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My goat has a poking problem - AcanthaRose - 01-28-2017


I'm in the process of training my first two pack goats, and one of them, Liesel, who is 9 months old will occasionally poke people she is walking next to with her horns. It seems to be somewhat playful, not aggressive, but it is still not OK. I try to squirt her in the face with water (I have to carry a squirt bottle on walks) right when she does this, but this is pretty difficult to get right every time because she doesn't do it to me, only to others we are walking with, and I don't always catch it in time. Since implementing the squirt bottle, this has been happening less, but still happens occasionally. More recently (in the last few weeks) she has become way less tolerant than usual of me touching her sides, hind legs, and belly. When I try to do this, she will poke me to get me to stop. This is surprising and disturbing to me because I have been deliberate about touching her all over since the minute she was born so that this would not be an issue. I have also been deliberate about teaching her not to be violent with her horns. I was advised by another experienced packgoater in my local pack goat club to touch a kid's horns frequently when they are little to normalize that. The idea was that this would teach them to allow you to touch their horns, but that it wouldn't be associated with aggression. For the first several months of her life I did that, careful to make it an affectionate gesture (not grabbing or pulling) just like any other petting or scratching. as her horns grew, it became clear that she didn't want me to touch her horns (she would move her head away) so I stopped, only touching her horns at the base when scratching her head. Now, given the appearance of this poking behavior, I am questioning the wisdom in following this advise rather than the other school of thought, which is never to touch their horns. Does anyone have advise on teaching my goat that it is never OK to use horns on a person? Are there any thoughts about how to deal with this new intolerance of being touched on her underside? I am familiar with clicker training and have been using that to train my goats, is there a good way to use positive reinforcement to solve the poking problem?
Thanks! I really appreciate any help I can get!

RE: My goat has a poking problem - Hagen - 01-28-2017

I am new to this association so I am just learning my way around. I will try posting what I am about to tell you but as I am new I am not sure whether it will stick. 

It sort of sounds to me as if you might be trying a little too hard with your boys (making an assumption) and that you might want to dial the intensity down a few notches. I am not one for using punishment or operant conditioning on any of my animals either. They are gonna be your buddies so think about treating more like that and I think you'll all have more fun.

Touching and rubbing: When one of my goats acts up (and I am thinking about my moodier one now) I'll fill up my pockets with peanuts and get into the paddock. My goats share the space with cows and sheep and EVERYBODY likes peanuts. So I get mobbed and everybody starts to compete with getting treats. Once the problem goat will follow me anywhere for the peanuts I get the chance for him to let me take him aside and go to work. Do this a couple of times and he'll look forward the work out session where he doesn't have to share the peanuts. Then he gets peanuts as long as he lets you pet and stroke him. Start where he's fine with you stroking and move to the tender spots over time….. be patient. 

Poking: This is a pretty simple behavior to stop. All you have to do is to love this little piece of HELL right out of your goat.   
I used to have a doe who bit just about anyone who came into the paddock except me. In the pecking order of the goat world she also bit some of the lower downs for what seemed like fun. She was an excellent milker, great mother, and drop dead beautiful so she was going nowhere even though my wife thought she should.
This doe was biting to get attention, and when she bit someone she sure got it and even a squirt in the face or the victim shouting, pushing, or slapping is better than nothing. So every time she bite she got what she wanted, and SHE WAS IN CHARGE.
So we cured her the same way we cure attacking roosters. Whomever she bit has to go right after her and hold her, stroke her, coo, and generally love the hell she was causing right out of her. Don't let go, be patient…. she'll change her/his behavior and so probably will you. 
Best of luck

