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: More Catching Up

The Goat Palace – Finding Stillness

In my last post I caught you up on some of the changes that occurred over the Thanksgiving Holiday.  I transformed what was to be a storage bay for equipment into a training area for the goats.  And I started working Elyan and Pellias as a pair.  Now it’s time to catch you up with the ladies.

I’m going back over my notes as I’m thinking about what to write.  On Nov. 21st all the goats were still living together which meant we had the problem of separating one out for training.  The problem wasn’t getting one to leave the group.  The problem was convincing all the others that they had to stay behind and wait for their turn.

At one point I had Trixie by herself in the back area.  We were definitely making progress in that she was now okay being by herself.  I wasn’t seeing the extreme worry that had been there only a few short sessions before when I tried to work her by herself.  As you’ll recall, initially I had to give her the “security blanket” of training her with Thanzi. That made all of our sessions feel more than a little chaotic.

Trixie and Thanzi together

An early training session: Trixie is on the left.  She’s just touched her target.  Thanzi is on the right.

Now that I could have Trixie by herself I would have liked to have worked her with protective contact. The only way that could be done in the back pen was to use the side gate, but that would take her out of sight of the other goats.  That was too big of a stretch for her to make.  So I went into the pen with her.  She immediately crowded in next to me trying to get to my treats.

In a way this was progress.  When you are working with timid animals, there is a point where you celebrate mugging.  I’ve done that many times with people who are working with very shut down horses.  “He mugged me!” is said with great excitement.  It means the horse is finally feeling safe enough to experiment and explore.  It is a sign of huge progress, but it is also a behavior that needs to be replaced quickly with something that we find more acceptable – and safer.

I couldn’t work Trixie with a fence between us, but I could use the next best thing which was one of the large posts supporting the lean-to roof.  I hid behind the post which effectively blocked access to my pockets. I could now be stationary which took me out of the picture and brought the target into focus.

I had a feed tub next to the post. I held the target up directly next to the feed tub so it was easy to find.  It took a few minutes for anything consistent to emerge. At first Trixie just tried to get to me, but I held my position and let the post block access to my pocket.

Trixie on mats

Trixie with the “protective contact” post in the background.

She looked at the target often enough for me to click and drop treats into her food bowl. The dots were finally beginning to connect. She would dive for her treat and then lift her head up and immediately orient back to the target.

She has been so much slower than the other goats to make the connections between her actions, the click and my delivering a treat.   Her worry has definitely gotten in the way and made it harder for her to figure out the game.

She is much more settled now than she was when she first arrived. That’s helping her to understand the training.  The fact that she was trying to get to my pockets shows how much more comfortable she is now both with me and the environment.  So even though it felt like chaos in those first few days when I had to work her with Thanzi and about all I could ask her to do was come to my hand for a click and a treat, it was a good starting point for her.  Before I could ask for anything more, she first had to discover that she was safe.

She was now making her next discovery which was that it is an advantage to be by herself.  When she doesn’t have to compete with Thanzi, she gets a lot more treats.  I am hoping that as she and the other the goats learn that they don’t have to rush to get a treat ahead of the others, they will settle down and slow down to a more relaxed learning rhythm.

But now I was hiding behind a post so I could bring myself into stillness.  When I am trying to dodge away from her to avoid being mugged, she is not noticing the target.  She’s just thinking about getting to my pockets.  Using a post as a barrier was an odd way to create protective contact, but it worked.  Again, the environment matters and you learn to make creative use of what you have.

Trixie has also given me a new training mantra:

In stillness comes understanding.

I’ve practiced this for years.  It’s something I’ve known, but the goats have really helped to crystallize this concept so I can put it into words.  With the horses we begin with stillness both with targeting and the “grown-ups are talking please don’t interrupt” lessons.  When I first introduce the target, I am behind a barrier so I can be as non-reactive and quiet as possible.  I put the target up in approximately the same place each time I present it.  I don’t move it around a lot and have the horses follow it – not yet.  That comes later.  In this first introduction I work to get a clean loop by having the behavior remain very much the same through a series of repetitions.  Keeping things constant means it is easier to notice the things that are most relevant to getting your person to reach into her pocket and hand you a treat.

