Updated: Jun 22
Pearl and Party are retired dairy goats who arrived at the ranch only a few days ago. Meadow has been able to observe them from across the barnyard but has never actually met a goat, of any sort. This is the first time any of my dogs have been in the field with these goats. So, given all this, anything could have happened. What actually did happen was beautiful.
Before we go any further, please study this photo, left to right. Kathy has a calm hand on Meadow's side. This is not a cue to be still, but rather this contact is offered as support and connection to Meadow. Notice that the safety line is slack. Meadow stopped all on her own, choosing just the right distance from the goats. Then she conveyed quite a lot to the girls through her body language. Meadow's body is round and soft, with her eyes downcast and her tail lowered; these are all canine calming signals. She is purposefully letting the goats know she means them no harm. The goat girls trust people. Because of the body language of both Kathy and Meadow the girls quickly become inquisitive, rather than spooky and fearful. None of what you are seeing here "just happened." Kathy has been training Maremmas with me for two years. Meadow has been learning from us for sixteen months. I selected the goat girls as potential puppy trainers because of their temperament. In this interaction we are rewarded for our care and planning.
Meadow enters the field wisely. She knows the goats are there, new and interesting, but rather than approaching them directly she circles around a bit, with her nose to the ground. She is investigating the new field, but she is also giving the goats the opportunity to just observe her without confronting them. This is a purposeful canine calming signal. When I ask Kathy to bring Meadow in closer to the goats notice how slowly they travel, and notice that Meadow is setting the pace. Kathy is following, with the safety line slack. When Meadow stops Kathy strokes her, slowly. This is key because it lets Meadow how much energy (movement) Kathy would like to see from her. Meadow is free to walk away at any point, but because she stays, so gently, the goats approach her. Notice how many times Meadow licks her lips as she stands near the goats; this is a canine submissive/calming behavior, intentional from Meadow. And then Meadow lets Kathy know she's seen all she needs to of these goats, for now, and they leave the field.
Karen Pryor Academy Foundations course - Cues
None of the cues used in the training session shown below are verbal. All behaviors were taught using capturing and shaping. Clicker training for our pups begins when they are four weeks old.
Situational cue - Our pups have been taught that being on leash means that they are connected to us, in that they are working in close partnership with us, but that we expect them to move freely in front of us and investigate everything. We begin to teach this to the pups when they are eight weeks of age. So, the use of a harness and long line is a situational cue to the pups.
Situational cue - Our pups are taught that they are to come through a gate only when positioned to do so. We place the pup's nose facing the opening of the gate, with the dog's body between the handler and the fence. When we open the gate we expect the pup to dart through the opening, and then turn and wait for us to close the gate.
Our dogs are reinforced for offered behaviors we would like to see more of. We don't ask for these behaviors - we don't cue for them - but we thank the dogs when the behaviors happen. In the video below you will see Kathy reinforce Meadow for calm behavior near her. Through Kathy's touch and verbal praise she is staying connected to Meadow and the good choices she is making.
This whole training session was one minute and forty seconds long, or short. Perfect!
And now, extra credit opportunity here, if you'd like to raise the bar for yourself as a trainer go back and watch the video again, but this time only watch Kathy. Study every move she makes; every slow, measured, intentional move. Study her posture. She set Meadow up for success before they even entered the field. She "read" Meadow flawlessly throughout the encounter, letting the pup set their pace from beginning to end. Through her posture and proximity to Meadow she conveyed to Meadow supreme confidence in her, and Meadow felt this, which helped her stay mindful in what could have been a provoking situation.
Things done well often appear easy. Kathy worked for her education in handling Maremmas. On my ranch there is no one I trust more to handle my dogs, any of them. Right now there are thirty Maremmas here, so that says a lot! Thank you Kathy!