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Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland - Printable Version

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Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland - Sanhestar - 03-14-2018

I have been following this blog since it started in late fall 2017.

Although there are several situations in which I had to chuckle or wince a little (some behaviours just pushed a button with me) the wealth on information about how to train goats with positive reinforcement, how to handle unwanted behaviour and to expand the basic lessons into real-world situations is priceless.

Couldn't leave you out of it.

Make sure you start at the beginning and keep reading in order, it get's a bit confusing in the middle of the blog for a while.

RE: Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland - Nanno - 03-14-2018

This looks wonderful. Thanks for sharing! I started it this morning and got through "Day 2". You're right that it is a little confusing. I think the author should have stuck with the first storyline and added the other later, but it's fascinating to read.

I was at the Rocky Mountain Horse Expo this past weekend and attended a talk by Shawna Karrasch who is the lady in this video here:

She needed a horse to demo on so I volunteered mine. Jet was the perfect candidate. When it comes to food and attention he's pushy, mouthy, in-your-face, and super-friendly. Jet LOVES people--especially people who want to feed him, scratch him, and pay any kind of attention to him. He's also a show-off and a ham, so Shawna had a lot of fun using him for her clicker training demonstration. By the end Jet was doing pretty good at staying out of her treat box. She demonstrated how to teach Jet to stand still for getting shots (one of the few things Jet dislikes). It was a lot of fun and we learned some good things.

I look forward to reading this blog specific for goat training. Thanks for sharing!

RE: Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland - Sanhestar - 03-14-2018

glad you like it.

RE: Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland - Nanno - 03-18-2018

I'm really enjoying the diaries and am currently working my way through "Day 4". I need to go back and watch all the videos though. I read the blog for a while every morning on my Kindle while I'm still in bed, so it's great for reading but not for watching videos since I don't have my earphones.

Would you mind if I moved this thread to the training section? I think it would be easier to find there.

RE: Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland - Sanhestar - 03-18-2018

go ahead!

RE: Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland - Nanno - 03-20-2018

I'm very much enjoying this clicker training blog and I'm learning a lot of good things. I haven't yet come across any "cringe-worthy" moments in regards to Alexandra's goat handling, but I can understand why so many people react negatively to the clicker training method. It seems like every time I read a clicker training article, I'm faced with passive-aggressive references to other training techniques or tools. This is a huge turn-off for people who have used other methods and equipment successfully. There is little or no appreciation for thousands of years of traditional training techniques even when clicker trainers use some of those same techniques or equipment. They try to explain it away like they're doing things differently even when they really aren't. Alexandra should make no apology for using a whip as a cueing tool or a lead rope as a directional aid. Just because a tool can be used inappropriately doesn't make it a bad tool. Making excuses about it or making passive-aggressive remarks about "other" training methods that also utilize this tool are not helpful and tend to turn people away from the entire method, which is a real shame because it has a lot to offer. 

I have a better understanding now why so many people encounter pitfalls with clicker training, and it's nothing against the method itself but the application of it. It takes very precise timing to reward the correct behavior, and it's important to go back and check to make sure you're actually reinforcing the behavior you think you are reinforcing. Last summer I briefly worked with a dangerously bad-mannered pony whose owner claimed he was trained in a "positive reinforcement-only" stable (whatever that means). This wasn't the first time I'd encountered unpleasant equines whose owners claimed they only ever used positive reinforcement. In fact, I have yet to meet any horses in real life who have been correctly trained through positive reinforcement-only methods, which tends to dampen one's view of the method. I've met two horses who were very aggressive, one that was terrified of everything, and one that is miserable to ride behind on the trail because he constantly stops to eat and then rushes to catch up to the horse in front of him while the owner never makes a move to correct him. Of course, I was not privy to any of the training that led up to my encounters with these horses, but I can tell from their behavior that they were not trained correctly by any method. 

