The July Goat Diaries: Day 4 – Learning About Goats

What are you feeling?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2nd Session 11 am

P’s Session:

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

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

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

Figure 1

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

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

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

Figure 2

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

Goats head butting in arena.png

Figure 3

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

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

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

Figure 4

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Goat Palace Journals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 4

The Goat Palace: Training is Accumulating Fast!

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

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

Just before Thanksgiving I had finished posting about Day Three of their training.  (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/11/20/)  Three days doesn’t sound like much, but that was fourteen training sessions.  I had introduced Elyan and Pellias (E and P as I referred to them in July) to the bare bones of targeting.  They had been on platforms.  On day four I was planning to add in a second platform.  So let me jump back to July.  Hopefully, this won’t confuse you too much.  I wish I had begun posting these Goat Diaries sooner so there wasn’t this overlap, but that wasn’t how my summer unfolded.  And perhaps it is better this way.  You can see both how these first steps can be built, and at the same time how much fun you can have using these foundation skills.

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

The July Goat Diaries: How We Get Behavior

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

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

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

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

Goats day 2 target practice E - 1.png

Elyan learning about targeting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Session 1: 8 am with P.

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

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

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

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

E’s Session

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

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

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

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

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

The Goat Palace: Working in Pairs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Coming Next:  Goat Diaries – Day 4 Learning About Goats

 

The Goat Diaries – Weathering the Storm

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

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

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

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

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

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

Goat Diaries T&T Learning to Share

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yesterday’s sessions were full of change.  In a previous report I described how I taught Elyan and Pellias to go to platforms set on either side of my chair.  (https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/12/01/)  I’ve been building on that lesson, moving the chair to different places in the hallway so they aren’t always seeing the same orientation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

 

The Goat Diaries – Still Catching Up

The Goat Palace – Foot Targets and Puzzle Moments

This will teach me to take time off from these Goat Diaries for the Holidays.  It feels as though I have entered Alice in Wonderland territory – always running and never getting anywhere.  By the time I catch up, I will be behind again.  Oh well.  We’ll see how far I get today.

I think the easiest approach is to describe where we are and not worry too much about the details of how we got there.  In my previous post I wrote about stillness: in stillness comes understanding.  I needed stillness, especially with Thanzi.  She’s so used to getting what she wants by pushing her way in.  Touching a target was easy.  That part was great, but after the click she was pushing in trying to go directly to the treats.

Thanzi pushing for treat.png

Thanzi has just touched her target, but now she’s trying to go directly to the treats.

In loopy training both sides of the click have to be clean for a loop to be clean.  The food delivery was a long way from being what I wanted.  I could move on with the targeting, but I would be dragging along with it all the unwanted food manners.  So I changed tactics and introduced both ladies to platforms.

Platforms give the feet a place to be.  I could click them for being on the platform. That was the behavior side of the click.  On the food delivery side I positioned myself so they remained on the platform while they got their treat. That meant staying very close to them which made my treat bowl even more of a target, but at least I had their feet more or less planted.  It was funny watching how much they could stand elephant-on-a-drum at the edge of the platform.  They would look as though they couldn’t possibly keep from tumbling forward, but they spread their toes and somehow managed to stay on.

When I first set out the platforms,  Trixie predictably was suspicious of the platforms.  She able to be by herself in the hallway, but she was uneasy about moving too far away from Thanzi.  She certainly wasn’t ready yet to go as far as the second platform which was set further down the hallway.  Both platforms were initially something to avoid. She was the most horse-like of all the goats.  It wasn’t that she was afraid to step on raised surfaces, but she was definitely suspicious of anything new in her environment.

Thanzi was the complete opposite.  When I opened the gate, she would dash out.  She would then stick to me like glue.  If I went to the far end of the hallway, she dashed right along with me.  She certainly had no concerns about being away from Trixie.  Instead it was hurry, hurry, hurry to stay glued to me.

The platforms, however, were also something to be avoided.  At first, I just worked on targeting and ignored the platforms.  Thanzi was getting pretty solid with the targeting so it was time to make the platforms part of the lesson.  I had my green target stick with me. I had her orient to it a couple of times. Click.  I fed so she had to back up away from me.  Then I kept changing my position.  To get to the target, the most direct route was to step up onto the platform.  This is so very different from the way I would do it with horses!

Thanzi put her front feet up on the platform, and then it was easy.  She stepped up all four onto the platform.  Click then treat while her feet were on the platform.  Finally, with her feet still, I could work on grown-ups. I held the target stick straight down in a neutral position and waited for her to take her nose away from my pocket. Click – treat.  It helped so much having her feet anchored on the platform.

