Goat Diaries Day 12 Last Day

I started sharing the July Goat Diaries on October 2, 2017.  I knew in the two weeks that the goats were with me they had generated enough material to fill a book, but I really didn’t think they had also generated enough posts to fill five months!  But here finally I am at the last day of the July Goat Diaries.  I certainly learned a lot.  One of the main things I learned was how entertaining goats are!

When I started this project, my goal was a simple one.  I wanted to get to know goats a little better, to see if they would make a good addition to the barn.  My training goals for the goats were also simple.  I wanted to introduce them to clicker training and to get the basics stabilized enough that they would not frustrate or be frustrated by novice clicker trainers.

I had started with two timid goats who wanted nothing to do with me.  They spent their first evening in the barn trying to stay as far away from me as possible.  I had observed them, and they had observed me.  The following morning the peanuts arrived and greed took over.  They forgot about being afraid and tried instead to raid my pockets.  The clicker training was under way!

Mid-way through their stay I was wishing I had more time.  They were delightful.  They were charming.  They were enthusiastic learners.  But they were oh so very were greedy for treats.  Stable, polite manners seemed like a very distant goal.

I was feeling greedy myself – for more training time.  On this their last day with me I wanted to squeeze in a couple of extra sessions before they were collected in the afternoon.  I decided for these sessions to experiment with putting platforms out in the arena.  I began with P.  As we entered, he veered off towards the mounting block.  I unclipped his lead and walked beside him as he ran across the mounting block.  At the far end he jumped down.  I backed up a few feet.  As he followed me, I clicked and reinforced him.  Then I directed him towards one of the platforms.

We went from platform to platform then back to the mounting block.  It was fun to engage with him in some goat play.  As he jumped off the mounting block, I turned, and he trotted with me all the way to the first platform.  There are all kinds of fun ways we could build on this.

Goats day 12 our playground fig 1-7

Goat Diaries Joy of being a goat 2.png

Goat Diaries Joy of being a goat 3.png

Things changed dramatically when I put P on a lead.  Everything would have been fine if I had simply gone with him as he forged ahead to the next platform.  But I didn’t.

With horses mats let us work on two sides of the same coin.  At first, the horse is reluctant to step on an unfamiliar surface.  He’s right to be cautious.  Avoiding holes is how you keep from breaking a leg.

So the first half of the mat lesson is developing the horse’s confidence and comfort level around mats.  Stepping on mats is a good thing.  It produces lots of goodies.

The other side of that lesson is dealing with the mat once it has become a tractor beam.  Horses become eager to go to mats.  That’s where you get lots of goodies.  So instead of hanging back and avoiding the mat, now your horse is dragging you to them.  You’re dealing with the same kind of I-want-to-go-somewhere emotions, the same pull that you encounter when you take him out to his paddock or you turn for home out on the trail.  He doesn’t want to wait for you.  He’s in a hurry!

Except heading for the pasture gate or for home after a long ride generates even more excitement than a mat.  So the mats provide a way of having this conversation but at an emotional level you can both handle.  With P I was now having that conversation.  “What do you mean I can’t just run to the mat!?”

The first time I redirected him from the mat, he handled it okay, but in the middle of the lesson things disintegrated.  He reared up and spun around, bumping into me in the process.  I felt as though the mats had turned into Borg ships from Star Trek – Resistance is Futile.

In my neighborhood I can watch lots of excited dogs behaving just like this.  It’s one thing to manage this when the animal is the size of a dog.  I was thinking what this behavior would look like in a horse.  Standing up your hind legs is not a behavior I want to encourage, no matter the size.

I used the lead to redirect him and just rode out the wave of energy.  “I know you want to go to the mat, but that’s not what we’re doing right now.”

The Sister had described to me how they introduce the lead to the goats.  They put the lead on the young goats and let them work out the restriction of the lead.  There’s no step by step progression of lessons, so this twirling, leaping, rearing behavior that I was getting was very much in P’s repertoire.

Once all four feet were back on the ground, I used the mat to help me teach him how to stay with me instead of pulling ahead.  We walked in the general direction of a mat, but I asked him to keep going past it.  When he turned in my direction and put slack back in the lead, click, I reinforced him.  I then added another layer of “yes! – aren’t you clever!” by letting him go to the next mat.  Click and treat.

Note in Figures 2-3 in the series of photos below it might look as though I am dragging him away from the mat.  If that’s what your used to seeing, that’s how your eye will translate this.  But actually, as soon as the slack goes out of the lead, I am waiting for P.  I don’t keep walking.  Instead I wait for him to turn back to me. Click and treat.

Goat diaries day 12 tractor beams 2.png

Goats day 12 Pellias 5-9

The value of mats is they begin to have this magnetic draw.  I want P to be eager to go to them.  But that draw can mean the sight of a mat overrides all other cues.  I wanted to teach P how to stay with me so we could walk together to the mats.

Goat diaries day 12 magnetic draw of mats 1.png

 

Goat diaries day 12 magnetic draw of mats 2.png

Goats day 12 P panels 9-13

Goats Day 12 Fig 14-19 with Pellias

P began to figure it out.  Now we could walk past a mat without it dragging him into it’s magnetic orbit.  When I released him to a mat, we could go to it together with slack in the lead.  I ended the session at that point.  The last day of training didn’t really feel like the time to be opening a whole new chapter.

E’s Session with the mats

Now it was E’s turn.  As usual, he was completely different from his brother.  There were times when he spotted a mat and started to head there without me.  Instead of going with him, I changed course.  The lead would go tight.  I’d pause, waiting for E’s next move. He’d redirect back to me.  There was no leaping about as there had been with his brother.

To picture what he was like with the mats think eager dog who wants to greet another dog or say hello to a person.  He was all happy wiggle.  When he turned back to me, click he got a treat.

All the work we had done with the backing was paying off.  If he started to surge past me to get to a mat, I would stop.  The answer was sitting right there, fully primed, ready to open at the top of his rolodex.  All he had to do was back up and we were right back together.

Goat diaries Day 12 e encounters mats 1.png

More good leading:

Goat diaries Day 12 e encounters mats 2.png

Once E was “parked” on a mat, I focused on grown-ups.  When we left the mat, he let me redirect him with the lead.  I was thinking what a pleasure it would be to walk him round my neighborhood at home.  I’m not sure what the dogs would think, but I would certainly have the most elegant of companions on the end of my lead!

Goat diaries Day 12 e encounters mats 3.png

The importance of Shaping on a Point of Contact:

Goat diaries Day 12 e encounters mats 4.png

E makes choices:

Goat diaries Day 12 e encounters mats 5.png

Goat diaries Day 12 e encounters mats 6.png

Because it was their last day at the barn, I wanted to get in as much training time as possible.  So I brought P back in after E’s session.  Just a half hour earlier he had struggled to go past a mat.  Their magnetic attraction was very evident.  We had to weather the storm of an extinction burst as he tried to get to the mats.  He had been like a fish on the end of a line, rearing, spinning, trying everything he could think of to get to a mat.  None of it had worked.  Landing back on the ground, moving away from the mat, that had earned a click and a treat.

This is where it is so important to stay on a point of contact and not add pressure.  If I add make-it-happen into the mix, I run a very high risk of poisoning the process.  Yes, absolutely, I could have dragged him away.  He’s a small goat, and I’m used to handling much larger animals.  I could have punished the rearing.  I could have forced him to follow me.  He would have learned his lesson, and I would also have broken everything I was trying to create with these goats.

Instead I stayed on the point of contact, moving with him, not against him.  This is very much like holding onto a squirming cat.  You don’t try to confine the cat, you simply keep moving with it, redirecting it as it tries to wiggle out of your arms.

