.  Pellias came in to get the treats, as well.  I’m not sure I want the others out in this area yet, but for these two their July visit prepared them well for going outside of their pen.

I filled their hay feeders, opened the middle gate and left the goats tucked in for the night.

Today’s July Goat Diary appropriately enough continues with the initial training of platforms.

The July Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3: Arrange The Environment for Success

I described earlier the morning sessions of day three in which I introduced both goats to platforms.  This was an errand day so I wasn’t able to fit in as many sessions as usual. When I got back to the barn around 5, E and P were clearly hungry. They were standing on a bed of hay, but none of it was to their liking. I gave them fresh hay and left them to eat while I did barn chores.

7 pm session with P

P was very rambunctious – literally. He reared up several times. I managed to dodge him and get him on the platform, but the session didn’t feel very productive.

I wasn’t satisfied with the way he was orienting to the target. I thought a second platform might help. If a platform was the end destination, it might make more sense to him why he was following a target. I decided to consider this a data collecting session.  I knew where I needed to head, but I would wait until tomorrow to add the second platform.  Training success depends very much upon having a good set-up.  I suspected adding the second platform would help smooth things out.  Instead of continuing on with a session that wasn’t going well, I would wait until I had a better set up.

In contrast to P, E’s session was great. He was so very soft and sweet. I had him target the baton, click, treat. Then I scratched him around his ears. His eyes got soft, and he leaned into my hand, clearly enjoying the feel. I asked him to follow the target again, click, treat, scratch.  Who knows what E was learning.  I certainly found it very reinforcing!  I began his day with bliss, and that’s how I ended it.

The password to open this video is: GoatDiariesDay 3 E Learns

Note: When I was in town, I stopped at the new bird store that’s just opened.  I bought some black sunflower seeds which the goats really like. So now they are getting a mix of sunflower seeds, peanuts and hay stretcher pellets.

8 pm final session of the day.

We ended the evening with “cuddle time”.  While Ann groomed Fengur, I took my chair into the stall and enjoyed a few minutes of goat bliss.

Coming Next: Clicker Training Day 4

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/ 

Goat Diaries – 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

What Did You Mean – Not What Did You Say?

Be The Teacher Your Learner Needs 2 THM.pngThe Kentucky Derby was run this past Saturday.  Years and years ago I used to pay attention to the Triple Crown races.  How could anyone who loves horses not be captivated by Secretariat?  But the glamour wore off as I came to know many ex-race horses, including some of Secretariat’s offspring. Now, if it didn’t pop up on the national news coverage, I could easily forget that the first Saturday in May is Derby Day.  What brought it to mind today is a photo I use in my conference presentations.  I was skimming through the talks I gave this past winter. That’s when I spotted the photo.  It was in a talk connecting George Lakoff’s work with horse training.

American pharoah lip chainIt’s a photo that appeared in my local newspaper, as well as on the internet.  It shows our most recent Triple Crown winner, American Pharaoh, being cooled down after a workout.  It could have been a photo of any race horse, or really of any hard-working performance horse.  There was nothing particularly distinctive about this picture.  You can see the sweat and the steam rising off his coat.  And you also see the chain that runs through the halter ring and into his mouth.  You can’t really tell from the picture, but the chain is probably over his top gums, an area that is even more sensitive to pain than his tongue.  That’s how young, very fit thoroughbreds are controlled on the track.

Why was this photo of a thoroughbred race horse in a talk about George Lakoff’s work?  What’s the connection? Lakoff is a cognitive linguist who has studied the power of metaphors in shaping how we think.  He is particularly interested these days in American politics.  One of his central ideas is that the current divide in our politics can best be viewed through the metaphor of family.  Long before any of us were aware of national governments or political parties, we were aware of the authority of our parents.  They set the rules and modeled the behavior that became the template for how each of us thinks society as a whole should be structured.

Lakoff has proposed that there are two primary family models:  the strict father family and the nurturant parent family.

In the strict father model, the father is the head of the family.  As the moral authority of the family, it is the father’s job to teach his children right from wrong.  He communicates this to the children in a hierarchical way.

Lakoff’s description of a Strict Father patriarch sounds eerily like force-based training.  You have only to substitute a few words – trainer for father, horse for child – and you have this:

“The trainer is the legitimate authority, and his authority is not to be challenged. . . Obedience to the trainer is required. It is upheld through punishment. Bad behavior from the horse is always punished.