There was a story in the blog I read yesterday about a pony named Nugget who came to the stable with atrocious manners. Coincidentally, Nugget was the name of the pony I met last summer who had become so aggressively dangerous that the owners could not go in the pen with him. He would charge them with teeth bared and he would turn to kick if anyone approached him. It looked like whoever was training him had inadvertently reinforced the wrong behavior. Perhaps they thought they were reinforcing a head-down movement when from the pony's perspective they were actually reinforcing an ears-back response. If the trainer isn't aware of everything that's going on and checking to make sure they are shaping the desired response, they may end up accidentally rewarding an unwanted behavior that then escalates when the pony doesn't get what he wants or is sold to someone who doesn't know better. The new owners were clueless to a horse's body language and only realized what was happening when it became dangerous. I could tell the pony's foundation was not correct. I'm sure appropriate clicker training could have worked Nugget through his issues. However, I am not a clicker trainer and I didn't want to make the same mistakes with Nugget that others had obviously made before me. So I used the same methods that have worked for horse trainers for thousands of years--a combination of positive and negative reinforcement and punishment. It took me 30 minutes using traditional methods (NOT abuse, pain, or force--those aren't "traditional" methods) before little Nugget's attitude made an about-face. He was a pony in search of a leader and once he felt that I was in charge and trustworthy he suddenly became very pleasant and easy to work with. The owners told me no one had trimmed the pony's hooves in several months because he wouldn't allow his feet to be handled and had kicked people who tried. I walked over and picked up all four feet without any trouble or a single offer to kick. He put his ears back when I approached the first foot but then offered it willingly when he realized I wasn't going to be afraid of him. His ears stopped going back after that and he became noticeably more comfortable and relaxed. 

Unfortunately, many clicker training advocates will state here that the pony is being suppressed, shut down, traumatized, or forced to comply. But I never forced Nugget to do anything. I behaved like a leader--I didn't let him walk all over me as others had, and I respected his space and body language while also making sure he respected mine. We began communicating almost immediately and after that the rest was easy. Nugget wasn't a bad pony, but he'd been taught bad habits by people who didn't know better. When he realized that his aggressive displays wouldn't work on me, he quit trying them and quickly chose a pleasant approach to getting what he wanted. It's the same principle as clicker trainers use, only I started by using a whip to enforce my personal space with a pony I knew had attacked people. I never had to beat him with it or inflict pain in any way. Nugget liked his paddock fence and until then had been forcing humans to stay out of "his" space by keeping them on the other side of it. When I came in, I encroached on what he thought was "his" space and turned the tables by making him stay out of "mine" until he could enter it with a soft eye and kind attitude. He was a very quick study but was too smart for his beginner owners, and they were unable to overcome their own fears of him, so I encouraged them to sell him to someone more experienced before he regressed, especially since they didn't have the funds to pay for the amount of re-training Nugget required.   

I only tell this story to highlight why "positive reinforcement-only" training often gets a bad rap. It's because of people doing it incorrectly or incompletely with disastrous results. The woman who worked with my horse Jet during the clinic had stories to tell of horses she had trained that had transformed into man-eating sharks after she turned them over to their owners. (Incidentally, this woman had the body language and "presence" of a leader who commanded respect, unlike many owners who tend to take on a submissive, fearful, or bribing posture around their horses--something she never discussed but I noticed, and horses definitely notice!) She was warning her audience of the pitfalls of food-based training and how to avoid them. She even stated that "95%" of people who start clicker training will over-encourage enthusiasm, which of course is dangerous if not counter-balanced with calm, stillness, and patience. This is something Alexandra emphasizes in her goat diaries which I really appreciate. It's something I certainly need to work on with Sputnik. His over-eagerness tends to overwhelm him sometimes and he'll try a shotgun approach to getting rewarded, which means doing all his tricks and behaviors in quick succession when not asked to do even one of them. It's funny, but it's not what I want, and "frenzied" isn't a healthy frame of mind for him to be in. So reading these blogs is a good reminder to work on the quiet stuff and not just on the activity.  Smile

