The Goat Diaries Day 10: You Can Never Do One Thing

The July Goat Diaries

I don’t know which label to give this session:

The longer you stay with an exercise the more good things you see that it gives you.

You can never do one thing.

These both work.

E was very cautious around people.  He had shown me that many times over.  When Panda first arrived at eight months of age, she was more than cautious.  She was afraid to the point of charging anyone who leaned over her.  She hadn’t shown this behavior when we first met her in July, but it’s what she arrived with in September.  Panda was a Florida girl.  That’s where she was born.  We had to wait the extra two months for it to be cool enough to transport her North.  She arrived sporting the most gorgeous show clip.  Because she is little, I suspect the clipping was imposed not trained.  She was probably the victim of the “three men and a boy” school of horse handling, meaning she was wrestled into submission and made to stand still while someone towered over her with a pair of clippers.

So the horse we received in September pinned her ears and snaked her neck out whenever someone came near.  If I had seen any sign of this behavior when we looked at her, I would have passed on her as a potential guide.  But here she was.  Florida was a long way away, so this was the horse I was going to train.  I had enormous confidence that clicker training would get this sorted – and of course it did.  Not only did Panda become a super guide, these lessons led to her favorite game – Panda catch.

So now with E I had a goat who was afraid of people.  I found myself using many of the lessons that had worked so well with Panda.  Who knows how many good things these simple lessons would bring us.

E’s 7 pm session
I brought E out on a lead into the arena.  He was very good.  He showed me that he was understanding the morning lesson.  When I clicked, he was moving away from my treat pocket to get the treat.

Ann joined us in the arena.  I led him up to her.  He reached out cautiously to sniff her.  Click, treat.  I repeated this a couple of times, then he decided he wasn’t interested in going towards her again.

If his caution had been only that, discovering that approaching Ann produced treats might have been enough to break the ice.  But his caution was a reflection of real fear.  I have to be careful under these conditions.  If I am afraid of cats, but I really need the fifty dollars you are offering me if I touch the hissing kitten, I might do it.  I’m still afraid of all things feline.  Take away the fifty dollars, and I won’t go anywhere near the kitten.  That’s always a question when you are using positive reinforcement to get an individual “over” their fear.  Are you really changing the underlying concern, or are you just masking that worry?  And is it really fair to ask someone to make that choice?

It is possible that when I touch the kitten, it turns into a soft ball of purring contentment.  Instead of being afraid, now I’m enchanted.  Being clicked and reinforced for approaching the kitten has shown me that I have nothing to be afraid of.

Being clicked and reinforced for approaching Ann, was not enough to convince E that she was harmless.  I changed the game.

I clicked E as he walked beside me keeping slack in the lead, but instead of giving him the treat directly, I walked over to Ann and put the treat into her outstretched hand.  She was now the “food bowl.”  The first time I had to hold my hand over hers to get him to approach and take a treat.  After that he was willing to eat directly from her hand.

I wanted E to discover that people can be the source of good things.  I did a lot of this with Panda.  It began just as I was doing here.  Gradually, as Panda became more comfortable approaching people, we added in more people and changed the game to a targeting lesson.  At clinics I would have people form a large circle.  Each person would have a target, but only one person at a time would hold out the target.  When Panda approached and oriented to the target, click, that person gave her a treat.  Then that target disappeared, and someone else would hold out a target.

This game gradually morphed into its current form.  Panda gallops from one person to the next.  As she approaches, she runs around behind the chosen person and comes to a halt neatly at their side.  Very fun!  They click, give her a treat, and then off she goes – galloping to the next person.  If you asked her, she would say she invented the game, and in many ways she would be right.

I was borrowing from the beginnings of Panda catch to help E make several important discoveries.  I was hoping this lesson would help him to become more comfortable approaching people other than myself.  I also thought it might direct him away from my treat pocket.  When I clicked, I immediately headed over to Ann.  This took the focus off my pocket.  It wasn’t click and then zero in on my hand reaching towards my pocket.  Now it was click and follow me to the “food bucket”.

After he got his treat, he had to decide what to do next.  Should he stay where he just got fed, or he should follow me?  Decisions, decisions.  The choice he made was to follow me.  Excellent!

So now we had a new game.  I used the lead to direct E away from Ann.  I was careful not to drag him.  If he didn’t follow right away, I waited.  The contact from the lead told him I wanted something.  It was up to him to figure out what – and to be willing to do it.  As soon as he moved towards me and away from Ann, click, I walked the treat back to her outstretched hand.

Once he had his treats, I used the lead to ask him to move away from her hand and to come to me.  I know many dog trainers use versions of this game.  They’ll toss the treats so the dog has to move away from them to get them.  Or they’ll have the treats stashed in a bowl.  When they click, they’ll take the dog with them to get the treat.  These are all good strategies for keeping our animal learners from becoming locked onto our pockets.

The photos below show a wonderful progression. E gets a treat from Ann and then walks off with me.  Click!  (Fig. 1 – 4)  We return to Ann.  (Fig. 5-8)  But now when I ask E to leave, he’s conflicted.  Ann has the treats!  Here again the rope handling becomes important.  It would be so easy to pull him into motion.  The learning for him in that case would be follow or be dragged.  That’s not what I want him to learn.

Instead I wait for him to make his own choice. (Fig. 9-13)  E walks off with me. Click. (Fig. 14)  E watches me hand the treat to Ann and walks with me so he can get to her. (Fig. 15-17)  This time when I ask E to follow me, he backs with me away from Ann.  (Fig. 18-19)  We walk back to Ann.

Walking back to Ann gives E more practice walking with me.  That’s one of the great benefits of this process. (Fig. 20-22).  E is becoming comfortable enough with Ann for her to be able to stroke him.  (Fig. 23) This time when I ask him to walk off with me, he leaves readily and we walk a large circle past Ann.  Click!  (Fig. 24-27)  We return to Ann for a treat. (Fig. 28-30)  That’s a lot of progress from sequence to sequence

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When we left the arena, E was in a hurry to get back to the stall. I did a lot of stopping and asking him to come back to me.  As he came off the pressure of the lead, click, I gave him a treat and we continued on.  We hadn’t gone half way down the aisle before he was walking beside me keeping slack in the lead.  These goats are such fast learners.  He was becoming a pleasure to lead.  Gone was the sled dog impersonation we had started with.

The Goat Palace – Current Training

In my previous post I shared a story about Thanzi and Trixie dating back to the end of December. https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/02/14/   January was a brutally cold month here in the Northeast.  The temperatures stayed in the single digits often dipping well below zero (Fahrenheit).  Training sessions shrunk down to the bare minimum.  It’s so easy to think that you aren’t getting anything done during these long stretches when the weather is against you, but the reality is good things emerge out of little steps.

So I described in the previous post how I reinforced Thanzi and Trixie for staying on their platforms and waiting patiently for their treats.  Every time I fed them, I would open their gate and let them out into the hallway.  While I was filling their hay feeders, they were waiting for me on their platforms.  It was bitter cold, but how could I resist?  So I would spend a couple of minutes clicking and reinforcing first one, then the other.  I wanted them to learn to take turns.

We are now in February, and it is shedding season.  This is very relevant because these are cashmere goats.  Their fleece has to be combed out of their coat and collected.  I was not looking forward to this, especially for Trixie who has been so body shy.

Sister Mary Elizabeth came out last week to check on their coats.  They weren’t yet starting to shed, so we sat and visited with them instead.  As she told me about Trixie’s background, she remembered that she had been one of three goats who were attacked by a dog last summer.  She wondered if this contributed to the fear Trixie often showed.  It is certainly possible.

A couple of days later Trixie started to let go of her coat.  She and Thanzi were on their platforms.  I started to comb across her back.  She stayed on her platform!

Thanzi has just started to shed as well.  Yesterday both goats took turns.  I would comb Thanzi while Trixie waited on her platform.  Then I would comb Trixie while Thanzi waited.

This was a huge step for both of these goats – to let me comb them without any restraint was an enormous gift.  To have it completely volunteered turned what could have been a horrible struggle into something all three of us can look forward to.  Instead of destroying the good work I had been doing with them, the combing was building trust.

