The lessons I’ve been describing may seem redundant. If you were watching, you’d see the same things over and over again – a goat standing on a platform while I step back from him; a goat following a target to the next platform. What I hope you would also see in all this repetition is that nothing stands still – both literally and figuratively.
When you’re working with a horse who’s on hyper drive, the mantra you want to keep repeating to yourself is “Never get mad at movement – you need it to train.”
That expression comes from John Lyons – definitely not a clicker trainer, but he’s right. Whether you’re using make-it-happen or treats, lots of movement makes it easier to shift behavior in the direction you want.
The goats were never still for very long. I could hear it in the rat-a-tat-tat of their feet on the platforms. So I might have been doing the same thing over and over again, but I most certainly was not getting carbon copies. What I was getting were super fast learners. The goats were showing me that they were figuring out this funny new game. They were ready for me to move them to the next level.
In each session I could add a little bit more. Now the mantra became: “The longer you stay with an exercise, the more good things you see that it gives you.” All that repetition was adding up to increasingly consistent, desirable behavior.
The July Goat Diaries: P’s morning session.
I was late getting a session in because we had a hay delivery. That took up a chunk of time putting a year’s worth of hay up in the loft. Thankfully, I just had to watch. The farmer who brings the hay does all the heavy lifting.
After his crew left, I took the goats out into the aisle. I was already tired of dismantling their sleeping platform to use as components for platforms. Instead I gathered up every plywood mat I could find. (There were a lot of them! I had saved all the scrap wood from the original construction so we had an abundance of mats). I stacked the mats on top of one another to create a new kind of platform for the goats.
P was first. He was super – very confident, and very consistent. The bouncing excitement of the previous sessions had settled into calm surety. The mantra “Don’t take score too soon” was paying off. By being as non-reactive as I could be to his exuberant leaps into the air, he’d figured out which behaviors produced treats and which didn’t.
What to do was simple. When cued, move from one stack of mats to the next, then stay on the stack to get clicked.
E was equally good. He went quietly from mat to mat. He was more hesitant than P. Always the contrast between the two brothers is so interesting.
Compare this to his reluctance to venture very far from the stall on the previous day, and you will see how much progress he has made. (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/01/06/) This is an important lesson for those of us who work with anxious horses. Four elements played an important role in E’s rapid gain in confidence:
* Preparation: E understood platforms. Having something familiar to do made exploring easier.
* Choice: E had the option of retreating back to his stall. He had an escape route. If you know the way back to safety is available, it’s easier to explore.
* Patience: I waited for E to be ready. When he showed concern over moving deeper into the aisle, I let him stay on the platforms he was comfortable going to. As always it was: “train where you can, not where you can’t.” I hadn’t push him to go beyond what he could handle in his first session in the aisle. The result was he could handle more the next day. (See Saturday’s post for comparison.)
* Social Support: I have to add that going out into the aisle again with his brother helped him to be braver. But what I wanted was an individual who could be brave with me. It’s great that P gave him the confidence to explore further, but would that confidence still be there when his brother wasn’t? That’s why I’ve listed this one last. Without the other three I might always be dependent upon the presence of another goat. (Think how this relates to horses. If you ride, you’ve probably encountered horses who aren’t secure unless they are in the company of other horses.)
When I opened the stall door to let E back in, P popped out instead. Usually E will go back inside the stall regardless of what P is doing, but not this time. He followed his brother up the aisle. So I did a little work with them as a pair.
They were still reluctant to go back to their stall, so I got a bucket of hay and lured them down the aisle. E followed, but P got waylaid by an adventure. He wanted to see what was on the other side of the wheel barrow that blocked access to the arena. It proved to be an effective barrier, but I had forgotten to block off the foot of the stairs going up to the upper deck and the hay loft. Mountains are always worth exploring!
E saw his brother vanish and turned back to find him.