For grown-ups the handler stands next to her horse with her hands held together in front of her.  This position helps to block access to her treat pockets, and it brings the handler into stillness.  She is learning to be non-reactive to behaviors she does not like.  Instead of pushing her horse’s nose away, or correcting the unwanted investigation of her pockets in any way, she stays quiet.  As soon as her horse takes his nose away even for an instant, click, she hands him a treat.

The stillness gives her a neutral base position.  When she moves out of stillness to ask her horse to back up or to come forward, the change is much more noticeable to both of them.  When you begin with noise, it’s much harder to notice a small change.  When the environment is chaotic, it’s much harder to pick out the one piece of information that’s relevant.  Isn’t that how mystery writers try to confound us?  They clutter up the landscape with lots of characters and side stories.  The more red herrings they throw in, the harder it becomes to spot the relevant clues.

What stillness does is strip all away all the extra noise that’s coming from us.  For Trixie that meant the target suddenly became the one noticeably element in her environment.  Now she could quiet down the noise in her brain.  Where was Thanzi?  Where were the treats?  What was this person going to do?  All of that could drift into the background.  Finally, just the target could come into focus, and she could begin to make connections.  And the connections could begin to rewire her brain, to bring all the frazzled ends together in a way that made more sense and could help her to settle.

I was going to write so much more to get you completely caught up to the current training, but I think this concept of stillness is one that needs mulling over.  So I will be still and end the day’s post here.

 

 

 

Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3

The Goat Palace

Yesterday was an odd day.  I had to leave the barn early so we didn’t have a formal training session.  When I was in the pen refreshing hay and water, I did suddenly find that I could close the middle gate so only Trixie was in the back area.  I took advantage of that so far rare opportunity to give her a short session by herself.

She was great.  She stayed with me following my target hand.  Thanzi stood up on the middle gate.  I kept an eye on her to see what she would do.  Apparently, she decided it wasn’t worth trying to jump the fence.  She dropped back to the ground and watched through the bars.  Normally this is what Trixie is doing while Thanzi has her turn.

I led Trixie to one of the platforms made up of a stack of plywood mats.  She stepped onto it, click and treat.  Then click and treat several times while she was still on the platform.  I led her to a second platform and repeated the rapid-fire clicks while she stood still on the platform.  I don’t think she was making any connection at all between the treats and her feet being on the plywood.  It will be interesting to see how long it takes for that awareness to emerge.

We went back and forth between the two platforms several times, then her attention began to wander.  She is definitely a candidate at this point for very short sessions. It’s interesting how closely these current training reports mirror what I am writing about in the July Goat Diaries. Today’s post focuses on the importance of beginning with short sessions. When I saw the rhythm of the treat delivery begin to change for Trixie, I opened the gate and Thanzi came rushing in.  I dropped treats for both of them into the feed tubs that are scattered about that area, and then continued on with the morning chores.

My overall impression of Trixie is she’s a very sweet, very soft individual.  I found myself questioning what sweet means.  Trixie is a nervous goat.  Her worry keeps her from approaching too close.  Thanzi, Pellias, and Galahad are all much bolder.  They will crowd in to get the treats.  Elyan and Thanzi stand back more.  So could “sweet” be translated as more nervous?

But then I wondered if we become how we are treated.  If I think that Trixie is sweet and treat her as such, will our relationship evolve so that those elements which match my label “sweet” are highlighted and reinforced?  I think that Thanzi is also very sweet (with me), and super smart.  We’ll see what emerges as our relationships develop.

On to the July Goat Diaries.  We are finally getting to day three of their clicker training experience.

