Training Young Goats, Part 2: Sound-Based Methods

In the second part of this multi-part series, we talk more about how our young goats were introduced to training methods involving sound.

Reader Contribution by Fala Burnette
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by Fala Burnette
Botan the young goat investigates the clicker used for her training.

In the second part of this multi-part series, we talk more about how our young goats were introduced to training methods involving sound such as vocal cues and clickers. You’ll also read more about some of the early skills we taught them.

In part one of this series on Training Young Goats, I briefly introduced and talked about the early days of our journey with our two female goats, Yukina and Botan. When they were first brought home at a few months old, they needed time to adjust to their new environment. Positive interaction during this time, involving careful body language (lack of quick movement, soft voice) and associating our presence with something good (bringing them a nice snack with each visit) allowed them to blossom quickly. It was time to begin associating sounds with these interactions.

Disclaimer: I am not a certified animal behaviorist or trainer, and anyone interested in training should reach out to a professional or do extensive homework on the subject first. Younger folks should always have an adult’s help and supervision when working with any animal.

One of the first things I chose to do was to associate a particular call with our goats that would cause them to “answer” back, so if the goats were ever out of sight in their pen but we wanted to check on them at a distance, we would hear each goat answer. I remembered the two words I would use as a youngster at my Grandmother’s farm – I could be down the hill and out of sight, but they knew if they heard me holler that it meant I had a nice bit of brush for them. “Heyyyyy goat!” I would yell, drawing out the end of the word “hey” usually, and here they would come running after one or two long calls to help them locate me.

Because Yukina was already very vocal when hearing one of us, I wanted her to associate the call with us being nearby. I made it a point every morning, as I walked to little barn to let them out for the day, to call “Hey goat,” as I approached them. Eventually, knowing that it meant they were going to see one of us, Yukina began to answer back. I would call, wait for her to respond, then get a little closer before beginning again. Botan quite quickly picked up on what was happening and would call to us as well. It became a game of long-distance “speak” in which we can now call to them from out of sight and get a very loud, audible response back from them both.

Train Goats With Sound

Then came time to associate the sound of the clicker with a reward, and so the early stage of this involves simply a freebie click-and-treat. The snack must immediately follow the clicker so that the sound of it is a marker of the good thing, and they associate it with a reward. You want something that the animal will consider a “high value reward” like a favorite snack, and so we used a small bit of grain to accomplish this with the goats due to their excitement for it. After they become used to this marker sound and associate it positively, it’s time to move on to something very basic.

One of the easiest things to work on was “back” as a simple command for the goats, due to their impatient nature some days for feeding time. Standing in front of the goat, I would say the word “back” while stepping forward towards them so that in turn they would take a step backwards. If she took a step back, just one step and not a sideways step or an avoidance or walking around, only then would I click and immediately reward with a treat. There is an important measure to clicker training as I have mentioned in other articles, that you should only reward for the desired behavior. If you click and mark the wrong behavior, they won’t know any better and will think that it was what they were supposed to do.

Enhancing the “back” prompt, I then began to stay still when asking them to do this. If the goat took a step back on their own without pressure from me stepping forward, click and treat. Eventually Botan mastered this, and I began to work with Yukina on something fun, teaching her “spin around” of all things! Having her attention, standing in front of me, I would take my hand with grain in it and reach towards her right hip (my left) and very gently lay the back of my hand on her hip while saying “spin around”. Searching for the treat, she’d turn back towards her hip to also investigate my hand on her, and it would cause her to turn clockwise. I would keep my hand on her hip until she had made a complete 360 degree turn. When she got back to that starting point, click and treat.

I was amazed with the speed and eagerness our young goats showed in learning these skills, and was very proud of the process involving no force or harsh training. With knowledge of clicker training and prior experience, the clicker/treat, a soft voice, and patience was all it took and these girls had them mastered within a week. We hope you will consider giving positive reinforcement training a try with your own livestock and poultry, and invite you to follow along with us as we write more about our experiences and share video of some more fun training in the future!

Fala Burnette is a homesteader with her husband at Wolf Branch Homestead in Alabama. They have built two cabins with their own hands, enjoy milling their own wood, and enjoy raising heirloom crops in Spring and picking up discarded hides to tan in Winter. They have a small flock of rescued chickens, goats, and raise Khaki Campbell ducks.  

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  • Updated on Mar 13, 2022
  • Originally Published on Mar 11, 2022
Tagged with: Alabama, Fala Burnette, goats, livestock, Reader Contributions