How to train your goat
I have worked professionally as a detection dog trainer and love watching how animals behave and learn. Using positive reinforcement (reward based) training, I have enjoyed training dogs, cats, chickens and goats.
By using the techniques described here, your relationship with your goat will be based on respect and trust. By building this relationship, not only will your every day interactions be rewarding, but the things that can be traditionally difficult in goat husbandry such as hoof trimming, managing bucks and transporting your goats, can be easy and stress free.
There are some basic principles common to all training (of all kinds of animals to do all kinds of different behaviours and actions). These are:
observing your goats and getting to know goat body language
breaking down a task into small steps and building on each step without stressing the goat
A word on negative reinforcement: This is a technical training/animal behavior term that does NOT mean punishment. I believe there is NEVER a case for hitting a goat or using force such as a cattle prod. Negative reinforcement means that when a goat stops doing an undesirable behavior, a negative or unpleasant feeling or consequence will stop. (Don't worry, this concept is easy to understand in the examples I will give.)
I shall describe these principles by illustrating how I train for 4 different behaviours:
walking on a halter
being relaxed when transported in a vehicle or trailer
managing the behaviour of dominant bucks
A little on goat body language: Spend time with your goats and get to know their sounds and body language. The benefits are enormous. Most importantly, you will be able to recognise early signs of stress, so that the situation can be changed and your goat is not stressed out with potential health problems.
Secondly, if you look at your goat and something doesn't "look quite right" you can contact your vet sooner rather than later and avert a potential crisis.
Signs of stress in goats can include their ears back, and not making eye contact as well as increased respiration rate. Another interesting observation is that goats use a sneeze as a method of communication. It loosely means "pay attention" - not yet identifying danger but becoming a bit more vigilant.
The key to hoof trimming is to start young and break it down in to small steps. When the kids are born handle them all over. As they become older, continue touching them all over including the ears and top of the head which they dislike. Intersperse with touching favourite areas such as on the chin/neck and under the chest. Touch also down the back of the legs and handle the hoofs but don't lift the hooves up at this stage. It is easiest to run your hands down the back of their legs (all 4, don't just always do the same one leg) when they are being fed, so that they are distracted. Here the positive reinforcement for the desired behavior of keeping still and not fidgeting when being touched is either being touched where the goat likes it or eating their feed (if it is done at mealtimes).
Don't rush the process. Just do a little each day so that the goat is very comfortable with the process and shows no signs of stress. Then slowly increase the steps bit by bit by lifting the hoof off the ground ever so slightly, separating the two halves of the hoof between your fingers, feeling the cold knife or secateurs blade against the edge of the hoof, bending the leg at the knee so the goat is balanced on only 3 legs, etc. Finally you can attempt the actual hoof trim, doing a little at a time and building up to eventually trimming all 4 hooves in one session. I have found for the front legs, it is easier to set the feed bin at a lower height and push gently on the goats withers while pulling a front leg gently out and back from...
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