Goat Diaries Day 8

The July Goat Diaries Day 8

This looks like a long post, but it’s loaded with photos – so lots to look at, less to read.

These goat diaries began by talking about relationships. In June when Sister Mary Elizabeth offered to let me have a couple of her goats for two weeks, I didn’t ask any questions.  I didn’t ask how old they would be, or how much handling they had had.  All I knew was I was getting two goats.

They goats arrived – two brothers – yearlings who had had considerable handling from children, but in this new environment were afraid of being handled.  So Step One was building a relationship.

In the workshops I give that is also Step One.  I take the time to begin building a relationship with the people who come.  Friday night is spent in conversation.  As people share their stories, it becomes very clear that the horse world is filled with people who love horses, who want to share their lives with horses, but who are very afraid of the horse they own.  And the same can be said of the horses.  So many of the stories are about horses who are afraid of people.

So sad.

We are in such a hurry with horses.  We are in a hurry to start them.  We are in a hurry to ride them.  In our great hurry we all too often destroy the bonds of trust.

We go in with our horses too soon.  With clicker training I begin with protective contact.  I put a barrier between myself and the horse.  The barrier may be as little as a rope tied across the door of a stall.  Or it may be as solid as the metal panels of a round pen, but there is a barrier.  That protects us both.  If the horse starts to push into my space to get at the treats, I can just step back out of the way.  I don’t have to correct this unwanted behavior.  I’m not mixing the positives of clicker training with punishment.  I want the horse to feel that it is safe to experiment.  He can offer behavior without the fear of correction.

I want the horse to feel safe in my presence.  The barrier helps with that.  It protects him as much as it protects me.  With a barrier between us I can’t be grabbing at him or trapping him a corner.  He can leave whenever he wants.  Knowing he can always escape gives many horses the confidence to approach and explore.

With the goats I didn’t have the kind of set up that allowed for protective contact.  I didn’t need to be protected from the goats, but they needed to know I wasn’t going to grab them.  So I sat in a chair.  That anchored me to a spot.  Even when I had something they wanted – pretzels and peanuts – I stayed in the chair and let them approach me.

Once food was involved, everything sped up.  Suddenly, I had goats pushing into my lap to get the treats.  The training could begin!

But even here I took my time.  We used just the stall for the first couple of sessions, then I let their world expand out into the outside run.  And then we expanded out into the barn aisle.

There are lessons here for the horses, as well.  We are in such a hurry.  I hear stories all the time of people who went too far too soon with their horses and ended up in trouble.  Before buying their new horse, they probably only rode it once or twice – and that was in the horse’s familiar environment.  As soon as they got the horse home, they were saddling up and heading off on a trail ride.  Five miles out on a trail is not a good time to discover that your new horse is not as bomb-proof as you had been lead to believe.  Now you are learning that when he’s afraid, he bucks – hard.  Why should he keep you on his back?  He doesn’t know you.

Taking your time in the beginning of a relationship builds a safety net for both you and your horse.  Taking your time for the goats meant several things:

* expanding the complexity of the training environments in small stair steps.

* building a repertoire of behaviors that would keep us connected to one another as the level of distractions increased.

* building a history of reinforcement together – in other words building a relationship.

It was time to test the waters yet again, to see how these stair steps were working.  So I let their world expand even more.  We had been working in the barn aisle.  Now I thought they were ready to discover the indoor arena.

I took them out together which I knew would help E.  The arena door was left open, so at any time they could escape back to the security of the barn aisle and their stall.  I didn’t set out any mats.  I wasn’t asking them for anything.  They were free to explore on their own.

First things first – they spotted the mounting block (Fig. 1).  P led the way.  He scaled the “mountain” all the way to the top step, then took the short cut down by jumping off.

This was so unhorse-like.  Leaping up on the mounting block would not be a horse’s preferred safety zone.  For the goats the mounting block was the best part of their new play ground.

Goat diaries day 8 mounting block.png

Figure 1

Once Mount Everest was successfully scaled, the goats ventured further out into the arena.  Not surprisingly P took the lead.

E chose to stay closer to me (Fig. 2: 1-4).  I held my hand out inviting him to follow it like a target.  He was hesitant at first.  Should he follow his brother or stay with me? He chose to stay. Click and treat.

Goat diaries Day 8 E follows in arena.png

Figure 2

We walked a big circle, stopping every few steps for a click and a treat.  Eventually P joined us (Fig. 3: 1-4).  I held out both hands and the goats followed along behind me, one on each side.

