I love the enthusiasm and excitement a new learner brings to clicker training. There’s food! There’s attention. There are puzzles to be solved. It’s very exciting. The goats were reminding me of some of the clicker-trained dogs I’ve seen. Everything is go, go, go. Throw behaviors at your human, wolf down the treat then throw something else at them. And above all watch the treats. Don’t let those goodies get out of your sight!
My challenge was to build calm confidence while keeping the enthusiasm. With the horses that comes from a deep understanding of the clicker game. If you absolutely know the treats are not going to be taken away from you, you can afford to take your eyes off of them. You’ll get them whether you are watching them or not. This is in part what it means for the learner to trust the process.
Settling into enthusiastic calmness doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen. Accumulate enough consistent reinforcement around what you want, and it becomes the norm. I was still a long way from that with Elyan and Pellias in July, but that was the direction I hoped we were heading. Time would tell.
Before I jump into today’s installment of the Goat Diaries, I want to share an email that got my day off to a great start this morning.
I’m loving the Goat Diary installments. I’m finding them a whole refresher course in themselves, especially with the annotated photo sequences. I have 2 friends firmly hooked on them as well.
One of these friends, Anne-Marie and I, about 6 months ago, rehomed a Palouse pony, now named Nugget, who had become “unmanageable” for several previous owners who used either the “traditional” or increasing pressure approach with him. We introduced him to Life with a Clicker and he’s great. The goat diaries have been very timely, as Nugget is athletic, smart, eager with a high play drive and greedy for treats!
We had Anne-Marie’s vet come and do his teeth a couple of weeks ago. When we told the vet Nugget’s previous name, he went a shade of grey and asked if we seriously expected him to do the horse’s teeth. This vet had met the horse about 2 years ago, because the owners suspected he was a rig (because of his behaviour) and they wanted his blood tested to see if this was the case (it wasn’t). We found out quite a bit from the vet that we hadn’t known when we agreed to rehome him.
I asked the vet if he would just handle Nugget a bit, before giving him a sedative in case (by some miracle) he, the vet, didn’t think that would be necessary. Nugget was a model child!!!! He stood quietly and straight (while playing GrownUps with me at his side) while the vet stroked his head and neck, asked him if it was OK to look at his teeth and proceeded to lift Nugget’s lips around and run his fingers along the teeth. Then he did some “trial” rasping before putting the gag on and saying that he certainly didn’t need a sedative!
The vet was super impressed with the change in him, and told us to “keep doing whatever you are doing with him because it’s working”! Anne-Marie explained a bit about positive reinforcement and the clicker. We have since heard that the vet has been telling almost anyone who will listen about Nugget and his Clicker Training ( I will have to ask him to refer those who do listen to him to your website).
Your post yesterday on “Eager” was perfect to remind us to balance forward moving games with stillness.”
Talk about a great way to begin my day! Thank you, Amanda Goodman, for your lovely email and for your permission to share it with others. This is exactly why I am writing the Goat Diaries. I hope my experiences with the goats will provide good reminders for all of us working with horses. So now on to the goats and more excitement from Pellias!
The July Goat Diaries: 9:30 am First morning session
I made certain to feed the goats first before working with them and to give them plenty of time for their breakfast. When I went in to play with them, they were both napping in the hay.
I set up two platforms as usual. I had decided to use a different approach with the pole. If P didn’t want to go over it, that was fine. I set two poles on the ground with a wide gap between them. He didn’t need to jump them. He could easily go through the gap to get to the next platform.
P was much more settled. He went right to the first platform and waited for me. I was able to take a couple of steps back from him, click and treat. He was standing solidly on the platform, not stretching out trying to get to me. It seemed as though he was beginning to understand that I would bring the food to him.
He moved well at first from one platform to the next. But as the session progressed, he stepped off the platform prematurely. Conflict! What was he to do? He had a difficult choice to make. His desire for treats and his enthusiasm for platforms collided and sent him rearing up onto his hind legs. He could have charged, but instead a dramatic leap landed him back on the platform!
This seemed to sort out his choices because after that he settled into good work. He was back to being a calm, patient learner.
I’ll wait to describe E’s session because it involves another important step in their training – the re-introduction of the lead.
The Goat Palace Dec 18 2017
I said at the start of this post that the goats were reminding me of dogs. The similarities were becoming more and more apparent. Horses can certainly buck and twist and kick out their heels, but they do not have anything like the range of movement that goats have. Goats can twist and squirm and turn themselves inside out in ways that are much more similar to dogs.
My focus with all the goats has been very much to build a stable base. For that I was drawing on the foundation lessons that I teach the horses I work with. The goats had learned basic targeting skills. I had used the food delivery to introduce backing. Platforms had given their feet a place to be so we could work on grown-ups. They were understanding that, yes, I would give them treats, but first they had to figure out the puzzle. The dots were connecting
We had some basic skills. We had enthusiasm. We had agile, quick learners. It was time to shift in my thinking from horse to dog training. So recently I’ve split my training along two separate lines of thought. I had been using the platforms with Elyan and Pellias to teach them to position themselves relative to me and each other. I’ve been expanding that recently to bring in some of Michele Pouliot’s work with platforms. I’ll expand on that later. It’s time to catch you up with Thanzi and Trixie.
