How to Deal with an Aggressive Goat
It's important to head off goat behavior issues before they happen.
Reading Time: 5 minutes
You may receive varied advice for how to deal with an aggressive goat, but there are definitely techniques you should and should not use, and these coincide with how goats see us as herd members.
by Marc Warnke of packgoats.com
Aggressive goats are an issue for anyone who owns or deals with one regularly, as they are an animal with the tools and strength to hurt their handlers. As the owner of packgoats.com, I own and train pack goats and not only are my goats bred to be big and strong, they also have horns. This makes the stakes even higher that I have goats that are safe to be around.
A goat that lies in wait for a human to turn their back, ready to blast them, is what gives goats a bad name. In this article, I hope to help you avoid ever dealing with this issue with some preventive training and care. But, if you do have a goat that begins to test you, then my aim is to help you to correct the behavior.
Let’s first discuss the nature of why this happens and how we might head aggressive behavior off before it starts. Breeding can play a major role in helping to have this never show up in your herd. I have found that aggressive does and bucks tend to throw aggressive kids. I’d avoid breeding goats that show those tendencies and look specifically for loving, gentile goats to breed. Now, obviously this is not a failsafe, but I do believe it’s worth mentioning for sure.
In my opinion, one of the major reason aggressive goats “happen” is rough handling. If you teach your goats that they are going to be struck, punched, kicked, slapped, pushed, or handled roughly, they will think it’s appropriate to treat you similarly. Goats need to never be aggressively handled. We all lose our cool, but remember that a goat (especially a bottle-fed one) looks at you as a superior part of the herd and is following you by example. We are, in their eyes, similar yet we are loving and lead with compassion unlike the other goats in the heard that lead with a good pounding. We are a benevolent alpha, or to be clearer, we are their “goat” leader who doles out love and our reprimands are not physical. Our reprimands and discipline can only be the following … yelling, gesturing, and a good squirt bottle.
It’s also important to note here that I have experimented a lot with playing with goats and I believe we should not do that. It is confusing to them as to our role with them as an equal, which then opens us up to being treated like a goat. This then leads to a bump here and there, which then leads to aggression. It’s important you realize goats being aggressive with peers is just “goat life.” We must rise above that, in all ways, and be their leader in our special way.
The best prevention for never having an aggressive goat is to use a squirt bottle and yelling (or a loud voice) to teach them pasture manners. The two places where this will occur most often is when you are entering their area, at the gate, and when you feed them. This is where hanging a squirt bottle on that gate, so it’s always there, will pay off huge! As you enter, you say “back” and you squirt freely until they get back. “Back” is the best command to teach a goat to never be “pushy” with you as they will stay away when you are feeding, trimming, petting another and so on … the squirt bottle is a gift from God as a goat training tool. I always make a “shushing” noise as I squirt, so they have a similar associative noise that I can use when I don’t have my squirt bottle with me. I also always put my squirt bottle in my back pocket as I enter, so they see me make a motion to grab it when needed and I can feign that motion as well if I don’t have it. You’ll be amazed by how well they remember what they see right before they are going to get squirted. This is also an awesome tool to give a child or a small person to be the equalizer when they enter the pasture or paddock. The same things should be used when feeding as well. The “Back!” command will be huge for never having an issue as it’s when we have to push goats away or get physical with them that we teach them we are fair game.
So, if you are still with me and believing goats think you are “one of them,” then it’s important you realize heading off this aggression happens at a young age. Many goats will never test you but some always do. I find that a young goat (usually at the gate or at the food stall) “tests” us by bumping us with their horns or head. This needs to be immediately met with a loud “No!” and all kinds of crazy arm flails and gestures. Yes, your neighbors will think you have gone crazy, but your goal is to scare your goat and have him associate a negative experience with the word “no.” For many, this is all it will take and they will say, “He is boss,” and never test you again.
Then, there is the one that will do it again … this is the goat you will then say “no” to and begin to flip him on his back. The technique, to let anyone flip a goat, can be found on my YouTube channel (packgoats.com) and can easily be found by Googling “How to flip a goat.” When you flip a goat, you will be saying “No!” loudly. Then stand over him while holding his front legs and repeat over and over again, “No … no.” You will hold him there for at least 10 minutes. He will submit (you will see it). This is an extremely arresting and traumatic event for a goat and the goal is to show him you are dominant. It’s also for him to associate the word “no” with a negative experience.
Many of us (including me) deeply love our goats and having one that is aggressive always leaves us in a pinch. What do you do when they won’t stop being aggressive after all these things and when should you give up? If they are going to learn not to be aggressive with you, it’s going to happen right away. If you are having to continually correct this behavior, he needs to be considered a lost cause, in my opinion, and you’ll have to either just deal with it or do something more drastic. I have never had a goat I could turn after more than about three flips.
It’s also important to note that many times they never are aggressive with me at all. It is often smaller humans like children or women. In my pasture, that is a goat that gets eaten by me or by someone who needs the meat. It’s either that or I sell them to someone who doesn’t have kids or isn’t worried about that behavior.
In conclusion, it’s important to head these issues off before they happen. Please head my warnings about rough handling and you may never have to deal with it. I wish you well. Long live the pack goat!
Marc Warnke is a hunting consultant, family man, avid bow hunter, mule deer fanatic, fly fisherman, bestselling author, and hardcore goat packer. He has thousands and thousands of trail miles with his goats in the backcountry and he has been helping people learn how to run pack goats for years and years. He is known for his training with love ways and you can enjoy watching his pasture live on Twitch.com; just search “packgoattv.” He can be found at packgoats.com.
Do you have any input or tips regarding how to deal with an aggressive goat? Let us know in the comments below!
Originally published in the September/October 2019 issue of Goat Journal and regularly vetted for accuracy.