Thankfully, I had put a cup of treats into both pockets so I could deliver the treats smoothly.  And they were good at waiting for me to get the treat.  All that work in the barn aisle was paying off.  They were beginning to understand that the treat would be coming to them.  They didn’t have to charge me to get to the treats.

Goat diaries Day 8 P and E follow in arena.png

Figure 3

We eventually headed back into the aisle where I had a bucket of hay set out.  They followed me back to their stall.  P actually trotted the last few steps back.  I had established the routine of scattering treats on the floor for them, so entering the stall came with the promise of more good things.  As I was leaving, E slipped out.  I wasn’t planning on doing any more, but since he was out, I did a leading session.

E and I went into the arena.  He led beautifully.  I was so very delighted by him.

Goat Diaries day 8 E leading.png

Fig. 4: Beautiful leading!

These photos were taken from the middle of our session.  They show several beautiful examples of what it means to wait on a point of contact (Fig. 5: 1-8).

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Figure 5

As small as he is, I could easily add pressure to the lead and pull him along, but I don’t.  Instead when E hesitates, I wait.  As soon as his attention comes back towards me and he puts slack back in the lead, I click and reinforce him.

This next series of photos shows a lot of useful details (Fig. 6a-d).  We begin by entering the arena with E walking beside me on a slack lead.  Click and treat (Fig. 6a:1-3).

As I begin to walk off, E hesitates.  I pause and wait for him to walk on (Fig. 6a: 4-6).  I don’t add pressure and pull him forward.

Goat diaries Day 8 leadin in arena 1 panels 1.png

Figure 6a

This is the key to using the lead in a clicker-compatible way.  This is what shaping on a point of contact means.  You let your animal find the answer.  In the next set of photos (Fig. 6b: 7) E walks off with me and keeps nice slack in the lead.  I click when his attention comes back to me. And then I give him his treat (Fig. 6b: 8-9).

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Fig. 6b

Before walking off again, I pause for a brief moment in “grown-ups”.  This brief pause will grow over time into real duration (Fig. 6c: 10-17).

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Figure 6c

Remembering to put the pauses in is so important.  E is such a very gentle goat.  His timidity makes him especially easy to work with.  It would be easy to simply click and walk off.  If I don’t take the time to pause, to build the expectation that waiting is part of walking, it won’t be there when I need it.

Here’s the mantra: “You can’t ask for something and expect to get it on a consistent basis unless you have gone through a teaching process to teach it to your animal.”  I changed the last word.  Normally I’m referring to horses.  This overly long sentence comes from John Lyons, a well known trainer and clinician.  I’ve often thought about modifying it to make it more my own, but he really did get it right the first time.  Every word is important.

I was going through a teaching process with E.  I was showing him how leading works.  If I left out: “sometimes we stand still before walking off again”,  I couldn’t expect that understanding to be there when I needed it.

It takes patience and focus to remember to put in all these little pieces.  With a bolder animal like P it is easier to remember.  He makes it clear that I need to teach a lot of patient standing.  Often it is the more difficult animals that end up the best trained because they make it clear we need these pieces.  With the easier animals we often don’t notice what we’ve been leaving out until we’re in a situation where those pieces are really needed, and then they aren’t there for us.

So even though it would have been easy with E to just walk off, I needed to take the time to build grown-ups.

Goat diaries Day 8 leadin in arena 1 panels 5.png

Figure 6d

Our animals always lead the way.  It was just a few short sessions ago that I was clicking and reinforcing every couple of steps that E took on a lead.  Now he was walking along beside me, keeping slack in the lead (Fig. 7).

Goat Diaries Day 8 E leans well panel 1.png

Figure 7

P’s Leading Session

P was next.  I put the lead on him and started his lesson in the aisle.  Instead of staying beside me, he has a tendency to overshoot and to swing around in front of me.  Again, our animals tell us what we need to work on.  Clearly I needed to work on whoa.

Testing the waters is a good way to begin.  What could I ask for?

I tried simply stopping.  He kept walking and hit the end of the lead.  He shook his head and fussed at me.  I didn’t want those horns butting into me, so I quickly rethought this strategy.

I didn’t have a stop yet, so it wasn’t fair game to ask for it.  I needed to build the reaction pattern I wanted.  So, it was click as he walked forward, and then feed so he had to back up out of my space to get the treat.  Once he understood the pattern, I took him into the arena so I could film it.  What an interesting session!

