Figuring Finn
I've mentioned in other posts recently that Finn hasn't been very happy in his work lately, so Phil and I have been slowly tinkering with this issue as time and weather allow. Finn gave Phil his first real problem about two weeks ago during a driving session, but I'd noticed a growing disinterest well before that. Unfortunately, our practice times have been so limited by the season that it's been hard to pinpoint exactly when things began to turn sour. However, Phil and I have been talking about it and we've come up with a few reasons why Finn isn't happy and some plans on what we can do to turn things around. 

Finn first began to lose interest in working with Phil and I when rut started back in October. Yes, he's a wether, but he doesn't seem to know it. He began to be very protective of "his" girls and doesn't want to leave them now that we have real bucks on the premises. Fortunately, this problem is correcting itself now that the rut is almost over and most of the girls are bred. Not so fortunately, the attitudes Finn developed during this time may have begun turning to habit, so it's important for us to get this turned around as soon as possible. 

Secondly, Finn has become quite bored with the animal crackers we use for treats to the point that now he rarely eats them. This is an easy and immediate fix. Finn loves our goat grain mix of sweet feed and sunflower seeds. The first time I tested the new treat last week it made a huge difference to Finn's attitude. He hid behind a tree when he saw me coming with a halter, and after I caught him he refused to do his tricks and only reluctantly jumped in the truck on the "load up" command. He wouldn't take the animal crackers at all. Then I offered him a few bits of grain. The change was immediate and dramatic. He was dull, uninterested, and kept looking over his shoulder at the other goats until I offered him a bit of grain. Then suddenly his head went up, his ears pricked, his tail started wagging, and an excited spark leaped into his eyes. He performed all his tricks with enthusiasm and he leaped in and out of the truck with a happy wag of his tail each time. So from now on we plan to pay closer attention to Finn's treat preferences and change things up before he gets bored with the selection. 

On our drive two weeks ago, Sputnik was a trooper but Finn was balky. At the end of the drive, I took Sputnik back to the truck and unhitched while Phil decided to drive Finn on past. Phil had a goal of having Finn go willingly for ten steps. Unfortunately, Finn fought Phil every step so Phil kept going further and further in an attempt to meet his goal. By the time I had Sputnik unhitched, I could see that Phil and Finn were locked in a battle of wills and it was going nowhere good. Sputnik and I walked over to offer moral support. By going ahead of him, I was able to convince Finn to walk on without balking and Phil was able to meet his goal, but neither he nor Finn were happy about it. Afterwards, Phil and I had a discussion about goals. First off, Finn doesn't know or understand Phil's goals. A goal that seems easy for Phil may not be easy at all for Finn, so Phil needs to be flexible about his goals and how to achieve them. There would have been nothing wrong with Phil getting out of the cart and leading Finn ten steps down the road. There would have been nothing wrong with waiting for me to come over and help before things got dicey. There are lots of ways to modify goals before you get into a fight.        

Something we learned the other day is that Finn is more likely to act up for Phil than for me. This is something Phil and I will need to work on together. If Phil is giving Finn confusing/conflicting signals, timing his aids poorly, rewarding improperly or inadequately, etc. then I'll need to work with Phil on these things so he doesn't accidentally discourage or anger his goat. Two days ago while I drove Sputnik, Phil harnessed Finn but didn't hitch him up. We just let him follow along and hopefully watch and learn. On the way back while I took Sputnik to the truck, Phil followed far behind and called Finn back to him several times. Finn turned away from Sputnik and went back to Phil each time, which was a very encouraging sign. 

We probably should have ended on that good note, but we stopped to get a load of water for our cistern on the way home. I had some letters to mail and the post office is only a couple hundred yards from the water standpipe. I suggested that Phil take Finn with him when he walked over to mail the letters. It should have been an easy thing, and Phil didn't tell me he thought it was a bad idea (Phil needs to communicate when he thinks something is too much). While Sputnik and I hung out at the truck and did tricks, Phil dragged a reluctant Finn up the road to the post office. When they got back to the truck Phil was in a bad temper. So I took Finn to see how he behaved for me. We left Phil and Sputnik at the truck and Finn never looked back. He came right along with me and never once hesitated or dragged at the halter even when I asked him to trot. We even had fun leaping over some cement culverts, so there's something about Phil that is not inspiring Finn's confidence and cooperation. It might have had something to do with Phil's attitude. He didn't think Finn would cooperate. Perhaps Finn sensed Phil's hesitation and it became a self-fulfilling prophecy. It could also be because Phil doesn't interact with the goats as much as I do. Phil has spent more time training Finn than I have, but I spend more time with him day to day when I feed and care for the goats. 