In stillness comes understanding.

The platform is a foot target.  Keeping her planted on one spot helped her to notice what the rest of her body was doing.  I was standing right beside her, close enough for her to easily reach my pocket.  If I had stepped away even a little bit, my movement would have drawn her off the platform.  When she was pushing at my pocket, no treats, but as soon as her nose moved away from my pocket, click, I fed her.

When she wasn’t on the platform, her feet moved along with her nose so it wasn’t clear what she was being clicked for.  Here it was so much clearer.  I clicked because you moved your nose.  That sound you just heard is a predictor that treats are coming.  Thanzi was putting two and two together fast.

With people we often find rules restricting.  The more rules we have, the more we feel caged in.  But here rules were liberating.  Stand on this platform, look straight ahead, and you are in control. You can make this very odd person reach into her pocket and hand you a much desired piece of squash.  For Thanzi understanding created even more of an eagerness to play the game. That eagerness was expressed not with anxiety, but with an ever-growing confidence.

Once Thanzi was on a platform, she was super at staying on. I would click and treat for a short round, then I walked to the other platform holding the target out for her to follow. Thanzi raced after me, but she didn’t automatically jump up onto the platform.  She’d by-pass it on her way to get to me.  I had to maneuver myself so the most direct route to me was via the platform.  Click as she stepped up, and then another round of clicking for all four feet on the platform and her head in good “grown-ups” position.

Trixie’s sessions were similar.  They were just done in slow motion compared to Thanzi.  I noticed with her that when I switched sides, she completely lost track of the target. She had not yet generalized so I could present the target from different orientations.  I had to be on her left side, and the target needed to appear as expected.

Certainly with horses if I don’t vary my presentation, I can end up with a very one-sided learner. Trixie’s reaction to the target was more than this.  It made me wonder if her nervous personality made it harder for her to notice patterns. And then does that contribute to her feeling even more nervous because it is harder for her to predict what is going to happen? She starts out nervous and becomes more nervous because all that worry gets in the way of making connections.

Or do nervous individuals start out having more trouble making connections, and that’s what gets the ball rolling.  They start to feel anxious because they don’t understand why things are happening the way they are.  Which comes first the chicken or the egg?  Either way, it’s a snowball scenario.

As very young horses, Robin and Panda were both superb at making connections and they are both supremely confident. Thanzi is so like them.  She’s very quick and very confident. If we collected data, would this correlation between pattern recognition and confidence hold?

Is this one of the reasons clicker training helps nervous learners? By slowing things down for Trixie I am helping her make connections.  She was understanding that A leads to B in a predictable way.  That was making her bolder and more confident in her responses.

Does predictability help reduce generalized anxiety by giving you more control over what is going to happen?  If I don’t understand how A and B are connected, it’s much harder to adjust my behavior to avoid the things I don’t like or to get to the things I want.  When you’re frazzled and worried about every little thing, all that noise makes it harder to understand what is really happening.  You see connections that don’t exist, and you miss the reliable predictors.  When the world seems to be built on shifting sands, of course you will be more nervous.  It remains to be seen if the stability that platforms offer will help Trixie to become an increasingly confident learner.

With both goats I had the beginning of platform training.  They would both step up onto a platform and stay there while I clicked and treated them.  But I wasn’t convinced that they were really aware that there was something special about being on a platform.  Once on, they tended to stay on, but when I took them off with a target, I had to direct them back to the platform.  Neither one of them went to a platform on her own.

So I switched tactics.  I set a food bowl down just far enough in front of the platform that they would have to take a step off to get to the bowl.  The question was what would they do after they got the treat.  Thanzi’s answer was she consistently backed herself onto the platform, looked regal, got clicked, dashed forward to get her treat and then backed herself onto the platform.

All the backing to deliver the treat had primed her well.  She easily solved this puzzle.  Trixie was similar, just slower.  So now I had two goats who could get themselves back onto a platform after getting their treats.  Progress!  For Thanzi in particular it was time to create a real puzzle moment for her.

Kay Laurence talks about puzzle moments.  This is when you set a test for your learner to see if what they have learned matches what you thought you were teaching.  When you play the table games, you often have times when the person gives you the correct answer.  You think they have the concept you were trying to teach.  Maybe you want them to touch only the yellow object.  You’re setting two objects out on the table, one yellow and one purple, and they are consistently touching the one you want.  Click and treat.  So now you add to the choices by setting out three objects, and they touch the purple one!  Surprise, surprise.  What is going on?

