Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order. The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd. I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/ Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July. The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period. In November these two goats, plus three others returned. They will be with me through the winter. The “Goat Palace” reports track their training. I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.
The July Goat Diaries: “I’m Hungry!”
Are you really a positive trainer?
There’s a provocative question for you. We use food in training, but does that mean that the animal is having a positive learning experience? Suppose you hold back a significant part of your learner’s daily food ration to use in training. Your learner knows that the only way he’s going to get the food is by doing what you want. He’s afraid of the platform you want him to stand on, but he’s hungry. Does the fear or the hunger win out? That’s a terrible position to put any learner into. If an animal has to respond correctly or go hungry, can it really positive training? Thankfully, that’s not how most of us use food. It’s certainly not what I do with horses.
In the wild horses will spend twelve or more hours grazing. A horse who has just come in from grass or eaten his evening hay can still find room for a little “desert”. I’ve never had to withhold food before a training session. In fact a horse who has 24/7 access to hay or pasture is a much better learner. I don’t want to work with a horse who is hungry and feeling anxious about food. It just makes it harder for him to relax and enjoy the puzzle I’m presenting.
I was learning that it works the same way with the goats. A hungry goat is not a good student.
The July Goat Diaries – Day 4: P’s 5 pm session
I spent the afternoon away from the barn. I had left the goats with plenty of hay in their stall, but that didn’t mean that they had plenty to eat. They had long ago picked out all the tasty bits and declared the rest fit for nothing but bedding. When I got back to the barn, I worked with the goats before feeding them – and I learned that’s a mistake. Hungry goats are not happy learners.
I began as I usually do with P. I had two platforms set up. I had put a plastic pole between the two platforms thinking he would pop right over it. Wrong. He was suspicious of it and went around it. That was a surprise. He was so bold, I was sure he would enjoy leaping over the pole. I wasn’t filming which was too bad. I would have liked a record of his reluctance to cross the pole.
He was good the first few times he went to the platform, but then he started to rear up and charge forward. Oh dear. His leaps were great fun to watch, but they were nothing I wanted to reinforce, any more than I would want to reinforce a young horse for rearing. Four on the floor is a much better base behavior!
P did one fantastic high speed spin. These goats can move! Somehow he landed all four feet on the platform. I was gaining an ever-growing appreciation of their mountain goat heritage. I’ve seen the nature films of goats nimbly leaping from one seemingly sheer cliff face to another. Somehow they find toe holds with their agile and unbelievably good balance. My horses’ ancestry reaches back to an evolution on the open grasslands. Their escape was in horizontal not vertical flight so their movement is very different. It doesn’t matter which way you leap when you’re excited – forward or up, for both I want to build a training base of calm four-on-the-floor stillness.
On the platform P crowded towards me when I gave him a treat. He was clearly hungry and much more impatient than he’s been in the last few sessions. The pushy behavior he was presenting was nothing I wanted. I wasn’t liking the direction this session was heading so I ended it abruptly and went inside to work with E. I did not film this session so I can’t show you photos of P’s antics.
It does highlight that sometimes your best option is simply to stop and not try “to work through a problem”. I needed to think about what P was presenting and to come up with alternative ways to channel his energy. I also needed to feed him. I’d find out by the way he behaved over the next few sessions if I needed a training or a management solution. If he was just hungry, I didn’t want to be creating training problems by continuing to work him. What’s that great expression: “If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging!” I needed to stop digging and give him his dinner.
E’s 5 pm session
E was much better, but then E is the pushier of the two. He would have taken the hay for himself and left his brother to pick through scraps. He wasn’t the hungry one!
I set out the the two platforms in the stall. When I cued him with the target stick, he did a great job going from one to the other. He was cuddly. He enjoyed having his head scratched. He was a very welcome contrast to P’s displays of impatience.
When I opened the stall door, P came in and stood on a platform. We worked again on sharing. They stayed each on his own platform, but unlike earlier, but they didn’t want to be scratched. I left to get them hay which they were very eager to have.
7 pm session
I ended the evening by going in with them for head scratching and general cuddling. Now that they were well fed, they were very interested in coming over to me. I had a goat on either side of my chair. If I paused at all, they would lean in asking for more. I could think of no better way to end an evening than to have a cuddle with these goats.
I am slowly making it through Pellias and Elyan’s first week of training. Coming next in the July Goat Diaries will be the start of their fifth day of training.
The Goat Palace – Where We Are Today
Last night I had a really fun session with Elyan and Pellias. I had worked first with Thanzi and Trixie. I’ll catch you up later with their training. Then I did a session with just Elyan in the hallway. Pellias was having a fit inside his pen. He wanted to PLAY! He was chasing poor Galahad all over the pen. So I reinforced that behavior by letting him out. (Or I rescued Galahad by letting Pellias out.)
I set two mats out at the near end. Plus I had two narrow mats in the middle, slightly staggered. Elyan has decided that he has a station at the far end near the storage box. It’s made up of short sections of posts – very precarious, but it was his choice so I’m going with it.
It’s very cute. Pellias claims the storage box while Elyan wobbles on his perch of logs. Click – treat both of them. Then it’s “Let’s go!”, and we all three dash to the middle platforms. At first Pellias was overshooting his platform. He was clearly thinking we were going all the way to the end, not stopping in the middle. He’d stop abruptly a couple of steps past us and then back himself up to us. Click – treat, click – treat for both of them. Then “Let’s go!”, and we’d all three dash to the two platforms at the near end.
I’d get them turned around, and then we’d head back the other way. After a bit, both goats were stopping in the middle platforms. Pellias would start out at full speed and then slam on the breaks to land abruptly on his platform. The control he had was impressive.
I was pleased that Pellias felt comfortable staying with us. Elyan is learning to share. He’s going to the platform that’s in front of him instead of cutting across and driving Pellias off the platform he’s chosen. That’s why I began the session with the middle platforms slightly staggered. I wanted to give Pellias a little more room. It also helps that Elyan has decided he wants the wobbly logs at the far end and has given Pellias the storage box. However they are sorting it, it is good to see that Elyan can share his “toys” with his brother. So now we can all run together, and they end up where they should be, each on his own platform.
It is fun to be able to train at this level of energy. The wild leaps that Pellias was presenting in July have melted away. The joy is still there but not the bottled up frustration. In July he was still figuring out why I wasn’t just tossing the treats at him. He’s understanding the game now, and he loves playing!
When he’s on the storage box, I’ve been able to add in hugs. That’s been interesting. So far I had scratched the goats only, finding all their favorite itchy spots. On the box I can reach both arms around them and give them a quick squeeze. They seem to like it. Certainly when I give Elyan a hug, he presses in more against me. And Pellias is beginning to respond similarly.
I know they were picked up and held a lot when they were little, but until now they have never given me any indication that this was something they wanted. So I’ve scratched only and resisted the temptation to cuddle. Somehow when they are up on the box, it seems the right thing to do. And it also seems like an important part of getting them comfortable being handled. Sitting in their future is foot care and grooming so these are important steps to be taking now.
It’s been too cold to video so you will just have to imagine what a goat hug looks like. I can tell you it feels wonderful!
Coming next in the July Goat Diaries – Day 5
And speaking of sharing . . .
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.