Goat Diaries – Day 11: A Walk In The Park

Our brains love habits.  Predictable routines let our brains go on auto-pilot.  We don’t have to make decisions about every little thing.  Think how exhausted you’d feel before you even got as far as deciding what to have for breakfast if you didn’t have these micro-habits helping you get through the day.

I was establishing routines with the goats that were definitely helping with the smooth running of the day.  The morning of this their eleventh day of training began with a long cuddle/groom session.  E was particularly interested in being scratched.  I had the grooming mitt with me.  He stood perfectly while I used it all over his back and sides.  He seemed to be enjoying the feel.  P was not interested.

These goats need to be combed to get their beautiful cashmere fiber.  Combing was on the priority list, but they were both very clear that they weren’t ready for that step.  The grooming mitt was enough of a stretch for now.

Cuddle time was followed by leading sessions for each of them.  I was pleased by how good they both were.  I worked on grown-ups and took care that they stayed back during food delivery.  They were becoming very good at maintaining space between us.  I was also feeling that they were definitely responding to the click and not just my body language.  Their “wheels” were turning.

Little things were now evolving.  They knew the routine.  They knew they came out one at a time.  They knew they got treats on the floor when they went back to the stall so returning was not an issue.  They had become eager backers.  That meant I had to be careful to keep backing in balance with all the other things I was teaching them.  Backing is good, but in all things – moderation.

Our learners always tell us what we need to work on next.  Their eagerness to throw backing into everything suggested that I might want to put some mats out in the arena so they would have stations to go to.  That would help build solid standing still so I didn’t get hung up in some unintended chains.

E’s Session: “A Walk in the Park”

E was a delight.  He’s a charmer.  The way his long coat ripples as he walks, I can’t help but think I’m leading an overgrown Yorkshire terrier.  He’s a very elegant walking partner.  His good manners were beginning to match his good looks!

Goat Diaries Day 11 walk in park 1.png

E has become a very elegant walking partner.

P’s Session

P came out full of energy.  I thought he might need a bit of a run across the mounting block, so I let him loose.  He stayed with me.  We did a little bit at liberty and then I put him back on the lead.  He fussed a bit as I clipped the lead to his collar.  If he had been staying with me through the summer, cleaning that up would have been high on my to-do list.

He had much more go in him than E.  When I walked off, he trotted by my side.  He didn’t pull.  There was no feeling of the original sled-dogging.  He was staying with me.  He just had a lot of joyful energy that needed to be expressed.  I clicked, fed and went into grown-ups.

He was reminding me of an Icelandic stallion I had met at one of the spring clinics.  The stallion was in a new environment.  What an adventure!  He was a jumble of emotions.  He was excited – new horses, new sights and smells, so much to explore!  He was worried – new horses, new sights and smells, so much to take in.

He could have been a handful, but he came with a superb foundation in grown-ups.  Any time he started to get excited and to rush forward, his person stopped his feet and folded his arms together.  That was his cue for grown-ups.  That’s all he had to do.  His stallion instantly stopped his own feet and stood quietly.  It was a master class in the value of these foundation lessons.

P was on the first rung of the ladder that leads to grown-ups having that kind of stabilizing effect.  It doesn’t matter that he’s a fraction of the size of this horse.  Having these good manners in place will make him a much more enjoyable companion.  He made me think of the many dogs I have watched with their owners.  Some are over-controlled.  In an effort to manage them in human environments all their dogginess has been suppressed.  Don’t jump, don’t bark, don’t chew the furniture.  Don’t be a dog.

The other side of the pendulum looks at all that control in horror and lets the dogs do whatever they want.  Somewhere in the middle is a place where our animals can live comfortably and safely in our environments and still be themselves.

P is so very smart, and so full of joyful energy, that’s something I value and very much want to preserve.  I want to encourage his energy, not suppress it.  A very wise training mantra is: never get mad at energy.  You need it to train.

P’s energy can be channeled into so many fun activities.  I want to celebrate his quick learning.  His eagerness is a plus, something I want us both to enjoy.  He was learning to stay with me, to stand by my side, to move away from my treat pockets – not by being punished, but by being told over and over again how right he was.