They’ve been operating under a different rule.  Maybe the yellow object was always the first one you put out, or the one you put closest, or the smallest, or the biggest.  There are lots of different variables to choose from in any system.  Your learner found a rule that worked to produce the correct answer – until it didn’t.  You can go on for quite a long time thinking your learner understands what you want, but unless you test it, you really don’t know for sure.

Maybe Thanzi had no idea that the platform was significant.  Maybe she was backing up after she got her treat because she’d discovered that backing up got me to click.  The platform just happened to be in the way.  That was certainly part of how I got her onto the platform in the first place.  The question now was had the platform itself become significant?  Did she understand that being on the platform mattered, not just backing up?

I had been gradually moving the food bowl further and further out from the platform.  That meant a couple of times after she got her treat, Thanzi was no longer lined up directly with the platform.  When she backed, she ended up broadside to it.   What would she do?

I love watching puzzle moments.  This is when you can really see your learner processing what is going on.  When you train in tight loops, a rhythm emerges.  It’s get the right answer, repeat.  Get the right answer, repeat.  You slide the criterion along so smoothly that your learner really doesn’t notice that you’ve been gradually making the lesson harder.  There’s no break in the rhythm until you stumble across a puzzle moment.  Now there’s a pause.  This is when you want to be very still.  No prompting.  No helping the learner.  No giving away the answer and depriving them of ownership of the solution.  You wait and watch.  If it’s clear your learner needs help, you offer it.  You give the clue that will make solving the puzzle possible, but first you wait to see if that extra clue is needed.

The reinforcer for waiting was seeing Thanzi step sideways up onto the platform.  Click and treat.  She was understanding.  Several more times in that session she got off line from the platform and each time she very deliberately deviated from where she was to step up onto it.  Her actions told me that she understood the platform was indeed significant.

So now she was ready for the next puzzle moment.  She was solidly on the platform.  I could click, and then walk to her to give her a treat.  She would wait for me to bring the treat to her.

And I could also drop the treat into the food bucket.  She would leave the platform, get the treat, and then back up onto the platform.  I was impressed by how well she understood the two forms of treat delivery.  There was no confusion between them.  She was reading my body language well, and she was waiting on the platform when that was indicated.

I was also impressed by how quickly I had been able to open up space between us and how solid she was about staying on the platform.  What a smart goat!

So now I presented her with a puzzle moment that made her head hurt.

I tossed the treat into her food bowl.  The platform was behind her.  As she lifted her head, I began to take a further step back in the opposite direction from the platform.  The food was going away!

In the world in which she had lived up until now you followed food, and you made sure you were the first with your head in the bucket.  In this alternate universe that she now found herself in, backing up away from the food bucket got you treats.  She had worked her mind around that concept.  Going back to the platform got me to reach into the metal bowl I was holding and hand her a treat.  But I had never moved the bowl away.  Now it was leaving!

The question was could she back up as I backed up?  Could she allow the gap between us to keep expanding.  Would she be able to cope with this truly inside out world?  I backed just a little and waited.  It was so clear her head was hurting with all the computing she was doing.  As smart as she is, she wasn’t used to having to think so hard.  No, she just couldn’t do it.  Not yet.  Not this time.  I helped by stepping slightly forward.  She went onto the platform.  Click and treat.

I did another couple of rounds where things were kept as she expected them to be. I clicked and reinforced her a couple of times while she stayed on the platform.  Then I clicked and dropped a treat in the bucket.  She came forward to get her treat.  As she lifted her head out of the bucket, I took a step back.

And this time she could find the answer.  She let me take the food bowl further away as she backed up to the platform.  What a truly fast learner she is!  What a smart goat.  No wonder she’s such a powerful leader.  When she stood up on her platform waiting for me to click, she looked so regal.  I hope she was as pleased as I was by how well she had solved that puzzle!

So that is pretty much where I am with the four I am working with.  Elyan and Pellias are learning about working together and sharing.  It sounds like kindergarten.  Always I am reminded of Robert Fulghum’s charming book, “Everything I Ever Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten”.  The ladies are learning about platforms.   Marla has continued to work with Galahad on targeting.  She was away over the Thanksgiving Holiday.  When she got back, she also introduced him to platforms.  So all the goats have taken a major step forward in their basic education.

Coming next we’ll see where all of these good puzzle pieces are taking us.

 

 

 

 

The Goat Diaries – Catching Up

The Goat Palace

I took a break from the Goat Diary reports over the Thanksgiving Holiday.  This past week I’ve been nose to grind stone getting my presentations ready for the 2018 Clicker Expo.  2018 marks the 15th Anniversary of the Expo.  I’m looking forward to looking back.