There is always a chance that this lesson was too much.  Remember the training mantra: you never know what you have taught.  You only know what you have presented.

When I brought P back out for this second session, he showed me what he was learning by walking with me past the mats.  If a mat started to draw him in, I could easily redirect him.  He was learning that there are many ways to get treats.  Going to mats was a bonus, but going away from mats was also good.  Hurray!

P’s late morning session

I did another round of training in the late morning.  I thought I would make things easier if I put just one tempting mat out.

This lesson is all about the now/not now nature of cues.  It is learning that the lead has priority over other cues.  This is what I want him to learn: The mat may be sitting out in the middle of the arena, but until I release you to it, I want you to just ignore it.

When P started to surge towards the mat, I would say “wait” as the slack went out of the lead.  That’s a useful verbal cue for an animal to understand.  The meaning evolves with usage.  P very promptly changed direction and came back to me.  Click and treat.

I began to tack back and forth past the mat.  He got reinforced for ignoring it.  With the horses I can use the draw of the mat as a preliminary step towards teaching them to leave something they want, such as yummy spring grass.  It is much better to begin this lesson in the safety of a familiar paddock than out in a complex environment that’s full of distractions.

Dragging me to grass, to other horses, back to the barn, these all have similar emotional roots, just different levels of intensity.  I would much rather begin with the mats.  The draw they have is one I’ve created, and it is nothing like the draw another horse or a field of fresh grass can have.

I begin the discussion with mats.  My horse can learn to manage his emotions as I show him that there are alternatives that work just as well.  Going to the mat earns treats, but so does walking past the mat.

When they arrived, the goats had sled-dogged their way into the barn. I knew they could pull!  Now P was learning to lead even past something he very much wanted to get to. Click and treat.

E’s session:

Goat Diaries Day 12 – If Goats could purr . . .

E’s last session in the arena was a lot of cuddling, and a little bit of leading.  If goat’s could purr, that’s what he would have been doing.

Goats day 12 if goats could purr fig 1-2

Goats day 12 if goats could purr fig 3 -8

I took E back to his stall, finished my barn chores and then went in to sit with them for for another round of goat “purrs”.

Their ride would be collecting them in a few minutes.  I decided on one last adventure.  I put the leads on both goats and took them outside for the first time since their arrival.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to be trying to manage two sled dogs going in opposite directions, but they were perfect.  All that work on basic training was paying off.  I’m sure to many all this caution where I spent so much time first in their stall and then in the barn aisle must have seemed silly.  These are goats!  Just get on with it.

But I’ve seen what “just getting on with it” means for both horses, and dogs.  I’ve watched enough dogs pulling against their leads to know that just getting on with it isn’t my idea of a fun walk.  When the goats arrived, they showed me they could pull as hard as any dog.  Now they were keeping a soft feel in the line.  Because I had taken my time in the beginning, we could all three enjoy a walk together now.

Trailer Loading – Goat Style
Sister Mary Elizabeth arrived in her pickup truck.  When the goats first came, my question had been how do you get them out of the back of a pick up? Now I had the reverse question.  How do you get them in?  E was small enough to lift up, so that was easy.  I tossed some treats on the floor of the pick up and showed P a target.  He jumped right up onto the tailgate.  Easy!  I wish all horses were as easy to load.

And then they were off.  My two weeks of goat training were drawing to a close.  There was just one more piece to describe and that’s graduation day.

Graduation Day!
That’s how I think of the following three days.  I drove up to the convent to give a clicker training workshop to the 4-H group that the Sister runs.

We had a great set up for introducing goats and children to clicker training.  The goats were in pens made from metal livestock panels.  We could begin with protective contact, introducing the goats to targeting with the children staying on the outside of the panels.

Most of the children had brought their own goats, so they already had relationships well established.  Even so, the panels were a great help.  We started all of the goats out with protective contact.  The barrier helped explain the “rules” of the game to both the goats and the children.  Touch the target and click – treats appear.  The panels stream-lined the process.

E and P showed what they had been learning.  P came in first and was a super star.  I set out two wooden platforms and showed the children how he would follow the target from one platform to the next.  Some of the children were sitting up on top of the panels.  P never even so much as glanced at them.  His focus was entirely with me, inside the pen.

With E I used a different approach.  I put him on a lead and had five of the children come into the pen with us.  Each child had a target stick.  One by one they held their target out for E to orient to.  He was very cautious at first.  From his perspective the children must have looked very predatory leaning towards him with their outstretched sticks.  But he did reach his nose out to touch the target, click, treat, on to the next child.  He caught on and began to move with much more confidence from target to target.

We did the same game with P.  He was much more confident.  It was good for him to move from target to target.  It’s a great way to generalize targeting to many different objects.

Both goats were great.  They led beautifully, took their treats politely, oriented to the target, worked for other people.  It was truly graduation day for them.

My own special treat was leading them down from the upper barn where most of the herd was housed.  It was cooler up there.  There was more of a breeze and the goats could shelter in the barn from the sun.  We’d tried the day before keeping all the goats down below where we were working, but it was just too hot for them.   On the second day only the goats we were going to be using were brought down to our work area.  I went up with the Sister to bring E and P down.  We got them through the gates of the upper pasture and into a fenced lane way.  The goats followed me one on each side, just as they had at the barn.  When an animal chooses to be with you that is indeed a great honor.

The goats were fun visitors. I enjoyed having them in the barn.  The training I did with them was just the beginning steps.  It was nothing unusual or fancy.  It was just clicker training basics, the same basics I would be using with a new horse. But basics are never boring or ordinary.

Always it is a study of one. And in that study of one, you discover the individual.

What do you do?
On forms that ask for your occupation I am never sure what to say.  I’m a writer, a teacher, a business owner.  For convenience I often say I’m a horse trainer, but really that is the least accurate description of them all.  I never really think of myself as a horse trainer.  To me that title refers to people who train other people’s horses for a living.

Very early on I tried having people send me their horses to train.  I hated it.  I felt as though I was running an assembly line.  It was get this horse worked and then move on to the next so I could get everyone done.  I barely had time left in the day for my own horses, and it began to feel as though they were also part of the assembly line.  The horses I had in training left my care knowing a lot more than when they came, but I didn’t enjoy it.

Training for me is about love.  I open my heart to each animal I work with.  When I sat with the goats, it wasn’t about training them to perform a particular task.  It was about making a connection with them.

Perhaps this is why far too often professional training can be so hard on horses.  The trainers certainly love horses.  They love the talent a particular horse shows.  But, do they love the individual?  Do they have time for that?  After so many horses have passed in and out of their barns, do they have the heart space for it?  Do they thank them, appreciate them, love them, each time they see some little breakthrough of understanding?

That’s what a marker signal lets us do.  Each time I click, I am celebrating the success of my learner.  I am building a relationship – a history of reinforcement.  That matters to me.  It is why I do not have a barn filled to the rafters with animals.  It is why I am a teacher not a trainer.  I want to have the time with each individual to make it a study of one.  That is what I share not by training horses, but by teaching the people who love them.  Together we are on a voyage of discovery.

It would have been fun to have had the goats stay a little longer.  Their two weeks of intensive training laid the ground work for so many grand adventures yet to come.  The goats were clearly eager learners.  Their leading skills meant we could have gone for walks around the property together.  I could have set up obstacle courses for them and taught them about agility.  As clever as they were, I could have taught them match to sample, color discrimination, counting and other forms of concept training. Mostly, I would just have enjoyed their company.  Because at the end of the day, that is what training lets us do – enjoy one another.

