The Goat Diaries: Day 10 – Training Happens Fast!

Training happens fast and it happens slowly.  Training happens fast.  Within every session I see changes.  At the beginning of a session, I might be able to get only the briefest of brief hesitations in grown-ups.  At the end of the session, there will be a definite pause.  At the start of the session, I may be able to ask for only a couple of steps forward on a lead.  By the end we can go five or six steps at a time.  This may not sound like very much, but when you watch an individual figuring out the pieces, the learning seems lightening fast.  The challenge is always staying that step or two ahead so you can keep moving the training along.

Training is also very slow.  That’s because the fast learning is taking place in tiny steps.  It takes time for these tiny steps to accumulate into the big steps people are used to seeing. It takes time for all the little triumphs to add up into consistent performance.

That’s certainly true when it comes to good manners around food.  I want the goats to want the treats.  I want them to be eager for them.  I don’t want to make it so hard to get to them that the goats begin to dread the sound of the click.  Incrementally over these ten days of training, I had been teaching them grown-up “table manners”.

When I first introduced the treats, it was feed, feed, feed, without making the availability of the treats contingent on any behavior.

Then the target was introduced.  Now it was touch the target, and click, I’ll reach into my pocket to get you a goody.  The goats didn’t notice these relationships at first.  The click only gradually took on meaning.  Now at day ten, when I clicked as they were racing forward to the mounting block, and they instantly spun back to me, I knew that sound had meaning. (Watch the video of their mounting block games that’s in the previous post, and you’ll see this response.

The click is a cue – an invitation.  To the goats it says: “come get your treats.”

Getting treats often included surging forward towards my pockets.  They were charming about it.  It didn’t feel at all threatening, but these were still little goats.  Would I feel the same once they matured to their full size?  So I began to add in more rules.  I actively used the food delivery to move them out of my space.

When I took P back into the arena after our wonderful play session on the mounting block, I experimented with a new rule.  I would never have asked for so much on Day 1 of his clicker training education, but my sense was he was ready for this next criterion.

When I clicked, I presented the treat where the perfect goat would be.  That often meant he had to back up to get the treat.  This much had been the consistent requirement for several days.  Now I added a new element.  Instead of moving my arm towards him to encourage the backing, I stayed still and kept my hand closed until he had moved out of my space.  Only then would I open my hand to present the treat.

The first couple of times I tried this, he was definitely confused.  He fussed at my hand.  Why was I not giving him the treat?

I was putting him into an extinction process, but the “pump was well primed”.  Earlier behaviors began to pop up.  The hottest of these behaviors was backing.  Perfect!  My hand opened, and he got his treat.  I also got a confused goat.  What was going on!  Why did moving away from the treat get him the treat?  What an upside down, inside out world!

A couple of clicks later, he was beginning to catch on.  I was pleased that I could work on this detail in this session.  Just minutes before he had been racing across the mounting block with E, but now on the lead, he walked like a gentleman, keeping a comfortable distance between us.

When I clicked, I held the back of my hand to him, and he backed up.  All the overrunning, crowding into me, and pulling like a sled dog was gone.  That doesn’t mean it couldn’t all come back in a flash, but he was learning alternatives that worked better.  Crowding didn’t get you treats.  Backing did!

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When you get to know an animal over an extended period of time, you see how solid they can become around food.  They move from this training level stage of eager anticipation, to “Grand Prix” level emotional control.  They still want the food, but they have the confidence to wait because they understand so fully how the game is played.

P was still learning.  Each time I clicked it was like Christmas morning for him – so exciting!

I wanted to give him more practice being patient so I began to take a little longer to get the treat out of my pocket.  Here’s how this unfolded: we would be walking.  I’d click.  He’d stop, but he’d end up a little forward of perfect heel position.  I’d reach promptly into my pocket.  He could see that I was getting him a treat, but instead of getting it to him as quickly as I could, now I fished around a bit in my pocket before bringing my hand out.

While I was fishing, he’d back up.  That was my cue to bring my hand out of the pocket to present the treat.

Now someone might say: aren’t you lying with your click?  You’ve always said that if you click, you treat.  Now you’re adding on all of these conditions.

The click is a cue.  It is a cue for two individuals.  It is a cue to my animal learner to interrupt whatever activity he was just engaged in and to check in with me.  My body position will then tell him what he needs to do to get his treat – stand still, come forward, back up.  I’m going to be feeding where the perfect learner would be.  Perfection depends upon the activity.

The click is also a cue for me.  When I click, I’m to interrupt what I was just doing and go into treat delivery behavior.

This is where I need to be under full stimulus control.  I don’t want any treat delivery behavior before the click, and each and every time I click I want to respond by shifting into treat delivery.

I also want to understand that reinforcement is an event not an object.  Reinforcement is so much more than ingesting a couple of peanuts.  Reinforcement is the whole process. Think about the experience of going out to dinner at a favorite restaurant.  The anticipation through the day is part of the whole process.  Looking over the menu, making the selection, talking with your friends, watching the waiter bring out the tray, seeing each person’s meal being placed before them, are all part of the experience.

A small child gets impatient and just wants his cake and ice cream NOW!  Gradually, over time, he learns patience.  He learns to enjoy the anticipation.  He understands that it is all part of the pleasure of the experience.

