Can You House Train a Goat?
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Can you house train a goat? As any toddler parent knows, overcoming the instinct to evacuate (urinate/defecate) is a significant milestone of growing up. We can use this same training on dogs. But what about goats?
Why would anyone want to potty train a goat? Training to control bodily evacuations is useful for any situation in which animals might be indoors (therapy situations, goat yoga, even house pets). The benefit of house training is mainly for those whose goats spend time indoors, not to have a strictly indoor goat. The difference is crucial.
“Goats are not dogs,” clarifies Sarah Austin of Blueline Farms. “They are not indoor critters who can stay inside all day while their owner is at work.” But can you house train a goat?
A goat’s “job” is to eat and drink, which they do all day long, on and off. As a result, they evacuate all day long as well. For any situation under which goats will be indoors, it’s necessary to overcome nature.
The two different bodily functions have different levels of success when it comes to potty training. “Urination is far easier,” Austin says with the voice of experience. “With consistency, they can be trained to signal their owner when they need to defecate. I will warn that there is not the same amount of time to respond to the need to defecate as there is with a dog. You need to respond immediately, or you’ll have goat berries all over the floor.”
Working With Nature
The first step toward potty training is to watch the animal’s normal habits. Goats have a natural tendency to use the same general location for evacuation, so build on that strength. This way, you’ll be merely refining what the goat does naturally.
First, thoroughly clean the barn, scrubbing areas to eliminate the smell of urine — but keep back a sampling of urine-soaked hay to set the stage.
After this, decide where your goat’s “litter box” will be. The litter box should have short walls around it, low enough that the animals can easily step over them but high enough to keep litter material contained. Depending on the size of your animals, the dimensions should be 4’x4’ (for miniature breeds) to 6’x6’ (for larger breeds) in size. If you’re training multiple goats, you might need more than one litter box.
Next, fill the litter box with clean straw (or wood chips, pee pads, or other absorbent material). Then — this is critical — add some of the urine-soaked straw you kept back. This smelly addition lets the goats know the litter box is the correct place to urinate.
Now comes the tough part: the actual training. As with puppies and toddlers, this takes time and patience.
Start by leading your animal into the litter box and let them sniff around. (Bonus points if they evacuate at this point, but don’t count on it.)
If they have an accident outside the litter box, cover the urine with wood ash. This not only absorbs odors and moisture, but goats don’t like the consistency. This aversion encourages them to use the litter box.
Whenever you catch the goat using the litter box, lavish them with praise and affection. When you catch a goat evacuating outside the litter box, gently scold them. Of course, you should never cross the boundary of terrorizing your animals. Just as you would never (let’s hope) potty train a puppy or toddler through fear, neither do you want to train your goats this way. Remember, accidents will happen. Training takes time and patience.
Success depends on consistency. “Just like a puppy, kids need to be watched closely when out playing,” says Austin. “When they show signs of squatting (for doelings) and standing (for bucklings), place them in the potty box and give them whatever command you wish to use to signal their behavior. When they urinate in the appropriate place, lavish them with praise.”
Are goats smart? Yes, they are and will readily learn verbal comments. Use a short, consistent phrase (i.e., “Go potty”) to encourage evacuation in the litter box. Again, work with nature, not against it. Your animals are most likely to void at specific times of the day (such as early morning or evening), so that’s when you want to work on their training. Take them to their litter box immediately after they wake up, and say “Go potty” (or whatever verbal command you chose) when they are inside the litter box. The goats will relate the command with the urge to urinate. When they void, reward them with praise or even treats.
Younger is Better
“I start potty training at a day old since I bottle feed,” says Austin. “But I’ve trained multiple goats I took in as rescues at three months or older that picked up on potty training quickly. Goats are extremely intelligent. If they understand what you want from them, they’re more than happy to oblige (most of the time).”
Just as with toddlers, every goat’s personality is different. Some may be easier to potty train than others. Intact bucks will be especially resistant to training since it’s instinctive for them to splash urine around as a sign of virility.
Winter is Harder
Keep in mind winter conditions may be more difficult for goat training. Caprine owners are more likely to heap a barn with fresh straw for warmth and comfort during colder months, and goats may get confused between their straw-filled pen and their straw-filled litter box.
This is when you must be especially vigilant about barn cleanliness. Ensure any urine-soaked hay outside the litter box is immediately removed and added to the litter box so the smells are consistently associated with where the animals should focus their evacuation.
Is Potty Training Worth It?
Even if the only “indoors” a goat sees is the inside of his barn, some caprine owners like having the animals void in one specific place. Not only does this make it easier to clean the barn, but it also means parasites are more likely to be relegated to one location.
Austin also recommends potty training as an element of emergency response. “I always recommend a new goat owner should get their goat used to a confined space to reduce the amount of stress should they need to be confined for an emergency, such as transporting, natural disasters, or injuries,” she says. “So even if a ‘house goat’ is not your goal, potty training is beneficial in emergencies.”
So while there are many benefits to potty training, the decision to do so is up to you.
Originally published in the September/October 2021 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.