I clicked as he walked along beside me, got the treat and then turned into him so he had to back up to get to my hand (Fig. 8: 1-6). I had every confidence that he would be able to figure out what he needed to do to get the treat.

Crowding forward into me gained him nothing.  Backing up brought him to his treat.  As the pattern repeated, it became easier and easier to ask him to back.  He was understanding how he had to move to get his treat.  I could even begin to add a pause before we walked off.  That’s all part of being able to ask him to stop.

I did wonder if I was encouraging him to butt.  Asking him to back up curled his neck into the orientation that it would be in if he were going to charge me.  But head butting is a forward moving exercise.  He might be curling his neck, but his feet were moving back. Time would tell if I was reading this correctly.

At times my arm was against his forehead so he was in head butting position, but instead of going forward, he was going backwards, and when he did, I turned my hand over and fed him!  Talk about messing with a goat’s brain!

I clicked and gave him a treat several times for standing still.  Then we walked on again.  The next part of the training loop was taking shape.  It was click for walking beside me.  Feed so he had to back up.  Click for standing still.  Feed again.  Walk on when ready  (Fig. 8: 7-8).

Goat Diaries Day 8 P learns about halt.png

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Figure 8

It had been a long and eventful morning.  They had had their first exploration of the arena, plus their leading sessions.  I got P back into his stall, fed them both some hay, finished a couple of chores and then went back in to sit with them.  I always like to balance out the activity of the formal training sessions with the quiet of these cuddle times.  As usual, E came right over for a scratch.  P was more interested in the hay, but still asked for a back scratch.  The arrival of a delivery truck interrupted our visit.

I left their stall feeling as though yesterday and today have been breakthrough days.  The goats were understanding the process more and more.  And they were clearly showing a connection to me.  If I had not spent so much time scratching their ears and making friends, I don’t think they would have chosen to walk beside me.

P in particular seemed to be working things out.  Instead of leaping from one mat to another and then standing up on his hind legs when I didn’t respond like the children by throwing all my treats on the ground, he was now going calmly from mat to mat (yesterday’s gain).  He was also leading beside me without charging past or trying to cut me off (today).  Progress!

And both goats were turning into the most delightful companions.  I loved it when E pressed in next to my chair asking for more scratching, or P moved under my hand to request a head rub.  They were so like cats in the way they enjoyed a good scratch.  If only they could purr!

The Goat Palace Update

We have made a startling discovery.  The goats have manners!

This discovery came about because we needed to do some repairs to the gate separating the two pens.  The boys have been slowly demolishing the middle rails. When I went out with their morning hay I discovered that they had swapped around who was living where.  Thanzi and Trixie were in the front pen and the boys were in the back.

The boys were devouring a Christmas tree that the ladies had been pretty much ignoring, so they were happy.  Trixie was eating hay out of a feeder and Thanzi was up on the top platform of the jungle gym looking very much in charge of the situation, so they were happy.  Apparently, I was the only one who wasn’t pleased with the new arrangement!

When Marla arrived, we got to work repairing the gate.  We replaced the current rails with much sturdier, more goat-proof two by fours.  For most of the repair job we kept the boys in the hallway and left Thanzi and Trixie to sort themselves out.  Thanzi kept going back and forth through the gap in the gate until we had enough rails up so she could no longer fit through.

Both girls ended up in the front area.  We had to make several trips back into the barn to get extra screws, a fresh battery for the drill, and finally more hay for the ladies. I’m not sure where in all this coming and going it happened, but I suddenly found myself with all five goats together in the front section.

When they first arrived having them altogether in one group created chaos.  Thanzi and Trixie chased the boys.  At that point the middle gate was left open, so they could escape into the back area.  But now the gate was closed, and all five goats were crowded together in a much smaller area.  I was worried for the youngsters.  I abandoned Marla to finish the repairs on her own so I could supervise the goats.

I am delighted to report that the chaos has been replaced by a circus act.  At least that’s what it looked like.  Pellias claimed the top platform of the jungle gym.  Galahad showed his acrobatic prowess by balancing on an upside down feed tub.  Elyan found his usual spot on his “balance beam”.  Trixie ended up on Galahad’s usual platform, and Thanzi stationed herself off to the side.

I could click and treat them one by one.  Everyone waited.  There was no head butting, no driving the others away from a platform or a mat.  When Galahad fell off his very slippery perch, I could wait for him to get back on – and everyone else waited as well!