I used to use peppermint candies as special treats for my horses.  They came individually wrapped.  Especially in the summer, they could get very sticky.  It would take a bit to get them unwrapped.  Under saddle it was fun to feel the anticipation of my horse.  He could hear the crinkle of the wrapping.  He knew what was coming.  His favorite treat!  Waiting didn’t make him anxious.  Waiting just intensified the experience.  What evidence do I have that all this increased the value of the reinforcer?  As soon as we started up again, he would offer me something even more spectacular.  It was as if he was saying: if you thought that last bit was good, now look at what I can do!

P was in the early stages of learning about patience and the pleasures of reinforcement.  In his first clicker training session I would never have asked for so much.  It was click and get the treat to him quickly – never rushed but always quick.  That’s why I shifted from keeping my treats in my pocket to holding them in a cup.  Reaching into my pocket took too long on day one.

But now I was working with a more educated goat.  He knew a treat was definitely coming, but now he had to figure out where I was going to deliver it.  I could put more steps into the reinforcement procedure.  I could reach into my pocket.  I could fish around for the perfect treat, and I could wait until he was in the perfect position before opening my hand.  As long as he could see that I was actively involved in getting a treat, he remained eager.  The click wasn’t broken.  The connection between the cue and the reinforcement process became even stronger.  It didn’t turn into teasing and it didn’t create a frustrated animal.

So now P would walk along on a lovely slack lead, click, I’d deliver the treat out away from my body.  Then I’d look for a moment of stillness to reinforce.  I was remembering to insert some “grown-ups are talking” even if it was just for a brief second or two at this stage.

Not surprisingly, he was offering a lot of backing.  I had shown him that was a good guess, but I really didn’t want that to be the final behavior.  I wanted the backing to turn into stillness.

The challenge was getting the stillness and not a chain that included backing.  This is where the power of the marker signal really shines.  If I got my clicks in fast, I could capture being still.

I wanted to get to a consistent cue for being still.  I tried: my hand going to the edge of my vest means go into stillness.  If I could touch my hand to my vest before he moved, click, he got a treat. I did a few quick reps of this and then walked off with him following beside me on a slack lead.

The next time I stopped, he showed me that he was already beginning to notice the new cue.  He is so smart and so eager.  That makes him tremendous fun to work with.

On our way back to his stall he walked beside me on a slack lead.  A couple of days ago he was rushing ahead to get back to the stall.  It’s exciting to get back to the stall because he knows I’ll be dropping treats on the floor.  Now he was walking beside me.  He was stopping when I clicked, being polite about the treats, and then going on again with me.  Learning happens fast!

The Goat Palace: Current Training – Foot Care

It has been so cold all of January, the goats’ training has consisted of just a few quick click and treats for going to their platforms, then it was a rush to get their hay feeders filled and my gloves back on.  But even that little bit of training has paid off.  Now when I open the door and let the youngsters out, all three head straight to their designated platforms.  Even Galahad manages to stay put and wait his turn instead of pestering the other two.

The ladies also head for their platforms.  Thanzi is always eager to play.  What has been especially reinforcing for me is I can see Trixie’s confidence growing.  These have been good accomplishments, but it also left undone so many things.  This past week it warmed up slightly so I spent some time with Pellias working on foot care.  What a fascinating project this has turned into!

I have been handling their feet for a while.  I make it part of the cuddle sessions.  Can I run my hand down your leg and touch your toes?  Yes?  Great.  Instead of clicking and giving you a treat, I’ll take my hand away from your foot and scratch you in your favorite, go-into-bliss spots.

A couple days ago I asked for a bit more.  Pellias was on a platform.  I leaned down to run my hand down his leg.  Leaning down triggered leaping up.  Hmm.  Clearly a goat behavior, but not one I wanted to encourage.  However, you can’t leap up and keep your feet on the ground.  So I just had to be quicker with my agenda than he was with his.  I leaned down again.  As he started his jump, I had my hand ready.  As soon as his foot began to leave the ground, I was there.  His foot contacted my hand, click, I stood up and gave him a treat.  Repeat.  I leaned down.  He jumped up, I touched his foot, and gave him a treat.

I wish I had had the camera running.  It was so fascinating how this played out.  At first, someone watching would have been saying: are you crazy!  You’re just going to teach him to jump up on you.  Except that wasn’t what was happening.  The jumping up quickly transformed into a lift forward of his leg.

He was ready for me to change the cue.  I was on his left side.  I had been using my right hand.  Now when I leaned down, I held out my left hand first.  He lifted his foot and placed it in my waiting hand.  So much fun!  I tried swapping sides, but that got us in a muddle.  He was determined to lift his left front foot and started leaping up again.  I swapped back to his left side and let him settle back into just lifting his foot, click and treat.  That’s where the session ended.

The next day he was clearly eager to play this foot lifting game again.  When I opened the gate to let everyone out, he hung back in the pen.  He was standing on the platform I had used the day before, inviting me to come play.  So I did.  I leaned over and offered my left hand.  He immediately lifted his foot up and placed it in my hand.  He was using a pawing action.  His foot didn’t stay in my hand.  When his foot touched my hand, I clicked, gave him a treat, and offered my hand again.