In any case, I'm sure with a little work we can get Finn and Phil working together again. They used to have a very strong bond, but it fell off quite a bit when Finn was a buck and Phil stopped interacting with him. They never really got that close relationship back after Finn was wethered, but I think some time and effort on Phil's part could correct this pretty quickly. Phil also needs to take a deep breath and try not to get emotional when Finn misbehaves. If Finn learns how to push Phil's buttons, or if he gets nervous because he's afraid Phil will get upset, then it's going to start a vicious cycle. Finn is a good boy so I'm sure we'll get over this bump in the road with a bit of time and patient effort. I usually focus so much on Sputnik that I forget that Phil has never trained an animal before and could probably use a little help along the way. Training is very rewarding but can also be infuriatingly difficult when you and the animal aren't seeing eye to eye. Little nothings can quickly escalate into big battles, confusion sets in, tempers flare, and pretty soon you aren't talking to each other at all. I need to make sure I'm taking the time to help school Phil and Finn both so they don't get into a nasty rut and forget how to have fun together.
One thing that may be causing Finn to be sour specifically about driving is that he is FAT! Nothing about the harness or the cart seems to be making him uncomfortable, but he does get short of breath very quickly, even when pulling the wagon alongside Sputnik. Sputnik will be trotting along quite easily with no signs of fatigue while Finn is puffing like a freight train. We always give Finn a break when he gets out of breath and his recovery time takes much longer than it should. This is going to be a difficult problem to correct because it's going to have to be solved purely through physically demanding work. I have no way to cut down Finn's feed without separating him from the other goats, and losing weight by increasing exercise without cutting calories is pretty hard. I can barely feel his ribs under all the flesh. This is not healthy for him at all and easy jobs become difficult and demanding. I hope as the weather warms up we'll be able to take him out more and get him the exercise he desperately needs. We're going to have saddle fitting problems next summer too if we can't get his weight under control.
This is a really interesting thread. Nanno, I like your detailed analysis of what could possibly be causing Finn's lack of enjoyment.  Keep us informed, I'm sure you'll get to the bottom of it and have him sorted in no time.

A little off topic but I learned (the hard way) that being fat is a risk factor for UC in wethers .... William was quite overweight when he got it but that wasn't the only reason.  I stopped feeding black oil sunflower seeds when I looked up the nutritional analysis of the ones I was using.  The Ca to P ratio was really high in P, something like 1:9.  It's a shame because my goats really liked them.  He wasn't getting those when he got UC but I started sprinkling them on the coarse salt he needed to eat to get him drinking lots. Now I use crushed up corn chips (which are also salty) - I've had trouble finding the Ca to P ratio but I can't imagine it being as high as the BOSS.
Happiness is a baby goat snoring in your lap
I worked with Finn for a while myself today. We have salted peanuts now and Finn really seams to enjoy those. In fact, he even ate the animal crackers after they'd been sharing the pouch with the peanuts, so maybe it's the salt he craves. He was distracted when doing his tricks, but when he turned his back on me I tapped him on the butt and said, "Uh-uh Finn! Look at me!" He needs to understand that when a person is working with him, turning and walking away to nibble at Cuzco's leftover breakfast crumbs isn't acceptable behavior. He can give me ten minutes of his undivided attention. After a few minutes I had him feebly jumping through a hoolah hoop. It wasn't spectacular but it was a start. Phil has had trouble just getting him to walk through the hoop, so I felt like it was a successful lesson.

After that I harnessed him up and ground-drove him down the driveway. This was a difficult lesson because we left the other goats behind. However, I'm quite confident that Finn knows the driving commands very well, he's comfortable going places with me, and he's more than familiar with the area so there was nothing to spook him. Nevertheless, once we got to a certain distance, Finn decided he'd had enough and tried to turn himself around and head home. I was firm about it. We turn around when I decide, not when Finn decides. I have a rule that if three sharp smacks from the whip is not enough to convince a stubborn goat, then it's time to go to his head and lead-drive him. I went to his head, said "Walk on!" and tapped him firmly on the hind legs with the whip. We walked and he got rewarded. By the time we got to the end of the driveway I was able to drop back and drive him from behind and he went quite nicely. His attitude had changed from stubborn to philosophical, and he wasn't sulking. He was happy to take treats for his efforts, and by the time we headed back toward home we were becoming friends.