This is what I love about positive reinforcement training.  You ALWAYS get more good things than just the one thing you are focused on.

These two photos tell the story.  I love how patiently each goat waits while the other is groomed.  And I am delighted that I can lean over them to comb out their fleece.  All that patient prep was paying off!

And by the way, not only do I not want to stress them.  I don’t want to stress their babies.  Both goats are due in March.  It won’t be long now before we have baby goats in the barn!

Coming Next: The Goat Diaries: Day 11 – A Walk in the Park

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 10: Distractions!

Distractions

I’ve been distracted by several projects this week so I am a bit behind getting these Goat Diary reports posted.  That seems very appropriate somehow because today’s post is about distractions!

In one of his Clicker Expo presentations Ken Ramirez talks about the importance of introducing distractions into the environment.  When he was the Director of Training at the Shedd Aquarium, he instructed his trainers to make changes every day to the training environment.  He wanted the dolphins and belugas that were used in the public demos to be so comfortable with change that if a tornado ripped the roof off the Aquarium, they would just think – “Oh look what our trainers have done for us today”.

I have always loved that image.  It creates a high standard of creativity and  consistent good training that is worth aspiring to.  With the goats at this point in their training it was easy to introduce change – essentially everything I did with them was new.  I wasn’t yet thinking about adding distractions as an active strategy.  I was starting with fearful animals so I knew I had a long way to go before they would be comfortable in a changing environment.  In their evening session I was about to discover just how easily something that I didn’t consider a distraction at all could completely derail their eagerness for training.

Lions and Tigers and Bears, Oh My! – And People, Too!  The July Goat Diaries: 7/14/17 7 pm session

In a previous post I shared with you what a happy goat looks like (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/01/26/).  I had taken E and P into the arena and watched with delight as they turned the mounting block into a playground.  I wanted to share the fun with Ann.  She can’t see their antics, but she can certainly hear the laughter in their feet as they run across the mounting block.

Ann came in the evening to visit with Fengur.  While she was playing with him, I sat with the goats.  When the arena was free, I set up the camera and brought them in.  Ann stationed herself beside the camera well away from them.  After my big build up about how much fun they had running over the mounting block, they were total fuddy-duddies.  There was no energy, no joy, no laughter, no interest in the mounting block at all – just a cautious inspection from a distance of Ann.  What was she doing out in the middle of the arena?  Having a new person in the arena was clearly a concern.

After a few minutes of non-performance, I decided to put them back.  They followed me into the barn aisle and went eagerly into their stall, knowing that I would be dropping treats on the floor.  It turns out that I neglected to turn on my camera, so none of their non-interest was recorded.

I let the goats settle back into the comfortable familiarity of their stall, then I took them out again individually for another leading session.  The main focus of the session was on treat delivery and their behavior around food.  I was continuing with the work I described in the previous two goat diary posts. (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/01/29/  and https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/02/02/

A Panda Story

This focus on treat delivery and the time it takes to establish good manners was reminding me of Panda’s early training.  Cold winter days are a good time for stories, so I’m going to indulge in a couple, beginning with a favorite Panda story.  Panda is the miniature horse I trained to be Ann’s guide.  I remember when I first started working with Panda, she was as eager as the goats were to get into my pockets.

A week into her training – at about the stage I was now with the goats – I took Panda with me to a clinic I was giving at a barn that was about an hour away.  Ann rode in the front seat with her new guide dog curled between her feet.  Another of my clients was driving.  I was in the backseat with Panda essentially in my lap.  I was definitely a captive audience.  Doing a short session and then putting her back in her stall to process was an impossibility.  I had an hour’s drive with a horse in my lap!  What’s more I had a horse who knew I had treats in my pocket.

For the duration of the drive I clicked and treated anytime Panda’s nose moved even fractionally away from my pocket.  The idea was to keep her on such a high rate of reinforcement that she didn’t have a chance to mug me.  Over and over again, through the food placement I was saying to her – this is where the treats are delivered.  Going to my pocket gains you nothing.  Out here away from me, this is where you will find treats.  You might as well keep your nose here and not waste your energy going to my pockets.

Ann was in the front seat listening to the constant barrage of clicks.  I know they were making her anxious.  She had only recently taken on a new guide dog.  Everything about this dog was a struggle.  He should never have been placed.  The school was hoping that because Ann was such an experienced guide dog user, she would be able to make him work.

“Make the dog work” was truly the philosophy behind this dog’s training.  The result was a dog who showed extreme avoidance behavior.  Ann had one problem animal.  She didn’t want another.  How could she have a guide who needed to be clicked and treated every couple of seconds?  Ann knows how training works.  She knows that we would be building duration, but in that stage where the mugging is still such a strong reaction, the future good manners can seem impossibly far away.

Good manners emerge over time.  They are the result of consistent handling and a growing confidence in the learner.  By the time I handed Panda over to Ann, the guide dog had gone back to the school to be re-trained for a different job.  He went into search and rescue work, a job that suited his temperament much better.  And Panda became Ann’s full time guide much sooner than we had originally planned.

We celebrated the transfer by going out to dinner.  Panda kept her nose to herself and stayed quietly by Ann’s side throughout the evening.  Even when the salad course arrived, all she did was have a curious sniff before ducking her head back under the table to continue her nap. That’s great duration in a behavior that had begun with barely seconds between clicks.

Good manners emerged for Panda, and I was confident that they would also become the norm for the goats.  Time and consistency would create the behavior I wanted.

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Dining out with Panda

(If you want to learn more about Panda and her training, read the Panda Reports on my web site: theclickercenter.com.  Some of her early training is also featured in my DVDs: An Introduction to Clicker Training and Lesson 4: Stimulus Control.

Treats: Whatever Is Logical Do The Opposite

At some point in the distant future, it might be fun to travel with the goats in my car.  But at this point the thought of spending an hour trapped in the backseat of a car with an eager, greedy goat sounded exhausting.  We had a long way to go before they would be as settled about treats as Panda.

You meet your learner where he is not where you want him to be.  When I took P back into the arena, the session was very much focused around food delivery.  The children in the 4-H program may have giggled and let him snatch pretzels from their mouths.  With me P was learning that we played a very different game.

I brought P back out on a lead.  He continued to show good progress. He backed away from my closed hand.  He did a bit of head flinging which means he was feeling frustrated by having to back up.  I’m sure it did conflict with how he thought things should be done.  He wanted to push forward to get to the treats.  That’s what he had always done, but now he had to remember to back up instead.

Whatever is logical, do the opposite.  I could sympathize with his frustration.  From his point of view it made no sense that backing should work.  Going forward was how you get children to spill treats all over the ground.  Why should backing work?!!  We have all been given directions that make no sense.  Why should turning left instead of right get us to our destination?

And how many of us turn right because we’re convinced that should be the correct answer.  Even when we do turn left, it feels wrong.  Surely we’re heading in the wrong direction.  This can’t be right.  We’ll never get there.  Oh look, there’s our destination just ahead. How did that happen!?

It can take a while to relax and trust the directions.  That’s the stage I was in with P.  With a little more reinforcement history behind us, he would relax into the confidence that treats were coming.  There was no need to rush to get them.

The Goat Palace written Dec. 27 – Our Animals Always Tell Us

Meeting your learner where he is, not where you want him to be makes me want to share this story.  It was prompted by the goat’s current training.  If E and P’s treat taking manners were reminding me of Panda, a session I did with Trixie and Thanzi at the end of December made me think of Robin.  There are several of training mantras that apply to this session:

Our animals will always tell us what they need to work on next.

You get what you reinforce. 

My favorite, though, is this one:

If you don’t notice a little resistance, don’t worry about it.  It will get bigger.  And eventually, it will get big enough that you will do something about it.

Before I describe the goat’s training, here is Robin’s story:

Over the winter when Robin was still very new to clicker training, he started to snatch his treat from my hand.  I’d click, he’d grab, and then he’d eagerly be offering me the next clickable behavior.  I ignored the snatching.  He was eager.  It was cold.  He was offering lots of great work.

The snatching increased.  You get what you reinforce.  I didn’t like the snatching, but if it was getting worse, something in our interactions was reinforcing it.

