General Principles of Training Pack Goats
Training pack goats is reasonably easy and goats are very smart and pick up new information very quickly. The goal of this article will be to help you handle 95% of all issues, necessary training and disciplinary strategies to make packing goats into the back country easy and hassle free. We will deal with age appropriate learning and assume you are starting with babies which is the easiest and most successful way to go. Most of these strategies can easily be applied to an adult and you will most likely have no issues following the same principles.
How to Show a Pack Goat Love
As far as love goes, each goat will show you how he likes to be loved by how he responds…I have some that love a cheek rub while they smell your face and others who want you to pet them like a cat. Try different ways till each responds and give him love how he likes it from then on.
How to Use Negative Reinforcement When Needed
Goats are NOT an animal that can take a “heavy handed trainer.” Meaning, hitting them in any way is not a good disciplinary tool. A loud voice or a squirt bottle is my “go to” reprimand 95% of the time and both have “the long arm of the law” (meaning, I can correct behavior from distance). Two other tools you can use physically, is a thrown stick or your walking stick or trekking pole but ONLY in the following way. The proper time and use of a stick, that is thrown, is when you can’t grab a squirt bottle fast enough or don’t have one, and you need to correct behavior from a distance. The stick size can be a twig…it is not about inflicting pain, it’s about the long arm of the law to enforce a command which most commonly is “get.” This happens often when I’m trying to keep a goat out of my gear in camp like the food, tent, or pooping or peeing in “my area.” I simply say “get” and if they don’t, I throw a stick at them and repeat “get” louder…they and you will figure it out quickly but most importantly you aren’t playing the “chase game” which only teaches them to run from you…bad idea! Also it’s important to understand the difference between striking, them in any way, with your hand or foot verses a object you are holding or throwing. They see them as two separate things which is critically important to never teach your goat that your willing to engage in physical aggression with them. Two things will result, an aggressive goat will think it’s ok to be physical back with other “smaller” humans as now you have made that fair play, and/or two, they will no longer trust and be as deeply bonded with you, which is critical in the relationship you are building with them. So never hit or kick your goat. The trekking pole or stick has only one purpose for me and that is to keep goats trying to pass me on the trail. If you don’t do this your trail time will not be as enjoyable. It’s very simple, when a goat tries to pass me, I lightly tap them on the nose (fleshy part as it’s sensitive) and say “back”. They don’t like it and after a few corrections I need only “threaten” with the stick and say back and they listen.
Most goats hate to be squirted and they don’t like to be yelled at either. Always have squirt bottles handy around the pasture and in the woods…they will make your goat life so much easier. I always accompany a squirt with a SSS noise similar to the sound the squirt bottle makes so can correct with a noise as well. After one command, for example, “get” which means “get outta here,” what comes next if they don’t obey is a SSSS and a wave of my hand, quickly followed by a squirt to the face if they don’t obey a second time. Only takes a little bit for them to get the succession and they will learn quickly to obey on the first command.
How to Use Treats for Training Pack Goats
Nothing replaces love as your positive reinforcement. Now many trainers use treats, and I will as well, but only every now and then. I do not carry them regularly or reward that way often. Mostly I only use them if I’m looking to correct bad behavior or making it easier for them to understand what want out of them in the very beginning. I like to keep them guessing. My main reason for this is if you have as many goats as I do (around ten), things can get really pushy really fast when the treats come out and kids and new people can get quite intimidated. Love is the best training tool, by far, so if you can get away from treats, I suggest you do so.
Training baby/kid Pack Goats
Watch this video for babies or kid training if you like that sort of thing. Kids are easy… Keep them from jumping on you and keep them from horning you, as you would a dog. Push them down gently with a “NO” when they jump up and push their head to the side with a “NO” (more forcefully) when they horn you. After they look at you for a second of “why did you do that” reinforce the current behavior (standing and waiting for love) with some…you guessed it… LOVE. I also suggest you begin, when they hit one year old, putting goat kid packs (which you can find here) on them. DO NOT and I repeat DO NOT put dog packs on them. They ride completely wrong and put weight on their spine. Year one it is only about BULK, not weight. Year two I believe you are safe putting 10% of their body weight on them, and year three, depending on fitness level, you can put 15-20% on them. If you want to error on the side of caution wait another year for everything or decrease everything I just gave you by -5% and you will be fine.