For the past four or five years I’ve been doing a program at the Expo titled: “Getting Your Horse Started with the Clicker”.  As you’ve seen from these goat diaries, there’s a lot to be said about introducing any animal to the clicker.  Look at how many of these goat diary reports I’ve posted and we’re only at Day 4 with Elyan and Pellias.  Imagine squeezing all this down into just two hours which is the time I have for this talk at the Expo.   I could make it easy on myself and give the same basic talk every year, but that’s no fun.  Instead every year I create a new program.  The title stays the same, but the content changes.

Last year I used the work of the cognitive linguist, George Lakoff, to help us understand the great divide between command-based and cue-based training.  When you’re first dipping your toe in the water of cue-based training, it’s good to know that this divide exists and that it very much impacts your training choices.

This year’s program is inspired by the goats. They are such incredibly enthusiastic learners. They are quick, agile, smart, eager – and fantastically greedy for treats.  That makes them perfect candidates for clicker training.

I want the eagerness, but I also value calm, settled learners.  So this year’s program focuses on the teaching strategies that help create a balance between calm and eager.  I resisted using pictures of the goats in the “Getting Your Horse Started” talk, but I did put some into my introduction to the Rope Handling Lab.

I sent the programs in yesterday – one day ahead of the deadline, so now it is back to the Goat Diaries.  A lot has happened in the nine days since I last posted.  For starters I decided to separate the goats.  The ladies now have their own separate living quarters in the back half of the lean-to.  Thanzi was doing too much chasing of the youngsters. I didn’t like the stress that was causing for them.  So now youngsters have the front area to themselves, and Trixie and Thanzi are much more settled in their own quarters.  It certainly makes it easier to manage the swaps in and out for training.

The other big change has been that I turned what was supposed to be the storage area for the lawn mower and the snow blower into a training area.  When the snowblower went out for repairs, the space it freed up was just too good to give back.  So I’ve moved both machines to the storage bay of the composter.  We’ve never really used that space because it is so open to the weather, but I figured out a very clever way to build a temporary roof over the equipment so we should be able to leave them there all winter. That gives us for training the thirty feet of what has now been dubbed the hallway.  Priorities!  We can’t have machines taking up good training space!

Having a designated training space has made a huge difference.  It makes the swaps so much easier, and it gives us an area in which we can set up platforms and any other props we want for training.  While one goat is working, the other goats often watch. Not even Trixie is anxious either about being left or being the only goat in this area.

The only stress is with Elyan who wants to be part of every training session.  If he could figure out how to crawl through the cracks, he would.  The stress is not so much his as it is mine.  I have to work very hard not to succumb to how cute he is as he pleadingly tries to convince me to open the gate and let him join the fun.

Over Thanksgiving I worked with Elyan and Pellias individually on platform training.  Out in the hallway I set a platform next to my chair and put a feed tub a short distance in front of it.  Elyan’s platform was always on the left of the chair.  Pellias’ was on the right.

I sat in the chair and whichever goat I was working with would hop up onto the platform.  They are both very familiar with platforms so this was nothing new for them.  What was new was the food delivery.  In July after I clicked, I would hand them a treat, feeding them where the perfect goat would be.  The perfect goat would have all four feet on the platform, and he would be looking straight ahead.  The change I made now was after I clicked, I tossed the treat into the food bowl.  They had to take a step down off the platform to get the treat.  Which meant they had to get back onto the platform again to get clicked.  Both goats were quick to figure this out. They got their treat and then backed up the one or two steps it took them to be all four feet once again on the platform.

I was thinking about this earlier this morning as I was writing out my journal notes for yesterday’s training.  Backing up to return to the mat was well primed, meaning it was already in repertoire.  If I had tried this early on in their training, it would have been a mess.  They wouldn’t have had any understanding that getting back to the platform was relevant.  Even if their feet happened to be on the platform, they were so fixated on the treats, they probably wouldn’t have noticed where their feet were.

If they had somehow understood that being on the platform was what got me to toss treats, backing up to return to the platform wouldn’t have been an available answer.  We would have been floundering.  They would have been mugging me or wandering off to hunt fallen leaves, and I would have been struggling to find something worth clicking.  It would have felt chaotic and wrong.

Instead very early on I put backing into repertoire through the food delivery.  So now when they were just a step off the platform it was easy to find the solution to the puzzle.  Priming the training pump is a beautiful thing.  (That, by the way is going to be one of the teaching strategies I’ll be talking about in my Expo presentation.)

