Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland
yes, there are new studies that say that learning is impaired by training too often per day. Not asking for established, well known behaviour but learning new behaviours and remembering newer lessons.

Going back to easier criteria when we notice the animal struggling helps keeping the flow and the motivation and lowers the risk to re-inforce unwanted behaviour (or behaviour chains) that have krept into the session.
Sabine from Germany
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Twice or even three times a day isn't too often if the "pupil" is engaged. In this case, I think our biggest trouble is the rag. It gets soggy after one lesson and he doesn't really want to carry it around after that. I can't blame him for feeling that way! I'm hoping this week to get into Pueblo and buy a few things from the dog toy aisle that look more inviting for a goat to pick up and carry--things that won't turn limp and soggy after a few fetches.

The other thing I worry about with using a rag is that he could swallow it. It gets cookie crumbs stuck to it so when it's dry it tastes inviting and he wants to chew it. He can easily suck the whole thing into his mouth so there's not much left for me to grab and pull out. If he ever decided not to let go I'd be in trouble--I'd never get it away from him! It would be better to use toys he can pick up but can't swallow such as a ball with a handle, or a length of cotton rope with large knots at either end.

On the plus side, he IS learning the "drop" command, so I didn't have much trouble getting the rag away from him yesterday. I struggled with that a few times during our lesson the previous week.
it's not about engagement but transferring experiences from short-term into long-term memory.
Sabine from Germany
[Image: zoVgi.gif]

Well yes, but short-term memory seems to automatically become long-term memory after they sleep on it for a night or two. I worked on this trick only about once a week, yet Sputnik made tremendous progress from one lesson to the next. He went from putting his mouth on the rag at the end of our first lesson to actually picking it up when I dropped it at the beginning of the second lesson, which was more than a week later. By the end of the second lesson he would walk 2-3 steps and bring it back. On our third lesson a week later I tossed it across the patio and he brought it back to me each time. So it appears that he actually did commit the previous lessons to long-term memory and even made progress without actively working on it. But he was less engaged when I did two lessons in a row, and I think it was more because the rag was wet and he was distracted by the prospect of taking a walk afterwards. Usually Sputnik is good for 2-3 lessons in a day and progresses faster than with once a week lessons, but not every lesson goes quite the way you expect. And I definitely need to get some better toys while he's learning!
I made it to the feed store yesterday and picked out three very different but suitable-looking fetch toys from the dog aisle. I tried them out this afternoon and it looks like they'll work very well. Sputnik was immediately drawn to the rope toy and picked it up on his own out of the pile of toys I had deposited on the floor. It has a rubber grip in the center that's easy for him to hold in his mouth, but he prefers to grab it by one end so he can flip his head up and down, flinging the toy exuberantly. It's fun to be able to let him play with the toys without worrying that he'll swallow or destroy them.

We didn't get much fetching in today. Sputnik was mostly learning to pick up these new toys and I let him spend time playing, but he did successfully fetch them a couple of times.
It's been a long time since I've visited this thread. I got so busy over the summer that I only played "fetch" with Sputnik a few times early on, and then the toys sat forgotten on a shelf collecting dust through the summer and fall. It wasn't until about a month ago that I was cleaning the basement and found the toys. I picked out Sputnik's favorite, which is the green rope toy, and brought him on the back patio to play. I was astounded. He "fetched" better on our first try than he ever did last spring when we were practicing. We worked on it several times and now I can play fetch with him out in the yard with the other goats around. The other goats will trot over to sniff the toy curiously, but Sputnik chases them all away and grabs it. He rarely drops it until I hold my hand out to him. He still loves to fling it and twirl it and bop himself in the face with the free end. I've got him fetching it out of some odd places and off his own back now. He still has trouble if he can't actually see where it landed, and instead of looking for it he'll come trotting back to me with a confused expression on his face.

And now we're onto a trick I thought of last spring when I had the boys with me in Kansas City. I never had time to work on it until yesterday, and in fact I had completely forgotten I had this idea. Last spring in Kansas City I was walking Finn and Sputnik through a city park and I sat down to take a break under a tree while the boys grazed. When I tried to get up, my trick knee decided to play up on me and refused to support my weight. I called Finn over, and when he put his head down to say hi, I hooked my hands behind his horns and used them as a brace to help me up. Finn was surprised and not entirely pleased about it, and I knew I would have to do some training to be able to do this consistently without making the goat suspicious and mad.

