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: 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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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.)

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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.)

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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.)

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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?

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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

 

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.  (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/12/01/)  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.

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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.