The Goat Diaries: Day 7: Repetition


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.
Goat’s Climb!

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.

Goat Diaries day 7 P exploring panel 1.png

Goat Diaries day 7 P exploring panel 2.png

Goat Diaries day 7 P exploring panel 3.png

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.

Goat diaries Day 7 E morning session panel 1.png

Goat diaries Day 7 E morning session panel 2.png

Goat diaries Day 7 E morning session panel 3.png

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.  (  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.

Panda going down stairs PO and museum

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.

Goat Diaries E leads contrast.pngP 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.

Goat Diaries day 7 P leads panel 1.png

Goat Diaries day 7 P leads panel 2.png

Goat Diaries day 7 P leads panel 3.pngGoat Diaries day 7 P leads panel 4.pngThe 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.

Goat diaries Day 7 E study of one panel 1.png

Goat diaries Day 7 E study of one panel 2.png

Goat diaries Day 7 E study of one panel 3.pngAnn 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.

Goat diaries P Day 7 Manners emerging panel 1.png

Goat diaries P Day 7 Manners emerging panel 2.png

Goat diaries P Day 7 Manners emerging panel 3.png

Goat diaries P Day 7 Manners emerging panel 4.pngGoat diaries P Day 7 Manners emerging panel 5.pngE 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:   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 4 – “I’m Hungry!”

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:   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 July Goat Diaries: “I’m Hungry!”

Are you really a positive trainer?

There’s a provocative question for you.  We use food in training, but does that mean that the animal is having a positive learning experience?  Suppose you hold back a significant part of your learner’s daily food ration to use in training.  Your learner knows that the only way he’s going to get the food is by doing what you want.  He’s afraid of the platform you want him to stand on, but he’s hungry.  Does the fear or the hunger win out?  That’s a terrible position to put any learner into.  If an animal has to respond correctly or go hungry, can it really positive training?  Thankfully, that’s not how most of us use food.  It’s certainly not what I do with horses.

In the wild horses will spend twelve or more hours grazing.  A horse who has just come in from grass or eaten his evening hay can still find room for a little “desert”.  I’ve never had to withhold food before a training session.  In fact a horse who has 24/7 access to hay or pasture is a much better learner.  I don’t want to work with a horse who is hungry and feeling anxious about food.  It just makes it harder for him to relax and enjoy the puzzle I’m presenting.

I was learning that it works the same way with the goats.  A hungry goat is not a good student.

The July Goat Diaries – Day 4: P’s 5 pm session

I spent the afternoon away from the barn.  I had left the goats with plenty of hay in their stall, but that didn’t mean that they had plenty to eat.  They had long ago picked out all the tasty bits and declared the rest fit for nothing but bedding.  When I got back to the barn, I worked with the goats before feeding them – and I learned that’s a mistake. Hungry goats are not happy learners.

I began as I usually do with P.  I had two platforms set up.  I had put a plastic pole between the two platforms thinking he would pop right over it.  Wrong.  He was suspicious of it and went around it.  That was a surprise.  He was so bold, I was sure he would enjoy leaping over the pole.  I wasn’t filming which was too bad.  I would have liked a record of his reluctance to cross the pole.

He was good the first few times he went to the platform, but then he started to rear up and charge forward.  Oh dear.  His leaps were great fun to watch, but they were nothing I wanted to reinforce, any more than I would want to reinforce a young horse for rearing.  Four on the floor is a much better base behavior!

P did one fantastic high speed spin.  These goats can move!  Somehow he landed all four feet on the platform.  I was gaining an ever-growing appreciation of their mountain goat heritage.  I’ve seen the nature films of goats nimbly leaping from one seemingly sheer cliff face to another.  Somehow they find toe holds with their agile and unbelievably good balance.  My horses’ ancestry reaches back to an evolution on the open grasslands.  Their escape was in horizontal not vertical flight so their movement is very different.  It doesn’t matter which way you leap when you’re excited – forward or up, for both I want to build a training base of calm four-on-the-floor stillness.

On the platform P crowded towards me when I gave him a treat.  He was clearly hungry and much more impatient than he’s been in the last few sessions.  The pushy behavior he was presenting was nothing I wanted.  I wasn’t liking the direction this session was heading so I ended it abruptly and went inside to work with E.  I did not film this session so I can’t show you photos of P’s antics.

It does highlight that sometimes your best option is simply to stop and not try “to work through a problem”.  I needed to think about what P was presenting and to come up with alternative ways to channel his energy.  I also needed to feed him.  I’d find out by the way he behaved over the next few sessions if I needed a training or a management solution.  If he was just hungry, I didn’t want to be creating training problems by continuing to work him.  What’s that great expression: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!”  I needed to stop digging and give him his dinner.

E’s 5 pm session

E was much better, but then E is the pushier of the two.  He would have taken the hay for himself and left his brother to pick through scraps.  He wasn’t the hungry one!