Gradually, ever so incrementally, I began to look for relaxation.  Now I didn’t click as soon as his foot touched my hand.  I waited.  He would paw, try again, paw, try again, and there it was – that barely detectable lessening of muscle tension.  Click, treat, repeat.  He was getting the idea.  Lift your foot up and place it softly into my hand.  That was quite a leap from the day before!

All this is to prepare him for a trim.  That means I need him to give me both front feet.  My attempt the previous day at asking for his right front had failed.  This time I tried a different tactic.  I used what he already knew.   I asked him for “side” which means he lets me stand on his left side.  Click, treat.  Then I leaned down and offered my left hand.  He placed his left front in my waiting hand.  Click, treat.

I switched so I was standing in front of him.  “Front” – click, treat.

Then I swung around so I was on his right side.  “Off” – click, treat.

I leaned down and offered my right hand.  He picked up his right front and placed it my hand!

Did I say these goats are smart!

Okay that could have been a fluke.  But no.  When I put the request for foot lifts into a context he already knew – the platform positions, he consistently lifted the foot I was asking for.

So here’s one of my favorite training mantras: Everything is connected to everything else.

That’s especially true when you are working with smart eager goats!

Here’s a short video clip showing where we were after just a couple of sessions.  We’ve moved from the pen where I originally introduced this new behavior out into the hallway, so he is learning to generalize to new locations.

Coming Next: Goat Diaries: Day 10 Continued: Expectations

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

The Goat Diaries 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.

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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.

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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.

 

The Goat Diaries: Day 7: Repetition

Repetition

The lessons I’ve been describing may seem redundant.  If you were watching, you’d see the same things over and over again – a goat standing on a platform while I step back from him; a goat following a target to the next platform.  What I hope you would also see in all this repetition is that nothing stands still – both literally and figuratively.

When you’re working with a horse who’s on hyper drive, the mantra you want to keep repeating to yourself is “Never get mad at movement – you need it to train.”

That expression comes from John Lyons – definitely not a clicker trainer, but he’s right. Whether you’re using make-it-happen or treats, lots of movement makes it easier to shift behavior in the direction you want.

The goats were never still for very long.  I could hear it in the rat-a-tat-tat of their feet on the platforms.  So I might have been doing the same thing over and over again, but I most certainly was not getting carbon copies.  What I was getting were super fast learners.  The goats were showing me that they were figuring out this funny new game.  They were ready for me to move them to the next level.

In each session I could add a little bit more.  Now the mantra became: “The longer you stay with an exercise, the more good things you see that it gives you.”  All that repetition was adding up to increasingly consistent, desirable behavior.

The July Goat Diaries: P’s morning session.
Goat’s Climb!

I was late getting a session in because we had a hay delivery.  That took up a chunk of time putting a year’s worth of hay up in the loft.  Thankfully, I just had to watch.  The farmer who brings the hay does all the heavy lifting.

After his crew left, I took the goats out into the aisle.  I was already tired of dismantling their sleeping platform to use as components for platforms.  Instead I gathered up every plywood mat I could find.  (There were a lot of them! I had saved all the scrap wood from the original construction so we had an abundance of mats).  I stacked the mats on top of one another to create a new kind of platform for the goats.

P was first. He was super – very confident, and very consistent.  The bouncing excitement of the previous sessions had settled into calm surety.  The mantra “Don’t take score too soon” was paying off.  By being as non-reactive as I could be to his exuberant leaps into the air, he’d figured out which behaviors produced treats and which didn’t.

What to do was simple.  When cued, move from one stack of mats to the next, then stay on the stack to get clicked.

Goat Diaries day 7 P exploring panel 1.png

Goat Diaries day 7 P exploring panel 2.png

Goat Diaries day 7 P exploring panel 3.png

E was equally good.  He went quietly from mat to mat.  He was more hesitant than P.  Always the contrast between the two brothers is so interesting.

Goat diaries Day 7 E morning session panel 1.png

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Compare this to his reluctance to venture very far from the stall on the previous day, and you will see how much progress he has made.  (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2018/01/06/)  This is an important lesson for those of us who work with anxious horses.  Four elements played an important role in E’s rapid gain in confidence:

* Preparation: E understood platforms.  Having something familiar to do made exploring easier.

* Choice: E had the option of retreating back to his stall.  He had an escape route.  If you know the way back to safety is available, it’s easier to explore.

* Patience: I waited for E to be ready.  When he showed concern over moving deeper into the aisle, I let him stay on the platforms he was comfortable going to.  As always it was: “train where you can, not where you can’t.”  I hadn’t push him to go beyond what he could handle in his first session in the aisle. The result was he could handle more the next day. (See Saturday’s post for comparison.)

* Social Support: I have to add that going out into the aisle again with his brother helped him to be braver. But what I wanted was an individual who could be brave with me.  It’s great that P gave him the confidence to explore further, but would that confidence still be there when his brother wasn’t?  That’s why I’ve listed this one last.  Without the other three I might always be dependent upon the presence of another goat.   (Think how this relates to horses.  If you ride, you’ve probably encountered horses who aren’t secure unless they are in the company of other horses.)