Over several sessions I moved the food bowl further away from the chair so instead of taking just one or two steps to get back onto the platform, they now had to go four or five feet. That was about as far as I could reliably toss the treat.  Pellias was particularly good.  Once on the platform he positioned himself so he was parallel to my chair and looking straight ahead.  Click, toss the treat.  He dashed off to the food bowl, got his treat and backed himself right back onto the platform.  Very fun!

Goat Palace Pellias on platform 4 panels

Elyan was always angled on the mat so he was facing in more towards me.  The mat was wide enough that he didn’t have to stand parallel to stay on it.  So I built him his own mat which was half the width of the previous one.  That sorted the problem.  Now to have all four feet on the platform he couldn’t stand at an angle to the chair.  You can solve so many training puzzles by just changing the environment.

Having two very different platforms also helped to designate which side of the chair they were to be on.  I put out both platforms, but only reinforced them when they were on their own platform.  There were surprisingly few mistakes.  Even when both platforms were available to them, Pellias consistently went to the larger platform on my right; Elyan consistently went to the narrow platform on my left.

I worked them individually through the Thanksgiving weekend.  Then on Monday evening I let them both out together.  There was a swirl of activity around me. One of the goats hopped up onto the big platform.  It was dusk, so the light was failing.  A quick glance made me think it was Elyan.  I told him he was on the wrong platform.  But then I realized that it was Pellias. I clicked, gave him a treat, and then sat down in my chair. Instead of rushing over to Pellias to try to grab his treat, Elyan hopped up onto his own platform.  I had two goats standing on either side of my chair – very neat. Click – toss the treats. They went each to his own food bowl, and then dashed back to the platforms.

Pellias was faster at getting back than Elyan. He had to wait until Elyan was also on his platform and both goats had their heads away from me before I would click. That was entertaining to watch. They were trying so hard. One would be perfect, but not the other. So I would wait.  Now the second goat was where I wanted him, but not the first.  They both had to meet criterion at the same time for me to click.  Their heads helicoptered around. They were trying so hard.  And now they both had a split second of stillness with their heads looking forward.  Click – both dashed to their buckets. Pellias backed up onto the platform. Elyan turned to get back to his so he took a little longer.  Pellias had to wait on his platform until Elyan was back on his.  Then it was wait even longer until both met my criterion simultaneously.

I was delighted at how well the session went.  There was no head butting, no trying to stand on the same mat, no competition at the food bowls.  I clicked, they raced forward, each goat got his treat from his bucket and then it was back to his designated platform.  Very neat.

I’ve continued to work on this with them.  Yesterday I was astounded.  I had two goats who were actually still, and not just for a second or two, but for real duration.  It is amazing how things sort.  Especially with such quick, agile animals, there is so much movement, finding still is a challenge.  It’s easy to get active behaviors.  Run to touch this target or race over here to this platform.  That’s easy stuff.  But stillness.  Just stand here next to me.  That’s hard.  Something is always moving.  If the feet are still, the head is moving.  If the head is still, the feet are dancing.  You click one thing that’s good, but what about everything else?  And now to complicate things I have two goats who have to meet the criterion both at the same time.  It’s amazing that it ever sorts itself out.  I say amazing because it never gets old.  I never take the puzzle solving for granted.  It never becomes ho hum, of course it is all going to work out.  Been there, done that.  What’s to celebrate?

I’ll tell you what’s to celebrate.  We have stillness – and the joy is still there.

Tomorrow I’ll catch you up on the ladies and then I’ll get back to the July goat diaries.

 

The Goat Diaries – Clicker Training Day Four

I have finally made it to Day Four of the July Goat Diaries.  It’s only the start of Day Four but already the goats have had 14 training sessions, and I’ve learned a lot.  One of the main things I’ve learned is that goats are like horses, except that they’re not.  On Day Four I continued to build on their platform training by adding in multiple platforms.

I’ve decided to wait though to post this part of the Goat Diaries until after the Thanksgiving Holidays.  That may give me time to get some pictures of the current Goat Palace training.  I can describe what I am doing, but without pictures you are missing out on how utterly charming these goats are.

Last night I went in intending only to check hay and water, but Elyan and Pellias were looking so eager.  I couldn’t resist letting them each have another session out in the storage area.  They were super.  They had the game down.  Go to the platform, wait for the click, go to the food bowl, and then head back to the platform.   I do like this kind of training, especially at the end of the day.   All I have to do is sit in a chair and toss treats into a food bucket.  I’d spent the afternoon emptying one of the composter bays.  It’s hard work and I was tired, but I could handle this.

