It’s almost never too soon to begin lead-training your future pack goat. At 5 months, this little wether is about one month behind the time I normally begin, but weather and work schedules made it difficult until this beautiful day just before Christmas.
It’s important to approach this task with patience and frequent breaks. What you are looking for here is the end of resistance and the beginning of engagement. When a behavior is achieved, even a little, a release is given. Take teaching to lead, for instance. When tension on the lead is applied and you get even one step forward, release the tension and praise him. Count to 5 and reapply the lead pressure. The hand closest to the leg you are stepping out on should hold the lead and give a tiny tug with each step forward of the move forward you make with that leg, again, the one closest to him. That way, your little boy can connect the lead tension with a request to go forward, reinforced with a leg movement forward closest to his eye. Remember, they are babies and cannot draw the cause-and-effect conclusions that an adult goat can.
In the exercise you see here, the desired behavior is engaged standing. The little guy resists at first, bracing himself against the lead that is asking him to stay still instead of running off to mom.
You can see in the picture above he is braced and straining, looking away and the lead is taught.
The moment he decided this was an uncomfortable posture and eased up, I eased up on the lead even further and rubbed him. Physical and verbal reinforcement is very important to goats, especially young ones. The more information your reinforcement carries, the quicker he will get the idea of just what you are asking him to do.
In the picture below he has circled around me and is continuing to brace but his head is coming up.
He is not yet engaged but is relaxing and cooperating a tiny bit.
In the picture below, you will see even more softening.
He is already much more cooperative.
You can see that he is braced a bit on the legs closest to me, and the lead is taught, but his head is up and he is thinking. Now he is released and praised again. He is starting to get the picture and feels more confident and eager to do the right thing.
Once he comes to a standstill on his own, he is again praised verbally and rubbed. He is receiving no edible treats at this point in training. When he has reached a level of training that involves exertion, peppermint horse treats will be offered.
In the next picture you can see him approach voluntarily to see if that gets him a reward. He is plainly asking if this is the right thing to do. I praise him and then with slight upward pressure on the lead, encourage him to stay in his place. I will know he has comprehended what is being asked when he stands still while making sustained eye contact, even though I am wearing dark glasses.
I step back again. He steps forward, stops and looks up. Victory! The photo below shows his jaw rub reward moment. He has dropped his head a little but is still trying to keep eye contact. What a great little guy.
One minute later, he stands relaxed and squared, engaged and confident. Such a little gentleman already.
This entire exercise took 6 minutes. That is all you should do for about the first three repetitions of this initial behavior. Same with leading when you begin to teach staying at your side without pulling.
Always end each session with a good experience. Set them up for success, which some days may mean scaling back the lesson if he seems distracted or out of sorts. Never punish, only praise, and yet reinforce the idea with each lesson that "resistance is futile". Happy training!
Lauren Hall Ruddell operates Planet Goat in the Utah high desert, one hour west of Salt Lake City. As the name of the operation suggests, goats are the consuming passion. Nubian dairy goats provide milk and adorable baby goats yearly, while the wethers occasionally, and vigorously, earn their keep in the back country. Find Lauren online at Planet Goat, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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