When I opened the stall door to let E back in, P popped out instead.  Usually E will go back inside the stall regardless of what P is doing, but not this time.  He followed his brother up the aisle. So I did a little work with them as a pair.

They were still reluctant to go back to their stall, so I got a bucket of hay and lured them down the aisle.  E followed, but P got waylaid by an adventure.  He wanted to see what was on the other side of the wheel barrow that blocked access to the arena.  It proved to be an effective barrier, but I had forgotten to block off the foot of the stairs going up to the upper deck and the hay loft.  Mountains are always worth exploring!

E saw his brother vanish and turned back to find him.

“Oh, don’t go up the stairs,” I foolishly said to them, as if that was going to stop them.  By the time I got to them, P was on the middle landing with E right behind him.  I managed to get a lead on E and get him turned around.  I abandoned P to get E back in the stall.  But by the time I had E secured, P had gone all the way up onto the upper deck.  He was down by the sliding glass doors that open into the upstairs meeting room.  He was staring at his reflection.  I’m glad I got there before he decided to challenge whoever this strange goat was!

P wanted to continue exploring, but I was being a fuddy-duddy.  I put the lead on him and headed back towards the stairs.  Would what went up come down?  That was the question.

Thankfully, going down was easy.  He followed my hand as a target without any hesitation.  Clearly there’s an advantage to working with mountain goats!  Teaching Panda to go down stairs was much more of a process.

Panda going down stairs PO and museum

Once they were both safely back in their stall, I cleared away the mats so I could work on leading.  E went first.  He was hesitant about going all the way down to the end of the aisle.  We would go a couple of steps, click and treat, then a couple more.  I felt as though I had a shy child always trying to hide behind me.  He kept switching sides instead of maintaining a consistent position beside me.

I was careful not to ask him to go further than he could manage.  When he was loose, he could always retreat back to the stall.  But now the lead prevented that, so I had to be even more attentive to his emotional well-being.  This is where shaping on a point of contact really helps you out.  I could judge by E’s response to the lead just how comfortable – or not – he was.  At any point we could always turn and head back towards the security of the stall.

Goat Diaries E leads contrast.pngP was a study in contrast.  He marched boldly beside me.  When I clicked, he would swing around in front of me and thrust his nose up towards my pockets.  My response was to use the food delivery to back him out of my space.  He fussed at first, but very quickly caught on.  Moving back brought treats.

Goat Diaries day 7 P leads panel 1.png

Goat Diaries day 7 P leads panel 2.png

Goat Diaries day 7 P leads panel 3.pngGoat Diaries day 7 P leads panel 4.pngThe rest of the day was spent mowing – a never ending summer job.  I didn’t get a second session in until the end of the evening.

I did a short session in the aisle with both of them.  We worked on mats.  Again, the difference in the personalities of the two brothers was very clear.  P was bold and confident.  He marched down the aisle.  When I clicked, he was instantly focused on getting the treats.

E was much more cautious.  He was more easily distracted.  He is much softer to work with.  In many ways he is much easier.  His confidence will grow with good experiences.

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

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

Goat diaries Day 7 E study of one panel 3.pngAnn came a short while later. While she was working with her horse in the arena, I sat with the goats in their stall.  I had the door to their outside run open so they could explore out there, but mostly they wanted to stay beside my chair.

Afterwards I did a training session with both of them in the aisle.  We worked on leading. P went first.  He was such a gentleman!  It feels as though we have turned a corner, that there has been a real shift in his understanding of what to do.  He walked beside me, keeping a good orientation.  When I clicked, I had him back up to get the food.  It felt very easy.  He was understanding and anticipating what I wanted him to do.  The sled dog had disappeared!  He was leading!

Earlier in the day after I clicked, he had been consistently pushing past me to get to my pockets. I  used the food delivery to displace him back.  He had been very bold and pushy about the food.  In this session, he had that sorted.  He stayed more by my side.  When I clicked, I barely needed to displace him.  He was more and more where the perfect goat should be.

I set up a “leading loop” training pattern.  I kept him on the lead from the far end of the aisle back to the stall.  When we got to that end, I unhooked the lead and walked back to the far end of the aisle.  I would then call him and click and reinforce him as he approached me.  This gave him lots more experiences coming to me when called and having the lead hooked onto his collar than he would have gotten if I had just kept him on the lead.

Goat diaries P Day 7 Manners emerging panel 1.png

Goat diaries P Day 7 Manners emerging panel 2.png

Goat diaries P Day 7 Manners emerging panel 3.png

Goat diaries P Day 7 Manners emerging panel 4.pngGoat diaries P Day 7 Manners emerging panel 5.pngE was even better.  I felt as though I had an overgrown Maltese walking round the ring at Crufts.  What an elegant little thing he is, and so very soft.  He pulled like a freight train the day he arrived.  He might be little, but he can pull with the best of them.  Today, however, he led beautifully up and down the aisle.  I could not have been more pleased with the progress.

What a good day it had been for both of them!

When I was done with E, I let both goats have some time to explore together in the barn aisle.  To get them back to their stall I had them follow the lure of a bucket full of hay. That’s a useful management tool to have in their repertoire.  Back in their stall, they got hay and a cuddle – a good deal indeed.

