Spread the Word
We’re in the midst of the Holiday Season. Do you need a thank you gift for your horse sitter, a stocking stuffer for your riding partners? Here’s a thought. Share the links to the Goat Diaries.
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: Day 4 – Eagerness
I’ve been describing how I introduced a second platform into the training sessions. This new game of moving from one platform to another was proving to be an exciting one for P. He didn’t just walk from one platform to another. He leapt with energy, bouncing between them and managing to land somehow with all four feet balanced even on the small wooden platform.
The sound of my click helped to stop him. That’s a good sign that he was understanding it’s meaning. It also shows the value of the marker signal. If I had not been able to interrupt him, all this energy might have propelled him beyond the platform and into me.
Instead, once he was on the platform, we could shift into stillness. With such a smart, energetic, always thinking animal I needed to be especially careful to include these long stretches of quiet. It doesn’t make for an “exciting” training session. The expression is: “good training should be boring to watch.”
It took only a second or two to charge from one platform to the next. That was often followed by a minute and a half of reinforcing him for stillness. That’s how important this balance is. Energy was easy to get. Being still was the more challenging element.
Stillness is built in tiny increments. It was: “Can you stay on your platform while I shift back away from you?” Yes, click and treat. I reinforced him not just with peanuts and hay stretcher pellets, but with head scratching as well.
Stillness is even more important for horses. After all we’re going to be sitting on them. I want my horses to know how to add energy. And I also want them to know how to find stillness. I want to preserve the eagerness, and the enthusiasm for learning. I want them to love playing the clicker game and interacting with me. In other words, I want it all!
Eagerness can very quickly turn to frustration. Quick thinkers expect quick answers. An abrupt change in criteria can throw them off. Think about a train traveling at high speed. If the track divides, the train can easily go racing off in the wrong direction.
When the criterion changes, that high speed train is the horse who doesn’t see the second choice. Suddenly, he’s traveling at high speed away from what you wanted. No wonder these high energy, quick thinkers can truly feel like a train wreck about to happen.
The solution is to turn the train into the milk run that stops at all the local stations. When we stop at a mat, that’s the milk run stopping at the next station. The calm in between all the doing gives your fast learner time to think, to notice what you’re asking him to do, and to figure out the connections.
You don’t have to correct the unwanted behaviors that pop out of the energy. You just need to redirect them into behaviors you want. Over time as you build a solid repertoire of desired behaviors, they will push aside these other impulses. And if your learner does suddenly feel the urge to butt you with his horns or whatever other behavior is normal for his species, the habit of going into stillness will derail this other impulse. At least that’s the theory. I was going to see over the next few days if it worked as well with goats as it does with horses.
E’s 11 am session
E was waiting for me to begin. He stood up at the door getting a soft head rub visit before we began. He really is sweet. You’d think he would be the more submissive goat in the pair, but you would be wrong. He’s definitely a very much strong-minded goat who knows how to get what he wants. He may be small, but he drives P away from anything he wants.
I worked E in the stall with P in the outside run. I set up the blue blocks again as platforms. He was on them instantly. Even though he was eager for the food, he kept his feet on the platform. His toes were right on the edge, almost tipping him off, but he managed somehow to keep four feet on the platform. As a small test, I stepped back away from the platform. He stayed put. Click and treat. He was learning: the way to get the treats was to wait on the platform.
With him I clicked and gave him a treat for staying on the platform, then I scratched his head and back before beginning another next round. I used the target to move him from platform to platform. I was very much feeling the need for a larger work area so I could set up more platforms. The next step clearly should have been a move into the barn aisle, but that would have to wait a day or two until after the swallows had fledged. We had three nests this year in the aisle. Nest 1 with five occupants was in the process of fledging. I would be able to use the aisle without disturbing the other nests, but for now we had to wait. I didn’t want to risk disturb the swallows by taking the goats out into the aisle.
I had introduced the second platform to help both goats understand targeting better. I though if they had something to go to, the targeting might make more sense.
The following three panels (Fig. 1-12.) are taken from E’s session earlier in the morning. He’s orienting to the target, but he’s very slow and inconsistent in his response. It’s interesting contrast. He’s not really noticing the target, but in the later session, once I added in the second platform, suddenly the target made more sense to him.
Compare this with the photos below. With two platforms to move between, E seemed to be following the target much more consistently. Or to be more specific, the target was becoming a release cue: you can move now from one mat to another.
What also pleased me was how much E was enjoying the scratching. We’d progressed from frozen immobility to active involvement. He was responding more and more to my contact with signs of real pleasure.