RE: Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland - Nanno - 03-20-2018

So today Phil and I decided to try target training Finn and Sputnik. Last summer I used clicker training to teach Sputnik to come when called. From the time he was a baby he was always hard to catch, which stems from his aversion to being touched or restrained. In fact, it's very interesting to note that when Phil and I watched the movie "Temple Grandin" a couple of weeks ago, I noticed distinct parallels between Temple Grandin's autistic behavior and Sputnik's. Sputnik could never be scratched, brushed, hugged, or even gently petted. Temple Grandin could never be touched or hugged by other people. Little things we take for granted threw her into a panic, just like Sputnik. But when she was squeezed in a "squeeze machine" she calmed down. Similarly, Sputnik panicked when I first touched him with the saddle. I spent a lot of time trying to get him used to the feel of it on his back, but he never tolerated it and was only getting worse the more I tried. Finally, I tied him short and just cinched it on. As soon as the cinch tightened he calmed down and was fine. He's never feared a saddle since then and seems to enjoy having it tightened around him, almost like it gives him security. We've been able to slowly work through his other issues over time and he's overcome most of them. He allows me to touch, brush, and handle him, but he still does not enjoy being touched for pleasure--no scratching, petting, or hugging. He tolerates these things when we're in a crowd of kids at an event and he is handsomely rewarded for standing still, but I never use touch as a reward with this goat. I have to reward with treats in order to touch.

But back to clicker training. Sputnik was difficult to catch last summer so I started training him to associate a tongue click with a treat. It only took a few repetitions before I started using it to catch him. He would turn and run away when he saw me coming with a halter, but if he paused and looked at me I would click. That would get his attention and he would stand. Sometimes he took off again, but every time he turned toward me or took a step in my direction I clicked. If he let me approach (or if he came to me) I rewarded with a treat. Now when I call his name and he sees me coming with the halter he runs toward me and is clicked and rewarded. This has been working for us since last summer and I can't remember the last time he was hard to catch.

Since Sputnik already knows the click-reward routine, the target was very easy. I stuck a small tennis ball on the end of a 3-foot dowel rod and held it out to him. He touched it once out of curiosity and was rewarded. After that it became a nuisance and he kept shoving the stick out of the way with his nose to get closer to me, but he wasn't touching the tennis ball. I kept repositioning it so the ball was between me and Sputnik. He kept ducking under and around but wouldn't touch it. So I touched it to him a couple of times then clicked and rewarded. That was it. He got it. After that he didn't look back. I think our entire session was only about 3-4 minutes long, and by the end I could hold the stick out at full length and he would turn and touch it before coming back for his treat. At the very end I held the target up high and he stood on his hind legs to touch it before getting his treat. Good boy! The funny part is that the first time Sputnik touched the target, he happened to touch it with his lips and his mouth partly open. I think he was anticipating the reward he was going to get and absent-mindedly opened his mouth to touch the target. I clicked and treated, then every time he touched the target afterwards he did it with his mouth instead of his nose. I don't think this behavior is going to stick and I'm pretty sure he's going to switch over to the easier nose-bumping on his own before long, but it was a funny development. It goes back to "what behavior are you actually rewarding?"

So on to Finn. Finn is a little more difficult than Sputnik. Finn tends to get into these training funks from time to time when he doesn't want to do anything. He had one last year about this same time and I got him out of it with a little one-on-one, but he's recently gotten into another one with Phil and we're currently working through it. When Finn goes into a funk, he stops being interested in treats or training. He is more interested in hanging out with his herd and staying home than doing tricks or going places. He takes his herd leadership job very seriously. Finn has been less interested in people ever since he spent one fall as a breeding buck. Since then it's sometimes been a struggle to get him to leave his ladies and his all-important herd management duties.