Instead they were going back to the children who love them.  They will be taking back with them the gift of clicker training.  Hopefully, it is a gift the children will be able to open.

The Goat Palace – Update

As you know the goats left in July, but came back to spend the winter.  So while this marks the end of the July Goat Diaries, it does not mark the end of my goat experiences.  In fact Trixie is due to give birth in just a few days so I suspect there will be many more goat reports once we have baby goats in the barn.

I have some other exciting news to share, but this has been a long report so I will wait for another day to tell you about my next great adventure.

 

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

 

 

 

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

The July Goat Diaries

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

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

You can never do one thing.

These both work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goat diaries day 10 making friends panel 1.png

Goat diaries day 10 making friends panel 2.png

Goat diaries day 10 making friends panel 3.png

Goat diaries day 10 making friends panel 4.png

Goat diaries day 10 making friends panel 5.png

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

The Goat Palace – Current Training

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Goat Diaries Day 8

The July Goat Diaries Day 8

This looks like a long post, but it’s loaded with photos – so lots to look at, less to read.

These goat diaries began by talking about relationships. In June when Sister Mary Elizabeth offered to let me have a couple of her goats for two weeks, I didn’t ask any questions.  I didn’t ask how old they would be, or how much handling they had had.  All I knew was I was getting two goats.

They goats arrived – two brothers – yearlings who had had considerable handling from children, but in this new environment were afraid of being handled.  So Step One was building a relationship.

In the workshops I give that is also Step One.  I take the time to begin building a relationship with the people who come.  Friday night is spent in conversation.  As people share their stories, it becomes very clear that the horse world is filled with people who love horses, who want to share their lives with horses, but who are very afraid of the horse they own.  And the same can be said of the horses.  So many of the stories are about horses who are afraid of people.

So sad.

We are in such a hurry with horses.  We are in a hurry to start them.  We are in a hurry to ride them.  In our great hurry we all too often destroy the bonds of trust.

We go in with our horses too soon.  With clicker training I begin with protective contact.  I put a barrier between myself and the horse.  The barrier may be as little as a rope tied across the door of a stall.  Or it may be as solid as the metal panels of a round pen, but there is a barrier.  That protects us both.  If the horse starts to push into my space to get at the treats, I can just step back out of the way.  I don’t have to correct this unwanted behavior.  I’m not mixing the positives of clicker training with punishment.  I want the horse to feel that it is safe to experiment.  He can offer behavior without the fear of correction.

I want the horse to feel safe in my presence.  The barrier helps with that.  It protects him as much as it protects me.  With a barrier between us I can’t be grabbing at him or trapping him a corner.  He can leave whenever he wants.  Knowing he can always escape gives many horses the confidence to approach and explore.

With the goats I didn’t have the kind of set up that allowed for protective contact.  I didn’t need to be protected from the goats, but they needed to know I wasn’t going to grab them.  So I sat in a chair.  That anchored me to a spot.  Even when I had something they wanted – pretzels and peanuts – I stayed in the chair and let them approach me.

Once food was involved, everything sped up.  Suddenly, I had goats pushing into my lap to get the treats.  The training could begin!

But even here I took my time.  We used just the stall for the first couple of sessions, then I let their world expand out into the outside run.  And then we expanded out into the barn aisle.

There are lessons here for the horses, as well.  We are in such a hurry.  I hear stories all the time of people who went too far too soon with their horses and ended up in trouble.  Before buying their new horse, they probably only rode it once or twice – and that was in the horse’s familiar environment.  As soon as they got the horse home, they were saddling up and heading off on a trail ride.  Five miles out on a trail is not a good time to discover that your new horse is not as bomb-proof as you had been lead to believe.  Now you are learning that when he’s afraid, he bucks – hard.  Why should he keep you on his back?  He doesn’t know you.

Taking your time in the beginning of a relationship builds a safety net for both you and your horse.  Taking your time for the goats meant several things:

* expanding the complexity of the training environments in small stair steps.

* building a repertoire of behaviors that would keep us connected to one another as the level of distractions increased.

* building a history of reinforcement together – in other words building a relationship.

It was time to test the waters yet again, to see how these stair steps were working.  So I let their world expand even more.  We had been working in the barn aisle.  Now I thought they were ready to discover the indoor arena.

I took them out together which I knew would help E.  The arena door was left open, so at any time they could escape back to the security of the barn aisle and their stall.  I didn’t set out any mats.  I wasn’t asking them for anything.  They were free to explore on their own.

First things first – they spotted the mounting block (Fig. 1).  P led the way.  He scaled the “mountain” all the way to the top step, then took the short cut down by jumping off.

This was so unhorse-like.  Leaping up on the mounting block would not be a horse’s preferred safety zone.  For the goats the mounting block was the best part of their new play ground.

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Figure 1

Once Mount Everest was successfully scaled, the goats ventured further out into the arena.  Not surprisingly P took the lead.

E chose to stay closer to me (Fig. 2: 1-4).  I held my hand out inviting him to follow it like a target.  He was hesitant at first.  Should he follow his brother or stay with me? He chose to stay. Click and treat.

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Figure 2

We walked a big circle, stopping every few steps for a click and a treat.  Eventually P joined us (Fig. 3: 1-4).  I held out both hands and the goats followed along behind me, one on each side.

Thankfully, I had put a cup of treats into both pockets so I could deliver the treats smoothly.  And they were good at waiting for me to get the treat.  All that work in the barn aisle was paying off.  They were beginning to understand that the treat would be coming to them.  They didn’t have to charge me to get to the treats.

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Figure 3

We eventually headed back into the aisle where I had a bucket of hay set out.  They followed me back to their stall.  P actually trotted the last few steps back.  I had established the routine of scattering treats on the floor for them, so entering the stall came with the promise of more good things.  As I was leaving, E slipped out.  I wasn’t planning on doing any more, but since he was out, I did a leading session.

E and I went into the arena.  He led beautifully.  I was so very delighted by him.

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Fig. 4: Beautiful leading!

These photos were taken from the middle of our session.  They show several beautiful examples of what it means to wait on a point of contact (Fig. 5: 1-8).

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Figure 5

As small as he is, I could easily add pressure to the lead and pull him along, but I don’t.  Instead when E hesitates, I wait.  As soon as his attention comes back towards me and he puts slack back in the lead, I click and reinforce him.

This next series of photos shows a lot of useful details (Fig. 6a-d).  We begin by entering the arena with E walking beside me on a slack lead.  Click and treat (Fig. 6a:1-3).

As I begin to walk off, E hesitates.  I pause and wait for him to walk on (Fig. 6a: 4-6).  I don’t add pressure and pull him forward.

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Figure 6a

This is the key to using the lead in a clicker-compatible way.  This is what shaping on a point of contact means.  You let your animal find the answer.  In the next set of photos (Fig. 6b: 7) E walks off with me and keeps nice slack in the lead.  I click when his attention comes back to me. And then I give him his treat (Fig. 6b: 8-9).

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Fig. 6b

Before walking off again, I pause for a brief moment in “grown-ups”.  This brief pause will grow over time into real duration (Fig. 6c: 10-17).

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Figure 6c

Remembering to put the pauses in is so important.  E is such a very gentle goat.  His timidity makes him especially easy to work with.  It would be easy to simply click and walk off.  If I don’t take the time to pause, to build the expectation that waiting is part of walking, it won’t be there when I need it.

Here’s the mantra: “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 animal.”  I changed the last word.  Normally I’m referring to horses.  This overly long sentence comes from John Lyons, a well known trainer and clinician.  I’ve often thought about modifying it to make it more my own, but he really did get it right the first time.  Every word is important.