Leash Training Pack Goats
When your packer is little, it is also a great time for leash training and I do that by leashing them to a fence when they are getting their grain (I grain them till they are 1) and I leave them for a bit while I’m doing other chores so they get used to the fact that a leash is not to be fought and then they lead easily. (remember I said this stuff is easy)
Should you use the Big Goats to show them the Ropes
I get them out on the trails, either following my big boys or on their own. I see a lot of people thinking they need a big goat to “teach them the ropes” and they do not. You are their big goat, they will do what you do. If you want them to walk through water…you have to. I’ve seen lots of goats slip and fall on logs, I’ve never seen them fall wading in a river yet. Not saying it won’t happen, but I think they are safer, overall, wading, and you have to show them that is what you do. If you skitter across every log, they will do the same.
Loading Pack Goats
Babies will also learn to load from a young age. I use the “up” command. Babies can easily jump into a horse trailer and by the time they are 6 months old, most can easily jump into the back of the pickup. This is one I use treats on in the beginning as I want getting into the truck or trailer to always be a positive and they will usually follow me in for a treat the first few times. Once they know I want them to get in, I only reward with love. For a stubborn goat that doesn’t want to load I use the “one leg up” model that works really well. Watch this video that will show you how. To explain it here, I say “up” and give a gentle upward tug of their leash and collar and I give them a few times to try on their own. The progression is best to do with you and the goat on the ground together first (cause that is what you want eventually). If they won’t do it I climb onto the tail gait and try again with the light tug and the “up” command. Then lastly (if they don’t load) I have someone help me by putting one leg up and I haul them up by the leash (which they don’t like) and they get in and I give them love. After a couple times of that, they will understand if they get in, they will get love, if they don’t, they get jerked into the back…they choose love always if it’s done that way eventually. Remember, if you want a good pack goat, they need time on the trail and that gives them more practice at everything we are talking about, including this.
Saddling Pack Goats
When you are saddling a pack goat, he only needs to do one thing and that is to stand still. I suggest you make that first experience very loving and calm. It’s nice to have someone help you but either way it is quite easy. Always address a goat from the left side, leash him very short and pin him against what he’s tied to. That way he learns when he’s being saddled he gets love and he has no where to move. Be slow…goats respond to calm voices and slight pauses allowing them to relax when they get a little nervous. A nervous goat just needs reassurance, time and love and he will work his way through it and know all is good the next time. They remember very well. If you loose your temper or lack patience, they will be nervous and saddling will always be an issue for you….Be calm and be loving. Whoa should be a quiet calm command…not a yelled one, it should be used to calm a nervous goat; not to scare one into standing still. You should always secure the cinch first and then the britchen and then the breast strap.
Trail Manners for Pack Goats
There a two main concerns when training pack goats for good trail manners. One, is to simply follow behind you and anyone else you want them to follow. This is easier said than done with a gung-ho, ready to rip string when they are fresh and excited to get down the trail. Remember, you are the Alpha in their eyes, but a loving one. They still respect the carrot (love), and the stick (water bottle and hiking stick or trekking pole). As I said earlier, when a goat tries to pass, I use the trekking pole (light tap to the soft part of the nose) to correct that behavior along with the “back” command. The other is to train your goats to walk where you walk which starts when they are young. Push their abilities but never surpass them with where you walk. If not then they will start hunting for their own way which creates problems down the road. If you want them to jump over a log, you have to jump over a log…if you want them to cross through the easy shallow water verses the “stay dry” log crossing that is more dangerous, then you have to walk there.