RE: My goat has a poking problem - HunterImagery - 01-29-2017

I am also fairly new to all of this but I agree 100% with the concept of fight aggression with love.  My alpha had a problem with tapping people with his horns and throwing a fit if you touched his backside or tried to push past him on the trail etc. He would do the full on standing up on his hind legs display and everything. I tried everything, squirt bottles, big sticks, throwing him on his back and sitting on top of him for sometimes 45 minutes and it only kept getting worse. It had gotten to the point where I thought I'd have to get rid of him.  I finally changed my tactics 180 degrees and started to give him an excessive amount of love everytime he acted up.  Almost to the point where I would annoy the hell out of him by not letting him get away from the loving.  It took some patience and self control on my part and some days I definitely wanted to give him a good whack with my walking stick instead. It took a few months of consistency  but in the last 6 weeks he's become really really mellow and hasn't acted up once.

RE: My goat has a poking problem - Nanno - 01-29-2017

That's a very interesting story, HunterImagery! We've spent a lot of time "loving up" or old, cranky wether, Cuzco when he's been aggressive but it has never done any good. Cuzco has never been aggressive with his horn, but he growls and body-blocks and puts up his hackles. Loving him up has never worked, but to be fair, neither has anything else we've ever tried (except taking the other goats away), so at this point we just manage him. He's too old to be much danger to anyone by now anyway, so we let him feel tough.

I've not (yet) personally worked with a goat that had "poking" problems, but after watching goat behavior these last few years and after hearing from a lot of people who have had goats much longer than me, I've decided that it's probably best to leave their horns alone as much as possible. From observing them, goats never, ever touch each other's horns as a sign of affection. If a goat ever initiate's contact with another goat's horns, it's always to start a fight. It's good to keep that in mind when interacting with a goat's horns. It seems to me that goats put a great deal of pride into their horns and they want you to respect them. A docile goat tolerates having his horns handled and even played with by people, but I've never seen one that looked like he enjoyed it. For that reason, I've kept away from my boys' horns except when I have a specific goal in mind such as when I have to twist their horns around a little to get their head through the breastcollar. The boys understand my goal so they don't resent my help in getting their horns through, and in fact they've both learned to twist their own horns through so I don't have to touch them so much. I guess what I'm saying is that touching horns affectionately is not something goats understand by nature. I know goats can be trained to tolerate having their horns handled regularly, but for most goats I'm not sure what purpose this serves in the long run. If you're not very careful in the way you train, you run the risk of accidentally teaching the goat to initiate horn contact because he thinks he'll be rewarded for it.

Sanhestar would be a good person to chime in on clicker training your goat to not touch people with its horns because I'm not sure about that one.

The problem of dodging away from hind end contact is a really good behavior to work on with positive reinforcement techniques though. I've had to work through that one with several of my goats. After watching the way goats interact, I'm convinced that hind end handling problems are related to dominance issues. Either the goat is young and/or low on the pecking order and is afraid of an attack from behind, or the goat is maturing and gaining status in the pecking order and now sees your touch as an assault on his high position. Either way, it's self-defense. Dominant goats butt or mount subordinate ones from behind. Your goat is probably not afraid of you since she's been touched all her life, but she's maturing and now thinks that you are initiating aggression when you touch her. Luckily this issue can be overcome with some pretty simple desensitization using a combination of positive and negative reinforcement.

It's important for you not to "release" Liesel from your touch when she moves or tries to swing around at you. That will only reinforce her behavior. Tie her head short so she can't whack you, and wear sunglasses (safety first always!). Touch her gently but firmly (don't be timid and tickle her!), and keep your hand on her while she dances around. The second she stands still, take your hand off (negative reinforcement) and give a reward (positive reinforcement). She needs to know that jumping around and showing aggression does not get her what she wants. If she wants you to stop touching, then she needs to learn that standing still is the fastest way for her to get that. Pretty soon she'll relax and realize that she gets rewarded, not only for standing still, but also for getting touched and she'll forget why she hated being touched in the first place. It should not take your goat long to realize that a touch from you is not a form of aggression against her and she'll stop the self-defensive behavior.

