Training an aggressive gander to accept you as the alpha flock leader

I found an interesting thread on training geese on the Backyard Chickens forum.  Olive Hill, an experienced goose-raiser, shared the following comment:

One only needs to observe a gaggle of geese interacting with one another to know what they do and do not understand…Geese will understand if you get physical with them in the same way that they get physical with each other.

A goose fight almost always begins the same way. One goose, who either believes himself alpha to or wishes to be alpha to another, hands out discipline for a behavioral infraction. It may be that Goose A believed Goose B grazed too close to him, or Goose B may have walked between Goose A and his favorite mate. Whatever the infraction Goose A disciplines Goose B. This may be a nip, it may be a snaked neck and a wing spread, it may be a hiss. Whatever the discipline, Goose B has two choices: 1) He may accept it and obey by refraining from the behavior in question (and generally removing himself from Goose A’s immediate vicinity) or 2) he may challenge Goose A to exert his own dominance thereby proving his actions were not wrong — the dominant goose does as he pleases and therefore, if Goose B proves HE is, in fact, dominant, then his behavior was not punishable.

So let’s stop here and relate this to a human goose interaction. Say you have a Gander, who we will simply call Gander for the purpose of this exercise. You are weeding your flowerbed when Gander nips you. Here we have Goose A disciplining Goose B. This means that Gander either believes himself alpha to you or wishes to be alpha to you and has chosen this opportunity to try to exert that dominance. You have two choices. You can accept the discipline by not effectively reminding him of the true hierarchy of your relationship. Or you can put him in his place. Obviously we know the appropriate choice here. You need to challenge his discipline to determine, in no uncertain terms, that you are alpha to him.

So let’s go back to our goose on goose interaction. Goose B has decided that he will challenge Goose A’s discipline. What does he do here? He meets Goose A’s advance with an equal advance of his own. Usually this is the point in the interaction where wings begin to spread and necks snake. Goose B snakes his neck and spreads his wings at Goose A. This says “You may NOT discipline ME!”

So let’s go back to a human goose interaction at this point. This is why I always encourage people to spread their arms, posture and snake their neck as the first line of defense against an advancing Gander. This is what he understands as the first step in a challenge to him. This gives him the option to back down before the interaction must escalate to a physical one. Many, many, many ganders will stop right here. They are bluffers, those geese. They like to talk a big game, but are not often prepared to actually play the game they talk. But what if he doesn’t?

If Goose A decides not to back down when Goose B does not accept his discipline, this is the point at which their interaction gets physical. They will dance around at one another, much like boxers in a ring, until one sees an opening to grab the other by the base of the neck. Once one grabs on, they both grab on.

Now, it’s not really reasonable for you to be dancing around in a circle with a goose waiting for an opening to grab him by the base of the neck so you can beat the tar out of him with your “wings” (we’ll get to the beat the tar out of one another portion in a moment). It’s also not fair to the goose because you don’t have a base of the neck at his level onto which HE can grab. So what’s a goose owner to do? Look at what comes next in the goose to goose interaction.

Once they have ahold of one another, before the beating begins, what happens in this natural position? Their chests bump. Hard.

So what can you do that he will understand as the second step in a challenge? Bump his chest. Hard. This is also why blunt toed boots are excellent foot wear for chores. A good, hard chest bump tells the gander you will fight him over this. He understands it, it the normal progression in a challenge. It also mimics the natural dynamic between two geese as when you bump him, he will be tossed back a little bit, losing his ground to you. When two geese are bumping one another, it causes them to occasionally lose their grip on the opposing goose.

What happens if the chest bump isn’t sufficient? Do it again. It would truly be a rare gander that would escalate an interaction to the bump stage and then not follow through after just one bump. In a goose on goose fight they will repeatedly bump and push one another with their chests. I, personally, will bump up to five or six times before taking it further. This mimics their natural progression. It also gives him ample opportunity to rethink his actions.

But what if he doesn’t? What comes after the chest bump? Here’s where the goose on goose action gets ugly. What comes after chest bumping, to put it bluntly, is beating the ever loving poop out of one another with their wings. This can take a long time, is likely to result in many large bruises and sometimes only ends when one or both geese are literally so exhausted they cannot possibly carry on.