I set out the the two platforms in the stall.  When I cued him with the target stick, he did a great job going from one to the other.  He was cuddly.  He enjoyed having his head scratched.  He was a very welcome contrast to P’s displays of impatience.

When I opened the stall door, P came in and stood on a platform.  We worked again on sharing.  They stayed each on his own platform, but unlike earlier, but they didn’t want to be scratched.  I left to get them hay which they were very eager to have.

7 pm session

I ended the evening by going in with them for head scratching and general cuddling. Now that they were well fed, they were very interested in coming over to me.  I had a goat on either side of my chair.  If I paused at all, they would lean in asking for more.  I could think of no better way to end an evening than to have a cuddle with these goats.

goat diaries head scratch with E.png

E is enjoying having his head scratched.

I am slowly making it through Pellias and Elyan’s first week of training.  Coming next in the July Goat Diaries will be the start of their fifth day of training.

The Goat Palace – Where We Are Today

Last night I had a really fun session with Elyan and Pellias.  I had worked first with Thanzi and Trixie.  I’ll catch you up later with their training.  Then I did a session with just Elyan in the hallway.  Pellias was having a fit inside his pen.  He wanted to PLAY!  He was chasing poor Galahad all over the pen.  So I reinforced that behavior by letting him out. (Or I rescued Galahad by letting Pellias out.)

I set two mats out at the near end.  Plus I had two narrow mats in the middle, slightly staggered.  Elyan has decided that he has a station at the far end near the storage box.  It’s made up of short sections of posts – very precarious, but it was his choice so I’m going with it.

It’s very cute.  Pellias claims the storage box while Elyan wobbles on his perch of logs.  Click – treat both of them.  Then it’s “Let’s go!”, and we all three dash to the middle platforms.  At first Pellias was overshooting his platform.  He was clearly thinking we were going all the way to the end, not stopping in the middle.  He’d stop abruptly a couple of steps past us and then back himself up to us.  Click – treat, click – treat for both of them.  Then “Let’s go!”, and we’d all three dash to the two platforms at the near end.

I’d get them turned around, and then we’d head back the other way.  After a bit, both goats were stopping in the middle platforms.  Pellias would start out at full speed and then slam on the breaks to land abruptly on his platform.  The control he had was impressive.

I was pleased that Pellias felt comfortable staying with us.  Elyan is learning to share.  He’s going to the platform that’s in front of him instead of cutting across and driving Pellias off the platform he’s chosen.  That’s why I began the session with the middle platforms slightly staggered.  I wanted to give Pellias a little more room.  It also helps that Elyan has decided he wants the wobbly logs at the far end and has given Pellias the storage box.  However they are sorting it, it is good to see that Elyan can share his “toys” with his brother.  So now we can all run together, and they end up where they should be, each on his own platform.

It is fun to be able to train at this level of energy.  The wild leaps that Pellias was presenting in July have melted away.  The joy is still there but not the bottled up frustration.   In July he was still figuring out why I wasn’t just tossing the treats at him.  He’s understanding the game now, and he loves playing!

When he’s on the storage box, I’ve been able to add in hugs.  That’s been interesting.  So far I had scratched the goats only, finding all their favorite itchy spots.  On the box I can reach both arms around them and give them a quick squeeze.  They seem to like it. Certainly when I give Elyan a hug, he presses in more against me.  And Pellias is beginning to respond similarly.

I know they were picked up and held a lot when they were little, but until now they have never given me any indication that this was something they wanted.  So I’ve scratched only and resisted the temptation to cuddle.  Somehow when they are up on the box, it seems the right thing to do.  And it also seems like an important part of getting them comfortable being handled.  Sitting in their future is foot care and grooming so these are important steps to be taking now.

It’s been too cold to video so you will just have to imagine what a goat hug looks like.  I can tell you it feels wonderful!

Coming next in the July Goat Diaries – Day 5

And speaking of sharing . . .

Goat Diaries Xmas banner  Single photo.pngWe’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.



Goat Diaries: If One Mat Is Good, Two Must Be Better

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:   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.

July Goat Diaries – Day 4 Continued

Multiple mats serve many functions.  For starters having a second mat gives your learner something to move towards.  This is especially useful if you have a horse whose feet feel as though they are stuck in cement – or a goat who is learning about cues.

The first thing Pellias had learned with the clicker was you got treats for moving your nose to a target stick.  He could do that.

Then I had taught him the platform game, and with it came a “rule”.  You get treats for staying on the platform.  He had that one!

But now if I held a target out just beyond the platform, the “rules” seemed to conflict. What was he supposed to do?  I didn’t want him to feel confused or frustrated.  I thought adding in a second platform might help him solve the puzzle.  Now if he stepped off the platform to touch the target, it just took him to another platform.  What a good deal!