Moving from one platform to another, getting scratched, these were just elements in a larger pattern. Each part of the sequence helped to build new skills. Sometimes I wanted E to follow the target and move off the platform, and sometimes I wanted him to stay put while I moved away from him. The contrast between these elements helped him understand better what I wanted him to do. In other words, he was beginning to understand cues.
I have included this series of photos to show that good results come from repetition. I ask over and over again for E to stay on the mat while I step back from him. Gradually, I am able to step further away from him. Eventually this will result in my being able to leave him both for extended distances and time as the photo below of Robin illustrates. In this case I have left the arena completely. Robin continues to wait on his mat.
Stepping back from E is part of an overall pattern. I work for a few reps on that skill, then I move on to a different part of the pattern. In this case scratching comes next.
When I finished, I opened the door to the outside area. Instead of E going out, P came in. At first, they headed for the same platform. Little E made it very clear that he wanted the platform. There was a bit of head butting, but P gave in easily. Without needing any help from me got themselves sorted out each on his own platform. It was very clear from this quick exchange who rules this roost. Standing one each on a platform minimized the competition. They were learning that sharing is the way to get peanuts.
I only had a little bit of food left so we did a couple of click/treat rounds for staying on their platforms, then we had some head scratching. When I was all done, I gave them some hay and left two happy goats to enjoy the afternoon.
The Goat Palace Journal – Dec. 17, 2017
Fast forward to their current work, and I still have two super eager goats. With Christmas just around the corner it seems appropriate that I am writing about eagerness! These goats do remind me of small children. “Pick me! Pick me!” They are like the eager child in a classroom who is always shooting his hand up hoping the teacher will call on him. Eager anticipation. I do love it. Now how to manage it? That’s what we’re working on.
Our training sessions over the last few days have involved both goats working together with multiple platforms. Elyan’s favorite platform is the large storage box. When he’s up there, I can give him a squeeze of a hug which he seems to enjoy. He’s very good at staying on the box even when I go to the opposite end of the hallway to give Pellias a treat for staying on his platform.
Pellias is a little less rooted to the spot. He’ll often come forward to one of the platforms in the middle of the hallway. When I turn to him to give him my attention, he races back with me to the end platform. It’s very cute. After a couple of rounds of this he usually stays put.
What is so interesting with him is the change that has occurred since July. In July he was just beginning to figure out the game. His previous experience before coming to the barn had taught him that jumping up on children got them to laugh and drop treats. That didn’t work with me. He couldn’t always figure out what he was supposed to do to get peanuts. His enthusiasm would collide with his confusion, and produce frustration. This was expressed with quick head butts towards me. All of that has vanished. He still gets excited. When I call him, I love watching him come skittering to me, all eager energy. The swing of the head in a frustrated head butt is gone. It has been replaced with understanding and a repertoire of behaviors that work to get attention – and treats.
One of the cute things that’s evolving occurs when I am filling the hay feeders. Galahad wanders off to scavenge in the hallway. Since I don’t work with him, he’s less interested in trying to get my attention. But Pellias and Elyan are very easer students. Pellias generally stays in the hallway. He jumps up on the storage box and looks expectantly in my direction. Luckily I can reach through the railing to offer him a treat. He has to get off the box to get it which gives him another opportunity to return to the box.
Meanwhile behind me little Elyan is waiting at his station, the “balance beam” of a thick piece of wood. I sometimes don’t realize that he’s there because he is waiting so well. There’s no little tappity tap, tap of his hooves as he waits in eager anticipation of his treat. Instead he is standing all four feet planted on his post. When I turn to give him my attention, he stretches out as far as he can without actually falling off his perch. Please, please, please may I have a treat? I will have to get a picture. He is very cute in his eagerness.
When I call Pellias, he comes running in from the hallway to his station. Then it’s click and treat for both of them several times before I drop treats in the hay. They stay eating at their spots while I call Galahad in and leave him with treats to find in the hay. We’ve gone from head butting competition to a much more peaceful exit. Even little Elyan is learning to share!
Remember at the beginning of this post I wrote:
“You don’t have to correct the unwanted behaviors that pop out of the energy. You just need to redirect them into behaviors you want. Over time as you build a solid repertoire of desired behaviors, they will push aside these other impulses. At least that’s the theory. I was going to see if it worked as well with goats as it does with horses.”
That is indeed happening with these goats.
Coming Next: Goat Diaries Day 4 – Patterns