I was going through a teaching process with E.  I was showing him how leading works.  If I left out: “sometimes we stand still before walking off again”,  I couldn’t expect that understanding to be there when I needed it.

It takes patience and focus to remember to put in all these little pieces.  With a bolder animal like P it is easier to remember.  He makes it clear that I need to teach a lot of patient standing.  Often it is the more difficult animals that end up the best trained because they make it clear we need these pieces.  With the easier animals we often don’t notice what we’ve been leaving out until we’re in a situation where those pieces are really needed, and then they aren’t there for us.

So even though it would have been easy with E to just walk off, I needed to take the time to build grown-ups.

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Figure 6d

Our animals always lead the way.  It was just a few short sessions ago that I was clicking and reinforcing every couple of steps that E took on a lead.  Now he was walking along beside me, keeping slack in the lead (Fig. 7).

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Figure 7

P’s Leading Session

P was next.  I put the lead on him and started his lesson in the aisle.  Instead of staying beside me, he has a tendency to overshoot and to swing around in front of me.  Again, our animals tell us what we need to work on.  Clearly I needed to work on whoa.

Testing the waters is a good way to begin.  What could I ask for?

I tried simply stopping.  He kept walking and hit the end of the lead.  He shook his head and fussed at me.  I didn’t want those horns butting into me, so I quickly rethought this strategy.

I didn’t have a stop yet, so it wasn’t fair game to ask for it.  I needed to build the reaction pattern I wanted.  So, it was click as he walked forward, and then feed so he had to back up out of my space to get the treat.  Once he understood the pattern, I took him into the arena so I could film it.  What an interesting session!

I clicked as he walked along beside me, got the treat and then turned into him so he had to back up to get to my hand (Fig. 8: 1-6). I had every confidence that he would be able to figure out what he needed to do to get the treat.

Crowding forward into me gained him nothing.  Backing up brought him to his treat.  As the pattern repeated, it became easier and easier to ask him to back.  He was understanding how he had to move to get his treat.  I could even begin to add a pause before we walked off.  That’s all part of being able to ask him to stop.

I did wonder if I was encouraging him to butt.  Asking him to back up curled his neck into the orientation that it would be in if he were going to charge me.  But head butting is a forward moving exercise.  He might be curling his neck, but his feet were moving back. Time would tell if I was reading this correctly.

At times my arm was against his forehead so he was in head butting position, but instead of going forward, he was going backwards, and when he did, I turned my hand over and fed him!  Talk about messing with a goat’s brain!

I clicked and gave him a treat several times for standing still.  Then we walked on again.  The next part of the training loop was taking shape.  It was click for walking beside me.  Feed so he had to back up.  Click for standing still.  Feed again.  Walk on when ready  (Fig. 8: 7-8).

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Figure 8

It had been a long and eventful morning.  They had had their first exploration of the arena, plus their leading sessions.  I got P back into his stall, fed them both some hay, finished a couple of chores and then went back in to sit with them.  I always like to balance out the activity of the formal training sessions with the quiet of these cuddle times.  As usual, E came right over for a scratch.  P was more interested in the hay, but still asked for a back scratch.  The arrival of a delivery truck interrupted our visit.

I left their stall feeling as though yesterday and today have been breakthrough days.  The goats were understanding the process more and more.  And they were clearly showing a connection to me.  If I had not spent so much time scratching their ears and making friends, I don’t think they would have chosen to walk beside me.

P in particular seemed to be working things out.  Instead of leaping from one mat to another and then standing up on his hind legs when I didn’t respond like the children by throwing all my treats on the ground, he was now going calmly from mat to mat (yesterday’s gain).  He was also leading beside me without charging past or trying to cut me off (today).  Progress!

And both goats were turning into the most delightful companions.  I loved it when E pressed in next to my chair asking for more scratching, or P moved under my hand to request a head rub.  They were so like cats in the way they enjoyed a good scratch.  If only they could purr!

The Goat Palace Update

We have made a startling discovery.  The goats have manners!

This discovery came about because we needed to do some repairs to the gate separating the two pens.  The boys have been slowly demolishing the middle rails. When I went out with their morning hay I discovered that they had swapped around who was living where.  Thanzi and Trixie were in the front pen and the boys were in the back.

The boys were devouring a Christmas tree that the ladies had been pretty much ignoring, so they were happy.  Trixie was eating hay out of a feeder and Thanzi was up on the top platform of the jungle gym looking very much in charge of the situation, so they were happy.  Apparently, I was the only one who wasn’t pleased with the new arrangement!

When Marla arrived, we got to work repairing the gate.  We replaced the current rails with much sturdier, more goat-proof two by fours.  For most of the repair job we kept the boys in the hallway and left Thanzi and Trixie to sort themselves out.  Thanzi kept going back and forth through the gap in the gate until we had enough rails up so she could no longer fit through.

Both girls ended up in the front area.  We had to make several trips back into the barn to get extra screws, a fresh battery for the drill, and finally more hay for the ladies. I’m not sure where in all this coming and going it happened, but I suddenly found myself with all five goats together in the front section.

When they first arrived having them altogether in one group created chaos.  Thanzi and Trixie chased the boys.  At that point the middle gate was left open, so they could escape into the back area.  But now the gate was closed, and all five goats were crowded together in a much smaller area.  I was worried for the youngsters.  I abandoned Marla to finish the repairs on her own so I could supervise the goats.

I am delighted to report that the chaos has been replaced by a circus act.  At least that’s what it looked like.  Pellias claimed the top platform of the jungle gym.  Galahad showed his acrobatic prowess by balancing on an upside down feed tub.  Elyan found his usual spot on his “balance beam”.  Trixie ended up on Galahad’s usual platform, and Thanzi stationed herself off to the side.

I could click and treat them one by one.  Everyone waited.  There was no head butting, no driving the others away from a platform or a mat.  When Galahad fell off his very slippery perch, I could wait for him to get back on – and everyone else waited as well!

Progress!  Who knew they were becoming this good!

What this shows you is how much you can get done even when you can do very little.  The last two days the temperatures finally climbed up to the freezing mark.  It felt like a heat wave!  For the past two weeks it’s been so cold we might just as well have been living at the North Pole.

We suspended formal training sessions during this time.  I would go out a couple of times a day to replenish their hay and give them warm water.  While I was out there, I would spend a bit of time working on communal manners.  I set three platform out in the barn aisle and reinforced Elyan and Pellias for letting Galahad go to the third platform.

Normally I don’t work with Galahad.  He’s Marla’s project, but he was causing problems for the other two.  When I filled the hay feeders, Pellias and Elyan would park themselves on their platforms.  Galahad would push his way into the feeders, but when I clicked and tried to give the others treats for their good manners, Galahad was there pushing his way in.  Elyan and Pellias would chase him away, which meant their good platform manners were falling apart.  Something had to be done.

The “something” was to spend a minute or two in the hallway reinforcing all three for staying each on his own platform.  Galahad needed to learn from me that platforms were good places to be.  I also needed to reinforce Elyan and Pellias for letting Galahad stay on a platform instead of driving him off.  It took a couple of days for good manners to emerge.

Elyan in particular was like that little kid in school who makes sure teacher knows everything that the other children are doing wrong.  It’s cute when it’s a goat acting like this – not so much when it’s a child.  But Elyan and Pellias learned that it was okay to let Galahad stay on a platform.  And Galahad learned how to play with the others.

“Teacher” was pleased because now I could get the hay into the feeders without Galahad trying to climb into them and when I reinforced the other two for being on their stations, I could also reinforce Galahad for being on his.