I ignored it.  Robin was eager.  It was cold.  We were having fun – until I wasn’t.  The snatching was becoming more than annoying.  I was starting to count fingers after I gave him a treat.  It was time to do something about the way he took treats.

If you don’t notice a little resistance, don’t worry about it.  It will get bigger.  And eventually, it will get big enough that you will do something about it.

I’ve told the story many times about the way I solved this particular problem.  It’s detailed in both my Riding book and The Step-By-Step Guide in Pictures.  I went back to basics.  I put Robin in his stall with a stall guard across the door.  I stood across the aisle from him and held out the biggest carrot from a bag of big carrots.  Robin stretched his neck out to try and reach it.

I immediately turned my back, removing the carrot from sight and counted to three.  Then I turned back and held the carrot out again.  Robin stretched out his nose.  I turned my back and counted to three.

I again offered the carrot.  This time Robin hesitated ever so slightly.  I clicked, reached into my pocket and handed him a piece of carrot. I was using negative punishment.  I was taking away something Robin wanted – the carrot – to decrease a behavior I didn’t like – the reaching out towards me to get a treat.

(When an activity decreases – it is being punished, either by adding something unpleasant or by taking away something the individual enjoys (positive punishment and negative punishment – it’s just math adding or subtracting).  When an activity increases, it is being reinforced, either by adding something the individual wants or taking away something he doesn’t like. So again there is positive and negative reinforcement.  When the behavior increases it is being strengthened, i.e. reinforced.  When it decreases, it is being punished.  In both – the positive and negative refer to adding or subtracting, not value judgements.)

I offered the carrot again.  Robin hesitated.  Click, I handed him a piece of carrot from my pocket.  Robin is a super fast learner.  He had the dots connected.  If he drew back away from my hand, he got treats.  I could hold the carrot directly under his nose and instead of snatching it off my hand, he arched his neck and drew up away from it.  Click and treat.

I was enchanted.  He looked like a beautiful dressage horse.  Robin being Robin, he quickly made the connection.  If he arched his neck, click, I would give him a treat.  He wasn’t snatching anymore.  Instead he scooped the carrot slice gently off my hand with his enormous soft lips.

He started to offer what I have since called “the pose”.  When I walked by his stall, Robin would draw himself up and arch his neck.  Click.  I’d pause in my barn chores and give him a piece of carrot.  Through the winter I reinforced him a lot for this behavior.  I might have begun with negative punishment as I tried to stop an unwanted behavior – snatching treats off my hand.  Now I was actively reinforcing him for something I wanted – “the pose”.

I should add that this is not the way I teach the pose today.  It popped out when I was working on something else.  Now that I know this behavior is worth going after, I shape it more directly, most often with the aid of targeting.  And in general, when I find myself reaching towards a negative punishment strategy to solve a problem, I go have a cup of tea instead. I think about what I want and look for reinforcement-based teaching strategies instead.

The “pose” is not the best name that I could have come up with for this behavior.  For many people, a pose is a fixed, rigid, stilted posture.  It’s that awful grimace so many of us have when we’re forced to have our picture taken.

Instead, for me, the pose is a very dynamic behavior.  For Robin it has become a default behavior.  I was the cue.  In the absence of any active cue from me, if Robin posed, I would click and reinforce him.  It meant that if he wanted attention from me, he could get me to engage with him using a behavior I actively liked.

Horses are always doing something.  A horse in a stall has a long laundry list of behaviors to choose from.  Some are behaviors that I like, some are behaviors that I can ignore, and some are behaviors that I never want to see.  The laundry list includes taking a nap, eating hay, having a drink, watching the activities in the barn aisle – all perfectly acceptable and easy to ignore.

A horse could also be fighting with his neighbor, kicking the stall door to get attention, cribbing, raking his teeth up and down the wall, pacing, weaving.  These are behaviors I definitely do not want.  But if I fuss at a horse when I see him engaging in them, I could easily be reinforcing them through my attention.  Think of the small child who bangs the kitchen pots and pans while mother is on the phone.   Even negative attention is attention, and that can be better than no attention at all.

Robin doesn’t have to kick the wall to get me to notice him.  All he has to do is pose.  Click and treat.  I love having behaviors which my horses can use to ask for my attention. They know I will always acknowledge their request for connection.

Think of all the ways people interact with one another:  “Good morning.”  “How are you?” “Never better.”  These quick exchanges connect us.  Think how chilling and unpleasant an environment becomes when these social pleasantries are absent.  We need them to tell us things are okay between us.

Robin says good morning by posing.  I respond with a click and a treat.  All is well between us.  Our social bond is strong and getting stronger with each click and treat.

I reinforced Robin for the pose because he looked pretty.  I wasn’t heading for anything in particular beyond that.  This is what makes training so much fun.  Sometimes the next unexpected piece just pops out.

Here’s what happened to the pose.  One evening I had Robin in the arena.  I was asking him to trot around me on a circle.  He was giving me a nothing of a trot.  He looked like an old plow horse.  There was no energy, no pizzazz, nothing I wanted to reinforce.

Robin was expecting me to click.  He went once around the circle.  Nothing.  The way I tell the story was you could all but see the cartoon bubble appearing above his head.  “I’m not being reinforced.”

He went around again.

“What can I do to get reinforced?”

On the third time around he had the answer: “I know! I’ll try the pose!”

The way Dr. Jesus Rosales-Ruiz tells this story is this: by withholding the click I was putting Robin into an extinction process.  He began to regress back through behaviors that had been successful in the past.  The pose had been highly reinforced, so it was the first thing that he tried.

Whichever version of the story you prefer, Robin had to add energy to the trot in order to get into the pose.  Suddenly, his trot looked as though it belonged on a magazine cover.  He was gorgeous!  I clicked and gave him a treat, all the while gushing over how pretty he was.  I sent him back out around me.  It took him a few strides to find his balance, but he once again added the pose to the trot.  It was just one stride that I was clicking – but wow! What a gorgeous stride it was!  The rest is history.  Robin led the way.  He showed us that we could shape the beautiful, suspended balance of a classical dressage horse just through well timed clicks and treats.

Why am I telling this story? Because this morning’s session with Thanzi and Trixie made me think of Robin and the pose.  It reminded me of the expression:

If you don’t notice a little resistance, don’t worry about it.  It will get bigger.  And eventually, it will get big enough that you will do something about it.

In December I had been trying to work them individually.  We had snow Christmas eve and then the temperatures dropped and the wind rose.  Trixie was nervous about being out in the hallway by herself, so I let Thanzi join her.  Suddenly with two goats I had lots of crowding.  Hmm.  You get what you reinforce.  I knew at night when I was tucking them in, I was in a hurry.  It was cold.  It was late.  I just wanted to get done with the final chores and get back inside where it’s warm.  Had I been letting them crowd me and hurry the treat deliver?  Apparently the answer was yes.

I needed to sort out the crowding so in this session I set two mats out face too face.  Trixie hopped on one, Thanzi on the other.  I stood in the middle with both goats crowding into me begging for treats.  I waited.

“Oh right.  Crowding doesn’t get treats.”  They took their noses away from me.  Click. I reached into my pockets.

They were right back, pushing against my hands.  I got the treats out of my pockets and then drew my hands together.  I stood as though in calm meditation, waiting.  First one then the other took her nose away.  I waited until they were both good, then held out the treats to them.

They got their treats, and then they were right back crowding me, pushing against me with their muzzles.  I waited.  They took their noses away.  Click.  Get the treat.  Wait again with hands held together in quiet meditation.  They both drew away from me.  I held out my hands and let them take the treat.

It only took a couple of repetitions. They were both working so hard to stay away from my pockets.  Click, pause, feed.  They were both so good.

I left them in the hallway while I filled their hay feeders.  I was just finishing up when I looked out into the aisle.  They were standing each on her own platform waiting for me.  How can you resist?  I went out and did another round of paying attention to their good manners.

Your animals always tell you what they need to work on.  I don’t know where this will lead me, but I know it is what they need.  If it makes me think of Robin’s pose, I must be on the right track.