I worked with Pellias first.  He was so solid.  Yesterday he was still learning to go to the food bowl to get his treats.  Last night he had that down.  I love the focus of these goats.  It was after dark.  He was by himself, in a new area.  There were night sounds to listen to, but he never lost his focus on the game.  It was go to the platform, click, go to the food bowl, then back to the platform.

I’ve been thinking a lot about horse training, but in this game they moved much more like dogs.  They have the quickness and flexibility of dogs.  Pellias would get his treats and lightning fast he’d back up to get onto the platform.  It’s going to be fun to look at the teaching strategies dog trainers have developed.  I am working with an animal that is the size of a dog, has the agility of a dog, and loves treats like a dog, so it makes sense to take advantage of what canine clicker trainers have been learning.

Elyan also got a turn.  I was especially impressed by him.  I was holding a large bowl containing cut up squash.  I wanted to use up what was left from the morning sessions, but I didn’t want to mix it in with my horse treats.  The horses are telling me they don’t really like squash, but the goats are happy to eat it.

Elyan ignored the bowl!  When I clicked, he dashed to the food bucket to get the squash.  He ignored the bowl on my lap.  He could have been a terrible pest trying to get to the squash that was so openly available in the bowl, but he didn’t try even once.  The time I spent in July focusing on good food manners was time well spent.  I now have an individual who can focus on the game.  He delights in the treats, but his attention is on the activity, not the food.  That’s the shift that I worked on in July.  Now we can really have fun!

The Goat Palace - The three boys together.png

The three youngsters – from left to right, Galahad, Elyan and Pellias.

Happy Thanksgiving Everyone!

 

The Goat Diaries – Day 3: Arrange the Environment for Success

The Goat Palace – Journal Report for 11/19/17: You Never Know What You Have Taught

Galahad had the first session of the day.  He’s an eager, happy learner, and he very much chose to go into the far end to play.  I stayed for a few minutes down in the front section visiting with the other goats. Elyan and Pellias were up on the top platform of the jungle gym.  They were eager for head scratches. Surprisingly, so was Thanzi.

By the time I extracted myself from their appeal for more, Marla had already begun Galahad’s session.  She commented that what she thought she had taught him was not what he had learned.  Ah yes, that’s the clinic mantra: You never know what you have taught.  You only know what you have presented.  Yesterday he had been going to his target, click, followed by Marla dropping a treat in one of the food buckets.  He went promptly to the bucket, got his treat, and then touched the target again. Marla would then drop his treat in a second bucket, so he was going back and forth between buckets with a quick stop in between to touch the target.

His takeaway from that was just to go from bucket to bucket – never mind touching the target.  It reminded me of the table games that we play to learn about training and to work out procedures for teaching concepts.

Training game

Playing the table game during the Five Go To Sea Caribbean conference cruise.  I’m hiding from the sun under the funny hat.  Kay Laurence is sitting behind us.

Kay Laurence is the originator of these games. Several years ago we were together at an airport, both with long waits for our flights home.  So we found a quiet corner and pulled out a table game kit.  I was the learner, something when I’m teaching I rarely get to be, so that was a treat.  Kay had a plan in mind for teaching me to use the pieces from the game to draw a pentagon.  Of course, I had no idea what she had in mind.  But I was a contented learner because I was making lots of correct choices and getting clicked and reinforced  at a high rate.  The only problem was the rules I was using to produce the actions she was reinforcing were not the same rules Kay was trying to teach.  So I was coming up with the right answer but for the wrong (from Kay’s perspective) reason.

Every time Kay presented me with a puzzle moment I got stuck.  Puzzle moments are small tests to check to see if what you think you are teaching is what your learner is learning.  It was a fascinating and fun experience, though it could easily have been a frustrating experience if either of us had brought a different mind set to the game.

My flight was coming up, so we had to end the game.  Kay explained what she wanted me to do.  My reaction to being told the “answer” was interesting.  I felt deflated.  I wanted to go on and work through the puzzle.  Being told the answer was far less satisfying than discovering the answer on my own.  I missed the puzzle solving, and I missed seeing what strategies Kay would have used to get things sorted out. But my plane wasn’t going to wait for us to finish the game, so we had to jump straight to the final answer.

Galahad had come up with a solution to the puzzle that made total sense to him.  Go from bucket to bucket and expect your person to drop a treat in when you get there.  He had completely by-passed the target.