But as I said, I forgot about it until just yesterday. I was playing with Sputnik on the back patio when I remembered. The command has a couple of separate parts, and of course Sputnik is naturally wary of anyone touching his head or messing with his horns at the best of times, so this is a good trick for him to learn. I started by sitting on a bucket so I could stand myself up and not put my full weight on Sputnik's horns in the beginning. I gave the command, "Help me, Sputnik!" and held my two hands palms up in front of me. When he put his head down, I put my hands behind his horns and then immediately clicked and gave him a treat. He didn't like me putting my hands on his horns (he still doesn't, but he's learning that it's a way for him to get cookies). Sputnik doesn't like to learn a means without an end and gets frustrated very quickly when we take small steps, so after just a few times of him putting his head down and letting me grab his horns, I gave the command "Lift!" and pulled myself up into a standing position using his horns. I didn't pull hard the first few times, but I pulled enough to let him know what to expect.

We went through the steps of confusion, frustration, and anger which mostly involved Sputnik trying to shake my hands off his horns, or moving forward into me. He never tried to butt me or hook me. He was simply trying to make me let go, but letting go when he's doing the wrong thing is a sure way to train the wrong response. So I held on and only let go when he was still, even if was just for a split second. There is certainly a risk when working face-level with a goat this size who is unhappy about having his horns touched. Goggles and a mouth guard or a football helmet would not be out of place.

After working with him for about 10 minutes, Sputnik began to relax and he quit trying to get rid of my hands every time I touched him. He was starting to figure out that I wanted him to stand still and brace so I could stand up. At first when I pulled against him he would either shake his head or move forward at my pull. Moving toward the pull (away from the pressure) was actually a good and intelligent response, but it wasn't the correct one. When I didn't reward him for it, he got frustrated and shook his head again. But as soon as he took a step backwards at my "Lift" command, I rewarded him immediately. By the end of our 20-minute session, we had a rough version of what I wanted. We ended when he did it perfectly. I'm sure it was an accident, but I wanted that accident to stay in his mind when we quit.

Today I tried the lesson again. We started with me sitting on the bucket, and once again we had some frustrated head-shaking at first, but not nearly as much as yesterday. Within a few minutes I was able to move to the ground and Sputnik braced while I used his horns to lift myself up. After just a few times of him lifting me off the ground, Sputnik seemed to get it. He understood what I wanted--I wanted help! He braced against my weight and a few times he even stepped backwards to pull me to my feet. Then I had him present his horns while I was standing so I could lower myself to the ground with his help. At first he kept backing up when I would try to lower myself, but I said "Whoa" and he soon learned to stand still while I sat down.

I'm thrilled with our progress after just two days. This is a simple trick but also advanced because it involves messing with a goat's horns--something I almost never do and that I don't recommend. However, this is a very specific command involving the horns, and with a goat that is already advanced in his training I believe it can be done safely. I would not do this with a young goat or one that was not thoroughly familiar with the training process. As much progress as we've made, the hard and tedious part is yet to come. Learning the trick is usually easy and fast in the early stages. Refining it is the hard part. Sputnik needs to learn to present his horns correctly at the right height and the right angle and wait patiently until I give the command to "Lift" or "Lower". Right now he's excited that he learned something new, so he wants to push his horns in my face and then run backwards the second I grab on. I'm glad he's enthusiastic, but I can't let him get so pumped up that he learns incorrectly. Learning to wait will be the hard part. Patience is not Sputnik's forte. I hope I have time to work on this some more in the coming weeks. It would be great if I had a polished personal assistant by next summer. When my knee plays up I sure have a hard time getting off the ground after lunch break on the trail, and having a goat that knows how to help me would be incredible.
Sputnik and I took a few days' break and then practiced for few minutes this afternoon. Today I decided to go back a few steps and start breaking this activity down. I sat on the stanchion and got out our target. It's a tennis ball on a short stick. Sputnik targets very well and was excited when I got it out. I put the target between my knees and asked him to touch it. When he touches the target between my knees, his head stops at the correct level for me to reach his horns, and his nose is tucked down instead of nuzzling my hands for treats. I practiced having him touch the target while I held a treat in one hand and curled my other hand around one of his horns. Sputnik wanted to nuzzle my hand for the treat, but he quickly learned that he needed to touch the target to get the treat. We only had about two minutes to practice so we didn't accomplish much, but it gave me an idea of what direction I want to head with this command. I'm going to teach him to present his horns by touching the target first, and then we're going to do the same thing with him targeting my knees instead of the tennis ball. Then we'll work on having him wait for longer periods while I hold my hands behind his horns until I either release them or give him the command to lift or lower me. We'll see how it goes!
Sputnik never ceases to amaze me with his intelligence and eagerness to learn new skills. We didn't practice our "Help me" trick until two days ago, which was three days after the previous session. I started out with the tennis ball between my knees so I could work toward having him target that part of my body. He targeted the tennis ball immediately a few times, so I removed it. It took him a few minutes to figure out that I still wanted him to put his nose at my knees even with the tennis ball gone. Mostly he spent those few minutes nuzzling my hands in search of cookies. When none were produced, he started ducking his head down in frustration, and I clicked every time his nose approached my knees. A few minutes later he was consistently putting his nose at my knees to get a treat. Soon afterwards I started placing my hands behind his horns every time he lowered them. He did not move away. In fact, once he knew that the purpose of touching his nose to my knees was to make his horns accessible, he began presenting them properly with the front of his face vertical. He started waiting for me to put my hands on his horns.