Staying Consistent

It’s easy to be focused and consistent through one training session.  It’s much harder to maintain that consistency over time.  When we transferred Panda full time to Ann, it was actually a relief to hand her over.  I missed her constant presence by my side, but maintaining the level of consistency that is needed for a guide was demanding.  When you can see, you don’t need a guide to tell you that you’ve come to a curb. If I started cutting corners in Panda’s training because I didn’t need all the things I had taught her to do, it would undermine her performance as a guide.  Ann would never be able to enjoy the luxury of seeing the curb that’s in front of her.  She would be relying on Panda to point this out to her.  A horse doesn’t know when it doesn’t count so it always has to count.  I followed that mantra throughout Panda’s training.

The same thing applies to the goats.  The same thing applies to the goats.  If sometimes I let them push into me to get treats, I will never get to the consistent good behavior that I want.  But it’s been cold!  It is so easy to get in a hurry and let standards drop.  So their training has been a bit like a yo yo.  I let things slip in my hurry to get chores done and my gloves back on.  They begin to crowd me, but now I am catching it sooner.  The manners pendulum keeps swinging back and forth.  Over time the cumulative effect shows me that the balance is tipping towards good manners.

Just for Fun!

I told you the story of Robin’s pose.  Here’s one of my favorite videos of Robin.  He was only three when this was filmed.  He had not yet been started under saddle.  So he’d never had a rider on his back, and I had never lunged him in side reins or any other type of mechanical device.  This beautiful balance and cadence had been shaped entirely with the clicker.  You’ll see I am holding two dressage whips.  You can call them anything you want, but they are functioning as targets.  They give him points of reference to balance between.  I know the lighting is not good in this video, but this was a long time ago, and this was the best the video camera could do.  Enjoy!

 

Coming Next: The Goat Diaries Day 10: You Can Never Do One Thing

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.

 

 

 

Thank YOU!

I’m taking a brief detour from the Goat Diaries.  2018 is the 20th Anniversary of the publication of my book, “Clicker Training for your Horse”.  To celebrate every month this year I will be writing an article about one of the many people who have helped me bring positive reinforcement training into the horse world.

Last month I told you about Bob Viviano and Crackers.  Bob was there literally at the beginning of my exploration of clicker training.  Ann Edie joined us a short time later when she started taking lessons from me at the barn where I boarded my horses.  This month I want to turn the spotlight in her direction to thank her for the enormous contribution she has made to the development of clicker training and for 25 years of friendship.

Most of you know Ann through her guide horse, Panda.  Ann has big horses as well.  We seem to share our equine family – at least that’s how it feels.  Ann’s first horse, Magnat, is our one in ten thousand horse.  That’s how I think of him.  He was originally my school horse, but he was such a great match for Ann, in 1996 I gave him to her.  In 1999 he was joined by our two Icelandics, Sindri and Fengur.  Panda joined the “herd” in 2001.

I’ve written so much about Panda, I’m going to shine the spotlight instead on Magnat.  He played such an important role in the early development of clicker training it is right that he should get the attention as I celebrate twenty years of “Clicker Training for your Horse“.   There is so much I could write.  I’ll just share a couple of favorite Magnat stories.

Remembering Magnat

Magnat is an Arabian.  He came to me through clients of mine who wanted a weekend trail horse for their guests.  Several months and several disastrous rides after they got him, they discovered that he had a severe heart murmur.  My clients were in a dilemma.  They didn’t want to keep him as a pasture ornament, but they couldn’t ethically sell a horse with such a severe heart condition.  Who would want such a horse?  The answer was I would.

So Magnat became mine.  One of my favorite training mantras is:

The walk is the mother of all gaits.

I didn’t need to ride fast to enjoy a horse.  Magnat and I were a perfect fit.  I would love to have reserved him just for myself, but he was such a great school horse.  I began to use him to give lessons at the barn where I boarded.  I could not have asked for a better co-teacher.  This was in 1994.  I had just begun the year before to explore clicker training with Peregrine.  I was having such good success with it, I had started to share it with all my clients.

Pretty soon the only horse who wasn’t clicker trained was my own school horse.  I was reluctant to introduce it to him.  I had all the questions that everybody else has when you first start introducing food into your training.  What if he got mouthy?  He was so polite now.  I didn’t want to risk messing up my one and only school horse by teaching him clicker training!

When someone is hesitant to give clicker training a try, I get it.  I had the same questions and concerns that most people have when they first encounter this work.  But I really couldn’t go on encouraging all my clients to give it a try and not follow my own advice with Magnat.

I needn’t have worried.  For Magnat it barely caused a blip on the landscape.  He was polite before I introduced food, and he remained so even when my pockets were bulging with treats.  He was never muggy.

There are lots of horses who go through a very rocky transition stage.  The food does get them excited.  They frustrate easily and often older behaviors that have been suppressed through punishment resurface to create problems.  Magnat showed none of this.  That isn’t to say there weren’t changes.  My solid, reliable lesson horse truly began to shine.  If he had been good before, now he was outstanding.

Throughout that first winter he helped me teach people the basics of single-rein riding.  There’s a great expression:

The longer you stay with an exercise, the more good things you’ll see that it gives you.

One of the good things the basics of single-rein riding produced for Magnat was collection.  The beginnings of two favorite behaviors popped out: piaffe and canter in-hand.  This later is a gorgeous behavior to have in repertoire.  Magnat became so balanced and collected, he could canter while I walked beside him.

It was around this time that Ann came to the barn wanting to take lessons.  Ann was not a beginner.  She had ridden as a teenager, but then like so many others she gave up riding when she went off to college and never got back to it once she started raising a family.  The challenge for me was Ann is blind.  I had never worked with a blind rider before.  This was a new frontier for me.  But I assumed my job was teaching her to ride.  Ann would take care of the rest.  If I taught her the way I taught everyone else, we’d come out okay.  It turned out I was right.

I started Ann the way I start all riders who come to me.   It doesn’t matter how many years you have ridden or how experienced a trainer you are, if you are going to ride one of my horses, you start with a pony ride.  I guide the horse from the ground.  All you have to do is sit and enjoy.

As the rider becomes familiar with the horse’s communication system, and understands how to cue the horse, I gradually turn over more and more of the control.  So at first I have the reins, and I’m working the horse in-hand with a rider up.  Then I hand the reins over to the rider, but I stay close so my body language continues to support the rider’s cues.  Then I gradually fade out and the rider takes over completely from me.

This worked perfectly for Ann.  Having Magnat as my co-teacher made all the difference, especially since he could canter in-hand.  For teaching that made him worth his weight in gold.  I wish I had learned how to ride on a horse like Magnat.  Ann has such a relaxed canter seat because she learned the rhythm of the canter from him.  Starting out she never rode a bad canter.  All she had to do was relax and enjoy.  There was no struggle trying to get him into the canter, no trotting faster, faster, faster like a plane taking off.  There was no leaning sideways through unbalanced turns.

Magnat canter

Instead there was just the relaxed rhythm of a collected, glorious canter.  And then there was the piaffe and the passage.  It was Ann who was riding the first time Magnat succeeded in mobilizing into piaffe.  I was working him from the ground while she helped manage his weight shifts.

We were figuring out how to teach riding with the clicker.  I gave Ann the lesson, and she taught Magnat.  They were such a good match, I decided after their first winter together to give him to her.  It gave me so much more pleasure watching them develop as a team than I ever would have had riding him for myself.  And I had Peregrine.  He and Magnat became riding partners.  For the next sixteen years while we kept the horses at the boarding barn, Ann and I shared our evening rides together.

They were an unlikely pair, my thoroughbred, her Arab.  But it turned out that each horse gave their best to the other.  Magnat gave Peregrine the confidence to move forward again after a long, hard recovery from the aftershocks of Potomac horse fever.  And Peregrine taught Magnat about collection.

Magnat lived in a small paddock with two other horses.  I’m sure you can picture what he looked like during mud season.  Every night Ann would spend an hour or so grooming him and by the time he was ready to go into the arena, he was snowy white.  I don’t know how she did it!  When I brush my horses, the dirt moves from one spot to another.  When Ann grooms, the dirt leaves!  And a horse isn’t clean until her fingers tell her he’s clean.

