Goats are relatively easy to train. Unlike horses, who take a year or two to be properly trained, goats can be trained in a few training sessions. The learning curve is high, and in fact, if you start with kids, they will know everything they need to know well before they are old enough to be able to actually carry a load. Goat training involves imprinting, which is done shortly after birth, and trail specific training, starting at birth and extending through the training process.
Imprinting is the training that takes place at birth, when the ability to consider humans as part of the herd is most open to our influence. Anything that happens in the first 48 hours of a goat's life is incredibly influential in how he sees the world and the humans in it. Ideally, you are there when he is born, you dry him off and feed him, let him listen to your voice and handle him, and he considers you his mom. This affects his relationship to you for his life span. Dam raised goats are likely to be more suspicious and less willing to follow you into a strange situation.
An imprinted goat can transfer his attachment to another human fairly easily. Imprinting stacks the later training cards in your favor. Imprinting is also considered to make it less likely that your goats will stray off to be with wild goats if you hike in areas containing wild goats.
PACK & TRAIL SPECIFIC TRAINING
Goats don't need the lengthy training sessions that horses do. They are much more accepting of the whole training process and less likely to object to the saddle and other equipment. Goats are already agile, if raised in a pasture environment and have things like rocks or spools to jump and climb on.
The basics for training are:
Leading and Tying
Saddling and Carrying Loads
Loading In The Rig
Preventing Annoying Habits
Training begins the day a goat is born. For a good packing goat, hand raising it a must. This bonds the goat to humans; makes you a vital part of it's herd. The most important training rule to remember is "love and respect your goat". Cute cuddly "kids" grow to be big strong "goats." By nature goats butt and ram each other and will do it to human unless this is trained out of them at a very young age. The best way is by the "No horns, no heads" rule. As the owner and dominant of the herd, humans must never "invite" a challenge. This means you do not grab the goat by it's horns and tussle. And part two; if the goat lowers it head to butt, gently push it's head away on the side of it's face. The first year this will be the most used training technique. But as a fully grown adult packer, that same goat is safe to turn your back on, will follow, anywhere, and wants very much to make you, the human dominant(s) happy.
The best way to teach a goat to lead is to teach him to tie well. This can be started when the goat is 3 weeks old by tying him while you working in the barn. Tie him at about 12" with a wide flat nylon or leather collar. This can be done daily for about 3 weeks. A goat who is tied this way and learns to give to the pressure will lead well forever. Don't leave the goat unattended when tied, ever. They need to be rescued occasionally. Also, don't tie him where he can jump onto something and off the other side. This will hang your goat!
If you start training with an older goat, you can use a sheep halter or a dog halter called a Halti(TM)(available at pet stores) to teach him to lead. Leading by the head is recommended for goats who don't give well to pressure, and makes them much easier to handle.
The basics for leading are just like dog obedience, except I teach mine to follow me, rather than lead in the heeling position. Most packers (including myself) let the goats go on the trail with no lead, but it's necessary sometimes to be able to lead them; around lots of people, on dangerous roads, and some areas do require leads on pack stock. Once your animal leads well, you can pack string them with ease.
Collar and leash training for your goat must also start very early. They love to walk, they love to be with their herd. They do not like to be pulled on a leash, but many areas require leads on all pack animals, so start them, even before they are weaned.
The first year is the best time to get them to cross water, Most goats don't do this naturally and will find many ingenious ways NOT to get wet. But if fording a river is necessary on a hike, your goat must be able to do it. We actually walk streambeds, so the goats at some point must go through water to follow. Often they will wait until we are out of sight before "plunging in" but all will come before being left behind.
You want your goat to be a working animal. But, most people can't just strap on a pack and go all day long and not hurt afterwards, neither can a packgoat. We walk the boys regularly. Two or three times a week. For as long as time allows. Usually 3-4 miles of trail per trip. This keeps them (and us) in better shape. We push for longer distances as we get closer to long trips. And we start adding weight slowly each spring as we can't maintain the training during the winter with the snow we get locally.
As a rule, goats don't need lengthy training sessions. They are generally accepting of the whole training process and not likely to object to the saddle and other equipment. Goats are already agile, if raised in a pasture environment and have things like rocks or spools to jump and climb on.
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