Watching him, I also didn’t think he was noticing Marla’s tongue click. With horses I suggest that people begin with an actual clicker.  The sharp sound that a box clicker makes is very noticeable, and the horses seem to catch on fast to the significance of the sound.  After a couple of targeting sessions with the clicker, you can switch to a tongue click, and the horses are very aware of the new marker signal.

I suggested to Marla that she get an actual clicker.  At the stage where you’re using target sticks, clickers are easy to use. You can duct tape a box clicker onto the end of the target stick so you have easy access to the clicker.

Marla got a box clicker and continued on with the lesson.  Galahad quickly remembered that he was supposed to touch the target. Yesterday’s fluid pattern was back. Now it was: orient to the target, click, go to the indicated food bucket for a treat, look for the target. A clean loop was reappearing.

This experience highlights another part of the start-up process.  I like to begin with very short sessions.  With horses I have people count out twenty treats.  That means handlers who are new to this process have to stop frequently to reload their pockets. This also gives them time to think about what has just occurred and to consider what, if any, changes need to be made.

With five goats to juggle I was certainly finding I needed to do a lot of adjusting.  It wasn’t just what was happening with the individual I was focusing on.  What was going on with the other goats?  When I had Pellias out by himself, he was having a grand time, but how stressed was Elyan?  Was he being chased by Thanzi?  Yes.  When I took Thanzi out, was Trixie able to cope?  There was a lot to think about, a lot to keep shifting around to find the right training combinations.

Keeping your initial training sessions short lets you check in with your animals more frequently to see what they are actually learning. Each time you go back in and start up the session, you get to see what’s been processed from the previous session. If your learner has come up with a different answer, these short sessions mean it hasn’t become so entrenched that it is now hard to shift the pattern.

It is ironic that I am writing about short sessions, because I am known for using long training sessions. With an established learner I’ll fill my pockets with treats and keep going. That seems to suit the learning style of horses, but these long sessions are broken up into smaller units. I give breaks through the behaviors I’ve taught. For example, I might be working on lateral flexions. We’ll have a bit of success, then it’s off to find a mat. The mat acts both as a conditioned reinforcer and a way to give a break. The change in the rhythm of the training provides a break without having to stop the play.

At the heart of this is the training principle: for every exercise you teach there is an opposite exercise you must teach to keep things in balance.

The balance that I thought was needed now for the other goats was a morning session of quiet visiting.  I was very pleased that Thanzi wanted to participate in some head scratching.  I had the two ladies in the back section so the three youngsters could relax and not worry about dodging out of Thanzi’s way.  She stayed by the gate while I scratched her head.  Normally, she’s been drawing away when I try to touch her, so I consider this real progress.  Trixie came up to me repeatedly through the morning, but she’s not yet ready for a proper scratch.  The boys, on the other hand, had a blissful time enjoying a prolonged cuddle session.

Afterwards, Marla and I worked some more on the Goat Palace.  We’re getting close to the finish line, but there always seem to be a few more things to do.  Years ago my family did some remodeling to the house.  The process dragged on and on.  Every day my father would make a list of things that the builders still needed to get done before he could sign off on the job.  He remarked that they always seemed to get done only half the remaining jobs.  You would think on a finite project like that, you would be able to check everything off the list, but it never seemed to happen.

At the moment we seem to be caught in that twilight zone of always completing just half the remaining tasks.  One of yesterday’s tasks was tidying up the section we’ve designated for storage.  I was very pleased to see how little we have left to store.  We have managed to use up an amazing amount of miscellaneous clutter.  So perhaps when we run out of stuff to find a use for, we will also run out of tasks that still need to be done. That will finish off phase one of the goat palace.  (I say phase one because phase two is obviously going to be expanding the goat jungle gym. That will be as much for our entertainment as it will be for theirs.)

One of the things that contributed to the tidying up of the storage area was the snow blower went out to be serviced for the winter.  That left a clear area that could be used for training.  So in the early evening I took advantage of this space to work with Elyan and Pellias.  It was a good time for training.  The goats were beginning to settle down for the night.  It was easy to close the middle gate so only Pellias and Elyan were in the front section.

I had everything set up for them out in the storage area.  I had my chair, a food bucket and a couple of platforms, including the very distinctive foam platform I had introduced them to in July.

Elyan came out first.  I brought him out on a lead, and then turned him loose.  He stayed nearby.  He was clearly interested in playing, but he wasn’t sure what to do.  I let him explore for a couple of minutes, then I brought out the baton and directed him towards the foam platform.  He hopped up onto it, click, I dropped the treat into the bucket.  He had to step down from the platform to get to the bucket.  So now the question was what would he do?  The answer was he backed up to get back on the platform. Click! Drop treats in the food bucket.