The July Goat Diaries: Day 3

You never know what you have taught. You only know what you have presented.

With horses I have people begin by counting out twenty treats. That ensures that the first few sessions will be short. With so few treats in their pockets they have to step away from their horses to go refill their pockets. That gives them thinking time. How did the session go? What was working well? What needs to be changed? What do you want to do with the next round of treats?

Starting out this way gets people into the habit of thinking about their training session. It’s easy to jump in and just train, train, train, without giving much thought to what you are doing or how your animal is responding. That’s a recipe for a disaster. You need time to think about the responses your animal is giving you. I certainly needed time to think about what the goats were offering.

I definitely needed to make some changes. For starters, I put the cup filled with treats into my pocket.  When I held it, I thought it was just too much of a draw for their attention.  I had wanted a quicker way to get to my treats.  The cup gave me that initially, but now it was time to go back to using my pockets.

The goats’ response to this change would tell me if I had made a good choice.

8:30 am First Morning Session

IMG_2816 Both goats sleeping in hay.jpg

P’s session was first. They had had their morning hay and were both lying down when I went into the stall. I let P out into the outside run and left E with some treats scattered over the floor.

P went straight to the platform and stood looking out over the top field. He seemed to be scanning for the dogs. His fixed attention worked in my favor. It let me take a step or two away. Click. He stayed on the platform while I stepped forward to give him the treat. He went back to staring. I stepped even further away. Click. He continued to stare. It was clear the sound of the click did not yet hold any significant meaning.  It was only as I stepped toward him and reached into my pocket that he turned his head.  That was a cue he understood. Treats were coming!

Goat Diaries Day 3 platforms Pt 1 12 panels distractionI continued to step further and further away from him until I was back by the stall door. He was being a perfect statue. What a handsome goat! He was standing in perfect balance. This was the picture I wanted to train towards. Head up, but not stretching out to me. Expression alert, interested, but not afraid.

It was time to take him off the platform. He hesitated. Following a target was still too new to draw him off his sentinel post. I settled for less.  A nose stretching towards the target was enough to earn a click and a treat. I watched him making a choice between staying on the platform or leaving to follow me.

Goat Diaries Day 3 Platforms: Pt leaving platform 8 photos.png

Cuddle Time Pays off

Approaching the target earned a click and a treat. It also presented me with an opportunity to make physical contact. He stood quietly for a prolonged head scratch.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 2 - head scratch 3 photos.png

Head scratching was followed by another opportunity to follow the target onto the platform. Just moments before he had stood staring up at the top field. Now he had a softer gaze, but he was still staying on the platform while I took several steps away from him. He also stayed put while I stroked his back and rubbed his head, click and treat. We’d come a long way in a very short time. On their arrival day they had stayed as far away from me as they could. Now P was calmly accepting a head rub.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 2 - targeting to platform.png

P was still slow to follow a target. Those dots were not fully connected. But the platform work! He had that down.  He was showing me again how smart he is – Robin smart.

When I offered the target, he was always hesitant. It’s hard to leave a platform. Goats like being up on things. Why leave a preferred location, especially when that’s where the treats were? I could see him choosing between the platform and the target. I just needed to give him time to work out the puzzle.  He chose the target each time. Smart goat!  More good learning – you get clicked for lots of different things.

As the session continued, I saw many good things that I liked. His attention had come off the far field. His focus was now inside the pen with me. While he stood on the platform, I could see him tracking my position as I circled around him.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 3 - build distance 2 photos.png

He likes being on the platform. Leaving it to touch a target created a conflict. Which did he value more? I was pleased that he was making the choice to orient back to me and the target. Click and treat.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 3 - targeting off platform 4 photos.png

And I was very pleased that I could scratch his head and neck out here, and he very much seemed to enjoy it.

Goat Diaries: Day 3 Platforms Pt 3 - time for a scratch.png

Coming Next: Goat Diaries: Clicker Training Day 3: Begin with Bliss

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/