In effect the appearance of the target became the cue to go to another platform.  From his perspective I’m sure he was convinced that I was saying: “Stay on your platform until you see the baton.  When you see that, it’s your cue to move to the second platform.” Down the road I will want targets to have a more general meaning: “orient to this object”.  For now I was content with this as a starting point.  It was okay to attach that very specific meaning to the baton.  When I want to expand his understanding of targets, there are lots of other things I can use.

It’s important to notice the “rule” your animal is following and to understand what he thinks the cues you’re presenting mean.  You don’t want to make him wrong for something he thinks he is getting right.  After all, whatever odd conclusions he is coming to are a result of what you’ve taught him.  The training mantras to remember are:

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

“You never know what someone has learned.  You only know what you’ve presented.”  (Your learner will tell you later what he thinks you’ve been teaching!)

I wanted Pellias to stay on platforms.  I also wanted him to leave them.  And I wanted him to orient to targets.  I needed to set up my training so the “rules” he was learning didn’t conflict.

When they did, I either needed to go have a cup of tea while I figured out a way to explain things better.  Or I needed to let his rule be right.  That sounds as though I am caving in to my animal, but really what I am doing is reinforcing him for what he already knows while I sneakily insert extra pieces.  As the behaviors expand, suddenly the rules can co-exist without conflict.

Essentially Pellias was learning about cues.  The platform was a cue – go stand on it.  The target stick was a cue – go touch it with your nose.  If the target was close enough to the platform, he could do both at the same time, but now he had to choose.  Do I stay or go?

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

In this case leaving meant going to the second platform.  The pull of both cues took him off the platform to the target.  Click – treat.  “That was right.  Now how about hopping up on this block of wood?”  He was learning that cues weren’t meant to put him into conflict.  What should I do?  What should I do?  Instead it’s: “You’re doing great, so here’s the next cue.”  That cue opens the door to another fun thing that you also get reinforced for.

The general takeaway is this: my learner has continued to be successful throughout, but now the training has gained a new layer of complexity.  Inserted into the mix is the control that cues give us:  You’re doing this now.  That’s great.  Now wait there.  That’s still great.  Now switch and shift to this other activity.  Perfect!  What does my learner experience?  You’re right, you’re right, you’re right.  Learning is easy!

My second platform was much smaller than the foam platform I had been using.  A horse would have needed some time to figure out how to get all four feet on such a small landing zone.  P’s mountain goat heritage meant he had no trouble not only balancing on the platform, but pivoting on it, as well.  Again, I was learning that goats are like horses, except they’re not.  This long series of photos shows how quickly I was able to open up space between us while he stayed on his platform.

Goat diaries day 4 two platforms Pt 3  panels 1-4.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two Platforms Pt 2 What a Nimble Goat - panels 5-8.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two Platforms Pt 2 What a Nimble Goat - panels 9-12.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two Platforms Pt 2 What a Nimble Goat -panels 13-15.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two Platforms Pt 2 What a Nimble Goat -panels 16-20.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two Platforms Pt 2 What a Nimble Goat -panels 20-24.png

Goat diaries day 4 two platforms Pt 3  panels 24-26.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two Platforms Pt 2 What a Nimble Goat - panels 26-30.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two Platforms Pt 2 What a Nimble Goat - panels 31-34.png

Based on this series of photos, I wouldn’t want you to think that the training was all smooth sailing or that P was a perfect little angel.  He did have his moments.  The good news was he was beginning to have a repertoire of desirable behaviors that I could reinforce.  He very quickly recovered his good manners and returned to standing well on the platform.

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two platforms Pt 3 - A Less Than Perfect Goat - panel 1.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two platforms Pt 3 - A Less Than Perfect Goat - panel 2.png

Goat diaries day 4 two platforms Pt 3  panels 9-12.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two platforms Pt 3 - A Less Than Perfect Goat - panel 4.png

P was not lacking for energy. He jumped at speed from one platform to the next.  He needed to learn how to control his speed so he could land on the platform.  He was certainly fun to watch as he leapt from one platform to the next.  I loved the air-planing of his ears!  These goats are full of such joy.  That’s something I very much wanted to preserve in their training.

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two platforms Pt 3 - A Less Than Perfect Goat - panel 5.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 Two platforms Pt 3 - A Less Than Perfect Goat - panel 6.png

The Goat Palace Journal for Dec. 14, 2017

That was then.  This is now.  Pellias had a session by himself first thing in the morning.  We had the length of the hallway to play in – thirty feet.  I had all the platforms out: the storage box at the far end, the narrow platforms set at right angles to one another in the middle, the larger foam platform at the near end, a “balance beam” of a thick piece of wood, and a couple of wooden mats.  Pellias had a glorious time bouncing from one platform to another.

When I started with him in July his eagerness and energy would sometimes erupt into a charging head butt.  That behavior has completely disappeared (at least towards me. He’ll still have a go at Elyan and Galahad.)  I never punished him for these displays towards me.  Instead I stayed focused on showing him what I wanted.  Go from this platform to this one, and I will give you a treat.  Now he can bounce joyfully from one to another.  He can get excited and still stay in the game.  Training – it’s a wonderful thing!