Phil came out and joined us shortly after I turned Finn toward home. With Phil there, I turned Finn back down the driveway and showed Phil how to lead-drive his goat, and also when to tap with the whip (right when Finn first hesitates--not after he's already stopped), and when to say whoa and reward. By the end of this lesson Finn already seemed much more clear about what was expected of him and happier to do his job. I believe Phil has been somewhat off on the timing of his cues and has accidentally confused his goat in the process. I also think Finn sensed that Phil was a bit out of his depth and was taking advantage of the situation.

After we were through and Finn was unharnessed we took all the goats for a walk and I noticed that Finn was more responsive to me than usual and was more likely to come when called. Finn needs to learn to trust that even when I am firm in my commands, I will not ask him to do something he can't handle. He also needs to learn that obedience is easier and more rewarding than balking and resisting. I think a large part of being happy in his job is knowing what his job is and knowing that if he does that job well he will be praised and rewarded.
How old is Finn?
Finn is 2 1/2 years old. 

I worked with Finn again today and we did pretty much the same routine as yesterday only it went much better! First off, Finn was easier to catch. He didn't come running when he saw me approaching with the halter, but he didn't take off either. We worked a few tricks on the patio and once again he was distracted by Cuzco's breakfast crumbs. But I popped his bottom every time he turned away from me and pretty soon he forgot about the crumbs and stayed interested in what we were doing. He jumped through the hoop on the second try and jumped through enthusiastically by the fourth. I haven't given Finn the "lie down" command in a long time and I have to say, Phil has him trained to this one very well! I said "Lie down, Finn" and he plopped himself right down on the patio floor and stayed there until I asked him to get up--even when I walked to the other side of the patio and fed treats to Sputnik! 

Finn didn't walk off this time when I brought out the harness (good indication that yesterday's lesson ended on a good note). I like to harness without tying up, and Finn was pretty good about it. He needs work on staying put when I say "whoa". He's excellent at stopping, but not so good at staying. If I took too long fastening something on the harness he would start to walk off toward anything that looked interesting (more Cuzco crumbs, the bark on the firewood, his reflection in the window, etc.). We need to work on patience. 

Once on the driveway, Finn started balking right from the beginning. Yesterday it took him a while to resist, but today he thought he might as well get it over with right at the start and see if I still insisted. I did insist, and I had to lead Finn a short way before he would agree to move out front. But once he got there he was really good! I had a little trouble every time we stopped. I'd go to his head to reward, and as soon as I tried to move back behind him he would take the opportunity to turn back toward home. Each time we stopped I had to start him by lead-driving and then drop back as we walked. Toward the end of the driveway he began to understand that turning toward home was not helping his cause and he improved. I took him up the road a short ways and we trotted a little. After we turned back I drove him past the driveway entrance and although he looked toward home he did not stop or make any sudden nosedives. He was a very good boy and he got lots of praise and treats. His eyes lit up this time with that old interested glow that they used to have and he eagerly took peanuts and animal crackers. No sulking at all! 

Finn was pretty strong at first on the way home. I'm driving him in a halter to avoid hurting his mouth in the event that he fights with me, so there was some putting his head down and leaning at first. But I practiced the whoa command a lot and he began to back off on the reins after a while. We had trouble with the waiting part of the whoa. He stops beautifully every time, but on the way home he would take off the second I began to drop back to my place behind him. We worked on that, and I started backing him up to his original spot every time he would barge forward. Finn is a quick learner and by the time we neared the top of the driveway he was mostly waiting for me to give the "walk on" command before continuing. We practiced weaving back and forth and I was even able to turn him back down the driveway a few times without much trouble. 

On our walk afterwards, Finn came several times when I called--something he has not done in quite a while. He wasn't perfect, and sometimes he ignored me as usual, but I liked the improvement. Sputnik has gotten to where he races across a field and leaves the herd behind when I call him and I'd like Finn to be that eager. Finn used to be that eager, and I told Phil that he should call Finn and give him a treat frequently throughout our walks. Lots of treats won't help his figure I'm afraid, but it should certainly improve his attitude. Of course, it also helps that we're now using treats he really likes. I'm hoping that with a few more lessons and a bit more active engagement by both Phil and I, Finn will regain his interest in being with us and learning new things. I especially want him to bond with Phil again.
By contrast, here's a funny story about Sputnik. This goat is such a goofball lately! He's been pushing his way up in the herd, butting heads with anyone and everyone, pounding the little bucklings, and starting to challenge Finn on a semi-regular basis. He gets extremely excited when I call him and will leave everyone behind and come racing all by himself across a whole pasture, but he also hovers around me too much on our walks and I have to wave him off a lot. He leaps onto rocks and stumps throughout our walks in hopes that he'll get rewarded for standing on a "stool" (one of his tricks). Yesterday he was way too full of himself and got in trouble for accidentally whacking me in the behind when he went to pummel Rocky (who was trying to steal cookies from my pouch at the time).

