Today I visited a beautiful barn with some horses and a goat. I was invited into the stall where the goat lived. The handler had warned me that the goat sometimes headbutts.
It was a friendly goat and she came up to me to greet and was well mannered. She stood in front of me, sniffed me and waited. I thought it was very polite, especially for a goat. They are, after all famous for their love of food and I was carrying pellets in my pocket. Then she kind of put her head gently in my hand. I thought that was so sweet…
I am used to cats and horses, and I am not familiar with goats. Because she put her head in my hands I automatically assumed that she wanted to be scratched behind her ears. Of course I did what she asked. Let me rephrase that: of course I did what I thought she meant.
The goat re-positioned her head, so a few seconds later I was scratching in between her long, pointy horns. As soon as I touched those horns I remember thinking: “Oops, Goats don’t like to be touched on their horns”. Humans are slow and animals are fast, so before I knew it I had accepted the goats invitation to play. Goat play involves a lot of rearing and headbutts. So she ‘attacked’ me. Ouch!
Although she hurt my wrist, she didn’t use too much force. So I think it was just play. She only used a bit more force than I can handle or more than I like. I don’t like headbutts at all!
I realized quickly that I had misread her invite to play for an invite to scratch her ears. I didn’t know what to do or how I could get her stop so I basically jumped out of her stall and quickly closed the door. She headbutted the door quite hard and I was glad the door was between us now. I think she was disappointed that I had left the game so soon. After her headbutting the door I turned around, because I didn’t want to encourage her behaviour in any way by giving her attention. I just didn’t know what to do.
It did make me realize how easy it is to misread an animals’ behaviour if you have no experience with the species or have no knowledge about the natural behaviour of the animal. I thought about novice horse owners and how hard it must be to be around a large animal that you know nothing about and what you know is probably outdated. Sounds scary!
Back to the goat and her headbutting. I suggested we give the goat a playmate or a punching bag to play with. If she had a playmate or thing to play with she wouldn’t have to use humans as playmates. I hope it will work and will let you know if it works.
Have you ever misinterpreted the behaviour of an animal and gotten into trouble? Share your story in the comments. Thanks!
UPDATE: this goat is adopted and lives now among a lot of other goats. 🙂