RE: My goat has a poking problem - AcanthaRose - 01-29-2017

Thank you for all the great info and suggestions! 
I will definitely try Nanno's strategy to get Liesel used to being touched again. 
The idea of using love and attention to deal with poking seems really cool, that philosophy resonates with me. But I'm a little worried that she might see it as a reward for poking, especially since she is very affectionate normally. Is that avoidable if the attention she gets borders on more than she wants? I guess I just want to make sure I implment this strategy properly... Is there a right or wrong way? Or something I should be careful not to do? Or am I just totally over-thinking this?

RE: My goat has a poking problem - Nanno - 01-30-2017

Please keep us posted on how it goes!

All of my goats who resented letting me touch their hindquarters turned around really quickly with the method I described. One of them had to learn in two days during a show so the judge could touch her without getting kicked in the face. She kicked hard then reared up and leaped around the show ring like a kangaroo on the first day when the judge tried to look at her teats. I worked with her in several short 10-15 minute sessions that evening and the next morning, and by the second day of showing she stood still and only sat down when the judge touched her hind legs. It's amazing how fast they learn with just a few gentle sessions. Once you're confident Liesel won't try to whack or poke you when you touch her, untie her and do the same lessons with her head loose. And definitely let us know how it goes!

RE: My goat has a poking problem - HunterImagery - 02-01-2017

(01-29-2017, 01:04 PM)Nanno Wrote: That's a very interesting story, HunterImagery! We've spent a lot of time "loving up" or old, cranky wether, Cuzco when he's been aggressive but it has never done any good. Cuzco has never been aggressive with his horn, but he growls and body-blocks and puts up his hackles. Loving him up has never worked, but to be fair, neither has anything else we've ever tried (except taking the other goats away), so at this point we just manage him. He's too old to be much danger to anyone by now anyway, so we let him feel tough.  

 Good to hear I'm not the only one who can't give up on a very lovable but cranky goat.  Honestly, for all I know it was something else that turned him around that I'm not realizing.   Like I said in another thread he's gone from being a huge pain in the butt to an (almost) angel in the last month or so.

RE: My goat has a poking problem - Nanno - 02-02-2017

How old is your goat that was cranky, HunterImagery? I'm also curious how old Liesel is. I can't remember.

RE: My goat has a poking problem - HunterImagery - 02-03-2017

(02-02-2017, 12:23 PM)Nanno Wrote: How old is your goat that was cranky, HunterImagery? I'm also curious how old Liesel is. I can't remember.

Basho, the aforementioned crankster will be 2 in another month. He was a quiet mellow little sweetheart as a kid and started getting super cranky and moody at around a year maybe. He's our alpha and also the neediest as far as getting attention goes.  He can still get a little weird sometimes but nothing like before and with no aggression.  For a while I was worried that I may have to sell him.  He's taller than my wife if you consider his horns and while he always kept some respect towards me he had none towards her and if I wasn't around he constantly tried to let her know he was in charge.  Perhaps it was a little "teenager"  phase.  Maybe something similar is happening with Liesel?

RE: My goat has a poking problem - Nanno - 02-03-2017

Two years (maybe a little less) is about when Cuzco started challenging people and horses as well. He didn't really bother me or Phil, but I kept getting reports from other people who boarded their horses at the same ranch we did. Then we moved and Cuzco seemed to mostly mellow out for a few years until he was ten years old. That's when we got more goats and he turned downright MEAN toward Phil and I. He turns sweet whenever we take him out by himself and leave the other goats home, and he's fine if we're at a show where he can have a pen all to himself, but he resents having to share anything with other goats. He's manageable most of the time, but occasionally when he's really nasty I have to get out the shock collar and give him a zap or two. That straightens him out for a few months and I can't say he turns pleasant, but at least he stops getting up in our faces. He's fifteen now, so at this point I don't see much hope of ever turning him around unless he follows through with his threats to outlive every other goat on the place. I hope Basho stays good for you guys.