Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland
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.

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RE: Goat Diaries Blog by Alexandra Kurland - by Nanno - 12-03-2018, 03:29 PM

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