Since keeper Erin left, I was given the responsibility of training Lightning the donkey, as well as my original animal Chummix the goat. This task felt a bit overwhelming at first… especially with everything else to get done in a day. But over time, I actually embraced the role of training the two most stubborn and oldest male hoof stock animals in the farmyard!
I had already been making good progress with Chummix. I have been working with him since June of last year, and it took me a while to learn the best method to train him, as well as his mannerisms. For a while, one of our biggest hurdles was his aggression towards me. Whenever I ended a training session, he became aggressive and headbutted me. I can only imagine this was because he wasn’t ready for me to take away his treats. After all, who really wants someone to walk away with their yummy treats? I corrected this problem by teaching him “down”. This means he walks to the bottom of the yard. This allows me time to get out of the yard while Chummix is busy eating treats off the ground at the bottom of the yard. This worked so well, I taught Chummix “down” from outside the yard, as well. This allowed me to enter the enclosure safer when I first start the training. This was a problem, too, because it was hard to get Chummix away from the gate when I wanted to come in. There was more than one occasion when I couldn’t even start training before Chummix would be headbutting me because he wouldn’t give me enough room to walk into the yard! Now I can enter and exit the yard safely.
I was beyond excited for our operant conditioning coach, Julie Grimes, to come last month. It had been about 3 months since she had seen my progress with Chummix because I was on vacation the last two times she had visited. But since our last meeting, Chummix had made huge strides in his training! It would take a couple of pages for me to explain the intricacies of the behaviors he learned, and the hurdles he faced while learning each one, so I won’t bore you. But let’s just say I felt like the proud parent of a very charismatic goat! And Julie Grimes was very pleased, too. So pleased, in fact, that she was doing the “happy training” dance for me!
Now, by the time Julie came last month, I had just recently started as Lightning’s primary trainer, but that progress was also going well. Our newest keeper, Sarah, is in the process of becoming both Chummix’s and Lightning’s secondary trainer. Sarah is rather smitten with Lightning, and I’m hoping that in time Sherry will give Sarah the primary trainer role for Lightning. I have really enjoyed working with him, but I must admit it would be nice to get back to concentrating on only ONE stubborn animal! I will write another update soon to tell you about Lightning’s progress, and also tell you about the process that Sarah and I have gone through to get her incorporated as a secondary trainer.