Leading a Pack Goat
It is always easier to teach a young small goat to lead than it is to teach an older larger one. A small goat will struggle and fight and may even lay down the first few times on the lead but it is no great difficulty to get them up and moving again. Whereas a large goat that pulls hard on the lead or lays down and refuses to get up can be nearly impossible to move. Having said this, with lots of encouragement and a few treats to entice them along, most goats will be leading reliably after only a few lessons.
Go slow at first and lead the goat at its own pace as long as it is moving the direction you want. Most goats start by moving in short bursts. Hang onto the lead rope and don’t let the goat get loose. You want the goat to think that the lead is undefeatable. Some people start a new goat on the lead by tying it the first few times and letting the goat fight against the rope until it gives up. They say it keeps the goat from pulling and fighting them as much when they start leading. If you do this, make sure you don’t leave the goat unsupervised where it could become tangled and get injured.
If the goat pulls on the lead rope or comes along but keeps the rope so tight you are nearly dragging it, offer it a handful of grain and then praise it when it steps up to take the grain and gives slack in the rope. It is important that if the goat lays down that you realize that it is protesting in the strongest manner at it’s disposal. Whatever you do, DO NOT STOP. If you stop when the goat lays down you have taught it that it can make you stop whenever it wants by simply laying down and refusing to get up. If the goat lays down make it get to it’s feet by pulling the lead up and forward. A goat that learns it can make you stop will carry this behavior onto the trail where it will plop down whenever it wants to. A goat that refuses to get to its feet and will lay on it’s side and be dragged along rather than get up is probably not going to make a packer so don’t waste your time on it.
Most people teach their goat to lead one or two steps directly behind them so they will be in single file on the trail. A verbal command or cue should be used each time you are getting ready to move so the goat knows it is time to go. I use a command of “heel” but you can use anything you want. I also give a couple of bumps on the lead rope to cue the goat we are getting ready to move. The bump on the lead rope can also be used to encourage a lagging goat to pick up the pace a little while on the trail.
Don’t expect the goat to pick up on everything right away. Do everything in steps. Start by just getting the goat to move in your general direction. Then start confining the goat to a smaller and smaller area behind you where you eventually want it to walk while on the lead. Usually the goat will want to pass you and walk in the front. When this happens, turn and walk the other way, so no matter how many times the goat passes it always ends up in the back.
If you have an extra stubborn goat that doesn’t seem to be catching onto the idea that it is suppose to stay in the back then try spinning the tail end of the lead rope in front of you like an airplane propeller at about waist high. It seems to act as a barrier to the goat and most will not go through it. If they choose to go through anyway, they receive a minor whap from the rope as they collide with it. After a few bad decisions the goat usually figures out its easier to stay in the back.
Now is also the best time to teach your goat to stay. After the goat is leading reliably, put your open hand, palm out toward the goat’s nose, like your holding it back and tell it to “stay”. Hold you hand in front of the goat’s nose as you take a step away and back toward the goat. If the goat steps forward, push it back to it’s original position and tell it to “stay” again. Once the goat figures out that you want it to stay in place, you can gradually increase the distance between yourself and the goat. If the goat steps out of position at any time, push it back and tell it to stay again.
It is important not to let go of the lead rope in the beginning stages. If the goat realizes you don’t have a hold of it, it may make a dash for the barn. Starting a bad habit that will be hard to break.
The “stay” command is valuable while saddling goats and grabbing gear.
Other training tips:
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