Training: The Basics
The following article was taken with permission from the archives of Goat Tracks magazine. This and many more wonderful articles are available for purchase in the back issues.

The goats were large, each over 200 pounds.I could feel every ounce of it as I tried to heave them up into the back of a 3/4 ton 4x4. I finally succeeded after much muttering about goats that wouldn't load by themselves. I might add here, that they were borrowed goats, my own were already in the truck.They had jumped in unaided and watched as I wrestled with the borrowed goats.

That incident happened several years ago and brought home the point of teaching your goats to lead and "load up." It's always a source of secret pride when my goats load in the truck with a quiet word and a pat on the tailgate, as on-lookers watch, usually waiting for an excuse to laugh at you for using goats in the first place. Goats that handle easily impress people. It's also that aspect that brings people to goat packing in the first place.

I feel that it's every goat owners responsibility to train their goats, not only in the basics: leading,loading, packing, etc. but also what I call camp manners. John Mionczynski's famous goat management tool, the GMT squirt gun, is almost indispensable for teaching camp manners. I usually start with "barn manners." No goats are allowed to stand on the fences, gates, etc. I'm sure transgressions take place in my absence but none are allowed when any of us are in the barn. It has been my experience that behaviors consistently discouraged when we are around eventually fade from the animal's list of habits.

Every goat is an individual however, and some are very stubborn. A verbal command, usually "NO," is spoken before the correction and it doesn't take long before you can look at a goat and tell it "NO," and it stops what it is doing. Other goats in the area may also look nervously around to see who is going to get it, but at least you know they are paying attention. Just as you discourage bad habits, you should praise a goat for doing the things you like. This helps reinforce the good habits.

One of the most commonly asked questions on goat training is when to start teaching a goat to lead. I like to start when they are only a few weeks old. The older they get, the harder it is to teach, not because older goats are any dumber, but simply because it's harder to pull them if they decide they want to stop. Some goats have short attention spans. Especially younger ones. It is better to do several short sessions than one long one. Remember to try and keep it fun for the goat. Lots of PRAISE

Some people coax the goat with treats but I would rather have the goat think that the rope can't be defeated instead of learning that it has some control over being led. A 200 pound plus wether that doesn't want to go is impossible to tug along behind you. If you already have a full size goat or acquire one that doesn't lead, then you may have to employ treats and extra coaxing to get the goat going.

One method I have used on older animals that refused to lead, or the extra stubborn ones, involves the use of a dog training collar. I set the electrical stimulation down to low to start. First I pull the lead rope tight and if the goat doesn't give, I press the button and hold it for about 1-2 seconds. (Remember, it is on low setting.) I then let slack in the rope and let off on the button. Two or three times of that and the goat learns that a tight rope means a shock. It is important that no shock is given if the goat gives any slack at all. In only a few short minutes the goat immediately gives slack when you pull the rope. After the goat has the system figured out, it may test it a time or two. All of the goats I have used this system on were leading perfectly in less than five minutes. Several lessons are required before the goat leads reliably without the collar. I might also mention that after the goat has the system figured out, I give a warning prior to the correction, just like the squirt gun. I use a light bump on the lead and a "heel" command prior to the shock. Even the most stubborn goats usually won't balk past the warning. It may sound a little harsh to some people, but a goat that won't lead in an area requiring animals to be led is worthless. It doesn't do much for goat packing in general either, for onlookers to see a tug of war between you and your full grown goat.

Another question commonly asked is, how do you teach your goat to load into a pickup? I usually don't teach the goats to load until they are large enough to make the jump into the pickup unaided. Usually at a year old or so. I start by backing up to a hump or dirt bank,so there is only a 6-12 inch step into the truck. I pat the tailgate and tell the goat to "load up." I then lead the goat into the truck and praise it and give it a handful of grain. A few times in and out and the goat learns that if it goes in, it gets some grain. The trick then is to keep the goat out of the truck until you give the command to "load up." After the goat is familiar with the routine, pull the truck ahead, increasing the distance from the ground to the tailgate. Continue this routine, until the goat is jumping in from normal ground level. Some goats can be taught to load in a single lesson, others take a few lessons. If the goat doesn't get loaded regularly, you may have to review the lesson a couple of times. Since we give our goats some grain after each packing trip, it seems only natural that they get it after they load up. In closing, I would like to say, as the TV commercial says, "A mind is a terrible thing to waste." Your goat is an intelligent animal and if it is ignorant...well, it's not the goat's fault.
See ya in the brush.

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