I let Elyan join him for another game of leap frog.  Back and forth they went, from one platform to another.  Oh, and did I mention there was an open box of hay sitting by the gate?  I normally bring the hay out in empty shavings bags so the goats aren’t tempted.  I had run out of bags, so this morning I carried the hay out in a big plastic box.  While I was restocking my treat supply, the game stopped briefly.  They took advantage of the break to run over to the box to eat.  But as soon as the game was back on, they left the freely available food to play leap frog with me.  Training – it is a wonderful!

Coming Next: Goat Diaries Day 4 Eagerness

Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 4

The Goat Palace: Training is Accumulating Fast!

The goats are doing great.  My journal notes are filled with superlatives.  The basics are becoming much stronger and more reliable.  Each session opens the door to a new possibility, something I can now ask for that would have been hard to get just a few days before.  They are so much fun!  I love quick, eager learners!

But before I get swept away with their current training, it is worth going back to the July Goat Diaries to see what the first steps of the learning were, not just for them, but for me, as well.

Just before Thanksgiving I had finished posting about Day Three of their training.  (  Three days doesn’t sound like much, but that was fourteen training sessions.  I had introduced Elyan and Pellias (E and P as I referred to them in July) to the bare bones of targeting.  They had been on platforms.  On day four I was planning to add in a second platform.  So let me jump back to July.  Hopefully, this won’t confuse you too much.  I wish I had begun posting these Goat Diaries sooner so there wasn’t this overlap, but that wasn’t how my summer unfolded.  And perhaps it is better this way.  You can see both how these first steps can be built, and at the same time how much fun you can have using these foundation skills.

Remember in July I had not yet expanded the roof of the lean-to to create the goat palace.  Instead E and P were living in the barn in one of the horse stalls.  I was using the stall, plus the outside run as my training areas. So back to July . . . .

The July Goat Diaries: How We Get Behavior

My main training goals with Elyan and Pellias were: to stabilize their behavior around food so they were safe to feed treats to; and to work on basic leading.  I was going to have these goats for less than two weeks.  At the end of that time they would be going back into the 4-H program that Sister Mary Elizabeth ran for the children in her area.  At the end of the summer the goats would be going to the county fair and to several fiber festivals.  To be shown in the ring, they had to lead.  So anything I could do to help them with their leading manners was a plus.

It may not seem that teaching them to target and to stand on platforms had anything to do with leading, but they are all connected.  I was creating the building blocks that would make adding in a lead much easier.  To help you connect the dots between these foundation skills and leading remember in clicker training there are many strategies you can use to get behavior to happen.  You can lure behavior with food.  I was certainly using that with the goats when I had them follow a bucket of hay back into their stall.

Food luring can be a very effective and humane management technique, especially under conditions when other skills have not yet been taught.  It is much less stressful for a herd animal like these goats to follow a bucket of hay into an enclosure, than it is to be driven from behind.  Getting the goats into the habit of following me and my bucket of treats was a first step towards having them stay with me on a lead.

Targeting is another way to get behavior.  The goats were in the early stages of understanding targeting.  I had used it to begin their introduction to clicker training.

Goats day 2 target practice E - 1.png

Elyan learning about targeting.

That was step number one.  The more you explore targeting, the more you discover what an incredible teaching tool it is.  Targeting is very much part of leading.  We usually think of targets as a visual aid.  Certainly the handler becomes a visual target.  But I also want the feel of the snap under a horse’s halter to become a target.  In this case it becomes a tactile target – follow this feel.

Tactile targets take us to rope handling which takes us to a discussion of pressure and release of pressure.  Often the mere mention of pressure makes some people cringe. That’s what they want to get away from when they clicker train.  But we do put halters and leads on our animals.  So the question is not do we use pressure, but how has the response to pressure been taught?  Is it information or a threat?

Escalating pressure has a do-it-or-else threat embedded in it.  This is what we want to get away from in clicker training.  But pressure doesn’t have to become painful or frightening to have an effect.  It can simply close one “door” while leaving other doors open.  When you’re trying to figure out how to use pressure in a learner-friendly way, that can be a helpful metaphor.

Used well a lead provides clues that help an animal get to his reinforcement faster.  Suppose I want my learner to back up.  I could simply wait until I see a shift of balance back.  If I’m lucky, the animal will shift back quickly, but he’s just as likely to try other directions first.  That introduces more “noise” into the process.

Think about situations in your own life where having some boundaries was helpful. Computers offer us so many good examples.  You want something to change on your screen, but nothing is happening, so you start hitting buttons.  Is it this combination or this one?  When you finally do get the response that you wanted, do you remember what you did?  Can you repeat it without first trying all the errors?  Probably not.  How do you feel?  Frustrated.

But now think about those times when the computer gave you a “not this way signal”.  When you tried something that wasn’t going to work, you heard an error message.  It sometimes takes me a couple of repetitions to realize that that ping I’m hearing is the computer telling me what I’m doing isn’t going to work, try something else.  Oh, right.  That door is closed.