Then we changed the whole operation when I switched from sitting on the stanchion to standing up, holding my hands out, and asking him to present his horns with the "help me" command. After something like three tries, Sputnik was presenting his horns to me while I was in a standing position and waiting for me to grab them. After several correct responses where I grabbed his horns and then let go, I then held on and asked him to "Lower". I lowered myself to a sitting position on the ground. Sputnik wasn't quite ready and stepped toward me instead of bracing, but he held steady enough to let me sit down gently while holding his horns for support. Then we practiced the same knee-targeting movement with me on the ground. After he did it correctly a few times, I held his horns and said "Lift". He immediately braced himself and backed up a step or two while I hung on, hoisting me right onto my feet in one swift, graceful movement. He lowered me to the ground and then repeated the "lift" trick several times almost flawlessly--presenting his horns when asked, staying steady while I settled my hands behind them, waiting until I gave the command to "Lift," and then stepping backwards and pulling me to my feet. I'm so proud of him! We need to work a little more on the "Lower" command because he wants to step forward or back when I'm trying to sit when what I really need him to do is just stand there and brace. But I'm sure he'll figure it out very quickly. He's such a smart boy!

The only "bad" response I got was when I decided to sit for a while and not do anything. I want Sputnik to learn that when I'm not asking him to help me, I want him to go away and not pester me for treats. At first he hounded me quite a bit and was presenting his horns closer and closer to my face. He also prodded my knees with his forehead a few times in a butting gesture but without any power. He wasn't trying to hurt me--he just hoped that if he did "more" of the behavior I'd been asking for, I'd be sure to reward his enthusiasm. I ignored his nuzzling but not his prodding. Any time he touched his horns or head to me I said "NO!" in a stern voice, and once when he was slightly more forceful I thumped the side of his nose. He didn't prod me again. Instead he eventually got bored and went away. That was what I wanted. I let him wander away several times during our training session before calling him back and asking him to "Help me." I can't wait till I have time to try this again! Hopefully tomorrow.
That is amazing. You sure have what it takes to communicate with animals and break complex tasks down to understandable pieces.
Thanks Nancy! We've had a lot of fun with this trick.

We didn't practice much during the last couple of weeks because we were busy and I was sick, but yesterday Phil and I took the boys for a walk near the lake and Phil took a video of Sputnik doing his new trick. He did it really well the first time (excellent work for a goat with no practice!), but he got a little excited the second time around and wanted to lift me before I was ready. I show this in the video. I just kept letting go his horns until he waited for me to tell him to "lift". I plan to work on having him wait longer. I love how he really braces himself and gives me a proper anchor for getting up and down. He's still not so good at lowering me, but he's starting to get it.

I wish I could get videos to imbed like they used to, but for some reason they're not working for me anymore. I'll have to have Phil look into it sometime. In the meantime, here's the link:


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