The trainer teaches the horse right from wrong, and he communicates this to the horse in a hierarchical way.

Punishment is seen as absolutely crucial. It is the trainer’s moral duty to punish bad behavior in the horse.”

The nurturant parent model provides the contrast.  In this family structure it is moral to show empathy, to nurture, and to take on individual as well as social responsibility.  Cooperation with others is seen as more important than competition.

Instead of hierarchical communication, the Nurturant Parent model focuses on open communication. There is mutual respect between children and parents. This is different from other parenting models where children are expected to show respect for their parents, but not vice versa.

People often say words matter, but words are defined by our core values.

The chain in American Pharaoh’s mouth becomes a  symbol of command-based training.   In this very conventional view of training, horses are considered to be stupid animals.  If we look at that through the lens of Lakoff’s metaphors, we see more clearly what these words mean.  It implies a hierarchy – people above horses.  It means people can do whatever they want with horses.

Here’s the rest. Because horses are stupid animals, you have to use force to control them.  You have to show them “who’s boss”.  Here’s the corollary to that:  “But don’t worry.  They don’t feel pain the way we do.”  The frame these metaphors create very much influences what we are able to see.

In this view of the world, when a horse shows resistance, he’s being disobedient. He’s challenging the trainer’s authority and must be punished.  This training frame makes it hard to see other reasons a horse might fail to obey.  Only secondarily will the trainer break the lesson down into smaller steps, or look for physical causes.

Here’s the contrast:

Robin hug

This photo represents my core belief system.  It says something very different.  It is much more in line with Lakoff’s description of the nurturing parent model.  I believe that horses are intelligent animals, and that they should be treated with great kindness and fairness.  There is no hierarchy.  There is no separation between their needs and mine.  We are partners together.

What matters more than the words we use are the core values we hold.  Words only have the meaning that those values give them.  Respect is a perfect example.

Suppose you are new to the horse world.  You’re looking around for an instructor who can help you train your first horse.  You’ve been told that you should go watch a few lessons before taking your horse to anyone, so that’s what you’ve done.  You’re watching this trainer interact with his horses.  They are behaving exactly how you would like your youngster to be.  They move out of his space – no questions asked.  They stand politely to be groomed and saddled.  They seem safe to ride.   You like how he talks about his horses.  He talks about partnership.  He says it’s important that your horse respects you.

Respect is an important word for you, as well.  You like what this trainer is saying.  You like how calm and safe his horses are.  You leave feeling very confident that you have found what you’re looking for.

But have you?  What kind of respect do each of you mean?  In the strict father model respect is maintained through the use of punishment. So, yes, horses can appear to be very respectful, meaning they are afraid of the trainer.  They have learned what to do to escape punishment.

In the “nurturing parent model” respect means something very different.  It is something that is earned.  It is not something that is demanded.

Both parenting models can produce horses that show what you would call polite, safe manners, but the teaching process the horses experienced will have been very different.  If you send your horse to this trainer, you may find it’s a perfect match.  You were both talking about the same kind of respect. Or you could find yourself second guessing your decision.  You like him.  You can see that he’s skilled.  He certainly gets results, but the lessons make you squirm.

When you find that for you there’s a disconnect between someone’s  words and their actions, it’s time to look at core values.

What do the words really mean?  When we train thoughtfully, we learn to look beyond the outer shell of the familiar words we use. Are we letting someone else’s meaning take over?  Do our words reflect the kind of relationship we want to have?  Do the training methods match our core values?

Do you want an example?  Kay Laurence has just produced a promo video for our October Training Thoughtfully conference.  It’s a beautiful video.  Words and images are aligned.  They tell you so much. When I watch this video, I know it was produced by someone whose core values match my own.  If they match yours, as well, I hope you’ll join us for some Thoughtful Training this October.

Training Thoughtfully Milwaukee, Oct 20-22, 2017: Visit: https://www.trainingthoughtfullymilwaukee.com/

Training Thoughtfully Milwaukee Oct 20-22 2017.pngWatch the video: https://vimeo.com/216184198

If you want to learn more about George Lakoff’s work, read my January 8, 2017 post. (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/01/08/)

Enjoy!

JOY FULL Horses: Understanding Extinction: Part 14

Our Creative Horses
Yesterday I shared with you the story of Robin’s “pose”.  The use of resurgence has helped us develop a much more systematic way of creating unlikely behaviors.  Because we understand the process better, we can be more deliberate in it’s use.  I ended the post by saying: “The end result may look like magic, but there is good science behind it.”