At least the computer is communicating something.  I must be hitting the wrong keys.  Yes, I was pressing down the cap lock key instead of the shift key.  That’s why I was getting that error message. 

The error message doesn’t change.  Siri doesn’t come on and start yelling at me.  The computer doesn’t tell me if I don’t change my behavior and do what it wants, it will start destroying files.  The computer remains non-reactive to my emotional displays of frustration.  When I finally notice that I’ve been hitting the wrong key, it responds immediately by producing the result I want.

When I was trying to push through the wrong “door”, it gave me a clear message – try something else – but nothing else escalated.  Good rope handling is very similar.  When my animal partner learns to pay attention to the information the lead is providing, it doesn’t just close doors, it shows him which ones are open.  What is the fastest path to the click and treat?  Leads provide boundaries.  Used well, they also provide very welcome information.

The lead provides simple messages.  Slide down the lead and you are saying: “I want something.”  Staying on the lead closes doors.  Now you’re saying: “Not this way, but keep trying.  There is an open door, and I know you can find it.”  Releasing the lead says: “Great! You just found the answer!”

All of this has to be taught.  I can’t expect my learner to understand the cues a lead can provide first time out of the box.  If he’s had confusing, inconsistent, or punitive experiences with the lead, then the teaching process becomes even more involved.  I’m not working with a clean slate.  I have to show him through my actions that I’m not intentionally going to use the lead to hurt or scare him.

An animal that has not been carefully introduced to leads may not understand this.  His learning history may tell him to try to push on the “door”.  Bang on it hard enough and it will open!  Goats certainly know about pushing through things!  And so do many horses.

I want to build my training steps systematically so my learner can safely, comfortably discover that pushing on the door isn’t needed.  When he encounters a closed door, that’s a hint.  It means try a different direction.  The faster you stop banging on that door, the faster you’ll find the one that is open – click and treat.

Elyan and Pellias both wore collars, but so far I had avoided putting leads on them.  I wanted to give them some other skills first which would help them understand how leads worked.  We were heading to leading, but not directly.  The training principle is: Never start with your goal.  The more steps you put between where you are and where you want to be, the smoother and more successful the learning experience will be.

More steps in part means learning to use more than one teaching strategy.  So here is another training principle:  There is ALWAYS more than one way to teach any behavior.  The more ways I come up with to teach the same thing, the stronger that base behavior will be.

So another teaching strategy I use is referred to as free shaping.  Here you are not using any prompts such as a target to trigger the behavior.  Instead you are simply observing the individual and marking those moments that take you in the direction of your shaping goals.

When people talk about the magic of clicker training, they are referring to freeshaping.  Yes, it is good science, but it does look quite magical when an animal begins to consistently offer a complex behavior and the handler has “done nothing” but click and reinforce tiny stair steps towards the desired behavior.  There have been no targets and certainly no whips.  You haven’t applied pressure by moving into the animal’s space. You’ve just sat in your chair, and now suddenly your animal – goat, horse, dog – is backing up twenty feet.  Very neat.

I have always considered free shaping to be an advanced skill for both the handler and the animal learner.  A handler who is just learning how to change behavior through incremental steps will miss clickable moments.  The criteria will be unclear.  The timing will be off.  The result: a learner who is becoming increasingly frustrated and confused.  A confused learner leads to a confused handler.  Put those two things together and you get a mess.  That’s no way to begin with clicker training.

Freeshaping may be an advanced skills, but you need to practice free shaping in order to build your skills.  Here’s the mantra: for every complex behavior you teach, there will be some element that is free shaped.

I may use my rope handling skills to get a horse to step onto a mat.  Once he’s standing there, I’ll free shape his head orientation.

I was going to use this concept with the goats.  I got them to the platforms with the target. Once they were on the platform I wanted to free shape head orientation.  My starting point was a goat who was indeed standing with all four feet solidly on the mat, but his head was reaching up towards my pockets.  I knew what I didn’t want.  I didn’t want him straining up towards me, or the opposite – curling his neck down so he looked as though he was about to ram something.  I wanted him standing all four feet on the platform, with his head up, and looking straight ahead.

The problem was the goats never really presented me with what I wanted.  They looked off to the side, or up at my pockets, but rarely were they looking straight ahead.  If I insisted on perfection, my rates of reinforcement would drop.  I’d get a frustrated goat, and I’d already seen what frustrated goats do.  Jumping up on me was not an answer I wanted them to be practicing.

To help prime the pump I had been using the food delivery to approximate the behavior I wanted.  My concern was I might be getting too much of a curl of the neck.  I didn’t want to trigger head butting.  So that was my question as I began the morning session.  What had these goats learned from the previous day’s training?  Good things I wanted?  Or would  I be left with “Oh dear, let me go have another cup of tea and rethink where we are.”  I was about to find out.