The Goat Palace

This report is long enough.  I’ll wait to give an update on the current training.  I’ll just say in brief that we have had two weeks of arctic temperatures so there is not much to write about unless you want to read about barn chores at 5 am when the wind chills are around minus 20.  Brrr.  I’ll leave that to your imagination!  (Though I know a great many of you reading this don’t have to imagine it – you’re living it.  Warm weather is coming!)

Coming Next: The July Goat Diaries: Day 8

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

 

 

 

 

Goat Diaries – Day 6: Train Where You Can

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

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

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

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

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

Managing for safety is different from teaching.

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

Train where you can not where you can’t. 

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

The July Goat Diaries: E’s 9 am session

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

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

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

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

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

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

The two mantras that guides this process are:

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goat Diaries Day 6 Train where you can leading.png

Diaries Day 6 Steps Towards Leading panel 5.png

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

The Goat Palace

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

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

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

 

The Goat Diaries – Day 6: Staying Positive with Constructional Training

Constructional Training

I’m a clicker trainer. The work I do sits under the umbrella of The Click That Teaches. Those are both labels I’m very comfortable with, but for years people have said I need to give my work a different name.

“It’s so much more than just clicker training,” they say to me. They are referring to my emphasis on balance.  When we do a summing up at the end of clinics, someone will always say there is so much more to clicker training than they had ever imagined.  So perhaps it isn’t that I need a different name for my work. Perhaps I just need to help people see the depth and breadth of what clicker training can do.

In any case I have tried on many names over the years. One of my favorites is “Constructional Training”.  That comes via Dr. Jesús Rosales-Ruiz from the field of Behavior Analysis.  My translation of this term is this: Complex behaviors are created from smaller components.  When I teach these smaller components first, it becomes easy to ask for the larger, goal behavior.  So I construct complex behaviors from smaller building blocks.

I also want to construct behaviors before I use them.  If I haven’t taught the goats how to soften and yield to the contact of the lead, or how to follow a target, or how to stay by my side, then it isn’t fair game to ask them to walk beside me on a lead.  If they charge ahead of me, and I use the lead to stop them, I’m being a negatively-focused trainer.  I’m using the lead to try to stop a behavior I don’t like.

But if I’ve taught them the components, then I can ask them to back up and come forward in response to cues.  Leading becomes a dance – and in great dancing both partners respond to one another.  They listen to one another.  Both partners direct the flow.  If my partner misses a cue and rushes ahead of me, I can redirect him into another direction.  I’m asking for a known behavior which my partner has learned leads to positive reinforcement.  Constructional training takes me to the dance.  And the dance helps me be a more positive partner for my animal learner.

All of this sounds very grand.  But really it is very simple.  With the goats I was building the components I would need for us to be successful venturing out into the larger spaces of the barn aisle, the arena, and eventually the great outdoors.  Leading was high on the priority list.  These goats would be going home in just a few days, back to the children who were leasing them.  They would be going to the county fair, and hopefully they would know how to lead and not be one of the goats who was dragging his child across the show ring (or being dragged by the child).

We’ve reached Day 6 of their stay with me.  In this report I’ll be illustrating what it means to be a constructional trainer.  In the previous posts I described how I introduced both goats to platforms and to the beginning of leading.  At the start of Day 6 I continued with Pellias’ platform training.

The July Goat Diaries Day 6 7/9/17 Sunday

9 am session:  I was learning from previous experience.  I made sure to give the goats plenty of time for their breakfast before asking them to concentrate on training.  By the time I was ready to play, they were lying down side by side having a nap. I scattered some hay stretcher pellets on the floor as a distraction while I went outside to set up the platforms.

Goats lying down by bucket.png

For P I set out both platforms and the ground poles as before, but the platforms were closer together so I could film. P was ready to play, and he did great.  I could move several steps away, and he stayed put.  I loved the consistency P was beginning to show.  Instead of stretching out to try to get to my treats, he was standing in great balance.

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 1

When I rattled the target, he changed platforms readily.  He had lots of energy which he was learning to control. I liked seeing him move at speed to the next platform, and even more I liked seeing him transform that energy into an ability to stand still on the mat.

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 2.png

Back and forth between the platforms, I was seeing lots of energy.

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 4.png

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 5.png

He was such fun to watch as he leapt into the air to bounce from one mat to another.

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 6.png

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 7.png

Diaries Day 6 Platform Progress with P -panel 8.png

A couple of times he missed or came off the platform. I waited, and he turned away from me and landed on the platform – excellent. It seems as though he is really getting the game.

The Goat Palace Journal Dec 23

That initial introduction to the platform has evolved into what I am working on now.  I am using Michele Pouliot’s platform training as my model.  I introduced Michele in a previous post.  In her position of the Director of Research and Development at Guide Dogs for the Blind, she transformed their training program.  Now all the dogs at that school learn their guide work via clicker training.  In her free time Michele’s training hobby is canine musical freestyle.

Michele is a creative, inventive trainer.  Lots of us use mats and platforms in our training.  Michele took the idea of using platforms and developed it into a fabulous process for teaching the body orientation and cued positions she wants for freestyle.  With the horses I make extensive use of multiple mats, but I have used them in a very different way from Michele’s work.  With the goats I wanted to explore more directly Michele’s use of platforms.