Early on we taught Magnat to retrieve.  There’s a picture of him with a wooden dumbbell in his mouth on the cover of the first edition of “Clicker Training for your Horse”.  When Ann brought him into the arena, he would ask to be turned loose.  She’d let go of his reins, and he’d go out in the arena and bring back to her all the things the previous riders had dropped.

We boarded in a barn where there was a very active after school lesson program so there were always dropped riding crops, gloves, hats, kleenex.  Ann never knew what she was going to be handed.  Magnat was very diligent in making sure that he had found anything and everything that might get in their way.  In so many ways he was Ann’s first guide horse.

When the arena was clean, he would walk with her to the mounting block and line himself up.  Now the real glory of Magnat shone through.

Ann understood that clicker training means so much more than just using a marker signal and treats.  Clicker training for us is synonymous with good balance.  It was a joy to explore with her what that meant for our horses.

When Ann first started riding Magnat, she couldn’t manage his trot at all.  He bounced her out of the saddle.  It was the most jarring, bone rattling, uncomfortable trot imaginable.  That was because for her Magnat wasn’t yet balanced.  She didn’t yet understand how to use lateral flexions.  When she asked for the trot, she got the hollow-back, high-headed, stiff-legged trot that is all too often associated with Arabs.

As she learned how to use lateral flexions, Magnat relaxed and lifted himself up into a magic carpet ride.  The transformation was so black and white.  Ride him without asking for the lift that comes through the lateral work, and he would jar you right out of the saddle.  Ask for collection, and you were in heaven.

I taught Magnat lateral flexions before I began to explore clicker training.  He understood what I wanted and was a willing student.  Often people seek out clicker training because they are struggling with a horse.  That wasn’t the case with Magnat.  He could have gone through his whole life without ever needing to be clicker trained.

Before clicker training he was a good, solid-citizen riding horse, but that’s all he was.  Without clicker training he would have remained a nice, but ordinary horse.  With clicker training he shone.  I used to say he was a one in a million horse, but as the years went by and he just became more and more wonderful, not just to ride but to be around, I changed this to a one in ten million horse.

But I really shouldn’t be the one to describe what it was like to ride Magnat.  He was Ann’s horse.  Here is how Ann described him in a piece she wrote for my riding book:

“It’s always a dilemma to describe the experience of riding a truly extraordinary horse who has had the benefit of several years of clicker training.  Although many technical components go into the production of a really memorable ride, the irrepressible smile, the feeling of wonder, and expression of “WOW!!” that arises so regularly these days when I ride Magnat simply cannot be described in anything but poetic terms.

Yes, athletic talent and neuromuscular conditioning are part of what makes the ride so special; and yes, many hours of repetition over many months have gone into it; and yes, there is extraordinary lightness and balance.  But this is still far from the sum total of the experience.

Musicians have described a great melody as “ a journey which has many familiar passages, and which also contains some wonderful surprises which cause you to look at the world in a completely fresh way and gives new meaning to life.”  This is the best description I can find of what it is like to ride Magnat.

Magnat comes out into the arena every night feeling relaxed and eager to work.  He knows he will be appreciated and reinforced for his performance.  He knows that he is a respected dance partner and member of the team, not a mere subject of training.  This awareness and active participation on the part of the horse is one of the benefits bestowed by clicker training.

Our rides begin with warm-up exercises.  In the course of executing figures or doing simple softening and balancing work, I will pick up on the reins and suddenly feel the most indescribable lightness!!!

We may be in a super-buoyant, floating trot, a deliberate, balanced, ballet-like piaffe, or a heavenly rocking-horse canter.  Whatever it is, it will feel as though I am floating on a magic carpet.  He is so responsive in these moments.  It’s as if there are clear filaments of two-way communication from my finger tips to each of Magnat’s feet.  The slightest breath of a touch on one of those lines will be answered by an immediate floating response.

The musicians described music as a journey which “contains some wonderful surprises.”  That’s how I feel about riding Magnat.  Each ride contains surprises and special pleasures we have not experienced before.  It is like coming around a bend in the road and seeing a spectacular sunset, or a grove of awe-inspiring redwood trees, or the grandeur of an ancient castle, or the peace and cool of a Buddhist temple.  It truly takes the breath away!  It creates the deepest joy and aliveness in my heart!

These moments have totally changed the way I think about riding.  I feel such awe for Magnat and for what we create together.  In this moment I know, without the slightest doubt, exactly what I ride for – it is just this amazing feeling of total balance, effortlessness, lightness, and energy.  Magnat seems to feel the same excitement and joy, for he literally beams with pride, and recently he has begun uttering deep chortles in his throat at these moments.

I let the magic moment go on for as long as I dare, wanting it to continue forever, but knowing I must capture it with a click, before it disappears like a soap bubble or a delicious dream.

The click creates a pause in the music.  Magnat comes to a halt; I throw my arms around his neck in a huge hug, shower him with lavish praise, and empty my pockets of the most desirable treats!

The “WOW” feeling is definitely addictive.  The glow of the experience lingers and stays with me long after the ride.  Our whole horse-human relationship is one of appreciation, respect, and awe.

This is, for me, the great gift of clicker training.  When taken to the high-performance level, it creates transcendent moments of great joy”

Ann Edie – written in 2005 for “The Click That Teaches: Riding with the Clicker

Ann’s words express so perfectly why we have both worked to bring clicker training into the horse world.  If clicker training had just been about teaching tricks, and finding kinder way to get horses onto trailers or to stand for grooming, I would have moved on years ago.  Instead clicker training takes us on a journey to Joy.  It connects us deeply to our horses.

This is what Ann and I wanted to share when we wrote about our horses.  It is what I am celebrating in this twentieth year of “Clicker Training for your Horse”.  It is what we hope others will find as they explore clicker training: the great love and wisdom of horses.

Sadly we lost Magnat in 2011 not long after we moved to our new barn.  He had reached the grand age of 33, but it wasn’t enough.  We were both hoping he would be one of those Arabs who live to be forty.  Sadly he had cancer, and we had to say good-bye.

Ann has shared so generously her horses.  Magnat and the Icelandics have served as my school horses.  I’ve written about them, and they have appeared in the books and DVDs.  Sindri, our Icelandic stallion, was my riding horses.  Thank you Ann for that great pleasure and honor.

And then of course there is Panda, Ann’s guide horse.  Ann is a very private person, but she has shared Panda literally with the world.  We’ve had journalists from as far away as Japan and Australia come and do stories on her.  Ann has always been a good sport, and so has Panda!

What many people don’t know is Ann is one of the partners in The Clicker Center Barn. Without her help, the barn would never have been built.  Thank you Ann for this.  And thank you also for teaching me how to play scrabble and for occasionally letting me win.

Alex Panda scrabble 0038

The Goat Diaries Day 9: Visiting Day

The July Goat Diaries: Visitors

The goats were nearing the end of their stay with me.  The original plan for this day was for Sister Mary Elizabeth to bring some of her 4-H children to the barn for a visit and then to take the goats back home with them.  The goal of the visit was to show them what I was doing with the goats and also to show them how clicker training can be used with horses.

I was having so much fun with the goats I was reluctant to see them leave.  I would happily have let them stay through the summer.  When they did go back to their herd, I also wanted them to be solid enough in their training that they would be good ambassadors for clicker training.  I didn’t feel we had yet reached that point.  I asked if they could stay a little longer.

What did a little longer mean?  Sister Mary Elizabeth needed E and P for the summer 4-H activities.  She had children waiting for them.  For me that made their clicker training introduction all the more important.  I didn’t want a half-learned lesson to create problems for either the goats or the children.  So we agreed to extend their stay for a few more days.  I was going to do a workshop for the 4-H group the following week to introduce the children to clicker training.  Sister Mary Elizabeth would pick the goats up the day before, so Day 9 was just for visiting, not for saying good-bye.

We began at Ann’s house so they could meet Panda and see her work.  Panda is such a solid guide.  What better way is there to say clicker training works!  Apart from the fact that Panda is always amazing to watch, I thought beginning with a horse who isn’t much bigger than their goats might help them see connections and possibilities.