All of this sounds as though I spent real training time establishing these manners, but remember the temperatures were hovering down around zero degrees with wind chills some mornings dropping below minus 20. (I always want to emphasize that’s Fahrenheit not Celsius.)   My hands ached with the cold.  I was good for a couple of treats per goat and then I had to get my hands back into gloves and just get on with the refilling the hay feeders as fast as I could.  The “training” they were getting was minimal, but it made a difference.  The result was the surprise that we had a “circus act” of five goats all stationing.

I know in the winter people often feel as though they aren’t getting anything done with their horses.  They are used to thinking in terms of long riding sessions.  At the spring clinics people often start out by apologizing for how little they’ve been able to do with their horses because the weather has been so bad.  And yet what the goats were showing us was how much you can do even when it’s just a quick minute here and a quick minute there.  Little things do add up to some fun surprises.

So one last mantra and then I’m done with today’s post:  Your animals are always learning.  That means when you are with them, you are training. 

That’s something to think about over a hot cup of tea.  Stay warm!

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: The World Gets Larger

The Good Things Repetition Gives You

It may seem in post after post that I have been describing the same lesson.  The goats stand on a platform while I step back from them; the goats follow a target to the next platform.  In July this was essentially all I had asked them to do.  What I hope you see in all this repetition is how fast the goats were learning.  I never asked for big steps.  I just let the repetition of the small steps add up into an ever widening repertoire of useful behaviors.  As they showed me they were ready, in each session I could add a little bit more.

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

The good thing all these steps were giving me was the preparation needed to expand their world a bit more.  I was ready to test the waters to see what they would think of the barn aisle.

I used the blue jump blocks that made up the platform in their stall to create a line of platforms in the barn aisle.  They knew how to go from one platform to another in the safe environment of the stall and the outside pen.  I was going to use that familiar behavior to help them navigate in a larger space.

The platforms would give the barn aisle a familiar structure.  Instead of it being a large, and perhaps frightening space, the platforms became stepping stones that would help them venture out into this as yet unknown world.

The July Goat Diaries: The World Gets Bigger

1 pm P’s First Session in the barn aisle

P’s first venture into the barn aisle went wonderfully well.   He’s very bold.  Left to his own devices he would have ignored me completely and gone exploring.  Instead the platforms did their job.  They had an even more powerful draw than the desire to explore.  They kept bringing him back into the focused work that helped him stay connected to me.  He could still satisfy his curiosity, but from the look out of the platforms.

Goat Diaries Day 6 Fig. 1.png

(Note the wheel barrow was blocking the aisle into the indoor.  There was a swallows nest in that aisle so I didn’t want to close the door and block access to it for the parent birds.  The wheel barrow served a dual purpose.  It was both a window and a door.  The goats could look into the indoor – a source of great interest for them – but they were blocked from exploring in that direction.  The wheel barrow at the far end was to discourage the goats from trying to go out under the gate.)

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1 pm E’s First Session in the barn Aisle
Contrast

Unlike P who wanted to go exploring, E was very nervous out in the aisle.  He was reluctant to venture very far down the aisle.  Always it is a study of one.  It didn’t matter that P was bold and eager to go adventuring.  I was working with E.  I needed to put aside any expectations P had created about “how goats behave”, and train the individual I had in front of me.

I could see his concern in the way he was taking treats.  When I clicked, instead of instantly turning his head in my direction, there was a long pause.  Granted the neighbors were mowing up on the top hill.  He had good reason to feel nervous, but P would have gone exploring.  E just wanted to go back to the stall.  He was like Custard The Dragon in the Ogden Nash poem of that name.   All Custard wanted “was a nice safe cage.”

“Belinda lived in a little white house,
With a little black kitten and a little gray mouse,
And a little yellow dog and a little red wagon,
And a realio, trulio, little pet dragon.

Belinda was as brave as a barrel full of bears,
And Ink and Blink chased lions down the stairs,
Mustard was as brave as a tiger in a rage,
But Custard cried for a nice safe cage.”

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I wasn’t going to force him to stay out or to go further down the barn aisle than he was ready for.  That would have undone all the good work of the past week.  When he ran back to the stall, I opened the door, intending to let him back in, but P popped out instead.  He wasn’t through exploring!  He didn’t care what funny noises the neighbors were making.  He wanted to see the world.

When you’re a herd animal, there is definitely safety in numbers.  With brave P out in the aisle, E became more adventurous.  The platforms helped to maintain order.  It was a little chaotic at first, but I eventually got both of them standing side by side two platforms.

I suppose I could have just opened the stall door days ago and let them explore on their own.  That certainly would have been one option, but I preferred this training-centric approach.  I liked what the platforms were doing for us.  Even with all the distractions, all the new sights to take in, both goats were able to stay focused and engaged with me. They wouldn’t always have the luxury of exploring a new environment on their own first.  Step by step, as they moved from the stall to the outside pen to the barn aisle, they were learning how to stay connected even in the face of ever greater distractions.

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Goat diaries day 6 safety in numbers panel 3.pngThe goats have learned a lot since that first day when I introduced them to clicker training and they were jostling one another trying to get the treats.  Now they were side by side, each on his own platform taking turns.

I wasn’t clicking and feeding them both at the same time.  I was clicking them one at a time for good waiting.  As the session progressed, I was able to step a little bit further from them and wait fractionally a little bit longer.  This is what repetition gives you.  You aren’t trying to turn out cookie cutter reps like an assembly line.  Instead the repetition lets you make the training loop increasingly more complex.  The changes are subtle which keeps the success rate high.

After a bit more of this sharing, I led them back to the stall.  I’ve been tossing treats on the floor for them after their sessions.  This ritual paid off.  Now when I tossed some treats onto the floor, both goats hurried into the stall.  Going back without a fuss made it easier for us to go adventuring again.

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After I put away all platforms, I sat with them for about half an hour. This time I had a grooming mitt which they seemed to enjoy, especially E.  Cashmere is combed out of a goat’s coat so the more they can learn to enjoy being handled and groomed the better.  E was totally lost in the pleasures of being fussed over.  For the first time I was able to scratch his chest and his belly.  Without forcing the issue in any way, I could now handle him all over his body, including down his legs and feet.  I had asked for permission, and he was giving it to me.

In the afternoon I set the platforms up again and had another session with each of the goats.  P was every bit as bold and as good as he had been in the morning.  And E was able to go by himself as far as the platform that was opposite the wash stall.  He wasn’t quite ready to venture past the aisle into the arena, and I didn’t push him.  When he became hesitant, I directed him back to the platforms that were closer to his stall.  I knew the less I pushed, the easier it would be for him to be brave.

This is something the horses have very much taught me.  If you take your time in the beginning and let your horse understand that you won’t push him “over a cliff”, you’ll end up with a horse who trusts your good judgement.  Later, when you ask him to go forward, he will – not because he knows he must, but because he wants to.

When I sat with the goats for our usual evening cuddle, they were both particularly eager to be scratched.  I like being able to balance out the training sessions with this quiet time.  It creates an anchor for everything else that we do.  Always we return to the calm waters of just enjoying each other’s company.

The Goat Palace Catching Up

Venturing out has become the theme for the Goat Palace, as well.  Prior to Christmas I had been working with the goats individually in the hallway.  I was itching to take Pellias and Elyan out for walks.  They were more than ready.

On the 24th, I set mats and platforms out in the barnyard between the outer gate into their pen and the door into the barn.  Pellias was first.  I had the narrow mats set out as usual in the hallway.  We began with those.  I asked him to move with me as I changed position around the platform.  He was his usual eager self, so I hooked the lead to his collar and opened the gate.