For step by step instructions for platform training for dogs I’ll direct you to her DVD on platform training which you can find on her web site: MichelePouliot.com

One of the key ingredients of her approach is you want an animal that is magnitized to the platform.  If your dog, goat or guinea pig sees a platform, he’s on it.  Forget trying to pick up a platform to move it.  Your animal will already be on it.  I definitely had that!  In fact I had it with all four goats.  The lessons I’ve described in previous posts had created super magnitized mats and super eager-to-play goats.

So in July you could say I began the initial construction of platform behavior.  Now I was continuing that process.  Those early lessons let me construct this current layer.  What I’m building now will become the components for the next project, and on it goes.

So what am I doing?  Here’s my set up for Pellias and Elyan: at the near end of the hallway I set out two the narrow platforms side by side.  In the middle I have the a single platform next to which I hang a stationary target.  Actually this target is not all that stationary since it is hung from the rafters so it swings after they touch it.  Pellias’ hanging target is a giant kong toy.  Elyan’s is another dog toy, a dumbell with tennis balls at either end.  The storage box is at the far end of the hallway, so I have three stations set up.

I’ve been working them individually in this lesson.  Normally it is Pellias who goes first.  He goes immediately to one of the narrow platforms with a very expectant air of I’m here!  Let’s play.  And that’s exactly what we do.  We play.

I have four positions that we’re working on:

“Front” – I stand directly in front of Pellias as he stands all four feet on the platform.

“Side” – I stand by his left side.

“Off” – This one will only make sense to horse people.  I stand on by his right side.  In the horse world that’s referred to as the off side.  Left and right would confuse me, but my brain can keep track of the off side so that’s what I’m using.

“Behind” – I stand in front of Pellias but with my back turned to him.

I also want “Ahead”, but I will probably need to use a target to get this one.

I generally begin with “Front”.  I say “front” as I stand in the position.  Click, treat. Repeat.  Then I shift to the other mat.  “Front” – Pellias shifts with me.  Click, treat.  From here I can shift into other positions.  I can step to either side of him.  As I do, I identify the position.  Or I might step to the opposite end of one of the mats so Pellias has to spin 180 degrees around to face me.

He’s gotten very good at following me and shifting position as needed and also staying put and letting me change position around him.  The idea is I will eventually be able to fade out the mats, and he will move into the cued orientations.  Time will tell what dots he connects.  For now it is keeping us both well entertained.

When we have done a good unit on these two platforms, I move to the middle platform and Pellias follows.  I don’t want to get him stuck and only able to work on the two platforms so it’s important to have these multiple stations.  On the middle platform he gets reinforced for touching the hanging target.

From the middle platform we head to the box.  On the box I reinforce him for body contact.  Then it’s back to the middle platform, and then on to the two narrow platforms.

With Elyan I am doing a similar lesson.  The difference between the two is Elyan is much wigglier in a younger brother sort of way.  I have no idea which one is the younger twin, but the difference in actual age is measured in minutes.  The difference in emotional age is much greater.  Elyan is the little brother bouncing up and down excited that Santa is coming.  Pellias is the older, wiser brother who pretends he’s not excited that Christmas is here.  I find them both charming.

So I am busy constructing behavior.  With horses I have built component behaviors that are similar to the ones I am teaching the goats, but not in this way.  I am very much looking forward to seeing how this unfolds.  It is fun working with an animal that not only is the size of a dog, but in so many ways moves like a dog.  That means I can more directly explore some of these techniques that canine clicker trainers have developed.  It is great fun to take someone’s good work and then to see what your own learners do with it.  And then it will be interesting what I take back to the horses.

Happy New Year Everyone!  May you construct great things from the gifts your animal friends give you.

Coming Next: Train Where You Can

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.

Goat Diaries Day 5 – E Leads the Way

This is going to be a fairly long post because at long last we have come to leading.  We lead many of our animals, horses, dogs, even cats and rabbits.  Always the question is what has the animal learned?  Has he simply given in to avoid being dragged?  Or have we worked in a fair and systematic way to teach him how to respond to the tactile information a lead presents?

E in particular is a tiny animal.  I could so easily MAKE him follow me on a lead.  Making isn’t teaching. Too many of our animals – both small and large – learn that they MUST.  At it’s core, the lead communicates do-it-or-else.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  I am hoping that as I describe the teaching process with these small animals, it will help people understand how leads can be used in a very clicker-compatible way with our horses.

Lots of Roads

There is always more than one way to teach every behavior.  That’s definitely the theme both of what I’m writing about today and what I’m working on with the goats.  This is good news because it means you can very much tailor your training to the individual needs of your learner, to the constraints of your training environment, to your own personal ethics, to your training skills and physical abilities, and to the ways in which a particular behavior is going to be used in the future.  The beauty of clicker training is it is wonderfully creative and flexible.

That’s also why we sometimes get “camps”, with each group convinced that they have the “best”, “right”, “only” way to train.  Sigh.  I want to understand and be good at using lots of different training strategies.