I’m experimenting with a different technique with them. I’ve been thinking about how best to prepare them for leading. I have no doubt that if I put a lead on them right now, they would both pull like freight trains. Thanzi in particular is a very powerful goat. They both know how to put their heads down and just muscle their way into what ever they want. They are also both super enthusiastic about the training. They understand platforms and targets. So why not have some fun and experiment with bird’s nests?
Now what in the world does that mean!? It’s a technique Kay Laurence has developed to introduce dogs to leading and heel work. The idea is that dogs are very good at watching bird’s nests because you never know when something yummy might fall out of them. So one technique is to walk along with treats in your hand and randomly, occasionally let a few treats fall through your fingers. The dogs very quickly learn to follow you and watch your hand.
This then evolves into putting a small cup onto the end of a target stick. You put a treat into the cup and walk along with the stick held out above the dog’s head. The dog looks up at the cup and walks along beside you. Click – a flick of the wrist sends the treat flying out of the cup. The dog chases it down – what fun! – and then immediately returns to the cup. The dogs are learning to move with balance, to stay oriented to Kay, to stop, back up, come forward, to walk at her side, or to move out around her on a circle. (If you want to learn more directly from Kay, bookmark her web site: learningaboutdogs.com It is going through a massive redesign at the moment so it is currently off line. When Kay unveils her new site after Christmas, it will be full of good things to explore.)
I have been thinking about this technique for quite a while, especially for Thanzi. She’s such a powerful goat. Before I ever attach a lead to her collar, I want her to understand how to stay with me. So I built a “bird’s nest” target stick for the goats. I duct taped a small plastic container to one end of a wooden stick and a clicker to the other. The cup was just big enough for a goat to eat out of. That turned out to be an important criterion.
The first time I used the target cup, the goats were confused by the food delivery. I had to teach them to look for the food falling out of the cup. That part was okay. They could do that, but then they didn’t want to eat the pumpkin pieces once they had fallen into the gravel.
So we’re back to horse training constraints with the food delivery. We don’t want our horses eating off of the footings we typically work them in. The goats were saying they didn’t consider the gravel walkway to be a suitable dinner plate. Fair enough. So I switched from dropping the treat out of the cup, to lowering it so the goat could eat the treat from the cup. (If you’re reading this, Kay, don’t shudder at the corruption of your method. I had to adapt your technique to my learners’ persnickety eating habits.)
I’ve only been experimenting with this approach for a couple of days, but so far I really like it, especially for Thanzi. She is so smart and so much fun to work with. She has caught on with lightening speed to the game. She positions herself by my side and walks in very measured steps, head up, nose pointing to the cup. I pause. She pauses. Click, lower the cup. She takes the treat. I reload, and off we go for a few more steps of very controlled, measured walk. Pause. Wait. She backs up. Click. Lower the cup. Reload. I hold a handful of treats in my free hand. When they are gone, we walk together over to the gate. High up on a post out of reach for goats I have more treats stashed. I get a resupply and we’re off. I think this is going to be a really fun way to teach Thanzi both great leading skills and also some fun liberty work. Thank you, Kay.
It’s also been good for Trixie. She very deliberately chooses to be the first one through the gate when it’s time to train. I let her through into the hallway and throw some treats to Thanzi so she’s not feeling too left out. Trixie has definitely got the idea of stationing on platforms. Following the target cup is an easy way to move her from platform to platform and to build her confidence. I could use a regular target and hand feed her. This is an experiment. I want to see what I get when I deliver the food in this way.
This is the fun of clicker training. There is always, always more than one way to train every behavior. Part of the reason for working with the goats is they get me out of the “rut” of doing things the way I know how to do things. That’s always good for training. So far, I’ve treated them like horses. Now I’m having the fun of borrowing ideas from dog trainers. There’s always another way to solve every puzzle. And there’s always more to learn. That’s as true for me as it is for Thanzi and Trixie.
Happy Holidays Everyone! I wish you the joy of your own mad scientist experiments!
We’re in the midst of the Holiday Season. If need a thank you gift for your horse sitter, a stocking stuffer for your riding partners, a grab bag present for your animal loving friends, here’s a thought. Share the links to the Goat Diaries: theclickercenterblog.com
Please Note: if you are new to the Goat Diaries, these are a series of articles that are best read in order. The first installment was posted on Oct. 2nd. I suggest you begin there: https://theclickercenterblog.com/2017/10/02/ Two of the goats I write about originally came for a twelve day stay in July. The July Goat Diaries track their training during this period. In November these two goats, plus three others returned. They will be with me through the winter. The “Goat Palace” reports track their training. I wish to thank Sister Mary Elizabeth from the Community of St. Mary in upstate NY for the generous loan of her beautiful cashmere goats.