Pellias was great.  We went from platform to platform.  Having somewhere to go did two things.  It gave him more confidence to go adventuring.  At the same time it kept him with me so he wasn’t practicing pulling on the lead in his eagerness to explore the world.  We went as far as the grain room.  A mat helped him to be brave enough to go inside.  We couldn’t go any further because the horses were napping in the barn aisle.  When we went back out, going from platform to platform again kept him from rushing.

Elyan was another super star.  With him I could really see the payoff in the platform work we’ve been doing.  He was just as eager as Pellias to go exploring.  The grain room was well within his comfort zone.  We’ll be able to play in the barn aisle and arena very soon.

Preparation – it’s a lovely thing!

Later Marla took Galahad out, as well.  He was more nervous than the other two, but all the good prep meant he was able to keep slack in the line as he went from platform to platform in the barnyard.

I love being able to take them out for walks even if the walk is just to the grain room and back.  All that good preparation is paying off just as it did in July.  It certainly opens up new training environments for them.

All the people in my area who were dreaming of a white Christmas got their wish on Christmas Eve.  Snow makes the horses want to kick up their heels and play.  Apparently, it does the same thing for goats.  While I spent a few minutes with Thanzi and Trixie, the boys were racing around in their pen.  Pellias in particular was running back and forth.  Clearly they needed more of an outlet for their energy than I could give them in just the hallway.

I decided it was time to take them into the arena.  In preparation I set pairs of mats out between the gate and the grain room door.  When Marla arrived, we got leads on everyone.  Then I took Elyan and Pellias out.  We headed to the first set of mats.  As we approached the first set, I called out “front”.   They both popped up on the platforms and spun around to face me.  Click – treat.

We turned around as a group.   “Sides” I called out.  I need to come up with a different cue for that.  When they are working as a pair, “side” (orient to my right side) is correct for only one of them.

We headed off to the next platform.  “Front” I called out, and they again obliged by popping up on the platforms and spinning around to face me.  So much for sled dogging.  They could so easily have been dragging me off in opposite directions.  Instead we were walking together from one set of platforms to the next.  Preparation – it’s a wonderful thing.

Marla followed behind with Galahad.  I assume he did okay.  I never glanced back to see.  That’s something else the horses have taught me.  If you stay focused on what you want, your horse (or in this case your goats) will stay focused with you.

We got inside the grain room, then out into the aisle.  We unhooked all three and off we went to the arena.  They had a truly glorious time and so did we.  My two were up right away on the mounting block, jumping from step to step and then leaping down.  I set Robin’s  big foam platform up on some jump blocks.  Elyan claimed that.  He jumped off the mounting block, took a bounce, and landed on the platform.  Even when it wobbled and tipped, he didn’t care.

Pellias leapt off the mounting block and landed nearby.  Click – treat and off we went. Marla had set a platform out on the other side of the arena.  I called out: “We’re coming! Better get out of the way!”  I called out: “We’re coming! Better get out of the way!”  Marla headed off to the mounting block with Galahad while I ran with my two to the platform.

One platform really wasn’t enough.  I needed two.  When we got back to the mounting bock, I tried to get a couple more out of the storage bins, but either Elyan or Pellias was always standing on the lid.  I’d get one off the lid and the other would hop on.  I gave up and took them to Robin’s platform.  Then we were off again across the arena.

With only one goat to wrangle, Marla managed to get the storage bin open and to pull out a couple more mats.  More mats meant even more fun!  When the goats began to settle, I took my two deeper into the arena.  Pellias went ahead more.  When I said “wait”, Elyan was right back with me.  We had worked on that in a short walk the previous evening.   I was delighted that the cue worked so beautifully to keep him close.  I hadn’t yet taught it to Pellias.  He stayed near but was not as locked on.

It was a fun, laughter-filled, joyful playtime.  When we were ready to go back, the goats were all good about having their leads put back on.  We walked back the way we had gone out, stopping at each set of platforms.  I again asking for “front” so they kept turning to face me.  They could so easily have dragged me back to their house, or gotten me tangled up in their leads in a desire to go adventuring.  Instead we played platform games all the way back.

Really fun!  Training creates freedom.  Because they were so good we will be able to go adventuring again.  I am very much looking forward to it, but mostly I am looking forward to the day when the temperatures rise out of single digits.  Christmas brought snow and left in it’s wake arctic weather conditions.  We have been hovering down around zero ever since.  (That’s Fahrenheit not Celsius.)  One thing extreme cold is good for is catching up on the computer, so get your cups of tea ready.  There will be more goat diaries in the days ahead.

Coming Next in the July Goat Diaries: Day 7 Repetition

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.

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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.

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

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

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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: Don’t Take Score Too Soon

Don’t take score too soon.  That sounds like a cliche, but when you’re training, it’s an important mantra to keep in mind.  On Day 4 of his training P was leaping into the air in what I interpreted to be a display of frustration.  Was it the extra energy created by adding in a second platform?  Was I somehow teaching him to charge me?  Should I get myself wound up into knots worrying about what I was seeing?

Or should I remain non-reactive to these outbursts and see what he presented over the next couple of sessions?

Don’t take score too soon keeps me from getting depressed over a session that doesn’t go as well as I would have liked.  And it also keeps me from celebrating too soon when I have a good session.  What I want to see is overall progress.  I want to see the unwanted behaviors beginning to disappear, and I want to see them replaced with behaviors that make the time we spend together go more smoothly for both of us.

I could have said: I want the unwanted behaviors to be replaced with behaviors I like, but that sounds like a very lopsided and self-centered relationship. Hopefully, the behaviors I choose to reinforce are activities that my learner also enjoys.relationship.

Reinforcement can be viewed from the perspective of probabilities.  When I see something I like, I click, and then I create on opportunity for my learner to do something I think he’ll like, such as eating a favorite treat.  If my animal a.) notices and b.) wants what I’m offering, he’ll try to figure out what he can do to get me to offer it again.  I’ll see the behavior I want beginning to occur more and more frequently under similar conditions.  That’s when I can say I’ve reinforced the behavior.

If the unwanted behavior persists, I need to remember that something is maintaining or even strengthening that behavior.  Dr. Susan Friedman reminds us to ask what’s the function?  If the goats continue to present behavior I don’t like, I need to consider two questions: 1.) Am I reinforcing it in some way that I may not even be aware of?  2.) What function does that behavior serve?  Asking this second question can help me understand what else in the environment may be maintaining the behavior.

Asking those questions is the first step.  To answer them I need more data.  In the afternoon session I collected more data and the “score card” began to show me that I was moving in the right direction.  I didn’t film the afternoon sessions so I have just my journal notes.

The July Goat Diaries: P’s Afternoon Session

At 11 I spent a few minutes with the goats just scratching all their itchy spots.  I was back at 4:30.  I fed them some hay and then did barn chores.

When I went in to play with them afterward, they were definitely ready.  I opened the outside stall door while I tidied up their stall.  P went straight out and landed on the platform.  I clicked, and he came in to get his treat, then went right back out to the platform.

E wasn’t sure what to do.  In the end he decided to stay inside with me.  While I was giving him some attention in the stall, P got frustrated and started standing up, spinning, and leaping.  He was on the platform.  Why was I not playing with him!

I closed the outside stall door but an eye on what P was doing.  When I saw him going to the platform again, I clicked.  When I saw P going to the platform again, I clicked for him.  He came over to get his treat and then went straight back to the platform.  I was liking these indicators that he knows the game, but I was concerned that I would confuse E.  He had lots of fresh hay to eat, so I outside outside to play with P.

P was great. He stayed solidly on the platform, stood with a relaxed head position, not reaching out to get food, just head up in normal posture.  I could step back to the fence, click, move forward to feed, and then step away again.  When I walked around him, he turned with me.