“Oh, don’t go up the stairs,” I foolishly said to them, as if that was going to stop them. By the time I got to them, P was on the middle landing with E right behind him. I managed to get a lead on E and get him turned around. I abandoned P to get E back in the stall. But by the time I had E secured, P had gone all the way up onto the upper deck. He was down by the sliding glass doors that open into the upstairs meeting room. He was staring at his reflection. I’m glad I got there before he decided to challenge whoever this strange goat was!
P wanted to continue exploring, but I was being a fuddy-duddy. I put the lead on him and headed back towards the stairs. Would what went up come down? That was the question.
Thankfully, going down was easy. He followed my hand as a target without any hesitation. Clearly there’s an advantage to working with mountain goats! Teaching Panda to go down stairs was much more of a process.
Once they were both safely back in their stall, I cleared away the mats so I could work on leading. E went first. He was hesitant about going all the way down to the end of the aisle. We would go a couple of steps, click and treat, then a couple more. I felt as though I had a shy child always trying to hide behind me. He kept switching sides instead of maintaining a consistent position beside me.
I was careful not to ask him to go further than he could manage. When he was loose, he could always retreat back to the stall. But now the lead prevented that, so I had to be even more attentive to his emotional well-being. This is where shaping on a point of contact really helps you out. I could judge by E’s response to the lead just how comfortable – or not – he was. At any point we could always turn and head back towards the security of the stall.
P was a study in contrast. He marched boldly beside me. When I clicked, he would swing around in front of me and thrust his nose up towards my pockets. My response was to use the food delivery to back him out of my space. He fussed at first, but very quickly caught on. Moving back brought treats.
The rest of the day was spent mowing – a never ending summer job. I didn’t get a second session in until the end of the evening.
I did a short session in the aisle with both of them. We worked on mats. Again, the difference in the personalities of the two brothers was very clear. P was bold and confident. He marched down the aisle. When I clicked, he was instantly focused on getting the treats.
E was much more cautious. He was more easily distracted. He is much softer to work with. In many ways he is much easier. His confidence will grow with good experiences.
Ann came a short while later. While she was working with her horse in the arena, I sat with the goats in their stall. I had the door to their outside run open so they could explore out there, but mostly they wanted to stay beside my chair.
Afterwards I did a training session with both of them in the aisle. We worked on leading. P went first. He was such a gentleman! It feels as though we have turned a corner, that there has been a real shift in his understanding of what to do. He walked beside me, keeping a good orientation. When I clicked, I had him back up to get the food. It felt very easy. He was understanding and anticipating what I wanted him to do. The sled dog had disappeared! He was leading!
Earlier in the day after I clicked, he had been consistently pushing past me to get to my pockets. I used the food delivery to displace him back. He had been very bold and pushy about the food. In this session, he had that sorted. He stayed more by my side. When I clicked, I barely needed to displace him. He was more and more where the perfect goat should be.
I set up a “leading loop” training pattern. I kept him on the lead from the far end of the aisle back to the stall. When we got to that end, I unhooked the lead and walked back to the far end of the aisle. I would then call him and click and reinforce him as he approached me. This gave him lots more experiences coming to me when called and having the lead hooked onto his collar than he would have gotten if I had just kept him on the lead.
E was even better. I felt as though I had an overgrown Maltese walking round the ring at Crufts. What an elegant little thing he is, and so very soft. He pulled like a freight train the day he arrived. He might be little, but he can pull with the best of them. Today, however, he led beautifully up and down the aisle. I could not have been more pleased with the progress.
What a good day it had been for both of them!
When I was done with E, I let both goats have some time to explore together in the barn aisle. To get them back to their stall I had them follow the lure of a bucket full of hay. That’s a useful management tool to have in their repertoire. Back in their stall, they got hay and a cuddle – a good deal indeed.
The Goat Palace
This report is long enough. I’ll wait to give an update on the current training. I’ll just say in brief that we have had two weeks of arctic temperatures so there is not much to write about unless you want to read about barn chores at 5 am when the wind chills are around minus 20. Brrr. I’ll leave that to your imagination! (Though I know a great many of you reading this don’t have to imagine it – you’re living it. Warm weather is coming!)
Coming Next: The July Goat Diaries: Day 8
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.