Session 1: 8 am with P.

I wanted to make the target more meaningful to P. He clearly liked being up on his platform.  So perhaps if I set out two platforms and used the target to move him from one to the other, he would begin to have a better understanding of targets.  Targets are things you orient to get to other good things.

I set out two platforms, the original foam platform and a new one made out of two heavy blocks of wood.  P went directly to the foam platform, click and treat. I worked on his head orientation.  Mostly he was stretching his nose out towards me.  I tried to catch moments when his head was down, but I needed to be careful with that.  I didn’t want to teach him to lower his head into head butting position.

I used the target to move him to the second platform.  He definitely got the idea of moving from one platform to another, and he was staying on the platform well.  It seemed as though this was going to be a useful approach for him.

I did not film this session because there was a light rain so I have no pictures to share.

E’s Session

E’s session – I worked E in his stall.  That seemed easier than switching the goats.  I already had the makings of two platforms.  I dismantled their corner platform and used two of the blue blocks as bases for single platforms.  E was concerned with them at first so I put the plywood on them, and he was fine about getting up on the blocks.  I again added in the scratching after feeding so he got very soft-eyed and dreamy.  I liked this association.  Clicks are followed by treats (exciting!) which are followed by head scratching (dreamy).

The whole peanuts took too long to eat, so I had been breaking them up.  He wasn’t particularly interested in the hulls, but he did like the peanuts.   I had also added sunflower seeds to the mix in my pocket, and those he really liked!  We had a lovely session going from platform to platform.  He was getting treats and attention.  And I was getting more good data to record in my journal.  Win-win for both of us.

When we were finished, I opened their stall door so he could go out into the pen with P.  Instead of staying out, P came into the stall and got up on a platform.  So E came back in as well.

They started sparing over who got the platform.  I managed to get each one on his own platform and reinforced them for staying put.  Once I have taught them individually about platforms, this will definitely be a usable approach for teaching them to work as a pair.

When I was all done, I spent a few minutes scratching them both, then I left them with some treats scattered over the floor.

The Goat Palace: Working in Pairs

So now I’m going to jump forward to the present.  I just described the very bare bones beginning of using multiple platforms to work the goats together.  I’ve been building on these skills both with Elyan and Pellias, and Thanzi and Trixie.  It is key to being able to reduce the competition over food.

I was so impressed with Trixie and Thanzi yesterday.  I’ve been working them in their pen.  Each goat can now stay at her own station (a stack of plywood mats).  I can move to Trixie, offer her a target to touch, click and drop treats in her bucket while Thanzi stays on her platform.  Then I can go to Thanzi, and Trixie stays put.  That is such a change from the dashing from bucket to bucket that we started with.

Yesterday I took them into the hallway.  The narrow platforms were set out side by side.  They got themselves sorted, one on each platform.  I was pleased with the progress Trixie, in particular is making.  Thanzi, I know will leap eagerly onto a platform.  Trixie has been slower at figuring out that going to platforms is a great way to get clicked.  But there they both were each on her own platform.

I stood in front of them and waited for both of them to take their noses away from my pockets.  They could do it!  Click, treat.  And when I fed them, they stayed each in her own space to get the treat.  They didn’t try to crowd in and snatch treats from one another.  That’s huge progress, but wait it gets better!

Remember these goats were side by side.  The treat bowls were right in front of their platforms.  I could click one, drop treats in her bucket, and the other goat would stay put!  Of course, she got clicked and reinforced for staying on her platform.  Win-win for everyone.

Pellias and Elyan are becoming increasingly solid working as a pair.  I can now consistently use their stationing behavior as a management tool.  When I want them to go back into their pen, I call them and they both come running.  They dash onto their platforms: Elyan on the balance beam of a thick piece of wood, and Pellias on a stack of plywood mats.  Click – treat both several times.  Then click, drop treats and leave.

They stay at their stations hunting for the dropped treats in the hay instead of swooping in trying to get what the other one has.  That gives me time to call Galahad in and give him treats at the other end of the pen.  This core foundation skill is creating much more peaceful living conditions for everyone.

Before I can move on to teaching the “fancy” stuff, first there are these basics – the universals of day to day handling.  Done well, the basics become “fancy”.  They are certainly fun to teach.  Every day I feel like a small child who has been given another bag of leggo blocks to play with.  I can build so much more with the behaviors the goats are learning!  What’s next?  The goats will always tell me.

Coming Next:  Goat Diaries – Day 4 Learning About Goats


The Goat Diaries – Weathering the Storm

I’m still in catch up mode.  Eventually I’ll get back to the original July Goat Diaries.  At the moment I’m in a snowballing stage with the goats.  They have figured out the game – not just individual lessons, but the global picture.  That means they understand that their actions have a direct impact on me.  They can reliably, consistently get me to play with them and give them treats.  They just have to figure out what to do.  They are making connections fast and every session feels as though we’ve taken another major step forward.  I love this stage!  That’s why I call it the snowballing stage.  The ball is definitely moving!

