They may be members of the equine family, but if you’re trying to train one, you probably already know donkeys and horses are absolutely nothing alike.
The donkey is smart, real smart, patient, extremely strong, and not in any way intimidated. They think, reason, and have the ability to make decisions. That gives them all the ammunition they need to test your patience, or worse, hurt you. You will need lots of patience when training a donk, but, equally important is learning to read body language.
Donkeys are better at reading our body language than we are at reading theirs. Keeping that in mind, it’s important to approach them calmly, confident as a leader, but in a comforting way that isn’t demanding. If you are nervous, they will immediately assume there is something to be nervous about.
Watch and learn the way they communicate. Notice the position of their ears, are they forward and alert, or pinned back? Both are giving you a message, forward and alert means attentive and willing, and pinned back clearly shows a “leave me alone, or else” attitude.
The tail is another form of communication, is it swishing, tucked close to the body, or relaxed and quiet? Tail swishing is a sign of anxiety or frustration, a tail that’s held close to the body or between the legs is a donkey who is afraid.
Watch the donk’s over all stance, a nervous or anxious donk will shift his weight rather than stand square and quiet. Is the head carried too high, too low, or in a natural easy going position?
Eyes also play an important role in body language, donkeys are very curious by nature, so if he is avoiding eye contact – he is avoiding you.
Donkeys aren’t stubborn, they are better described as cautious when unsure of their safety. Unlike horses, they don’t easily startle, or flee from danger under ordinary circumstances. That so called stubbornness they are known for, is not a poor behavior trait, it’s their way of problem solving when their strongest instinct is threatened… survival.
Trust, that’s the name of the game when training a donkey. Learn to recognize the slightest hint of cooperation, then reward him for it. Trust is never achieved through fear, comfort is a natural choice for all living things – use it to your advantage.
When your donkey does what you ask him, no matter if it’s just one step forward, reward him by ending the training session. Don’t ask him to do anything over and over again once he’s done it right. Always end every training session on a positive note. Reward is not having to work anymore, take the halter off, rub on him, praise him, and set him loose. I don’t use treats as a reward, most donkeys will associate treats with training and you’ll have a donkey more interested in the treat than anything else.
Teach your donkey he can trust you through kindness, he is a very social animal who really does want to interact with you. Jerking his head around and muscling him will not only prove useless and ineffective, but it will also turn your donkey against you and that makes him dangerous. Ask for just a little each day, and I think you’ll see that kindness will serve you both well.
Always remember, donkeys may be smart, but you’re smarter! If you make your presence around them a pleasant place to be, they will choose to share that place with you.
To understand the difference between a donkey, burro, jack ass, and mule, go HERE to learn what they all mean.
amy elizabeth | TBN Ranch