I do not recommend getting into a wing beating match with a goose. It will hurt. And the bruises will last for weeks. I have never been in a wing beating match with a goose but I have had to break up wing beating matches between geese and the size and severity of the bruises I can assure you are not worth engaging them in the exact language they speak. Instead, like the grabbing onto the base of the neck, we need to look just a little bit further in the fight to see what happens. Now, some goose fights resolve themselves during the wing beating match. Those are usually the less evenly matched fights. Your goose does not realize he is not evenly matched with you however, so it’s okay if we ignore those fights and focus on the fights that progress to the sheer exhaustion stage. In these fights the beating continues for what seems like forever, when one or both (usually both in an evenly matched fight) begins to tire it slows, they start throwing those chest bumps they used in the beginning back into the mix as it’s less taxing and eventually one goose will fully pin down the other. In essence, whichever goose is more exhausted ends up pinned — and therefore the loser. The pinning goes on for a few seconds to a minute, however long the winner feels like punishing the loser and then the loser is let up to tuck tail and run.

So if we skip the wing beating for our human-goose interaction, what we need to do is skip straight to the pinning. You can do this one of two ways, you can literally pin him to the ground or you can pick him up and hold him very firmly with an attitude of meaning business. Both accomplish the same thing. They immobilize the goose, with force, for an amount of time the goose has no control over. One thing to remember when doing this is the goose should be positioned to run from you when you set him down. So if you pin him on the ground, you should swing him around to face away from you.

And finally we have the victory lap stage. No matter how exhausting the fight, you will not see an alpha gander let a good beating go unacknowledged. He will spread his wings, stand tall, run to his gaggle and honk his head off about it. Now, your neighbors may find you quite amusing (and possibly insane) if you were to run around your yard honking with your arms spread out like wings. But you CAN mimic the effect by saying something aloud. I like “THAT’S WHAT I THOUGHT!” in the retreating goose’s general direction for good measure. (note: I in no way guarantee this will exempt you from being seen as the neighborhood crazy. LOL!) But this is, of course, optional. Though a good touch, I must say.

So, to recap. In a goose on goose interaction, you have:

The Discipline — Can manifest in many ways.
The Challenge — Usually snaked necks and spread wings
The Dance
The Neck Grab
The Chest Bumping
The Wing Beating
The Exhaustion
The Pinning
The Retreat (for the loser)
The Victory Lap (for the winner)

For human to goose interactions, we can cut the list down:

The Discipline — Can manifest in many ways. Any unacceptable behavior by a goose should be interpreted as this step.
The Challenge — Snake your neck, spread your wings, posture over him, hiss for good measure.
The Chest Bumping — Remember: it’s a rare goose who will give up after just one. Give him 3 – 6 bumps to change his mind.
The Pinning — Grab the neck, turn the goose away from you and pin him with force. Either on the ground or in your arms. Hold.
The Retreat (for the loser) — This is why you turned him away from you. Set him up for success, give him a clear retreat path.
The Victory Lap (for the winner) — Optional. I guess.

I found her comment interesting because it perfectly describes the interactions with Uncle Waldo that I’ve had.  I’ve clearly let him get away with challenging me and winning, so he naturally believes himself to be alpha to me.  Our youngest daughter, on the other hand, chases him around whenever he comes around her snaking his neck; she just found it entertaining to chase him, but it turns out it was exactly the right thing to do.  And Phil’s “playing baby” is analogous to “the pinning,” which is why Uncle Waldo never challenges him.

Since I have only one gander, I was curious about Olive Hill’s gander-to-gander dominance interaction, and I found a short video of a gander fight which perfectly exemplifies her description:

And just for laughs:

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6 thoughts on “Training an aggressive gander to accept you as the alpha flock leader

  1. It’s also not fair to the goose because you don’t have a base of the neck at his level onto which HE can grab.

    Fair to the goose? Do ganders need a level playing field with humans now? Don’t tell me you gone totally egandertarian on us.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I’d be more entertained with your younger daughter’s method, but I think Phil’s is very effective. What I can’t understand is why Uncle Waldo would mess this way with the human who sets out food for him? Well, once you get Waldo squared away, you can move up to something more challenging.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Apparently Uncle Waldo snuck up behind Phil while he was refilling their feed pan this evening and tried to bite him. I snapped a picture of him walking around the duck yard, smoking while cuddling the grumpy gander 😂:

    Liked by 1 person

    • uncle Waldo went after him while he was taking care of their food? This is out of hand. I did have a thought about your younger daughter. She may have “trained” Waldo to look at this as some sort of game by aping his aggression. Phil’s technique reminds me of something similar that I was told about years ago to be applied to Alaskan Malamutes to reinforce human dominance.

      Now, for something completely off topic, knowing how you like Russian goofiness and music , here is something that combines both.

      They have another for Star Wars’ Imperial March that I think is great too.

      Like

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