Progress!  Who knew they were becoming this good!

What this shows you is how much you can get done even when you can do very little.  The last two days the temperatures finally climbed up to the freezing mark.  It felt like a heat wave!  For the past two weeks it’s been so cold we might just as well have been living at the North Pole.

We suspended formal training sessions during this time.  I would go out a couple of times a day to replenish their hay and give them warm water.  While I was out there, I would spend a bit of time working on communal manners.  I set three platform out in the barn aisle and reinforced Elyan and Pellias for letting Galahad go to the third platform.

Normally I don’t work with Galahad.  He’s Marla’s project, but he was causing problems for the other two.  When I filled the hay feeders, Pellias and Elyan would park themselves on their platforms.  Galahad would push his way into the feeders, but when I clicked and tried to give the others treats for their good manners, Galahad was there pushing his way in.  Elyan and Pellias would chase him away, which meant their good platform manners were falling apart.  Something had to be done.

The “something” was to spend a minute or two in the hallway reinforcing all three for staying each on his own platform.  Galahad needed to learn from me that platforms were good places to be.  I also needed to reinforce Elyan and Pellias for letting Galahad stay on a platform instead of driving him off.  It took a couple of days for good manners to emerge.

Elyan in particular was like that little kid in school who makes sure teacher knows everything that the other children are doing wrong.  It’s cute when it’s a goat acting like this – not so much when it’s a child.  But Elyan and Pellias learned that it was okay to let Galahad stay on a platform.  And Galahad learned how to play with the others.

“Teacher” was pleased because now I could get the hay into the feeders without Galahad trying to climb into them and when I reinforced the other two for being on their stations, I could also reinforce Galahad for being on his.

All of this sounds as though I spent real training time establishing these manners, but remember the temperatures were hovering down around zero degrees with wind chills some mornings dropping below minus 20. (I always want to emphasize that’s Fahrenheit not Celsius.)   My hands ached with the cold.  I was good for a couple of treats per goat and then I had to get my hands back into gloves and just get on with the refilling the hay feeders as fast as I could.  The “training” they were getting was minimal, but it made a difference.  The result was the surprise that we had a “circus act” of five goats all stationing.

I know in the winter people often feel as though they aren’t getting anything done with their horses.  They are used to thinking in terms of long riding sessions.  At the spring clinics people often start out by apologizing for how little they’ve been able to do with their horses because the weather has been so bad.  And yet what the goats were showing us was how much you can do even when it’s just a quick minute here and a quick minute there.  Little things do add up to some fun surprises.

So one last mantra and then I’m done with today’s post:  Your animals are always learning.  That means when you are with them, you are training. 

That’s something to think about over a hot cup of tea.  Stay warm!

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.









Goat Diaries Day 4 – “I’m Hungry!”

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.

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E is enjoying having his head scratched.

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 . . .

Goat Diaries Xmas banner  Single photo.pngWe’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.



Goat Diaries: Day 4 – Eagerness

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.

Goat Happy Holidays greeting


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

Balancing Energy

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.

Goat Diaries Day 4  Two platforms Pt 5 Lots of energy into stillness - Excitement.png

Goat Diaries Day 4  Two platforms Pt 5 Lots of energy into stillness - into stillness.png

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.

Goat Diaries Day 4 E's session 2 platforms in stall 1 - Panel 1.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 E's session 2 platforms in stall 1 - Panel 2.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 E's session 2 platforms in stall 1 - Panel 3.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 E's session 2 platforms in stall 1 - Panel 4.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 E's session 2 platforms in stall 1 - Panel 5.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 E's session 2 platforms in stall 1 - Panel 6.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 E's session 2 platforms in stall 1 - Panel 7.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 E's session 2 platforms in stall 1 - Panel 8.png

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.

Early days with targeting panel 1.png

Early days with targeting panel 2.png

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.

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 1.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 2.png

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.

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 3.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 4.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 5.png

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.

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 6.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 7.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 7.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 8.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 9.png

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.

Robin in runway on mat.png

Robin is presenting a beautiful illustration of how much distance and duration you can develop with mats.  I’ve left the arena and gone upstairs to take this photo.  He continues to wait patiently for me.

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.

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 10.png

Goat Diaries Day 4 - E on 2 platforms - pt. 2 - panel 11.png

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


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: 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.




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.