We followed along while Ann and Panda went for a walk around the neighborhood.  As usual it didn’t bother Panda in the slightest to have a herd of people trailing along behind her.  When we finished at Ann’s, we headed off to the barn to see the goats.

Panda and Ann guiding on sidewalk HS.JPG

Panda doing a beautiful job guiding.

At the barn I started out with a goat cuddle session.  I wanted to emphasize the importance of building a relationship.  I took a couple of chairs into the stall.  Sister Mary Elizabeth and one of the 4-H-ers went into the stall with me.  The goats slowly approached Sister Mary Elizabeth.  She was someone they knew, but they stayed well away from the teenager.  Hmm.  Time to regroup.  This wasn’t going to keep the attention of these youngsters.  It was time to show off some training.

I set up the mats as platforms in the aisle and brought P out first.  He went politely from one platform to the next.  While he was out, E taught himself a new trick.  He wanted to be with everyone, so he jumped – all four feet – up onto the automatic waterer that’s in his stall.  Who knew he could be that acrobatic!  With a little bit of wiggling he could have found a way out of the stall.  He repeated this “trick” later.  Once discovered, nothing is ever unlearned.  I quickly installed a piece of plywood over the waterer to block his access.  Goat proofing!  What a challenge.

img_2839-e-in-stall-july-2017.jpg

The goat-proofed waterer

E got his turn in the aisle.  He did a great job going from platform to platform and waiting on the platform to be clicked and reinforced.  I talked briefly about how he had been afraid at first.  I didn’t force him.  We moved further away from the security of his stall only when he showed me he was ready.  I talked about you never know what they have learned, you only know what you have presented.  But in the case of E we know what he learned about getting up on the waterer!

After the platform work, I asked Marla to show them what she’s been doing to help her horse become more comfortable with medical procedures.  She had Maggie stand on a mat.  That helped make the connection to the work I had just shown them with the goats.  Marla started Maggie out in a halter, but quickly took it off once she saw that having an audience was not a distraction.  In addition to asking Maggie to lift up each foot to be cleaned, Marla presented her with a dose syringe.  She didn’t push it into Maggie’s mouth.  Instead Maggie opened her mouth around the syringe.  Sister Mary Elizabeth remarked that for the goats giving medicine with a dose syringe was always a struggle.

Maggie also stood on the mat while Marla presented her with a dental float.  Maggie let her rasp gently across her molars  – no halter, no restraints, no tranquilizers, just calm acceptance.

The horses were making a good case for clicker training!

We finished by letting Sister Mary Elizabeth try a little targeting with one of the goats. We started as usual by having her practice with me.  When she sort of had the hang of it, I let P out.  I was intending to use E since he is easier, but P was first at the door.

He was good in spite of having to figure out the difference between handlers.  At first he was confused.  Sister Mary Elizabeth’s body language didn’t match mine.  That’s why using platforms can be so powerful.  They provide a cue that doesn’t vary from one person to the next.  As soon as P realized that Sister Mary Elizabeth just wanted him to move from platform to platform, he was in the game.  He suddenly became the teacher, leading the dance.

It was a brief introduction to clicker training, but between the horses and the goats they were showing the possibilities – from the basic handling that I had started with E and P, to Maggie’s cooperative participation in the husbandry tasks, to Panda’s advanced performance as a guide for the blind, they had all been great ambassadors for clicker training.

The Goat Palace Updates: The Education Continues

Sister Mary Elizabeth has been coming to the barn as often as she can during our arctic freeze to learn about clicker training.  During a recent visit Trixie showed us how much progress she is making by being able to participate in a food delivery lesson.

It is so the norm that once we click, we want to get the treat to our animals as fast as possible.  The quicker the animal, the more it seems we rush.  In the rush the handler ends up feeding in too close to her body.  That’s especially true with horses.

Rushing means you are being sucked into the drama of your anxious or overly excited learner, and it just encourages more mugging.  You can help calm the anxious ones, and settle the excited ones by slowing yourself down.  Being able to alter the rhythm of your movement intentionally and deliberately is a skill that takes practice.  This control over your own actions gives you more influence over the emotional state of your training partner.

Very early on the horses taught me that we need to present the food well out away from our bodies.  The mantra is: “Feed where the perfect horse would be.”  This doesn’t imply a fixed orientation.  Sometimes the perfect horse will be backing up out of your space to get the treat.  Other times he might be stepping forward, or standing still with his head in a particular orientation.

The overall idea is that you want the horse to stay far enough out of your space to keep things safe.  You don’t want to feel as though the horse is crowding in on top of you.  These goats really drove home this point.  They were good at crowding in and pushing to get at the food.  Through a series of lessons I had taught Trixie and Thanzi to back up out of my space – click.

That part was good.  The question was what happened next?  Left to their own devices they would surge forward again and press in close to get the treats.

Here another great training truth surfaces.  If you don’t notice an unwanted behavior, don’t worry about it.

It will get bigger.

Eventually it will get big enough that you will notice.  And finally it will get so big that you will want to do something about it.

A little nuzzling up against my hand could be tolerated and ignored.  At the point where the nuzzling shifted into a push I began to pay attention, and that’s when I changed my behavior.  I began to take extra time to get the treat out of my pocket.  I would fish around.  I was clearly getting the treat.  My fingers just hadn’t yet found the perfect hay stretcher pellet.   The goats waited expectantly, sometimes pushing their muzzles up against my hand.

I continued to fish around in my pocket.   They were clearly trying to puzzle out what to do.  Why not try backing?  Suddenly, like magic, my fingers found the perfect treat, and I was offering them a goody.  I had taught this through a series of steps so I was not “lying” with my click.  I was going to give them their treat, but I was building some “table manners” around the food delivery.

So now with Sister Mary Elizabeth the challenge was getting her to wait.  It’s very reinforcing to have the goats coming right up to you.  That is especially true of Trixie since she tends to be so timid, even with people she knows well.  I want them to orient to the handler, but then to step back so there is space between handler and goat.  That’s the first waiting.

The second waiting is to take your time getting the food.  If they are pushing into your hand, you can pause.  I stressed that she wouldn’t be doing this with the goats at home who were new to clicker training, but Thanzi and Trixie understood this form of treat delivery.  They knew they had to step back to get the treats.  We had gone through a teaching process to make this part of “the dance”.

I was pleased to see how resilient both goats were.  They could handle the inconsistencies.  And when Sister Mary Elizabeth waited and got the timing right, they were right.

This is one of the many things I value about clicker training.  If you show an animal that you “speak the language”, they will work with you.  It isn’t just that you’re now the one with the goodies.  When you click, and offer a treat, you are saying I understand this form of communication.  You are saying that I know you have a voice, and I am beginning to hear you.  Tell me what you have to say, and I will listen.  That’s the pact we are making with our animals when we fill our pockets with goodies and begin this journey into clicker training.  It’s a voyage of discovery, and what a voyage it is!

Happy travels everyone!

Please note: I am about to head off to the Clicker Expo, so I will not be posting again until next week. 

Also 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.

 

Happy Birthday Panda!

I’m going to take a quick break from the Goat Diaries to wish Panda a Happy Birthday.  Yesterday was her birthday.  Unbelievably she is 17 this year.  How does that happen!

Normally, I keep “family” birthdays private.  I don’t expect people to celebrate with us as we mark another year with our horses.  But so many people helped us out when Panda got sick in 2016 that I thought this was a good time for an update.  Panda is 17 this year!  She came so very close to not making it that is a real cause for celebrating.

She is doing so much better.  The diarrhea is under control – finally.  She is back in normal work as Ann’s guide.  Hooray!  Though in this brutally cold weather neither one of them has wanted to venture out.

Yesterday the temperatures had climbed to what felt like a tropical thirty degrees.  Ann took Panda out for a long and much enjoyed birthday walk.  When I visited with them afterwards, I asked Ann how Panda did.  She had been cooped up for so many days would she be a wild thing bouncy around on the end of her lead?  No, she was her usual focused, careful, eager self, making good decisions about avoiding the melting puddles that concealed ice underneath.

Back in her house I watched her retrieving her lead, one of her many favorite games.  Ann drops the lead on the floor and Panda picks it up and hands it back to her.  I had to laugh.  She is as full of play as she was when I had her in training as a weanling.  As I write that, I realize that’s not really true.  She is, if anything, even more full of play than she was when she was little.  Isn’t that a great thing to be able to write about somebody – horse or human.