So I decided that Sputnik needed some work to settle him down. The goats' water tub was empty and the hose is buried under icy crust snow, so I got out the sled with the whiffletree and harnessed Sputnik to it. He was thrilled to have a job! I got the water loaded and as soon as I had those traces hooked in, Sputnik was off! The fact that he had to pull the heavy sled across sixty feet of gravel before we got to the snow did not slow him down one bit. What a memory this boy has! He hauled water for me a few times last year, and he knew exactly where we were going. He struck out straight for the goat pen while I walked behind the sled to steady it. I need a rope on the back though because once Sputnik got onto the snow he broke into a brisk trot and there are a couple of dips on the way to the goat pen. The sled got going too fast and hit him in the back of the legs a few times. Sputnik didn't seem to care though. He kept right on going to the goat pen gate where he slowed down so I could help navigate the sled through the narrow entrance. He pulled right up to the water tub and stopped on "whoa", then he waited there like a statue for five minutes while I cleaned and emptied the tub and poured in the fresh water. The reins were on the ground while I worked and I never once had to touch them nor verbally remind him to stay put. He knew his job.

The way back, on the other hand, was more of a fiasco. The sled, being empty, was ridiculously lightweight and the empty water jugs were sliding all over the place and bouncing out of the shallow sled. I decided it would be easier if I sat in the sled on the way back to the house and held the water jugs between my legs. Sputnik, however, did not want to wait while I went through the tricky business of getting settled. He would start to walk off or else turn around to see what I was doing, but every time he moved the lightweight sled went slithering this way and that all over the icy snow. Then I would have to straighten it out, get Sputnik's legs back inside the traces he'd stepped over, untangle the reins, and begin again. It was pretty hilarious and it took about three attempts before I finally had myself seated in the sled. As soon as I gave the word, Sputnik trotted eagerly toward the house. The water containers, the sled, and me all arrived at the house in good order despite the fact that my final "untanglement" had resulted in the reins being wrapped uselessly around the traces. But once I was seated in the sled with the water jugs in place I didn't feel like hopping out and rearranging yet again. Sputnik knew where to go and he's quite good with voice commands. He's smart too. Instead of making a beeline for the house, he skirted the edge of the driveway as far as he could so as to avoid pulling the sled across the gravel. He could have just stopped at the driveway and had me get out and lead him across, but I'm pretty sure he wanted to pull me as far as he could. Sputnik sure loves having an important job to do! His head was up and that chest was puffed out as far as it would go. Let's just hope his excessive energy and eagerness stay concentrated on the jobs we give him and don't get channeled into challenging people or hurting other goats. He's a live wire lately.
Finn jumped through the hoop several times with enthusiasm this morning and he's wagging his tail more often now! Woo-hoo!

(And then Sputnik had to show him up by jumping even more enthusiastically through a much smaller hoop!)
In my limited experience the age between 2 and 3 is critically important. At age 3 it seems independence is being established. At this same time if you do not engage them in team work you could end up spending a lot of time to make up for it. Time spent working with your goat near age 3 seems to set part of the attitude they have for working with humans as they mature.
That's helpful Nancy. I've always felt that one reason Cuzco got so ornery as he grew up was because during that critical 2-3 age he was living on a ranch with a bunch of horses and although he got daily interaction with me when I fed, he also had bad interactions with several other people. He learned to chase the ranch owner's son, he started rearing up at two different short ladies who would back away or walk far around him, and he even started bossing and chasing some of the mellower horses on the ranch. I've always been able to manage Cuzco, but I've never been able to trust him around other people--especially kids and short people. When anyone comes to care for goats I always leave Cuzco's halter and a squirt gun handy so they can keep him under control. He's always well behaved when he's working and I don't have to worry about him hassling anyone on the trail, but at home when he's got nothing better to do he can be a real terror.

Finn engaged with Phil on our walk today more than he's done in quite some time. It's amazing what a couple of days of one-on-one interaction will do! He was excited to run to Phil and do some tricks for him along the way. The big thing is to keep Sputnik from horning in and also to keep Cuzco from interfering. Cuzco doesn't bother Sputnik, but if Finn gets any attention Cuzco barges over and tries to knock him out of the way. It can be very discouraging for Finn and sometimes makes him afraid to approach us if Cuzco is anywhere nearby.

Forum Jump:

Users browsing this thread: 2 Guest(s)