In clinics we tend to focus a lot of our time on learning good rope handling skills.  There are many reasons for this.  Personally, I like work in-hand.  I enjoy the connection, the communication, the lightness of feel that you experience via a lead rope.  Liberty work, riding, ground work, they all connect through an understanding of shaping via a lead.  I love using targets and freeshaping.  That kind of training is loads of fun, but the tactile sensation of a horse connecting with you via a light lead is a delight.

Rope handling is also the hardest of all the training techniques to get right.  It’s so much easier to use a target.  You can’t pull, push, or drag an animal around on a target.  (That doesn’t mean you can’t get an animal into some very contorted positions using targeting.  You just can’t drag him into them.)

The challenge with a lead is to slide to a point of contact and then to wait for the animal to respond by moving his own body.  That takes practice, focus, and attention to details.  And for many it also means changing some old habits.  So in clinics the spotlight is often turned towards rope handling. That’s not because other teaching strategies such as targeting aren’t equally valid, but because rope handling is the one that gains the most from direct coaching.

Being Creative
I recognize that there are many ways to train every behavior.  We have broad categories of teaching strategies, and then within each of those we have so many different training options.  Look at how many different ways I can use something as basic as a target to teach the same behavior.  How creative and inventive can you be?  One of the most creative trainers that I’ve had the privilege to watch is Kay Laurence (learningaboutdogs.com).  With Thanzi and Trixie my current version of being creative is to explore (and probably totally corrupt) her version of using a target stick with a cup on the end.  I described the beginnings of that training in the previous post.

Another very creative trainer is Michele Pouliot.  Michele is well known both in the world of guide dog training and canine musical freestyle.  As the Director of Research and Development at Guide Dogs for the Blind, (the largest school for guide dogs in the US), Michele was able to convert their entire training program to clicker training.  She’s now consulting widely helping other schools transition their programs to clicker training. Talk about training skill! It is one thing to train an animal.  It is something else again to change the entire training culture within an organization.

Michele’s most recent training hobby has been canine musical freestyle.  That’s choreographed dance routines with your dog.  As a member of the Clicker Expo faculty, she has shared her technique of using platforms to teach basic positioning.  It’s a very clever use of environmental prompts.

So with the goats I am making use of all of these techniques.  In July I re-introduced the lead via shaping on a point of contact (my work).  Now that I have the luxury of more time to experiment, I am using Kay’s targeting techniques with Thanzi and Trixie, and Michele’s platform training with Elyan and Pellias.  No technique is more “right” than the others.  It is just fun to explore different ways of teaching.  Every method will produce it’s own good results and it’s own wonderful surprises.  And the more ways I present an idea, the stronger it becomes.

The July Goat Diaries

E’s morning Session

We warmed up with a review of what E already knows.  I had two platforms set up in his stall.  I worked on having him stay on a platform while I stepped back away from him.   Click and treat.  I didn’t want him to get stuck on a platform so after a few clicks and treats on one platform, I used my target to move him to the other platform.  E was his usual sweet self.  I was setting the stage for leading, putting into repertoire the components that would make leading easier for him to learn.

E learning to lead Day 5 platforms panel 4 photos .png

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Part way through his session, I put one of the platforms away and put a lead on him for the first time.  E ignored the presence of the lead and went straight to the platform.  That’s not a surprise since that was what we had just been doing.

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

That’s a good training mantra to follow.  I didn’t want to create a conflict between the lead and the platform, so I let the lead go slack as he headed to the platform.  I reinforced him, as before, for staying on the platform.  Now it was time to step down off the platform.

He was stuck.  Following the lead didn’t make sense.  I added in the target, but he was still stuck.

Okay, that was a trial balloon.  The platform wasn’t going to help me with leading.  It was just going to overshadow the prompts from the lead and create confusion.  I needed to think about how best to proceed, so I ended the session.

Leading

In our next session I didn’t set up any platforms.  I wanted E to be able to focus on the information coming from the lead.  It was an advantage that we were working in a small space.  There was nowhere that E particularly wanted to go.  The lead could become what I wanted it to be – a communication tool not a restraint device.

E is tiny.  It would be very easy to drag him with the lead.  That’s not what I wanted.  With the horses I refer to the way in which I use pressure and release of pressure as “shaping on a point of contact”.  I take the slack out of the lead.  That’s my signal that I want something to change.  If E’s feet stick, my rule is I can’t pull him or make the pressure more intense to scare him into moving.  Instead I wait for him to move his own body.  When he shifts in the direction I want, click, I release the lead, and I reinforce him with a treat.

Initially when he moves in response to the lead, I only ask him to go a step or two before I click and treat. I want us both to be successful so I’m only looking for little steps in the right direction. I know these small steps will accumulate fast.

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We ended the session with a back scratch. I let him go out to the outside run, and let P in for a leading session.

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A great end to a great session on leading.

P’s Leading Session

E is so soft.  He readily moves when I move so teaching leading flows easily from that.  P also follows me, but he’s a much stronger goat.  Both goats came to me with a history of begin led.  My understanding was leads were introduced when the goats were small enough to handle.  Typically the goats resist, fight the constraint of the lead and then finally give in and follow the pull of the lead.  I knew both goats could pull like freight trains so it was not a given that P was just going to follow the suggestions I was offering from the lead.