Elyan seemed to catch on fast.  The “rule” was get back to the platform, and you’ll get clicked.  At least that’s what was happening.  His “rule” might just as easily have been: back up, and you’ll get clicked. The platform was just in the path of the backing. I’ll need to have a puzzle moment to check whether he is going to the platform or simply backing up.

In any case, while he was getting his treat, I nudged the platform a little further away.  He continued to back himself onto the the platform.  We could have kept going all night, but this was a session that should be kept short.  I got up from my chair, and he followed me back in to the front section.

Pellias was eating hay.  He hadn’t been at all fussed having his brother outside the pen.  But now I wanted to do a swap, and they were both at the gate.  I got Pellias out and sat down in my chair.  He went straight to the platform.  Click.  I dropped treats in the bucket.  He stepped off the platform, got his treat and went straight back to the platform.  I repeated this a couple of times, and then I exclaimed; “Wait a minute.  You’re not Pellias!” In the fading light I hadn’t noticed that little Elyan had pushed past his brother for a second turn.  With his jacket on to keep his coat clean, it was harder to tell them apart. No wonder he was so good!

I got them switched around so now it truly was Pellias’ turn.  He’s always been a platform superstar.  He went straight to the foam platform.  Click.  But now the food delivery was different.  He’s used to getting the treat from my hand, not a food bucket.  I moved the bucket close to the platform and helped him find the hay stretcher pellet.  He got his treat and then stepped off the platform. He wandered away from the platform. I waited.  He began to eat the leaves that we hadn’t swept out of this area.  I got out my baton target and gave it a little shake.  That got his attention.  He followed it to the platform, click, drop the treat.

The hay stretchers make a very sharp noise as they fall into the bucket.  That helped draw Pellias’ attention, and he began to look in the bucket for his treat.  He only had to take his front feet off the platform to get to the bucket, so it was easy for him to step back onto it and get clicked.  My concern was the sound of the treat dropping into the bucket might become the functional marker signal, so I clicked, and began to wait to see him react to the click before I made any move to drop the treat into his bucket.  I got lucky several times with that.  He had turned on the platform so he could look down the driveway.  The sound of my tongue click turned him around, so it was clear, at least in this situation, that he was responding to the sound of the click.

Again, I kept the session short.  When I opened the gate to let him back in, I dropped treats on the floor to distract Elyan.  Pellias came in to get the treats, as well.  I’m not sure I want the others out in this area yet, but for these two their July visit prepared them well for going outside of their pen.

I filled their hay feeders, opened the middle gate and left the goats tucked in for the night.

Today’s July Goat Diary appropriately enough continues with the initial training of platforms.

The July Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3: Arrange The Environment for Success

I described earlier the morning sessions of day three in which I introduced both goats to platforms.  This was an errand day so I wasn’t able to fit in as many sessions as usual. When I got back to the barn around 5, E and P were clearly hungry. They were standing on a bed of hay, but none of it was to their liking. I gave them fresh hay and left them to eat while I did barn chores.

7 pm session with P

P was very rambunctious – literally. He reared up several times. I managed to dodge him and get him on the platform, but the session didn’t feel very productive.

I wasn’t satisfied with the way he was orienting to the target. I thought a second platform might help. If a platform was the end destination, it might make more sense to him why he was following a target. I decided to consider this a data collecting session.  I knew where I needed to head, but I would wait until tomorrow to add the second platform.  Training success depends very much upon having a good set-up.  I suspected adding the second platform would help smooth things out.  Instead of continuing on with a session that wasn’t going well, I would wait until I had a better set up.

In contrast to P, E’s session was great. He was so very soft and sweet. I had him target the baton, click, treat. Then I scratched him around his ears. His eyes got soft, and he leaned into my hand, clearly enjoying the feel. I asked him to follow the target again, click, treat, scratch.  Who knows what E was learning.  I certainly found it very reinforcing!  I began his day with bliss, and that’s how I ended it.

The password to open this video is: GoatDiariesDay 3 E Learns

Note: When I was in town, I stopped at the new bird store that’s just opened.  I bought some black sunflower seeds which the goats really like. So now they are getting a mix of sunflower seeds, peanuts and hay stretcher pellets.

8 pm final session of the day.

We ended the evening with “cuddle time”.  While Ann groomed Fengur, I took my chair into the stall and enjoyed a few minutes of goat bliss.

Coming Next: Clicker Training Day 4

Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order.  The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd.  I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/