Ann made a similar observation.  She said Panda becomes more like herself all the time.  I asked what she meant by that?  What does being Panda mean?

Ann should really be the one writing this, but it means she is so very confident.  She’s bold and she’s eager, and she’s comfortable in what she knows.  Ann always smiles when she talks about Panda.  I know a little about what she means.  I got a hint of it all those years ago when I had her in training.  I remember so clearly during one of our walks around the neighborhood thinking how nuanced the communication between us was becoming.  I remember thinking that when Ann has been working with Panda for a few years they will be like one of those couples who complete each other’s thoughts.  That’s definitely part of what being Panda means.  It means being the other half of a partnership that brings you great joy.

Happy Birthday Panda!

I didn’t take any birthday photos yesterday.  I should have.  But here are three favorites:

Ann Panda 3 photos scrabble, great walk, winter walk

The July Goat Diaries: Day 4 – Learning About Goats

What are you feeling?

The timing is perfect for posting this particular article.  In it I reference Dr. Joe Layng’s 2016 presentation on emotions at the Art and Science of Animal Training conference.  The organizers of that conference have just made that lecture available on the internet.  It is very much worth listening to. (https://www.artandscienceofanimaltraining.org/videos/)

Today I’m going to begin with the July Goat Diaries:

Both goats were now consistently greeting me at the door.  They were accepting and seemed to be enjoying long head rubs before we began the more structured sessions.

Seemed to be enjoying – there’s an interesting phrase.  We use so many emotional labels.  They enjoyed the session.  They were happy to see me.  How do I know what they were feeling?  The answer is I don’t.  I don’t know what a goat is feeling any more than I know what another person is feeling.

I can observe behavior and see how that correlates with what I experience.  Under these conditions, I feel happy.  When I feel happy, I present the following behaviors: I smile.  I get wrinkles at the corners of my eyes.  I laugh.  My shoulders relax.  Under similar conditions, when I see these indicator behaviors in another person, it’s a fair guess to say that he’s feeling happy.

What conditions would make a goat happy?  What does a happy goat look like?

Several years ago at the Art and Science of Animal Training conference, Joe Layng gave a great talk on emotions.  Here’s the example that stuck with me.  Suppose you’ve been in an accident, a doctor might ask, on a scale of one to ten, how much pain are you in?  What does the answer mean?  We all know people who are running for the nearest hospital if they even so much as stub their toe, while others stoically tolerate broken bones.  And that’s the point Joe was making.  The answer does not reflect some absolute answer.  We can’t know someone else’s pain.  The answer tells you what level of intervention that person is asking for.

When I first scratched the goats, I would say they tolerated the attention.  Now they were enjoying it.  My hand was doing the same action, but the response was so very different.  Now they arched their necks into my fingers.  Their ears got floppy, their eyes soft.  And when I took my hand away, what level of intervention did they ask for?  Did they move away relieved that I had stopped?  Or did they push into me asking for more?

I think I was safe in saying that they were enjoying the head scratching.  But whatever they thought of this ritual, I was finding it most reinforcing!

I used another emotional label to describe P at the start of our next training session.  He was eager.

2nd Session 11 am

P’s Session:

I let P out into the outside run.  I wanted to film this session so I had the camera and tripod with me.  P went straight to the platform.  I should have reinforced him, but I was busy setting up the camera.  Note to self – have camera set up ahead of time.  These initial offerings at the start of a session are too precious to miss.

For the most part P was very good.  He stayed on the platform – click then treat.  When I offered the target, he left the platform to come to the target – click then treat. (Figure 1.)

Goat Diaries- Day 4- P's 11 am Session - leaving platform 3 photos.png

Figure 1

He was experiencing success with both responses.  Stay on the platform – get reinforced.  Orient to the target when it’s presented – get reinforced.  All was going well, and then – conflict!  P got stuck between two choices.  What was he supposed to do!?  He wanted to go to the platform.  But I was holding out the target.

He started to leave the platform to get to the target (Fig. 2:1.) , but then he hesitated.  He looked back at the platform.  The pull was strong.  (Fig. 2: 2-3.)

Goat Diaries- Day 4- P's 11 am Session - 3 photos leaving platform.png

Figure 2

He went to the platform.  There was no click.  He turned back to me, saw the target, and leapt towards it.  When goats butt one another, they rise up on their hind legs and then curl their necks so they collide horns to horns with their sparing partner. (Figure 3.)

Goats head butting in arena.png

Figure 3

It looked as though P’s charge was going to turn into a head butt (Fig. 4: 1-4.) , but it fizzled out.  He landed in front of me with a puzzled look.  (Fig. 4: 5-6.) What to do?  He looked back at the platform. (Fig. 4: 7.) That must be the answer.  He turned away from the target and went back to the platform.  (Fig. 4: 8.)  No click.  (Fig. 4: 9.) What is a goat to do?

Goat Diaries- Day 4- P's 11 am Session - charges target 9 photos.png

SGoat Diaries- Day 4- P's 11 am Session - goes to target 5 photos.png

Figure 4

The target was still there. (Fig. 4: 10.) He left the platform and came forward to the target. Click! (Fig. 4: 11.)  He kept coming forward as I reached into my pocket. (Fig. 4: 12.)  Food delivery should support what you want.  I had been asking him to back up away from me to get his treat, but in this case I wanted him to stay forward with me. (Fig. 4: 13.)  He followed the target back to the platform.  (Fig. 4: 14.)  This time there was no conflict.  The target was directing him back to the platform.  This was an easy choice to make.

Video: Goat Diaries – Day 4 – P’s 11 am session

P does everything with so much energy!  If orienting to the target is good, running to it must be better!  His enthusiasm was beginning to create some problems.  I want the energy.  I want the enthusiasm.  I also want him to have the ability to relax and settle.  That comes from being confident in the process.  It comes from understanding how to use the information that cues are providing.  Now is a great time to stay on a platform.  Now is a great time to leave the platform to go to a target.

I don’t want P to feel conflicted.  I want him to know that it is safe to make mistakes.  And I want him to know that there are lots of way to earn reinforcement.  That’s what these early foundation lessons clarify.

The Horses have shown me that mats can help to stabilize the emotional yo-yo.  Mats have three parts to them – going to a mat, staying on a mat, and leaving a mat.  All three elements have to be in balance.  If mats equal lots of reinforcement, I don’t want my horse or goat rushing to get to the mat.  Nor do I want them refusing to leave the mat when asked.

My plan was to reinforce P a lot for just being on the platform.  We’d go from the excitement of moving from one platform to the next, to the more predictable just stand still and get clicked and reinforced.  Time will tell if that helps him gain confidence in the whole process.

The Goat Palace Journals

That’s where we were – just beginning to sort out platforms and the emotional high they created in Pellias.  Yesterday I introduced him to a fun game, one Elyan is really enjoying.  I set a large plastic storage container out at the far end of the hallway.  It’s filled with leftover wood from the construction, blocks that are too small to be really useful, but too big to throw away.  I’m being reinforced for being a pack rat. It turns out they really do have a use.  They add enough weight to the storage box to make it a stable platform for the goats to jump up on at speed.

Elyan had already shown me that he’s very clever at getting up on things.  When I get up out of my chair, he takes my place.  If he can jump up into a chair and turn around, he can certainly jump up onto a box.  So on Monday I let him run to the box, click and treat.  He thought that was the greatest game yet!  I clicked and reinforced him several times for staying on the box.  Then I went to the far end of the hallway and called him.

He jumped off the box and ran to me.  Click and treat!  I want to say he ran joyously, but I am mindful of Joe Layng’s lecture.  Who knows what he was feeling, but the speed with which he ran to me certainly filled me with delight.

I reinforced him for staying with me, then released him back to the box.  He ran down the hallway and jumped up on it.  Such fun!  What a great way to teach recalls and send outs.

Once he was on his box, I could reach my arms around him and give him a quick hug – click and treat.  He seemed to like the contact and started to press in closer to me.