The other problem is that while Finn loves people and attention, he is a lazy-bones at heart and would like to get those things for free without having to work for them. As soon he's asked to do something to earn his reward, he often decides it's not worth it and will forgo the treats and ask to leave. Unfortunately, there has been more than one occasion where Finn has successfully trained his person to give him ever-increasing rewards for diminishing performance. This hasn't helped his attitude one bit, so sometimes we have to re-set his training with a little work from the ground up to re-establish that eagerness. Lately Finn has decided to play hard-to-catch so Phil has been re-conditioning him to the "come" command with quite a bit of success. It's fun to see Finn run to Phil with his tail wagging.

Today while I target-trained Sputnik, Finn stood at attention with his head over the gate, his tongue sticking out, and his eyes and ears intensely focused on Sputnik's performance. When we brought Finn in for his turn, Phil asked if he thought Finn might have learned to target already from watching Sputnik. I thought it was pretty likely, and it turned out we were right. Finn targeted three times in a row right from the get-go. Funny enough, he opened his mouth on the tennis ball just like Sputnik. Then Phil got a little ahead of himself and held the target out too far. Finn immediately lost interest, trotted over to the stanchion, and jumped up. Finn loves to stand on that stanchion and I guess he thought the target game was too much work, so he decided to play a different game. The target training didn't go quite as well after that, but I suggested to Phil that he's going to have to take things a lot slower with Finn than I do with Sputnik. Sputnik is a very quick study and he gets bored and frustrated very easily if things don't progress at a quick pace. Finn is the opposite and needs small steps with plenty of rewards to make it worth his bother.

Anyway, I think our first targeting session went very well and I'm eager to try again tomorrow.

RE: Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland - Sanhestar - 03-20-2018

this is a good start.

Just a short caveat regarding the touching with mouth open: you will always get what you click and that behaviour will become more pronounced. So it would be good if you shifted your criteria - after the touching the target is solid enough - towards "touch with nose only".

Especially in the beginning, do short sessions. I'm not sure if Alexandra talks about it in the Diaries. Count out 20 treats and when you have finished these 20 treats (keep a few for an "end of session"-ritual) take a short break, assess how the training went and start anew, counting out again 20 treats.

I'm currently working with two yearlings. They haven't yet learned to share the attention and training game, so I separate them and let them take turns. One is playing the clicker game with me while the other is eating a handfull of treat out of a bucket. When he is finished, I switch.

The switches occur rather quickly, about every two minutes or so. But I see good learning with these short sessions and frequent breaks to give them time to think.

I think, Finn will be an excellent teacher for slin-slicing and raising criteria slowly.

Well done, all four of you!

RE: Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland - Nanno - 03-21-2018

Yeah, if the touch with nose doesn't develop on its own (and I suspect it might--the mouthing thing was already becoming less pronounced with both goats by the end of our first session), then we'll fix it later. For now I'm just thrilled that Sputnik was already standing on his hind legs to touch the target after one short lesson! This makes his "dance" trick much easier. He's gotten so huge that I can no longer offer my hand as a target like I did when he was younger. So for a while now he stands up but arches his nose downward toward my hand which puts him off-balance so he can't walk for as many steps. Finn does better with his dance trick, but I think that's because Phil is slightly taller than me and Finn is not nearly as big as Sputnik, so Finn isn't tempted to crouch while he walks on hind legs. This will also make it easier to teach the "dance" trick on a raised platform. Finn especially loves being up high when he does his tricks, but the hand motion for "dance" doesn't look the same when shown from a person standing below, so he hasn't figured out what Phil wants.

We always teach new stuff in short sessions. Phil's treat pouch is tiny so he can't hold more than about 20 peanuts anyway. Sometimes I have to give him more out of my bag when we're on a long walk or drive. Oh, and what is "slin-slicing"? I have no idea what that term means.

RE: Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland - Sanhestar - 03-21-2018

thin-slicing - sorry :-)

meaning to break down a new behaviour in as small steps as possible - and needed by the animal.