Goat Diaries Day 11 Visitors

In the afternoon a friend I hadn’t see in quite a while came for a visit.  Ann joined us, as well.  We started by taking three chairs into the stall.  The goats visited a bit with Julie even though they hadn’t met her before.  That’s progress!  We talked for a while, then I took both goats in to play on the mounting block – except they didn’t want to!  After telling them how much fun it was watching the goats racing up and down the mounting block, they were total fuddy-duddies.  Oh well.  Perhaps Mount Everest loses it’s appeal after you’ve scaled it a few times.

Instead they stayed with me as I walked around the arena.  They were working together beautifully as a pair.  When I clicked, they both stayed well back away from my pockets.  All that was a plus.  What they didn’t do was put on an acrobatic show.  Oh well.

I took them back to their stall and then brought P out by himself on a lead.  I had Julie introduce herself via targeting.  She offered a target, in this case her hand.  When we clicked, I gave P his treat.

This is such a very safe way for him to meet new people.  I’ve used it many times with horses.  In clinics I’ll station people around the perimeter of a large circle.  For safety I’ll keep the horse on a lead.  One person will hold out a target, and I’ll walk with the horse as he moves towards the target.  Click.  I usually begin by handling the food.  The treats initially come from me.

After he gets his treat, we’ll back up to a mat that’s in the center of the circle.  Click, he gets reinforced for landing on the mat.  We do a couple of rounds of grown-ups and then the next person offers a target.  We use the mat in the middle so the horse’s hind end is never turned towards a person he doesn’t know.  I don’t want him to be frightened and suddenly kick out at someone.  Instead we back up away from the ring of people.

Remember, this lesson is most often used with horses who are worried by people. If something else in the environment suddenly startles him, I may be stacking one worry on top of another, creating a bigger spook than he would have to either one by itself.  So I structure this lesson with lots of layers of added caution, including backing up away from the people, but towards a mat.

All these little steps mean that this is not a beginning lesson.  I must first build all these components to make sure the lesson stays safe.  Look at all the skills this horse needs to understand and do well: targeting, taking food politely, backing, going to a mat, and even harder backing up with enough directional control that he lands on the mat, and finally grown-ups.

It’s a great pattern.  Every element gets stronger the more you play with it.  The horse gets more comfortable approaching people he doesn’t know.  His targeting skills become more generalized.  Backing becomes better.  The mat becomes an even stronger conditioned reinforcer.  Duration in grown-ups expands.  Treat manners get better.  Cues get stronger.  The behaviors overall become more solid.  Each element serves as a reinforcer for whatever preceded it.  You get all these benefits, and the animal thinks he’s just playing a game.

With P I wasn’t concerned about him kicking out so I didn’t worry about moving him away from Julie.  We just ping pinged back and forth between going to her to touch her offered target, and coming back to me for a treat.

I had just one more day with the goats and then they would be going back to their home farm.  Giving them this lesson would make it easier to transition new people into the games they had been learning with me.

Goat diaries day 11 meeting new friends.png

Goat Joy

Before we left the arena, I took P back over the mounting block.  The first time I kept the lead on and had him follow me up.  On the top step, I unhooked him, and he delighted us all with a wild leap into the air.  Such fun!

There’s more to this than just letting P entertain us with his acrobatic prowess.  P gets to practice getting excited, and then I ask for grown-ups and he practices calming down.  That’s a useful life skill no matter the species.

On the next run I unhooked him on the first step of the mounting block and let him go the rest of the way on his own.  He rewarded us all with another joyful leap off the mounting block.  I loved how he always came running straight to me.  Without really trying, I was building a great recall.

Goat diaries Day 11 Goat Joy.png

Who knows.  I may be triggering some form of goat to goat aggressive display.  All the goat experts reading this may be shaking their heads, thinking oh the trouble she is going to get into encouraging this kind of behavior.  Perhaps they are right.  Or perhaps, balancing his antics with grown-ups will mean I can allow this behavior without it tripping over the edge into emotional states I don’t want.

E’s Turn

E is much more people shy than his brother.  Again, I took advantage of the opportunity to have two experienced clicker trainers in the barn to help build his confidence.

We began by having him target to Julie’s outstretched hand.  He approached her very directly.  Click, he had to leave her to come to me for the food.  I do like this process.  It begins to build some duration between the click and the actual arrival of the treat.