So why have I titled this report: “Weathering the Storm”?  I used that phrase in one of my journal entries.  Elyan was still chasing his brother away from platforms.  Thanzi and Trixie were still pushing their way through the gate every chance they got.  To get them back into their pen, I was dropping treats into their feed tubs.  There was no sharing.  They raced each other from bucket to bucket.  It was like being caught in the middle of a wild whirlwind.  Nothing about this behavior could be described as calm or orderly.

Horses can go through a similar phase.  Even when you are working with just one horse, in the beginning it can certainly feel like chaos.  The horse knows that food is involved.  He hasn’t quite worked out the big picture.  He just knows that sometimes you have treats and the game is on.  He’s discovered that he can bump the target or stand on a mat, and you’ll hand over goodies.  What he hasn’t yet worked out is waiting.

Waiting for the target, waiting on the platform, waiting while another horse gets a treat, this is so much harder than actively doing something.  But doing, doing, doing, always doing something can feel like chaos.  At this point handlers sometimes feel like quitting.  What a mess it all seems.  In frustration they resort to defensive clicking.  That’s when you click to keep something you don’t want from happening.

That’s a slippery slope down which you do not want to go.  You’ll end up always feeling as though you have to keep up a barrage of clicks and treats because as soon as you slow things down even a little, your learner is mugging you.  So it’s click treat, repeat but never ask for more.  Your horse (dog, goat, co-worker, child) has learned how to control the game.  He’s become a master at manipulating you to get the goodies he wants!  Chaos!

So what is the solution?  It’s trust the process.  Trust that things will settle.  Trust that your learner will figure out that he doesn’t have to rush in to grab the treat before it disappears down somebody else’s throat.

Goat Diaries T&T Learning to Share

Trusting the process has brought me to this good result: Thanzi and Trixie are learning to share.

Trust the training principles: for every exercise you teach there is an opposite exercise you must teach to keep things in balance.  Waiting, patience, calm – grow out of this balance.

Trust loopy training: when a loop is clean, you get to move on, and not only do you get to move on, you should move on.  Trust that the loops will get clean.

Trust that your learner will always show you what he needs to work on next.  And trust that you will notice.  Trust the foundation lessons.  Within them is the answer to what do you want your learner TO DO.

Trust yourself.  Trust that you can slow yourself down and not be drawn into the drama of the moment.  And trust your learner’s ability to figure out the big picture.

All of this will bring you to the other side of the storm, to calm waters.

I know all this, but I still find it hard to video the chaos.  It feels so permanent and so awful.  And then it changes and things become really fun.  Now suddenly, I found myself regretting that I hadn’t filmed more of the chaos so you could have a better sense of just how much these goats are learning.  Contrast is a wonderful teacher.

Yesterday’s sessions were full of change.  In a previous report I described how I taught Elyan and Pellias to go to platforms set on either side of my chair.  (  I’ve been building on that lesson, moving the chair to different places in the hallway so they aren’t always seeing the same orientation.

I varied the food delivery, sometimes handing them both a treat, sometimes tossing the treats into food buckets so they would have to find their way back onto the platform.  Sometimes I would ask one goat to touch a target while the other waited.

While they waited on their platforms, I stood up and moved around.  Click, I would then walk away from them to a shelf where I had left a bowl with extra treats.  They continued to wait while I came back and gave each of them a treat.  I very deliberately didn’t rush.  What treat were they going to get?  This piece of squash, or this lovely slimy bit with all the seeds?

You can’t assume this kind of food delivery.  You have to teach it.  That’s another training principle to trust – one of the most fundamental.  If you want a behavior to occur on a consistent basis, you need to go through a teaching process to teach it to your learner. 

I can’t expect these goats to just know these things.  I have to show them how waiting on platforms brings them goodies.  Racing off to try and get your brother’s treats doesn’t work nearly as well.  It used to, but in this alternate universe staying on your platform works better.

In one session I took the chair out of the picture and put out two narrow platforms facing one another with food bowls in between.  Once they got themselves sorted one on each platform, they were good at taking turns.  Now it was look at Pellias, click when he was still, give him a treat. Turn and focus on Elyan while Pellias waited.

This was hardest for Elyan.  He’s the smallest of the goats, but my goodness does he know how to get what he wants!  He’s not at all shy about driving the others away.  To manage them better when I needed to swap goats around or to fill the hay feeders, I had been trying to have them go to platforms in their pen.  They would race to a platform, but then they couldn’t stick there.  Especially when Elyan saw his brother heading to a platform, that was irresistible.  He had to run over and chase him away so he would get whatever treat might be coming.  Chaos.

Poor Pellias. Every time he tried to step up onto anything that resembled a platform, Elyan dive bombed him and butted him away.  Pellias eventually gave up and retreated to the top of the jungle gym leaving the game to Elyan.  I can’t say that I blamed him.