If horses, bikes, dogs or just other hikers need to be gone around, your goats need to know you expect them to get off the trail, so practice that often, and walk them off the trail for no good reason and keep walking off the trail till everyone follows. Important to remember that horses get really freaked out by goats…HORSES HAVE THE RIGHT OF WAY. Take your goats off trail as far as you can on the downhill side of the oncoming horses. That way if the horses spook, it’s uphill which is safer for everyone.
Lastly, and this will be very important for you to remember…Goats have a herd mentality and are prey animals. How you position them and the others humans with you in relation to your string can make things WAY easier. Remember almost all goats want to lead when they are fresh and almost no goat wants to be last (he’s the wolf bait). So, when I start down the trail I’m always out front of the string (alone) and the humans are behind the last goat. This will make your starting out sooooo much easier and you will see what I’m talking about once you try it both ways. You should never put your humans between you and the goats, your lead goat will constantly try to pass them and most likely your companions don’t have the presence to keep them back. This is the way you will lead then till everyone starts to settle into the “work” of hiking in.
After a few miles a new problem will show up where the last goat (almost always the one with the least “heart”) starts trying to slow down the humans following them and the string will begin to spread out. That will be your cue to stop everyone and have all the humans in front of you. This will reignite a new “rush to the front” (which will be where you need your “back” command and your stick) cause they see the other humans as sub dominant goats and they will want to be in front of them. The string will naturally tighten up cause now the ones at the back are again…you guessed it…wolf bait. If you can’t tell, I’m a stickler for good string management, which is what you have to be if you are running a minimum of 6 and usually more often around 10 goats into the back country.
Training Pack Goats to Cross Water
Water crossings with babies and training pack goats is all about scaling up from shallow to deep and you walking through the water as well. Start them out walking through puddles that they can’t go around and take it clear to them swimming with you if that is what you want (they will do it). When you get them as babies that is your chance to have water never be an issue. With adults you may literally have to drag them in in the beginning to teach them that water is no big deal. I make it a very calm experience with lots of love but I MAKE them do it if that is what it takes. Many times, over and over till they get more comfortable with it. Another thing to consider is it’s safer for them to cross through water 90% of the time rather than walk a log. Make them learn water wading crossings first as they will always follow you across a log and that is easy to get them to do. I’ve seen lots of goats slip and fall on logs, I’ve never seen them fall wading in a river yet. Not saying it won’t happen, but I think they are safer, overall, wading, and you have to show them by wading yourself. If you skitter across every log, they will do the same. To make that more doable for me, I pack crocks, on my pack, and quickly swap shoes to cross as I HATE wet boots. Lastly, you will likely have one goat that is very good at water crossing…let him be the leader as the others will much more easily cross if one goat goes before them.
Establishing “Your Area” in Camp – No Pack Goat Zone
If you want a peaceful camping experience with your goats you will establish from the get-go a “no goat zone” in camp. For me that is the campfire/cooking area and food and human sitting area. This is easily accomplished with a few squirt bottles strategically placed within that area and the command “get.” I usually ask for one of the humans in camp to post up, right off the bat, as we are unloading and setting up camp to protect the food and establish the boundary like Josey Whales squirting and SSSSing and saying “get.” It takes about 15 minutes and every goat will know where he is not supposed to be and will only need another reminder the rest of the time from here to there.
Ground Lining Pack Goats
This is a must do at home exercise before you hit the trail for your first trip. I have a video on how to do it that you can watch here. Have them get used to being ground lined in your pasture or back yard first where you can observe them over a time frame. Let them untangle themselves, and learn how to take care of simple things while you watch. Also, I don’t let my goats thrash trees at a camp site…leave no trace is a goat owners responsibility. Be a good steward. All goats must be tethered at night in some way and always under your control and supervision…It is not acceptable as a goat owner, in the back country, to leave goats unattended.
I’m sure I left some things out and excuse that some of the videos aren’t made or perfect. This site is a labor of love and something I do to be helpful. Please excuse my imperfections.
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