On cue he followed the target to the next platform, got on it directly and stayed well.  We did several rounds of this, then I left him with treats scattered on the mats.  The session had been a great success.

E’s Session

I began with leading.  (If you haven’t yet read the previous post, I suggest you begin with that. I explain in detail how I was re-introducing the lead to E and P.)  E was excellent.  He walked beside me keeping slack in the lead.   He was so very soft as he responded to the collar cues.  Excellent.  So I set the platforms up.  He was much more settled on them.  There was less of the foot shuffling that he’d been doing in previous sessions.  Nor was he stretching his nose out trying to get to the food.  On cue he went back and forth between platforms.

I put the platforms away and let E out in the pen and got P in the stall.

I worked on leading with P.  He was not as soft as E.  A couple of times he tried to pull away from the restraint of the lead.  It was clearly a well-rehearsed pattern.  I waited without adding any pull to my end of the lead.  As soon as he looked in my direction, click, I released the lead and gave him a treat.  He wanted to go to the stall door which gave me an opportunity to ask him to turn back to me.  Again, I waited.  He glanced in my direction.  Click and treat.

Why go through this process when they are both so good at staying at liberty with me?  I want to be sure that they understand and will respond to the cues that a lead gives.  I don’t want to be tricked into thinking they understand the lead when really all they are doing is following me.

Why does it matter?

Following me at liberty is great, but there are times when a lead is a useful or even a necessary tool.  If I attach a lead, what happens when they do suddenly feel pressure from it?  Does it create resistance, and panic?  When it’s a horse we’re talking about instead of a goat that question really matters.  I want my horses to know they can keep slack in the lead by softening into the feel.  They will know how to walk beside me as though they were at liberty, and I will also have this additional communication tool working for us.

One of the great draws of clicker training is the ease with which we can teach liberty work.  If you are training in a safe environment, you may never feel the need to put a lead on your animal.  My horses lived for years at a boarding barn where leads were required.  With so many people, and especially so many small children about, the rules said you had to have your horse on a lead any time you took him out of his stall.  When my horses moved to my own barn, the halters became stiff from lack of use.  We were all enjoying the camaraderie and freedom that living in a horse-safe environment created.  But there came a point where I bought Robin a new halter.  I loved the liberty work, but I missed the depth of subtle communication that the lead provides.

Shaping on a point of contact begins with safety.  There are times when we need the safety net a lead provides.  You can go this far, but no further.  That’s the constraint the lead provides.  It acts like a mobile fence.

This works for dogs as well as for horses.  Running into the street, pulling away to get to another dog, chasing after a cat can all be prevented with the “fence” a lead creates.  The reason to leave may be different, but the safety concerns are the same.

So in situations where the relationship and training may not yet be strong enough to keep an animal with you, the lead adds an extra layer of insurance.  The question then becomes have we taught our animal how to respond to the constraints of a lead?  Is it simply a case of resisting and discovering that there is no escape, that the only options are to give in and follow, or to have the pressure escalate?  That’s the kind of background many animals and handlers have come from.  For them leading is a poisoned tool.

The goats were learning through a different process.  I was setting up solvable puzzles. I’ve taken the slack out of the lead.  That’s the puzzle.  Now can you solve it?  Can you figure out which way to move to get your treat?  I begin in simple environments with few distractions and few reasons for them to want/need to leave me.  When one puzzle is solved, I present another.  Each success builds their confidence.  They know how to find the answer!  The constraint of the lead is no longer seen as an annoyance or a restriction.  It becomes a clue that helps them get to their reinforcement faster.  When that transformation occurs in their understanding, you have turned the lead into a wonderfully effective, clicker-compatible communication tool.

This kind of training expands options.  It creates freedom.  We often think of a lead as a tool that restricts.  But in this case it meant we could go more places.  Both goats were working well.  I finished the session feeling that it was time to expand their world.  Instead of opening the back door into the outside run, we’d open the front door of the stall and expand their universe of options into the barn aisle.  That would be the plan for day six of their training time with me.

P’s session ended with some soft scratching and back rubs.  I left them to do the remaining barn chores, and then I got the chair out and sat with them to wind down the evening.  They had fresh hay, but they preferred staying by me for head rubs, especially E who kept asking for more whenever I stopped.  He was so very sweet.  While I rubbed his jaw, he leaned on the arm rest and got dreamy eyed. They are delightful individuals to spend time with.

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P on the left, E on the right, settling in for the night.

(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.)

The Goat Palace Journal – A Brief Update

“Don’t take score too soon” is also a good theme for the current Goat Palace sessions.  Another metaphor that applies is that of making clay bricks.  For each goat, over the last couple of days I’ve been working on the same lesson from one session to the next.  Pellias and Elyan have very similar lessons using multiple platforms to teach heeling positions.  Trixie is working in the hallway on her platform lessons.  Thanzi gets the whole back pen to work on leading.

I am building “clay bricks”.  In other words, I am accumulating a reinforcement history around a set of key behaviors.  When I have built enough “bricks”, I’ll be able to assemble them into a house.  The question is: will I be building a mud hut or a magnificent mansion?  Right now, if I tried to build something with the bricks, I’d get the mud hut.  Don’t take score too soon.  As long as we’re having fun and it looks as though we’re heading in a good direction, we’ll keep building these bricks.  These goats are so eager and so full of joy.  No matter what we end up creating, it will be built with laughter.

I’ll save a detailed account of what I am doing with them for another day.

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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.

 

Coming next: Day 6 – Staying Positive with Constructional Training

 

Goat Diaries: Day 5 – Excitement!

Excitement

I love the enthusiasm and excitement a new learner brings to clicker training.  There’s food!  There’s attention.  There are puzzles to be solved.  It’s very exciting.  The goats were reminding me of some of the clicker-trained dogs I’ve seen.  Everything is go, go, go.  Throw behaviors at your human, wolf down the treat then throw something else at them.  And above all watch the treats.  Don’t let those goodies get out of your sight!

My challenge was to build calm confidence while keeping the enthusiasm.  With the horses that comes from a deep understanding of the clicker game.  If you absolutely know the treats are not going to be taken away from you, you can afford to take your eyes off of them.  You’ll get them whether you are watching them or not.  This is in part what it means for the learner to trust the process.

Settling into enthusiastic calmness doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen.  Accumulate enough consistent reinforcement around what you want, and it becomes the norm.  I was still a long way from that with Elyan and Pellias in July, but that was the direction I hoped we were heading.  Time would tell.

Before I jump into today’s installment of the Goat Diaries, I want to share an email that got my day off to a great start this morning.

“Hi Alexandra,

I’m loving the Goat Diary installments. I’m finding them a whole refresher course in themselves, especially with the annotated photo sequences. I have 2 friends firmly hooked on them as well.

One of these friends, Anne-Marie and I, about 6 months ago, rehomed a Palouse pony, now named Nugget, who had become “unmanageable” for several previous owners who used either the “traditional” or increasing pressure approach with him. We introduced him to Life with a Clicker and he’s great. The goat diaries have been very timely, as Nugget is athletic, smart, eager with a high play drive and greedy for treats!

 We had Anne-Marie’s vet come and do his teeth a couple of weeks ago. When we told the vet Nugget’s previous name, he went a shade of grey and asked if we seriously expected him to do the horse’s teeth. This vet had met the horse about 2 years ago, because the owners suspected he was a rig (because of his behaviour) and they wanted his blood tested to see if this was the case (it wasn’t). We found out quite a bit from the vet that we hadn’t known when we agreed to rehome him.

