Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland
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.

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RE: Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland - by Nanno - 03-20-2018, 09:39 PM

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