I needed to be attentive to this.  If he didn’t come with me, I needed to pause as soon as I felt the slack going out of the lead.  This is where I would wait.  I’m shaping on a point of contact.   I don’t want to add more pressure to drag him forward.  That’s something people tend to do with any animal they have on a lead whether it is something small like a goat (or dog), or large like a horse.  We pull.  And when the animal digs in it’s heels, we add even more pressure until the animal complies.

The learning here for the animal is to move or be dragged.  After a while a handler can feel very kind and gentle because now you just begin to move off and the animal follows.  But trace the history of this response back to the way it was originally taught, and what you’ll see is the escalating pressure.  This animal appears to be soft, but really he has just agreed to be dragged.  The threat is always there.  If he doesn’t follow the next time, the escalating pressure will return.

This is NOT what I am teaching.  I begin to walk off.  If my learner follows, great.  We can continue on – click and treat.  But if he doesn’t respond to the lead cue, I pause.  It’s as though we’re in a freeze frame of a video.

I always feel as though I am in a film strip where someone has just stopped the projector.  I wait.  I’m not passive.  The intent is clear, but I don’t escalate.  I wait for my learner to move his own body.  That’s what distinguishes shaping on a point of contact from molding.  In molding the handler moves the learner’s body.  The animal learns to comply and follows rather than being dragged forward.

In shaping on a point of contact the animal moves his own body in response to cues from the lead.  This can seem like semantics.  In both you are using a lead.  You are taking the slack out, so there’s pressure either way, but figuring out the puzzle and moving your own body is a completely different kind of puzzle solving compared with just giving in to an increase of pressure.  It produces a very different outcome both emotionally and physically.

Emotionally it creates confident puzzle solvers who WANT to participate.  They aren’t looking for a way out of the “game”.  They want to keep playing.  And physically, it produces lighter, better balanced steps.  You can hear the difference when you listen to animals that have been taught via escalating pressure versus shaping on a point of contact.

As soon as my learner finds the direction I want and puts slack back into the lead, click, he gets reinforced.  This is such an important point.  I want the animals I work with to be comfortable with the lead.  I don’t want them to fear it.  Instead I want the lead to be a predictor of good things.

P’s initial response to having a lead attached told me that was not how he thought about leads.  We were starting out in a training hole of past history which meant I had to be all the more careful in how I handled the lead.

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I’m showing the following two photos as a teaching aid.  It’s a case of learning from example, non-example. I don’t mean to pick on the handler’s in these photos.  I could just as easily have taken pictures of the dogs being walked in my neighborhood, or young horses learning how to lead.  We are very good at adding pressure.  In the case of goats and other farm animal this is just standard livestock handling.  It needs to be expedient.  When you are managing a lot of animals, you don’t have time to teach the niceties of leading.  You just need to get the animals moved.  With clicker training we can add another criterion  to this process.  We can move them thoughtfully.  We can move them with kindness.

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If you were on the animal’s end of the lead, it’s pretty obvious which style of leading you’d want your handler to be using.  Molding is easy which is why it is so prevalent.  Shaping on a point of contact takes much more deliberate focus.

One of the best ways to appreciate shaping on a point of contact is to experience it from the animal’s end of the lead.  Whether you work with small animals such as these goats or dogs, or big animals such as horses, you will appreciate the difference.

Hold the snap end of the lead while a friend asks you to take a step forward or back.  Try out the different versions.  Don’t step forward as she walks off, but have her continue to walk.  What does it feel like to be dragged?  How balanced are you?

Now have her wait on a point of contact.  When you give to the lead  and step forward, what does that feel like?  If you’ve never handled a lead in this way, the differences may not yet be very clear, but once you begin to understand how to use a lead in this way, there’s no going back.  You will always be looking for the conversation that shaping on a point of contact creates.

Shaping on a point of contact is such an important concept to understand I’ll let it stand on it’s own in this post.  I’ll wait to catch you up with the fun sessions I’ve been having over the last couple of days with the goats.

Please Note: If you want to learn more about rope handling and shaping on a point of contact, please refer to my books, DVDs and on-line course, or come join me at a clinic.  Visit theclickercenter.com for more information.  I’ll also be teaching a lab on rope handling at this year’s Clicker Expos.

Coming next: Don’t Take Score Too Soon

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Remember to share the link to the Goat Diaries with your friends.

 

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.

Goat Diaries Day 4 – “I’m Hungry!”

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/   Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July.  The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period.  In November these two goats, plus three others returned.  They will be with me through the winter.  The “Goat Palace” reports track their training.  I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.

The July Goat Diaries: “I’m Hungry!”

Are you really a positive trainer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

E’s 5 pm session

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

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

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

7 pm session

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

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E is enjoying having his head scratched.

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

The Goat Palace – Where We Are Today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming next in the July Goat Diaries – Day 5

And speaking of sharing . . .

Goat Diaries Xmas banner  Single photo.pngWe’re in the midst of the Holiday Season.  If need a thank you gift for your horse sitter, a stocking stuffer for your riding partners, a grab bag present for your animal loving friends, here’s a thought.  Share the links to the Goat Diaries.