 I asked the vet if he would just handle Nugget a bit, before giving him a sedative in case (by some miracle) he, the vet, didn’t think that would be necessary. Nugget was a model child!!!!  He stood quietly and straight (while playing GrownUps with me at his side) while the vet stroked his head and neck, asked him if it was OK to look at his teeth and proceeded to lift Nugget’s lips around and run his fingers along the teeth. Then he did some “trial” rasping before putting the gag on and saying that he certainly didn’t need a sedative!

The vet was super impressed with the change in him, and told us to “keep doing whatever you are doing with him  because it’s working”! Anne-Marie explained a bit about positive reinforcement and the clicker. We have since heard that the vet has been telling almost anyone who will listen about Nugget and his Clicker Training ( I will have to ask him to refer those who do listen to him to your website).

Your post yesterday on “Eager” was perfect to remind us to balance forward moving games with stillness.”

Talk about a great way to begin my day!  Thank you, Amanda Goodman, for your lovely email and for your permission to share it with others.  This is exactly why I am writing the Goat Diaries.  I hope my experiences with the goats will provide good reminders for all of us working with horses.  So now on to the goats and more excitement from Pellias!

The July Goat Diaries: 9:30 am First morning session

I made certain to feed the goats first before working with them and to give them plenty of time for their breakfast. When I went in to play with them, they were both napping in the hay.

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Pellias has his head curled around and Elyan is looking at me with sleepy eyes.

P’s Session:

I set up two platforms as usual. I had decided to use a different approach with the pole.  If P didn’t want to go over it, that was fine.  I set two poles on the ground with a wide gap between them.  He didn’t need to jump them.  He could easily go through the gap to get to the next platform.

P was much more settled.  He went right to the first platform and waited for me.  I was able to take a couple of steps back from him, click and treat.  He was standing solidly on the platform, not stretching out trying to get to me.  It seemed as though he was beginning to  understand that I would bring the food to him.

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He moved well at first from one platform to the next.  But as the session progressed, he stepped off the platform prematurely.  Conflict!  What was he to do?  He had a difficult choice to make.  His desire for treats and his enthusiasm for platforms collided and sent him rearing up onto his hind legs.  He could have charged, but instead a dramatic leap landed him back on the platform!

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This seemed to sort out his choices because after that he settled into good work.  He was back to being a calm, patient learner.

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I’ll wait to describe E’s session because it involves another important step in their training – the re-introduction of the lead.

The Goat Palace Dec 18 2017

I said at the start of this post that the goats were reminding me of dogs.  The similarities were becoming more and more apparent.  Horses can certainly buck and twist and kick out their heels, but they do not have anything like the range of movement that goats have.  Goats can twist and squirm and turn themselves inside out in ways that are much more similar to dogs.

My focus with all the goats has been very much to build a stable base.  For that I was drawing on the foundation lessons that I teach the horses I work with.  The goats had learned basic targeting skills.  I had used the food delivery to introduce backing.  Platforms had given their feet a place to be so we could work on grown-ups.  They were understanding that, yes, I would give them treats, but first they had to figure out the puzzle.  The dots were connecting

We had some basic skills.  We had enthusiasm.  We had agile, quick learners.  It was time to shift in my thinking from horse to dog training.  So recently I’ve split my training along two separate lines of thought.  I had been using the platforms with Elyan and Pellias to teach them to position themselves relative to me and each other.  I’ve been expanding that recently to bring in some of Michele Pouliot’s work with platforms.  I’ll expand on that later.  It’s time to catch you up with Thanzi and Trixie.

I’m experimenting with a different technique with them.  I’ve been thinking about how best to prepare them for leading.  I have no doubt that if I put a lead on them right now, they would both pull like freight trains.  Thanzi in particular is a very powerful goat.  They both know how to put their heads down and just muscle their way into what ever they want.  They are also both super enthusiastic about the training.  They understand platforms and targets.  So why not have some fun and experiment with bird’s nests?

Now what in the world does that mean!?  It’s a technique Kay Laurence has developed to introduce dogs to leading and heel work.  The idea is that dogs are very good at watching bird’s nests because you never know when something yummy might fall out of them.  So one technique is to walk along with treats in your hand and randomly, occasionally let a few treats fall through your fingers.  The dogs very quickly learn to follow you and watch your hand.

This then evolves into putting a small cup onto the end of a target stick.  You put a treat into the cup and walk along with the stick held out above the dog’s head.  The dog looks up at the cup and walks along beside you.  Click – a flick of the wrist sends the treat flying out of the cup.  The dog chases it down – what fun! – and then immediately returns to the cup.  The dogs are learning to move with balance, to stay oriented to Kay, to stop, back up, come forward, to walk at her side, or to move out around her on a circle.  (If you want to learn more directly from Kay, bookmark her web site: learningaboutdogs.com  It is going through a massive redesign at the moment so it is currently off line.  When Kay unveils her new site after Christmas, it will be full of good things to explore.)

I have been thinking about this technique for quite a while, especially for Thanzi.  She’s such a powerful goat.  Before I ever attach a lead to her collar, I want her to understand how to stay with me.  So I built a “bird’s nest” target stick for the goats.  I duct taped a small plastic container to one end of a wooden stick and a clicker to the other.  The cup was just big enough for a goat to eat out of. That turned out to be an important criterion.

The first time I used the target cup, the goats were confused by the food delivery.  I had to teach them to look for the food falling out of the cup.  That part was okay.  They could do that, but then they didn’t want to eat the pumpkin pieces once they had fallen into the gravel.

So we’re back to horse training constraints with the food delivery.  We don’t want our horses eating off of the footings we typically work them in.  The goats were saying they didn’t consider the gravel walkway to be a suitable dinner plate.  Fair enough.  So I switched from dropping the treat out of the cup, to lowering it so the goat could eat the treat from the cup.  (If you’re reading this, Kay, don’t shudder at the corruption of your method.  I had to adapt your technique to my learners’ persnickety eating habits.)

I’ve only been experimenting with this approach for a couple of days, but so far I really like it, especially for Thanzi.  She is so smart and so much fun to work with.  She has caught on with lightening speed to the game.  She positions herself by my side and walks in very measured steps, head up, nose pointing to the cup.  I pause.  She pauses.  Click, lower the cup.  She takes the treat.  I reload, and off we go for a few more steps of very controlled, measured walk.  Pause. Wait. She backs up.  Click.  Lower the cup.  Reload.  I hold a handful of treats in my free hand.  When they are gone, we walk together over to the gate.  High up on a post out of reach for goats I have more treats stashed.  I get a resupply and we’re off.  I think this is going to be a really fun way to teach Thanzi both great leading skills and also some fun liberty work.  Thank you, Kay.

It’s also been good for Trixie.  She very deliberately chooses to be the first one through the gate when it’s time to train.  I let her through into the hallway and throw some treats to Thanzi so she’s not feeling too left out.  Trixie has definitely got the idea of stationing on platforms.  Following the target cup is an easy way to move her from platform to platform and to build her confidence.  I could use a regular target and hand feed her.  This is an experiment.  I want to see what I get when I deliver the food in this way.

This is the fun of clicker training.  There is always, always more than one way to train every behavior.  Part of the reason for working with the goats is they get me out of the “rut” of doing things the way I know how to do things.  That’s always good for training.  So far, I’ve treated them like horses.  Now I’m having the fun of borrowing ideas from dog trainers.  There’s always another way to solve every puzzle.  And there’s always more to learn.  That’s as true for me as it is for Thanzi and Trixie.

Happy Holidays Everyone!  I wish you the joy of your own mad scientist experiments!

 

Pellias Christmas card.png

We’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: theclickercenterblog.com

 

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.