So that was my baseline behavior.  But now in the hallway, Elyan was taking turns.  He was staying on his platform even when I dropped treats for Pellias.  What a major step forward that was!

I played another fun game with them – swaps, or you could think of it as musical chairs.  Pellias learned the game first.  I let him out into the hallway by himself.  He went to a platform, click and treat.  I had him target a couple of times, clicking and taking the treat to him.  After each treat, I moved a little further away from him until I was now standing on the second platform.  Click and treat, then back to my platform.  So far so good.  He could wait on his platform while I returned to mine.  Click.  I went forward, but instead of handing him the treat, I dropped it into his bucket.  He had to leave his platform to get the treat, and while he was off of it, I swapped platforms and stood on the one he had just left.

Pellias got his treat and turned to get back on the platform, the same platform that I was now standing on.  He was truly puzzled.  He tried to get up on the platform, but I blocked him.  He tried from the back side.  I blocked him.  Oh dear.  He stood for a moment clearly perplexed.  He went back to his feed tub, nothing.  Then he tried the old stand-by: back up.  Backing took him close to the other platform.  Oh! There’s a platform.  He hopped up onto it.  Click! I went forward and handed him a treat.  I returned to my new platform and clicked and treated him several times for waiting on his.  Then I dropped treats into his bucket and again swapped platforms.

More confusion.  He tried to return to this platform.  I blocked him.  He turned his head, spotted the other platform and went straight to it.  After only one more swap, he had this new game down.  Now when I swapped platforms, he no longer hesitated.  He went straight to the other one.

I went through the same process with Elyan.  He was so cute.  He was sure he should climb up on the platform with me.  If he got one foot on the corner of the platform would that count?  No.  He finally spotted the other platform and just like Pellias got the swaps figured out.

All of this prep, all of these variations on the game led to yesterday’s fun.  I had the platforms set out as usual facing one another.  When I opened the gate, both goats came out and headed straight to the platforms.  Before I even had the gate latched, they had themselves sorted.  Elyan won the race and claimed the platform closest to the gate.  Pellias scurried past and hopped up on the other platform.

E and P on platforms 12:9:17.png

Pellias and Elyan have raced onto their platforms.  They are eagerly waiting for me to close the gate and begin the game.

I held a target out for Pellias. Click, I dropped treats in his bucket.  Elyan waited on his platform.  I went over to him and offered him the target.  I could hear Pellias returning to his station.  So I clicked Elyan for the target touch and dropped treats.

Then it was back to Pellias for a target touch.  As I was dropping treats for him, Elyan was turning to get back onto his platform.  What a fun game!  I had begun with two piranhas.  It wasn’t that long ago if I had dropped treats for one, the other would have been swooping in to try to snatch them away.  Now both goats were not only taking turns, they were turning away from dropped treats!  Extraordinary!  The calm waters after the storm were very much in sight.

It was so much fun, I couldn’t resist filming them a little later in the day.  You will need a password to open this video: “E&P Learn To Share”.  Don’t blink at the start of the video. When I open the gate for them, they are fast getting to their platforms.  Elyan ends up closest to the camera.  You know this is Elyan because of the way he claims the platform and then makes it very clear that his brother is to keep going!


Trixie and Thanzi were, if anything, even more impressive.  They were taking turns, as well.  When I started with them, taking turns had not been in their repertoire at all, especially where dropped treats were concerned, and especially not in their pen.  But now Trixie was stationed on a stack of mats with a food bowl next to her.  Thanzi had a food bowl a few feet away.  I could ask Trixie to target, click, drop treats for her and Thanzi would wait at her station!  I could then go to her and have her target.  Click, drop treats and Trixie would stay put!

This was such a change from the frantic racing from food bowl to food bowl that we’d started with.  Platforms!  They are indeed a wonderful tool.

You will need a password to open this video: “T&T Learn To Share”.  Enjoy!


The P.S. to these sessions came in the evening.  I was doing the final hay check of the evening.  Normally I just open the gate and let the youngsters wander around in the hallway.  Pellias and Elyan rushed out to look for dropped treats.  Galahad stayed in the pen and “helped” me put hay into the feeders.  Then he went out, and Pellias and Elyan dashed in.  I heard a tappity tap tap of goat hooves behind me.  Elyan was balancing on a thick piece of wood that was lying half buried in the hay.  Beside him Pellias was on a stack of plywood mats.  Just a few days ago they were still chasing each other off any platforms I tried to create in the pen.  Now they were standing side by side looking ever so pleased and expectant.  Click and treats for both of them.

I reinforced them a couple more times, then I dropped treats down into the hay for each of them.  Instead of swooping in on each other and fighting over the treats, they each stayed on their own spot, ate their treats, and then moved to the hay feeders.  It was so peaceful!  I was even able to call Galahad in and give him treats at the other end of the pen without any interference from them.

Training! It’s a wonderful thing.  And so is generalization.  The sun is very much shining through the clouds.



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: