The following is a basic compendium of the skills I realized the hard way I had to teach my goats for them to function as pack goats. The explanations are how I clumsily achieved this. May this article help those who are about to make the same errors, and if you are God’s gift to goat training,  be warned, they may cause you to laugh really loudly in a public place.

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Bonding

You can hold one of three positions in the life of your goat through how you bond with it.

The easy way to get a goat to bond with you is to get a few days old bottle baby, feed it a bottle 4x a day, and have it recognize you as mom. Baby goats, while basically demons in training, do still form strong maternal attachments. You are now the Mom.

If you are starting with a goat less than a year of age try to choose one that is already interested in interacting with humans. Then spend at least an hour or so every day with this goat doing something the goat enjoys, like playing king of the hill. You have now achieved Friend status. 

If you are starting with a goat that is more than a year old and/or has little interest in hanging out with you personally then you have a challenge on your hands. There is a way to bond with a goat like this, but it is borderline not very nice. Take the goat and place it in an extremely sturdy enclosure from which it cannot possibly escape, (this means a sturdy box with a ceiling, 4 sides, and potentially a floor as goats can dig out if they must). Do not allow it to have contact or be able to see other goats or any other animals to which it could bond and form a herd, (this includes dogs and other humans). This type of situation is common when you are quarantining a new goat before introducing it to the herd, so during your quarantine time is a good and humane time to do this.

Anyway, keep the goat in this enclosure for 2 to 4 weeks, with its only contact being with you. Even the most stubborn goat will become attached to you because you’re the only living thing available at this point. Once quarantine is over and the goat appears to truly identify you as its herd mate, (by approaching and hanging out with you even when you don’t have food or treats), then you can move it somewhere where it can see other goats or interact with other animals/people. Continue to spend time with it, and when you are satisfied that it has bonded with you, you can release it out with the rest of the herd. Usually taking it for a few short hikes to scary locations with lots of bikes, horses, and dogs during this transition will reinforce its reliance on you, its special herd mate, for safety and protection. You are now the Goat Defender.

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Collars and Standing Tied

This sounds really simple. In theory, it even is really simple. To start with, if you are leash training an adult goat you probably want a 26″ or slightly smaller collar. Kids usually take a 14″ collar and will eventually trade up to a 26″ as they get older. Buy padded collars if you can because goats’ tracheas are much closer to the surface than on a dog and thus more easily damaged by excessive force from a collar. For more on equipment check my other pages. Use a horse lead rope or a six foot fabric leash. Retractable leashes are not really going to work for this. Oh, and usually start this kind of training early – about two weeks of age if possible.

To teach a goat to stand tied, put the collar on the goat and tie it up to a sturdy fence. You will want to tie the goat with a quick release knot, but tuck the leash back through the loop on the quick release as goats can learn to untie ropes really quickly. While the goat is tied, hang around and keep an eye on it to make sure it doesn’t become tangled or hung up. Usually tying the goat so that it has only about a foot or less of slack between its neck and the post helps avoid this. If you are teaching kids, tie them up with their mom and/or their siblings so they don’t stress out from being alone and associate being tied with being scared.

Wait until the goat stops pulling back on the leash and accepts being tied. Make it rain grain so that the goat associates the leash with good things. After the goat calms down and is standing without pulling back on the leash, and you’ve rewarded it, release it. The whole process should only take about 15-30 minutes each time. Repeat this process daily for 2 weeks or so, or until you feel like the goat has the idea. Do not allow the goat to come untied during this period – the goat needs to know that the leash is absolute and no amount of pulling back or chewing on the leash is going to get it loose. If it does manage to get itself loose you have now taught your extremely intelligent goat that it can, whenever it doesn’t feel like dealing with the leash, just slip out of the collar or untie the rope and leave.

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That walking on a leash thing….

Walking on a leash takes patience and time, and not all goats are going to be willing to walk on a leash. If you get a goat that after hours of careful work still won’t walk on a leash for you, its time for that goat to find a new home. Some goats just won’t walk on leashes. It is a reality that has to be faced. If buying a kid, ask if the kid’s dam or sire have ever been leashed trained to get an idea of that kid’s future potential to be willing to lead on a leash.

However, most goats will walk at least some distance on leash. To teach leash walking, start by tying your goat up to the fence just like when he was being trained to stand tied. Then untie him, walk until the leash is taunt, then crouch down facing him with a handful of grain. Coax him to come towards you with grain. Tug on the leash a little if he’s a bit slow on getting the idea. Feed him when he gets to you, and then repeat this process again. Eventually he’ll come to you immediately, cause hey, you’re the lady/dude with the grain man, what’s not to love about that? Then you can progress to walking ahead with your back to him and coaxing him with grain. Eventually he’ll keep coming right along with you as you walk, and you can slowly stop giving him grain. In my experience praise, which works so well with dogs, does not work with goats. They don’t want you to tell them they are good girls and boys. They know in their hearts that they are evil little spawns of darkness. So skip the lying and just give them grain. What does work is that most goats seem to enjoy exploring – once they learn to walk on a leash take them somewhere quiet with lots of rocks, canyons, or other obstacles that scream “goat joy” and walk them through this area. They will learn to like being on leash.

Alternatively, to help reinforce walking with you without being rewarded with grain, try taking the goat somewhere unfamiliar with lots of people and scary things. Take it for a walk around this area, and that will reinforce keeping up and walking with you because you are the only safe familiar thing available in those surroundings.

Haltering the Hard Way

While not an essential to hiking or packing, if you have a very large goat (>200lb) or if you are having trouble controlling the goat you have, teaching a goat to walk and stand tied in a halter can be useful. Halters are attached to the head and not attached at the bottom of the neck like a collar, so they are farther away from the center of the goat’s mass than a collar. The farther away you get from a goat’s center of mass the less force the goat will be able to apply against you. So a big goat wearing a halter is much more manageable than a big goat wearing a collar. Halters are also good for medical care because you can tie the goat’s head, (and thus its horns) up out of the way while you are trimming hooves or giving vaccines, making the procedures safer for you.

There are two types of halters commonly found for goats – rope halters and standard fabric halters. For more on the difference between these and how to use them see my other pages. Regardless of which you have, start by putting it on the goat. Attach a leash or lead rope to the halter, then let the goat go. Let the goat walk around and step on that leash or lead rope attached to its halter for a bit. This teaches the goat not to panic when it gets the rope under its feet. Once it has figured that out, take the goat and tie it with about a foot of slack to the fence. Ruminants are unique in that they can suffocate in rope halters if they panic because they pull back and the nose band of the rope halter tightens down, cutting off their air. So you need to stand there and watch the goat if you are using a rope halter. Fabric halters and any halter style where the piece going over the nose doesn’t tighten down typically won’t do this. In any case, watch your goat while it’s being tied for the first time. If it backs up and tightens the nose band too much, push it forward so that the nose band loosens. The goat will learn very quickly that backing up is a bad idea! Eventually the goat will figure out how to stand in the halter just as it did with the collar, and then you can let it go and come back and practice again a few more times later.

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Learning to Tie Out

Invite your friends over and have a barbecue during this training session to watch the antics. By “tie out” I mean teach a goat to graze and maneuver while being tied by a rope or similar tether to a stationary object like a tree. This is useful because you may need to tie your goat out to graze on the trail if you are in a location where free grazing is not a good idea, (like in back country camping areas shared with other users). When purchasing your “rope” buy something that won’t twist tightly around a goat if it gets hung up in the “rope” to avoid leg injuries or other problems. Ideally avoid chains and thin ropes like clothesline. Tethers made for dogs usually work well if you want to spend the money. For best entertainment value, purchase a big dog tether with a spring in it. For more on equipment check my other pages. Remember that goats can untie knots so when you tie your goat out make sure you’ve actually got it securely tied!

To teach a goat to tie out, put its collar on and attach it to the tether after you have secured the tether to an appropriately heavy object. I learned the hard way that the object should be very very heavy when I tied a goat to a fairly weighty lawn roller and it unintentionally rolled the lawn by dragging the roller with it over the course of the afternoon. You do not want the object you tether the goat to to move or the most important lesson is lost! Once the goat is tethered, walk away from the goat very slowly. Keep other animals and humans away from the goat. Since the goat should be bonded to you, it will go “hey, the human’s leaving! I should like go with her!”. When it reaches the end of the tether, watch it. Some goats realize very quickly that the tether means they can’t go somewhere and they are okay with that. The entertainment, (and need for care), comes in with those that don’t. Continue to walk away from the goat. If the goat seems distressed by your leaving, stay in its sight until it settles down and starts grazing, potentially by going over and flipping the burgers you’re making for your buddies. If the goat does not settle down while you are attending to the burgers, you may want to put the spatula down. I had one goat that, when it realized it couldn’t follow me, backed up to the tree and ran full force with the intent, (I guess), of breaking the tether. The tether was 200lb test with a spring on it. The goat got to the end of the tether and the spring literally snapped it back a few feet because the goat was going so fast. The goat was fine, but the human almost had a heart attack with that one.

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You want me to wear what?

Some goats are fine with pack saddles. Some goats are not so fine. The main sticking point between a happy goat and a very unhappy goat seems to be the butt strap on the saddle. Therefore, it seems to work best to start by attaching all parts of the saddle except the butt strap.

To start with, I put the saddle on the ground near the goat so it can sniff it and check it out. Then I usually tie the goat up to a tree, and set the saddle on its back, but while still holding the saddle to keep it from falling off the goat. If the saddle falls off the goat, especially over the back end, this seems to freak the goat out and make it dislike the saddle. If the goat spooks, I take the saddle off the goat. If the goat stands with the saddle on its back I give it grain. Repeat until goat is totally cool with the saddle sitting on it.

Next, put the front collar around the goat’s neck, and tighten the front and rear cinches. Let the goat walk around with the saddle on for a bit until it seems comfortable. Then, once it is totally calm, attach the butt strap. Prepare for some dancing around and have some grain on hand for bribery if necessary. Also, some goats kick pretty impressively when they first get a butt strap on!

The next big thing is to just let the goat walk around with the saddle on for a while. Take it on a hike or two that has obstacles or dense brush so that the goat learns that it must take into account the saddle when trying to crawl under trees or balance on a blow down. I had a goat who was new to saddles on its first hike out actually fall off a fallen tree some height above the ground because it was not yet proficient at balancing with the pack. It lived, but it was very bruised up and I had to dig it out of the brush it fell into.

Finally, put the panniers on the goat and let it wander around the yard while you do something else. Walk up to the goat and mess with the panniers periodically so that the goat learns that when you approach you probably want in the panniers. The reason you want them to understand you want in the panniers and not necessarily to mess with them personally is because there will come a day when you really need something out of the panniers, (your lunch, your rain coat, your emergency beacon). If for some reason you have upset the goat, (say for example dragging it on a leash for several miles before you let it off leash), if the goat thinks you are coming to mess with it personally it is more likely to not let you approach than if it thinks you just want in the panniers, (and thus could be lightening its load!). Some goats will never be so vindictive. Two of the ones I live with are!

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Goat’s Gotta Load!

You do not want to start every hiking trip lifting that lazy 200 pound goat into your truck. Make the lazy goat get in itself! Getting a goat to load is actually pretty easy. Goats naturally feel safer and happier the higher they are off the ground. So jumping into your truck bed or the back of your car is actually a really inviting idea to them. The only real trick is getting them to realize you want them to do it.

I will use a truck with a goat box in the bed as an example, but this basically works for everything you could conceivably shove a goat in. Open the door to the goat box so that the goat will know when it gets up to the truck where it needs to go and you won’t waste time fiddling with the door. Go get the goat, put on its lead and collar and grab a bucket of grain. Walk the goat up and put the bucket of grain in the goat box where the goat can see it. Then line the goat up how it needs to go to get in the box. A very hungry goat may jump right on in. But it’s usually not that easy! If the goat seems surprisingly incapable of jumping up into the box to get the grain, (given all the time it spends where you don’t want it on the hood of the truck which is just as high off the ground), you can try two things. One is to put the front legs of the goat up, one at a time, onto the tail gate to help the goat realize that yes, it can actually get up there to the grain. The second is to put grain on the tailgate where the goat can see it, then while holding the goat’s head straight at the grain laden tailgate with the collar, reach back, grab its tail and twist like you are revving a motorcycle. This is the goat’s accelerator. This application of both a carrot and a stick should be sufficient motivation to get the goat in the truck. Continue playing around with these methods till you get the goat in the goat box.

Once the goat is in the box, give it lots of grain. Then get it to turn around and present its head to you. Teaching the goat to load, then immediately turn around and wait, makes it easy to get the collar and lead back off the goat once the goat is loaded. If you don’t make this a habit you may end up having to crawl into the goat box with the goat to get the collar and lead back! Repeat loading and unloading the goat about 3 times, then call it quits for the day and come back several more times later in the week and repeat the training to reinforce the loading behavior. You now have a goat that will always know how to load.

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Oh Good Lord It’s Water!

Goat is to Water as Cat is to Water. It really is exactly like that. A rare cat will willingly swim. An even rarer goat will.

A goat can be taught to cross, and even swim, in water. However, you need to start teaching a goat to tolerate water at about a month of age if at all possible. For babies, weather depending, start by putting them in water. If you don’t have a handy water body of your own to use, you can fill the water trough with water up to the kid’s stomach, and feed it grain while you have it stand in the water. Repeat, repeat! Eventually the kid will tolerate it.

When the weather gets warm enough, take the kid to a river or pond, (or another local water body representative of the sort of water crossings the goat will be asked to cross later in its career). I personally like rivers because they represent not only the most common things my goats cross, but the rivers around here are pretty treacherous, so goats trained on rivers learn to be cautious! Pick something with a steady, but not super strong current, and a solid, visible bottom for the first day out.  I usually lead one kid at a time on leash into the river until the water is again up to their belly. Once they are okay with standing in the water with it up to their belly, I lead them further out, and start holding on by their collar. Eventually the water becomes deep enough to cover their head. Given the problem with goats when it comes to pneumonia I don’t ever let their heads go under water if possible. I use the collar to help hold them up, and face them into the current. Being held up and into the current gives them a natural lift, and after a few panicked seconds they will start paddling naturally. Now you have a goat that has figured out how to swim!

Of course, just paddling isn’t really the whole shebang. I usually crisscross the river multiple times with the goat still on a leash, staying close to the goat whenever the river gets deep so I can step in if the current drags it away too quickly or it can’t get a good paddle going.

On the second day of river training, I take it to sections of the river with holes, fast current, and other obstacles and carefully guide it through each obstacle. Goats are far from stupid. They will remember each obstacle they encounter. Once they’ve seen a deep hole in a river, a bad under tow, or fallen through a log jam, they don’t repeat the same mistake twice. The value of buying goats that have grown up in the woods is they already have seen these things – and sometimes the goat can turn out to be even smarter than the human when it comes to not killing oneself through stupidity.

The final test is to go to a quiet trail with a significant river crossing and bring all your trust and faith in your horned minion. Take the goat by itself. Take it off the leash, and then walk into the river. The first time you will likely make it to the other side, and the goat may not come. It will bleat at you from the opposite shore and pace. Go somewhere where the goat cannot see you, but you can see it, (for instance, behind a tree). The goat will then generally realize it has been left and it will cross! Wait until the goat reaches the opposite shore, and then pop out from behind the tree so the goat knows it has caught up with you. If you don’t have that much faith in the horned minion, you can always cross rivers with the goat on leash, but if you fall down in the river or something else happens, you and the goat are tied together and will both become entangled in whatever mayhem unfolds. This can be dangerous.

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Oh Good Lord It’s a Bridge!

Bridges should be common sense, but there are a few special cases that goats seem to have issues with. These are primarily true suspension bridges and log bridges.

True suspension bridges bounce. They swing. They have gaps between the steps for an unwary hoof. They have minimal railings or side supports to keep a suddenly unstable caprine upright and out of the river. Usually the first experience a goat gets with these is when they blithely run onto one and then end up quivering on their belly and refusing to move till all the shaking stops, (or at least that’s what most of my newbies do). To teach a goat to cross a suspension bridge, first you have to find one of these beasties, (which in some parts of the country is not too different from finding a unicorn). Therefore, most goats will probably meet this obstacle during an actual packing trip. Once they’ve seen it once they seem to remember and act more cautiously when approaching this type of bridge in the future, so usually your first suspension bridge is the last one you really have to be careful on.

After a lot of highly embarrassing trial and error it seems like a good method to use for getting goats across extremely bouncy suspension bridges is to use your body weight to stabilize the bridge. If you are hiking with another human then it’s pretty easy – have the spare human stand in the center of the bridge to damp out the swaying caused by the goats crossing. Then whomever the goats trust the most leads them across the bridge, (if it’s a very bouncy bridge preferably one at a time). If you are hiking alone then walking slowly, stopping occasionally to get the bridge to stop shaking, and taking one goat at a time seems to work as well but it takes forever if you have a big pack string. Instead, I usually shove Dogo, (the most experienced goat), onto the bridge first, and her slow careful plodding will keep the others from going too fast and making the bridge shake.

Log bridges are mostly an issue when they are slick from rain. Taking goats up on blow downs, log jams, and other logs not over swift running water prepares them to differentiate between a log that is safe and a log that they can easily slip off of, so they don’t fall off a log bridge into a fast current on the trail. Clipping the hoof wall so that as much of the hoof sole as possible contacts the ground also seems to help them get a better grip.

However, I did once cross a log bridge that was fairly slick. The goat behind me carefully crossed with me, but the goat at the end did not feel comfortable crossing the log bridge, (understandably as she has nerve damage in her rear legs that affects her balance), and instead opted to cross the flooding creek. She is usually fine, but the water was murky and there was a large hole in a very uncharacteristic spot in the creek that neither of us expected! She fell in the hole and went underwater. I was half way back to the bank dropping my pack to dive into the hole when she rocketed out of the water like a firework and clawed her way up the bank. So basically, if a goat refuses a bridge make sure it is actually making the wise decision. Or hope that it is the one goat in the herd that no matter what happens refuses to die on you.

Oh Good Lord It’s a Horse!

Okay, if you live somewhere with horses then you probably already have goats who watch calmly with smug grins on their face when a horse you meet on the trail goes berserk passing you. For goats that are new to horses it may be beneficial if the goats are getting spooked to take the goat on the uphill side of the trail. The goats will feel safer, and the horses are more likely to run down hill to escape the scary goats. I must be honest that I first read about this technique in the book “The Pack Goat” which is essentially the founding text for the concept of making goats work for a living and is a great read if you have the time. Having tried it out myself, the technique works well, (as I expected!).

In terms of teaching goats to understand horses, encounters on the trail seem to be sufficient, (as goats seem to get over horses much faster than horses get over goats), but it is still an organism that it is ideal they be comfortable around.

Oh Good Lord It’s a Bike!

Bikes. Fricking bikes man. There is nothing wrong with mountain biking per say, but it always seems like you run across a bike that is either going much slower than you (because it is navigating an obstacle), or going way faster than you (because it is racing downhill). When the bike is too slow the goats won’t follow you to pass it, and when the bike is too fast the goats have trouble getting out of the way in time. Oh, and the situation you get a lot on rail trails where the bike decides to pass by leaving less than a foot between the goat and the bike.

How to solve this? Well, I haven’t really gotten a good solution figured out yet. Obviously asking a biker to not be a biker is a pipe dream, so a solution must be found where the goats tolerate the bikes. After a couple close encounters the goats will get off the trail if they hear the bikes coming. They will also pass the bikes if there is space to get off the trail and give the bike a wide berth. However, they still spook at bikes that are up close. I will change this section if I ever come up with a way to deal with this…

Oh Good Lord It’s a Dog!

Dogs are the number one problem on the trail. Since I hike with my goats off leash when I can, I tolerate meeting unleashed dogs because fair is fair after all.  Though I have decided to draw the line at allowing dog walkers to dictate to me what areas of a trail I may visit because they cannot control their off leash dog in the presence of a goat, (yes, I have had dog walkers complain to me that my goat was preventing their dog from listening and I should not be visiting areas of the trail that were “unofficially” off leash locations. I’m sorry? If you can’t control the dog don’t let it off the leash!).

Anyway, I digress. The primary types of dogs I have encountered are off leash, on leash, stray dogs, and the dog that the owner wants to let “greet” my prey animals. This last one is a wild card best dealt with by calming informing the owner that their fwuffy little Bowwow is a predator and my goat is a prey animal that I will happily let defend itself. Anyway, below are the ways I have found to deal with dogs.

OFF LEASH – Off leash dogs usually have some fear of goats because goats are new to them. Therefore, if the goat does not run away from them, they aren’t much of a problem. If a loose dog that appears relatively benign comes by, grab the goat’s collar so it doesn’t run, and keep the goats horns facing the dog till the owner collects it. Dogs seem to have some ancestral memory that tells them that those goat horns hurt, so keeping the horns facing the dog helps avoid the dog biting the most readily crunchable part of a goat – which is its legs. If you have a dog dazer or similar anti-dog device that is usually pretty helpful. I have stood off against five loose large dogs in a national forest for fifteen minutes in this manner with a doe and a two month old kid held by the collars. Everyone lived.

If the dog acts aggressively you  have one of two options. If you think you can take the dog, (i.e. a chihuahua, collie, or something obviously in the realm of possibility), keep the goat’s horns pointed at the dog and kick it hard in the nose. This causes a maximum amount of pain with minimum effort on your part, and does minimal long term damage to the dog. I have done this once and everyone lived.

The second option is to let the goat fight the dog. I do not recommend this as a first option, and it only works with adult horned goats for short periods only. I was once in the situation where I had a loose dog with no owner on the trail that attacked both the goat I was hiking with and a friend of mine who was with me who was not a hiker. The goat I was with was a tough SOB so I released her and defended the friend of mine that had no idea what to do.  She kept the dog off her with no assistance from me for the ten minutes or so it took for the owner to come jogging up the trail out of breath and get the dog. I was lucky in that we were hiking a brushy river edge and the goat was able to get her butt into some briers so that the dog could only attack her from the front where her horns are.

ON LEASH – Clearly in the minority on any trail you will ever hike are the dogs on leash. Usually the goat will give you trouble passing a leashed dog, then stop and want to stare back at the dog until it moves on. I usually try to get them to learn not to do this because it wastes time and keeps you near the barking freaking out dog, (and its annoyed owner) longer. There is no good way to teach this except to just yank on the leash if the goat looks like it wants to stop.

STRAYS – I have been fortunate to not run into many of these. Honestly, if you run into true stray dogs, expect to have to spend a lot of time walking slowly holding the goat so it won’t bolt, till you are out of the stray dog’s territory. If the goat bolts you won’t get the goat back most likely, and the dogs may run the goat till it dies from exhaustion. If you are the designated “Goat Defender”, (see the Bonding section), the goat may stay next to you even if unrestrained and depend upon you to defend it against the strays. Plan accordingly. See? Goat hiking can be challenging even if the terrain is not!

Dogs are not fun. Consider vaccinating your goat against rabies if you encounter off leash dogs that are aggressive on a regular basis and carry dog dazers or other anti-dog devices. Carry a basic first aid kit that includes supplies you may need to patch a goat up enough to get it back to the truck. 

Oh Good Lord It’s a Screaming Kid!

Goat owners with kids probably won’t have any issues with small children spooking goats. The goats will already know that despite the running, screaming, and hugging kids are actually a good thing because they drop tasty things like bread and apples, among other treats. If you don’t have kids and your goats are unfamiliar with them, be prepared to deal with what I like to call Petting Zoo Syndrome.

Petting Zoo Syndrome is a mental disorder brought on by children spending too much time feeding dehorned goats through the fence at various petting zoos and barnyards. This disease causes otherwise relatively intelligent adults and their children to assume that any goat is fond of children. They neglect to notice the 3 foot long horns on the head of the goat, though some researchers have even speculated that they are  physically incapable of seeing them in advanced cases of the syndrome.

Regardless of the actual mode of action, the end result is that a child will see a goat coming up the trail, scream loudly in joy, and run at the goat in question.  The goat, unfamiliar with this small biped, will fall back on the instincts of the proto-goat within. The proto-goat knows only one thing that screams and then runs at the goat, and that is a predator. In the eyes of the 200lb pack goat your five yearold has just been identified as a threat. I usually try to tell the parents that the goats are not kid friendly, and if they insist on allowing their kids to undergo natural selection and remove the parent’s genes from the gene pool, usually grabbing the goat’s horns so it cannot physically head butt the child works.

Teaching goats to tolerate kids, if they don’t grow up in a household with children, works best when the goat is an adult. Let the adult goat see kids on the trail at a distance enough, and the goat will realize the kids are not a threat, (though, they will still not want the kid up close to them).  I tried to take some kid goats to park like areas so that small children could interact with them, (thinking that if they came to know children at a young age they would be okay with them). This resulted in adult goats who were terrified of human kids because they had been chased, screamed at, and hugged without their consent when they were defenseless babies. I look forward to coming up with a less catastrophically bad idea for getting them to like human children in the future.

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Rules of the Campsite

Teaching a goat how to behave at a campsite can be a real adventure because the first thing you need is to be at an actual campsite. For your first trip pick a camping location with few other people for the goat to annoy besides you, (like a primitive back country site). The goal of teaching the goat the rules of the campsite is to make friends.

To begin with, when you arrive in camp, remove the goat’s pack first thing. Once you’ve camped enough, when you remove the goat’s pack the goat will realize that the work day is over and it’s time to go graze and ruminate, not follow you around. If you don’t set up a predictable routine to let the goat know when it’s job is done it will be harder to get it to understand that you don’t want it breathing down your neck while you are setting up the tent. If you’re camping around other people who don’t do goats, tether your goat at this point so it can graze. I once left a goat loose at a campsite and it grabbed a complete stranger’s toothbrush and ran off with it into the woods. I did not make friends. In my infinite stupidity I left the same goat loose at another group camping area and it went over and started begging strangers for hamburger buns. Only you can prevent embarrassing caprines.

Once you get the goat off your back and get the tent set up and the fire started, another set of challenges will arise. Goats love shelter. This means they will crawl into any open tent flap or decide to hang out inside the primitive trail shelter. You will not make friends. If you are sleeping in a sleeping bag, goats are creatures of comfort and they’ll be very happy to sit down on your nice soft sleeping bag! So how do you keep them out of the tent and off your sleeping bag? For starters, keep the tent flap closed so the goat can not physically walk in. This is an important thing to remember to do when you get up in the morning – I accidentally left the flap open one morning and Dogo crawled in the tent with my husband. Who then woke up with Dogo’s face right in his. He was not happy.

If you need them to stay out of a primitive log shelter or something similar, but you don’t want them tied out, carry a small spray bottle, (or even a water bottle), and sprinkle them with water whenever they get close. Eventually they’ll associate shelter with getting wet and under normal circumstances, (i.e. not if there’s a downpour), they’ll stay out. This also works for the goat that thinks standing or sitting on top of the picnic table is a cool idea.

Another good idea, if you are going to hike in bad weather, is to bring along a tarp and some rope to rig the goats their own shelter separate from you. However, if you are strongly bonded to the goats they will want to sleep near where you are, so don’t expect them to sleep on the other side of the clearing from your tent! They also respond better if their places are up hill of the main campsite. I had quite a fight one camping trip trying to camp in a flat spot at the bottom of a mountain. The goat kept screaming at me and trying to get me to camp on the mountainside because it felt safer there!

After some trial and error I’ve about decided the best way to camp out with a goat is to bring a tarp, a ground pad, and a sleeping bag, (weather permitting). I rig up the tarp so that both myself and the goat(s) can sleep under the tarp, and delay rolling out the sleeping bag/ground pad till right before I plan to sleep. Usually the goat(s) stay out grazing until the fire burns down or the coyotes start up. Then they’ll come back into camp and settle down next to me under the tarp and keep watch, (which is a nice way to warm up camping in winter and means I don’t have to watch out for stuff that might eat us). They seem to usually sleep in the early AM hours. As I have poor night vision I bring along glow sticks or solar lanterns that I place some distance out from the tent/tarp. This lets me watch the goats in the early evening, (since they are my first sign that predators are approaching), and seems to make coyotes more hesitant to come up into camp.

Over all, goats are pretty fun to camp with. For more ideas on how to successfully camp with goats, the book The Pack Goat has some great ideas for teaching goats to behave in camp.

The final caveat I did want to add here doesn’t have a lot to do with training and more to do with camping with goats in general. Goats are prey for mountain lions, bears, wolves, and coyotes if they can get them. If you aren’t comfortable sleeping next to what amounts to breakfast for a large carnivore you may not want to camp with goats. If you hunt these species you may want to camp with goats because they act as attractants. Incidentally, in my experience goats also attract white tail deer.

 

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