I taught Panda to press her body against my leg.  This was done for her work as a guide for the blind.  When her handler is busy doing something where her focus not on Panda, for example buying something at a store check out counter, Panda will press herself against her leg.  Her handler knows exactly where Panda is.  She isn’t swinging her rear end around into the face of some small child.  She is standing exactly where she should be by her side.

I taught this behavior for a very practical reason.  I reinforced it a lot, and it became a behavior Panda loves to offer.  After almost fifteen years working as a guide, it is certainly one she offers readily.   As I was giving Elyan a quick squeeze of a hug, I thought this was a behavior he might enjoy as well.

Yesterday I introduced Pellias to the box.  He was more hesitant at first about jumping up on it.  I used a target to indicate that was what I wanted.  In true goat fashion once he had one foot on the box, the rest quickly followed.  When I called him off the box, he trotted to me.  And then he turned and raced ahead of me back to the box.  Hmm.  Was this really what I wanted?

With Elyan it seemed fine.  He’s so very good at sticking to my side, sending him out in front of me to the box didn’t seem as though it would create a problem.  But Pellias is a much stronger goat.  Did I really want him running ahead of me?  Is this something I wanted to be encouraging at this point?  I didn’t think so.  So I brought out a target.  He jumped down off the box and began to follow the target.  Click.  He stopped with me and got his treat.

I had him follow the target to the opposite end of the hallway where there was a stack of plywood mats that we had been using earlier.  He hopped up on those.  Click and treat.  We turned back to the box.  He kept his nose oriented to the target as he trotted towards the box.  I clicked.  He wasn’t expecting that.  He had been heading to the box, so he overshot past me, but instead of being pulled in by the tractor beam of the box, he turned back to me.

What a great lesson!  He had so much energy and enthusiasm.  He wanted to get to the box.  But when I clicked mid way down the hall, he stopped with me and got his treat.  And then he stayed with me as we continued towards the box.  That’s a great preparation for putting a lead on and asking him to stay with me even when there is something exciting up ahead.

This is such a fun stage in the training.  I’ve constructed the first layer of building blocks.  Now I can use them to create the next layer.

Coming Next: Goat Diaries: Day 4 – Goats and Platforms

 

Goat Diaries: Day 1 Continued – Lessons From Panda

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/

p5_TrainerAlexandraKurlandPandaWithLittleBoys AtPostOfficeDelmarNYNeilSoderstrom.jpgThese goats were not the first dog-sized herbivore I have worked with. Panda, the miniature horse I trained to be a guide for the blind, has that honor. I was quickly discovering that the principles and lessons I had used in her training were going to apply very much to these goats. They may be very different species, but their training needs were similar. The rules I set myself for Panda very much applied to the goats.

One of the primary rules was a core training principle:

You can’t ask for and expect to get something on a consistent basis unless you have gone through a teaching process to teach it to your horse.

That meant I couldn’t ask Panda for anything that I had not taught her. If I wanted her to stand still while I talked to my neighbors, I had to first teach her what I wanted her TO DO. I couldn’t expect her to just know how to be patient. And she had to learn to be very patient because people were bubbling with curiosity when they saw me walking a miniature horse around my suburban neighborhood.

Panda at curb in neighborhood.png

Panda at 10 months out for a walk around the neighborhood – fall 2001.  I am reinforcing her for stopping at the curb after crossing the street.

I also had to be consistent. I kept in mind a phrase I had learned from John Lyons many years ago: “The horse doesn’t know when it doesn’t count, so it always has to count.” Panda’s blind owner would never be able to see a curb crossing, or a root sticking up through a sidewalk. If I wanted Panda to be consistent in her guide work, I needed to be 100% consistent in her training.

These two training rules served me well when I took them to the goats.

Panda napping goats nappingSession 7: 4 pm
I took the chair back in and set it in the middle of the stall. Both goats were eager for food, so eager in fact they were practically in my lap. I decided to work on “grown-ups” to get a feel for how that would work with them.  Grown-ups is short for a lesson I refer to as “the grown-ups are talking, please don’t interrupt.”  Grown-ups means the goat (or horse) stands beside me in his own space. Ideally he is looking straight ahead so his nose is well away from my treat pockets.

Sitting as I was in a chair, I was thinking about Panda. One of the early behaviors I worked on with her was this one of having her position herself beside my chair.  In fact, my second book, “The Click That Teaches: A Step-By-Step Guide in Pictures” was written while I was teaching Panda to stand next to me while I worked on the computer.  It was the start of teaching her a base position out of which so much of her guide work evolved.

Panda guiding - great walk.JPG

Panda as a working guide

Panda is tiny. At nine months of age when her training started, she weighed about 120 pounds. I could easily have pushed her into any position I wanted, but that would have broken one of the rules I had set for her training. It’s worth repeating that my primary rule was I could not ask her for anything that I had not first introduced to her through a teaching process. If I hadn’t taught her how to stand next to my chair, I couldn’t ask her to do so and expect her to be successful.

Connected to this rule, I could not physically move her around. It was always up to Panda to move her own body in response to my request. If she was standing with her hind end swung too far out away from my chair, I could not push her back into position.

With small animals that’s so easy to do. We can push, pull, and drag them around. We can even pick them up and carry them.  Who needs training when you can do that!

With ponies that is so often why they get such awful reputations for being stubborn and for “misbehaving”.  They may not get picked up like a baby goat, but they certainly get pushed and shoved around.  They aren’t really being taught what is wanted.  While they are still too small to put up much of a fuss, they are just pushed around. It’s easy. It’s quick. It gets the job done, but it leaves behind negative fallout.

With Panda if I wanted her to move her hip over, I could put my hand on her hind end. I could indicate a direction I’d like her to move, but I had to stop at that point of contact and wait. Another wonderful phrase for the point of contact is point of attention. I would wait there for Panda to notice my hand and then make a response.

When she shifted her weight even the tiniest bit, I would take my hand away as I clicked. The click was always followed by a treat. Pushing her over would have been faster in the moment. Waiting took more focus, but the results were well worth the wait.

Panda has been working as a guide for over fourteen years.  Following these rules in the foundation of her work helped build this long-term durability in her work.

Panda walk 1.1.17  cross delaware.png

Winter 2017

I was following the same rules with the goats. They were so much smaller than Panda. E probably weighed only about thirty or forty pounds. I could easily have picked him up, moved him around any way I wanted. That would get him from point A to point B. It would be easy – this time. But the more I followed that path, the less he would want to have anything to do with me. He might approach me because I had peanuts, but the minute my pockets were empty, he’d be off. That wasn’t enough. That wasn’t the relationship I wanted to build.

P was the first one to come over to visit. He came around the right side of my chair and got lots of clicks and treats for staying by my side. E was still eating hay which made it easier to focus just on P.  When E joined us, it was harder to separate out who was getting clicked for what. We were very much where you would expect to be at this stage – eager chaos with some order beginning to appear.

I kept this session short. Better to do a little and then leave to think about what to do next next than to stay and let their eagerness turn into unwanted behaviors.

(Note: each of these sessions were only about five or six minutes total.)

Session 8: 8 pm
For their final session for the day I went in without treats and set my chair down near their hay pile. They were comfortable enough with me to continue eating. I reached out and stroked their backs. They didn’t run away but they stopped eating. Curious.

I haven’t worked with goats enough to know what – if any – stroking, scratching, rubbing they enjoy. Are they like llamas who really don’t want the contact? Or are they more like horses who enjoy a good social grooming? I scratched the base of E’s ears. He stopped eating, but he stayed.

His body was tight. He showed no outward signs of enjoyment. His lips weren’t wiggling the way a horse’s would. His eyes weren’t getting dreamy. But he was staying. I scratched some more around his ears and the back of his neck. P crowded in so I switched to him. As soon as my hand left him, E went back to eating.  As I scratched P, he also froze.   When I stopped scratching, he put his head down and began eating hay. Scratch – the eating stopped. Interesting.

I sat with them for about half and hour and then left them for the night.

Goat Diaries Day 2 Cuddle Time

Evening “cuddle” time.

Coming Next: Day 2: Quick Learners

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/

And to learn more about clicker training visit my web site: theclickercenter.com