When we open up our training in this way and turn our learners into more active participants, we often find that they are even more creative than we are.  Once again Robin provided me with a great example of this.

When Robin was three I took him to the Equine Affaire to be my demo horse.  I wanted to show people what freeshaping via clicker training looks like.  I didn’t want them just to see the end product of freeshaping.  I wanted them to see me teach Robin a completely novel behavior.  The problem was he already had a pretty extensive repertoire. I was stumped for ideas, but I thought the easiest solution would be to use a prop.  One of my clients had been teaching his horse to flip a hula hoop up over his head.  I thought I could make a start on that with Robin.

Robin had been our first equine retriever.  Picking things up was solidly in repertoire.  I figured if I put the hula hoop on the ground, he would try to pick it up.  I’d be able to reinforce that and build it into Robin holding it longer which might over three days of demos lead to him flipping it over his head.  Such was my level of creativity, that’s all I could think of to work on with a hula hoop.

So during our demo, I brought out the hula hoop and tossed it out on the ground.  I was still explaining freeshaping to the audience so I wasn’t focusing yet on Robin.  While I was talking, he walked over to the hoop and stood with his front feet planted in the middle of it just as he would have stood on a mat.  Before I could respond to him, he reached down, picked up one side of the hoop and began walking himself forward foot by foot with the hoop!  That was his level of creativity!

The Creative Process
Here are the steps the horses have been teaching us:

First, you build a strong history of reinforcement for the component behaviors.

You change the situation somewhat so mild extinction comes into play.

You get a resurgence of these previously reinforced behaviors and new combinations emerge.  That’s creativity.  The most fun for me is seeing what the horses invent. As we have seen, they are often so much more creative than their human partners!

Familiar Landscapes
Kay Laurence might say we were seeing familiar landscapes with fresh eyes.

Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz would say you have to understand the process of extinction before you can master it.  If you understand it, you’ll avoid situations that create macro extinction processes and all the frustration that goes along with them.  Instead you’ll use micro extinctions to build complex behaviors.

I would say that monitoring the level of extinction your learner is experiencing is a keys-to-the-kingdom part of good training.

I’ve just spent a couple of days working with a group of horses I have come to know well. One of them is a retired performance horse. Without going into a lot of details, I would describe him as an emotionally fragile horse. He’s easily worried.  If he thinks he has the right answer, he’s a superstar, but I always have to be careful how far I stretch him into new behaviors.  If he thinks he might get something wrong, he worries.  He’s come out of a training environment in which he had to perform correctly or his rider could get seriously hurt. I suspect he was punished for mistakes which accounts for his worry.

Mastering Micro
His back was looking prematurely aged so I wanted to teach him Robin’s “pilates pose”.  I had already shown him that he could get reinforced for lifting his back up and releasing at the poll.  In this particular session I was holding out for slightly better versions. As I withheld my click, I saw him experimenting.  Was it higher with his poll? Was it more lift of his back? What did I want?

The shifts he was giving me represented micro changes.  They were all within a clickable range.  Clicking him for any of these variations would have been fine, but I was waiting fractionally to see what else would pop out.

I was using micro extinctions to create the next step.  And because I was thinking about this in terms of extinction, I was monitoring closely his emotional responses.  I did not want him to become macro worried.  We were always just a second or two from a click so I could let him experiment without risking the emotional fallout of a larger extinction process.

Micro Masters
Micro is so very much the key.

Macro extinctions are frustrating.  Micro extinctions are part of good teaching.

Macro shaping can be confusing.  Micro shaping is elegant.

Macro negative reinforcement is literally painful. Micro negative reinforcement is clear communication. It is a conversation with cues exchanged in both directions.

When you go micro, your learner is always just a second or two away from a reinforceable moment.  You can cue another behavior, or you can simply click and treat. Either way, you are saying: “Yes! Great idea!” Micro Mastery is what we should be striving for in our training.  When you say someone is a great trainer, you are really saying that individual is a Micro Master.  In training that’s the “black belt” we should be aiming for.

robin-pg-lying-down-micro-masters

With this last section we come to the end of my JOY FULL Horses book – almost.  What remains is one final chapter and that’s what’s coming next.

Coming Next: Doorways

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