With the horses there can eventually be a considerable time lag between these two events.  When I click, there are times when the horse I’m working with may be eighty feet or more away from me.  He’ll stop and wait patiently while I bring him his treat.

All the behavior that he is presenting between the moment he hears the click and the moment I get to him and stretch my hand out to deliver the treat are things that I like.  This kind of duration didn’t happen over night.  It is built in small increments through a long series of lessons.  The horses wait patiently because they know the treat is coming.  All that good, quiet waiting is reinforced over and over again through the ritual of the food delivery.

We moved from Julie to Ann.  I had Ann hold out a cloth frisbee.  E touched it, got a treat from me, but then was reluctant to go to Ann again.  I wanted him to be successful, so I had Julie step forward and offer her hand as a target.  He went to her directly, click, the treat came again from me.

We went back to Ann.  This time I had her hold her hand out.  Again, E was reluctant to approach her.  After a couple of failed attempts, I offered him the frisbee.  He touched it directly.  I handed Ann the treats.  E took them from her without hesitation.

So we used this pattern a couple of times.  Flexibility was the name of the game.  Training is not like baking a cake where you need to stick to the recipe or you end up with a mess.  In fact sticking rigidly to a recipe is a good way to guarantee a mess.   Always it is a study of one.  And always you are adjusting to the needs of your learner.  That was the major takeaway from this lesson.  We were asking E what level of interaction he was comfortable with and then making changes as needed to help him succeed.

Goals – Short or Long Term

When we were all done playing, I was really pleased with the return to the stall.  Both goats tend to rush ahead on the way back to the stall.  I could have simply released them.  The immediate goal was to get them back to the stall.  That’s where they were heading.  Letting them go on their own would have avoided any pulling they were doing on the lead.

It would also have missed an opportunity to teach them to stay with me in distracting environments.  There were going to be times when letting them off the lead wouldn’t be an option.  The walk back to the stall created an opportunity for me to show them that staying with me was worth the added effort.  I was taking them back to the stall.  But on the way there were lots more opportunities for treats.  Walking beside me had value.

E was figuring this out.  He was walking with me down the aisle.  There was less rushing ahead, less pulling to get back.  Out in the arena he had been listening to P calling.  He had clearly been wanting to get back to his brother.  I had kept the session short because I didn’t want him feeling too anxious.  So I was especially pleased that he walked back with me to his stall.

8 pm

At the end of the evening I had another cuddle session.  E in particular wanted to be close to me and to be scratched.  He’s so very sweet.  I’ve discovered he really likes having his chest and belly rubbed.  In fact, I haven’t found anywhere that doesn’t turn into a “please scratch” spot.  I can think of few better ways to end an evening than with goat bliss.  This was their last evening in the barn.  I was going to miss what had quickly become part of the day’s routine.

Goat Diaries Day 11 Goat bliss.png

Coming next: The July Goat Diaries: Day 12 – E and P’s Last Day at the Barn

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 current 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 6: Train Where You Can

Happy New Year Everyone!  The turning of the calendar year always prompts a looking back, so let me begin with a story.

Years ago when I was in the early stages of exploring clicker training, I was visiting with a local trainer who taught natural horsemanship.  I had just been watching her with a very anxious thoroughbred.  She was borrowing him for a ride the following day, and she wanted to get to know him.  She had gone out into his very muddy paddock, driven all his friends away and then worked him on a lead until she was satisfied that he would obey her the following day.  It was an impressive display of her skills.

Afterwards, we went back into her house.  It was a relief to be out of the cold.  We were sitting in a cosy living room.  Picture a warm fire with arm chairs on either side and you have the setting.  From our chairs we could see out the window to a large, unfenced hay field.

This trainer knew I was exploring clicker training.  She didn’t get it.  What could clicker training do for her that she didn’t already have the skill to get from a horse?  So she asked me what I would do if someone drove up with a horse trailer and unloaded the horse she had just been working with into the hay field.  As a clicker trainer, what would I do?

I hadn’t been teaching clicker training very long at that point.  I was still in the early stages of figuring things out.  I didn’t have a good answer for her.  Now I do.  The answer is I wouldn’t unload that horse into the hay field.  If I did, I would have ended up using management tools that would have looked pretty much like the session I had just watched her give the thoroughbred out in his paddock.

Managing for safety is different from teaching.

As a naive horse, he would not have had an established clicker training repertoire to draw on.  I would be left having to act like a “horse trainer”, meaning I would be using the lead and probably a whip to drive the horse from side to side to keep him from bolting away from me.  I knew how to do that.  It’s a lesson I learned many years ago from a very skilled horse trainer.  It works to control a horse’s feet, but it’s not a technique that I ever enjoyed using.  Whenever I found myself going to this lesson, I would say to myself, in ten years I don’t want to be doing this anymore.  That was before I knew anything about clicker training.  It has been over twenty years since I have used that lesson.  I have a broader tool box now which lets me make other choices.  Always, I prefer to teach rather than to manage.

Train where you can not where you can’t. 

My preference is always to find an environment in which my learner feels secure and can comfortably focus on me and the lessons I want to teach.  When you are working with a panicked animal that weighs in the neighborhood of a thousand pounds, the reasons for starting in this way are pretty obvious.  They are just as important with small animals like the goats.  The progress I was making with the goats were a great illustration of this training mantra.

The July Goat Diaries: E’s 9 am session

I’ve been describing the beginning steps of reintroducing a lead to both E and P.  In my previous Goat Diary post (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/12/29/) I described P’s platform work.  In my session with E I worked directly on leading.  He was great.  He’s so very soft.  In our first leading session, I had asked for just a turn of his head, or a single step in my direction – click then treat.  Now I could ask for multiple steps.  Compared to the previous day, this was real progress.  Beginning in the small space of his stall was definitely helping him to learn fast.

Goat Diaries Day 6 - E's Leading Progress - panel 1.pngSeveral things were making it easy for E to learn.  First, this is a space he knows.  There really isn’t anywhere to go which makes staying with me easier.  If we were out in a larger space, he might want to either run back to the safety of the stall, or to charge ahead to go exploring.  Beginning in the stall was teaching him how to stay with me – and it was showing him that doing so was a good thing.  The small space also meant we did a lot of turning.  The turning helped to keep him close to me.

I loved how much slack I could keep in the lead.  He was staying connected, listening to me and using the cues that the lead provided.

Goat Diaries Day 6 - E's Leading Progress -panel 3.png

E was working so well, it was time to add another layer to his training.  Out in the real world there are lots of distractions.  There are things you want to run from and things you want to run to.

“Running to” makes a good starting point.  There’s something you want – turnout, another herd member, a favorite friend.  I know these goats were well practiced in heading straight to whatever they wanted and dragging their handlers along for the ride.  Here in the stall I could begin to teach E the next layer in the rope handling.  I had primed something he wanted – the platform.   Platforms equaled treats – yeah!  The platform itself was a cue, beckoning to him like the Siren’s song.  The lead also presented cues.  I wanted to teach him that the cues from the lead were the ones that had the highest priority.

The two mantras that guides this process are:

Never make them wrong for something you’ve taught them.


You can’t ask for something and expect to get it on a consistent basis unless you have gone through a teaching process to teach it to your horse (or in this case your goat).

If I wanted E to be able to walk beside me keeping slack in the lead out in the real world, I needed to go through a teaching process to make sure that expectation could be met.  I couldn’t assume it would just happen.  The teaching process began here in the stall with a distraction that I had created and could therefore control.

I took E’s lead off and set up the platforms.  I wanted to review with him the basic platform lesson before I added in the complication of the lead.  E hopped up on the first platform, click and treat. He waited while I stepped back away from him. Click treat.

I used the target to ask him to transfer to the second platform. Click – treat. Then it was back to the first platform. As he stepped down, the board he’d been standing on flipped off it’s base. It didn’t seem to worry him, but it bothered me.  I put that platform away and took advantage of it’s absence to work again on leading.

I put the lead on him and asked him to step down off the remaining platform.  I was cueing with both the target and the lead, so he had an overlay of information.  The lead changed everything.  He felt the restriction of the collar and didn’t know how to get off the platform.  I’m sure it must be worrying, especially if you have had other experiences with a lead.  If he jumped down would he be caught by the collar?

Goat Diaries Day 6 Steps towards Leading fig 1 to 6.pngHe did finally jump down – click and treat.  But then he wanted to go back to the platform.  I didn’t just follow.  Instead the lead blocked him.  The draw of the platform created a perfect opportunity to explain how the lead worked.  I didn’t want to wait to be outside with all the distractions the world has to offer to present E with the puzzle of leads.  It was much better to set up the lesson here in a familiar environment with an easier puzzle he could solve.

Diaries Day 6 Steps Towards Leading panel 2.pngWhen he pulled, trying to get to the platform, I kept a steady hold on my end of the lead, but I did not add extra pressure.  I let E experiment.  Backing up didn’t help.  Leaning to the side wasn’t the answer.  But looking back to me immediately put slack back into the lead.  AND I clicked and gave him a treat.

Diaries Day 6 Steps Towards Leading panel 3.pngThe platform was doing it’s job.  It was serving as an environmental distraction.  Here in this stall he was learning how to leave something he wanted and come back to me instead.  The platform created a draw, but not at such an intense level that he couldn’t find the answer.

It would have been so easy to add pressure to the lead.  E was a little goat.  He weighed only about thirty pounds.  I could easily have overpowered him, but that’s not the lesson I wanted either of us to learn.

E was illustrating beautifully what it means to wait on a point of contact and let the learner discover how to put slack back in the lead.  The lead should NEVER be about dragging an animal around.  It should be about presenting a cue and having the animal move his own body in response.  This works whether you are working with a horse, a dog, or a goat.  I was putting in place lessons that I hoped would give him an alternative to the sled-dog pulling that I had experienced when he first arrived at the barn.

His behavior indicated to me that he was learning fast.  With each new iteration, he responded faster and found the answer that returned slack to the lead.

Goat Diaries Day 6 Train where you can leading.png

Diaries Day 6 Steps Towards Leading panel 5.png

Diaries Day 6 Steps Towards Leading panel 6.pngWhen we were finished with this session, I let both goats out in the outside run while I tidied up the stall.  I gave them some fresh hay and brought the chair in to sit with them. They wanted chin and shoulder scratches.  P stood beside my chair so I could rest my arm on his back while I scratched his withers.  P was on my right.  E on my left.  E positioned himself for head rubs.  If I stopped, he would lean in closer to let me know what he wanted.  I stayed with them a good half hour or more just scratching and cuddling.  This was my reinforcement for taking my time with their training.

The Goat Palace

I have to go shovel the snow from yesterday’s storm, so I’ll wait to catch you up on the current training.  Right after Christmas the temperature plummeted.  We’ve been sitting on either side of zero ever since.  For those in Europe – that’s Fahrenheit not Celsius.   The bitter cold has slowed down the training considerably, but there are still some fun developments to report.  I’ll save them for the next post.  Right now there is snow to shovel.

Coming Next: Goat Diaries Day 6: The World Gets Larger

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 – Clicker Training Day Four

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goat Palace - The three boys together.png

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

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!


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

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

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

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

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

Training game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7 pm session with P

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

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

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

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

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

8 pm final session of the day.

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

Coming Next: Clicker Training Day 4

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

Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3

The Goat Palace

Yesterday was an odd day.  I had to leave the barn early so we didn’t have a formal training session.  When I was in the pen refreshing hay and water, I did suddenly find that I could close the middle gate so only Trixie was in the back area.  I took advantage of that so far rare opportunity to give her a short session by herself.

She was great.  She stayed with me following my target hand.  Thanzi stood up on the middle gate.  I kept an eye on her to see what she would do.  Apparently, she decided it wasn’t worth trying to jump the fence.  She dropped back to the ground and watched through the bars.  Normally this is what Trixie is doing while Thanzi has her turn.

I led Trixie to one of the platforms made up of a stack of plywood mats.  She stepped onto it, click and treat.  Then click and treat several times while she was still on the platform.  I led her to a second platform and repeated the rapid-fire clicks while she stood still on the platform.  I don’t think she was making any connection at all between the treats and her feet being on the plywood.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes for that awareness to emerge.

We went back and forth between the two platforms several times, then her attention began to wander.  She is definitely a candidate at this point for very short sessions. It’s interesting how closely these current training reports mirror what I am writing about in the July Goat Diaries. Today’s post focuses on the importance of beginning with short sessions. When I saw the rhythm of the treat delivery begin to change for Trixie, I opened the gate and Thanzi came rushing in.  I dropped treats for both of them into the feed tubs that are scattered about that area, and then continued on with the morning chores.

My overall impression of Trixie is she’s a very sweet, very soft individual.  I found myself questioning what sweet means.  Trixie is a nervous goat.  Her worry keeps her from approaching too close.  Thanzi, Pellias, and Galahad are all much bolder.  They will crowd in to get the treats.  Elyan and Thanzi stand back more.  So could “sweet” be translated as more nervous?

But then I wondered if we become how we are treated.  If I think that Trixie is sweet and treat her as such, will our relationship evolve so that those elements which match my label “sweet” are highlighted and reinforced?  I think that Thanzi is also very sweet (with me), and super smart.  We’ll see what emerges as our relationships develop.

On to the July Goat Diaries.  We are finally getting to day three of their clicker training experience.

The July Goat Diaries: Day 3

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

With horses I have people begin by counting out twenty treats. That ensures that the first few sessions will be short. With so few treats in their pockets they have to step away from their horses to go refill their pockets. That gives them thinking time. How did the session go? What was working well? What needs to be changed? What do you want to do with the next round of treats?

Starting out this way gets people into the habit of thinking about their training session. It’s easy to jump in and just train, train, train, without giving much thought to what you are doing or how your animal is responding. That’s a recipe for a disaster. You need time to think about the responses your animal is giving you. I certainly needed time to think about what the goats were offering.

I definitely needed to make some changes. For starters, I put the cup filled with treats into my pocket.  When I held it, I thought it was just too much of a draw for their attention.  I had wanted a quicker way to get to my treats.  The cup gave me that initially, but now it was time to go back to using my pockets.

The goats’ response to this change would tell me if I had made a good choice.

8:30 am First Morning Session

IMG_2816 Both goats sleeping in hay.jpg

P’s session was first. They had had their morning hay and were both lying down when I went into the stall. I let P out into the outside run and left E with some treats scattered over the floor.

P went straight to the platform and stood looking out over the top field. He seemed to be scanning for the dogs. His fixed attention worked in my favor. It let me take a step or two away. Click. He stayed on the platform while I stepped forward to give him the treat. He went back to staring. I stepped even further away. Click. He continued to stare. It was clear the sound of the click did not yet hold any significant meaning.  It was only as I stepped toward him and reached into my pocket that he turned his head.  That was a cue he understood. Treats were coming!

Goat Diaries Day 3 platforms Pt 1 12 panels distractionI continued to step further and further away from him until I was back by the stall door. He was being a perfect statue. What a handsome goat! He was standing in perfect balance. This was the picture I wanted to train towards. Head up, but not stretching out to me. Expression alert, interested, but not afraid.

It was time to take him off the platform. He hesitated. Following a target was still too new to draw him off his sentinel post. I settled for less.  A nose stretching towards the target was enough to earn a click and a treat. I watched him making a choice between staying on the platform or leaving to follow me.

Goat Diaries Day 3 Platforms: Pt leaving platform 8 photos.png

Cuddle Time Pays off

Approaching the target earned a click and a treat. It also presented me with an opportunity to make physical contact. He stood quietly for a prolonged head scratch.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 2 - head scratch 3 photos.png

Head scratching was followed by another opportunity to follow the target onto the platform. Just moments before he had stood staring up at the top field. Now he had a softer gaze, but he was still staying on the platform while I took several steps away from him. He also stayed put while I stroked his back and rubbed his head, click and treat. We’d come a long way in a very short time. On their arrival day they had stayed as far away from me as they could. Now P was calmly accepting a head rub.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 2 - targeting to platform.png

P was still slow to follow a target. Those dots were not fully connected. But the platform work! He had that down.  He was showing me again how smart he is – Robin smart.

When I offered the target, he was always hesitant. It’s hard to leave a platform. Goats like being up on things. Why leave a preferred location, especially when that’s where the treats were? I could see him choosing between the platform and the target. I just needed to give him time to work out the puzzle.  He chose the target each time. Smart goat!  More good learning – you get clicked for lots of different things.

