Rewarding good behaviour

Positive reinforcement of good behaviour has really worked wonders in resolving one of my goat’s undesirable habits (butting me for attention and cuddles, butting when I remove food bowls, repetitive bleating for attention).

Positive reinforcement is rewarding a goat when she behaves well and is coupled with negative punishment, which means removing rewards if she is naughty. Before I tried pushing her away if she started to butt, pointing my finger and saying “no”. It stopped her butting but she soon started up again. Now, instead of giving her any kind of attention when she butts, I just walk away calmly (removing cuddles and any interaction). Then I make a point of going up to her and giving her a good cuddle when she is quiet and calm. If she lets me stroke another goat at the same time, then she gets a longer and more thorough cuddle. If she chases the other goat away, I stop.

Within a couple of weeks, this has had dramatic effects. She stays a lot calmer when I am there (no more huffing and puffing and competing for my attention).

This goat is the most dominant goat in the herd, and only one other (also high ranking) dares to approach when she is at my side. All the other goats run away as she approaches. But now she lets me stroke another goat at the same time as her; she no longer chases them away. The lower ranking goats are no longer afraid to approach me. In the last couple of days, I have managed to stroke all the goats during our morning interaction in the pasture.

Her frequent bleating is also becoming less. She is known for standing and bleating persistently for attention when she hears us moving around the garden. I am trying a similar procedure on our cat. I only give her food or petting when she’s quiet and ignore her if she yowls. After a week, she’s much quieter.

A couple of goats used to butt me when I removed empty food bowls or refill the hay rack while they are beside it. They probably think I am competing with them. Now I wait until they are doing something else before I approach. Just a few seconds’ wait has made all the difference and I can say goodbye to bruised legs and hands!

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