As the session continued, I saw many good things that I liked. His attention had come off the far field. His focus was now inside the pen with me. While he stood on the platform, I could see him tracking my position as I circled around him.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 3 - build distance 2 photos.png

He likes being on the platform. Leaving it to touch a target created a conflict. Which did he value more? I was pleased that he was making the choice to orient back to me and the target. Click and treat.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 3 - targeting off platform 4 photos.png

And I was very pleased that I could scratch his head and neck out here, and he very much seemed to enjoy it.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 3 - time for a scratch.png

Coming Next: Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3: Begin with Bliss

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 Goats are Like Horses Except That They’re Not

The Goat Palace – Nov. 16, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Onto the July Goat Diaries:

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

Platform Training Begins

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

Robin on mat 1.png

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

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

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

Goat on platform P up, E on floor.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goat Diaries Day 2 P on Platform 7 panels

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

Goat Diaries Day 2 Platforms 3 photos targeting.png

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was also making another interesting discovery.

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

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

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

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How To Scratch a Goat


Coming Next: Goat Diaries Day 3 of Clicker Training

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




JOY FULL Horses: Part 3: Going Micro: Unit 3: Patterns

Play evolves out of success.  Play evolves when both learner and teacher are relaxed and confident in the process.  Good technique, attention to detail, attention to your learner’s emotional needs are the breeding ground for play.

In the previous section I talked about base positions and movement cycles, and how they can be used to create high success rates.  These create repeating patterns.  You are doing the same sequence of behaviors over and over again.  I’ve heard people say they don’t like drilling patterns.  Their animals get bored.  They get bored.  Patterns, they will tell you, are the death knell to good training.

All I can say is that’s not been my experience.  Horses thrive on patterns.  They like the predictability of knowing what is coming next.  They like being successful.

They aren’t the only ones.  We thrive on patterns.  Want proof.  Look at how easily we fall into them.  We are creatures of habit, which means we are creatures of patterns.  Rather than fighting against this tendency, I’m going to use it to my advantage.

I’m going to create tight, clean, repeatable loops.  I’ll follow the mantra of loopy training.  When a loop is clean, I get to move on.  And not only do I get to move on, I should move on.  

When my whole behavior cycle is clean, I’ll change my criteria slightly.  Maybe I’m teaching my horse to back up through a corner.  I’ll begin by getting just a step or two of backing. I’ll ask for this well away from the corner.  I’ll start out very micro in my requests.  I’ll be satisfied at first with just slight shifts of his balance.  I don’t need a full step back to get the process started.  Even a slight rock back is enough.  Click.  I’ll feed him so he rocks forward to the starting point.  I have a movement cycle.  He is in position to begin again.

When the loop is clean, it’s time to move on. That’s what keeps the use of patterns from becoming boring.  They are changing, growing, becoming more complex, more interesting at such a rapid pace.  I am reinforced by the progress I experience in every session.  I don’t stay stuck on one criterion, drilling away at it until it feels stale and begins to fall apart.  My steps are small, my criterion precise, and that means my horse and I experience tremendous success.

The process reminds me of bending a coat hanger.  The more you bend it, the softer it gets.  So, as my horse rocks back and forth between the ask and the food the delivery, he will be getting softer and softer.  The clickable point will shift seamlessly.  I’ll ask him to rock back a little more, click, feed forward.  A couple of clicks later, I can ask him to take a full step back, click, feed forward.  I’ll build that loop, let it stabilize briefly, and then move on to the next small shift in criterion.   As my loop expands, my pattern will grow increasingly complex, but always I am expanding it one very achievable, small step at a time.

My pattern will become a large, predictable, repeatable loop.  My learner won’t be worrying about what is coming next.  He knows the pattern well.  It’s click, check in with the handler to see where the food is going to be delivered, retrieve your treat, and then continue on to the next well-rehearsed step in the pattern.  Because every element in the pattern has been taught with such clarity and with positive reinforcement, every element can serve as a reinforcer for the behaviors that precede it.

That’s another benefit of this process.  The behaviors that I have taught through my clean loops can now be used to reinforce other elements in my ever-growing pattern.  I can place the click and treat at strategic points wherever I feel the added information they provide is needed.  Adding to their motivating value, every behavior in a well-constructed pattern also serves as a reinforcer.  If you want to understand how to teach patterns as complex as a dressage test using the clicker, this is the key that will unlock that puzzle.  Going micro creates the macro.

This is a game that’s fun to play because it is so easy for you both to win.  Isn’t that one of the characteristics of play?  You’re both winners.

Coming Next: How Clicker Trainers Play

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