D O N K E Y   T R A I N I N G   e - C L I N I C
       hand leading

      introduction to donkeys and people ----  communication

        part 1a --   groundwork (1a)                                 part 1b --  groundwork (1b)

        part 2a --   first touch (2a)                                     part 2b --   first touch (2b)

        part 3 --   hand leading

        part 4 --    training attitude                                    part 5 --   leading

        part 6 --   step by step training checklist          part 7 --   lunging

                Part Three - Hand Leading

                 From:  Vicki/ladywife <ladywife@b...>
                 Date:  Sat May 27, 2000 1:57pm
                 Subject:  Donkey Training: Part Three - Hand Leading

                 Donkeys are not dumb, lazy, or stubborn.  They are
                 intelligent.  They think.  They reason. They make decisions. 
                 They can figure out solutions to problems.  If you hide
                 their favorite treat under an upturned bucket, they will
                 figure out how to turn the bucket over to get the treat.  If
                 you forget to snap the safety chain on the pasture gate,
                 they will figure out how to push, nudge, wiggle and rattle
                 the gate open.  They can quickly learn a routine of hurrying
                 to the barn at the same time every day and lining up in a
                 particular order to wait to be let in to the feeding stalls. 
                 They become possessive of their bucket, their curry comb,
                 their halter and lead rope, and their human.  Disrupting
                 their routine upsets them. 

                 Donkeys have a strict hierarchy within their group.  A boss
                 jennet is the peacekeeper and guardian.  The lesser jennets
                 depend on the boss jennet to tell them what to do, when to
                 do it and where to go.  At their mother's side, young
                 donkeys learn what behavior is expected of them by their
                 mother and by the other group members.  The donkey dam is
                 patient and gentle with her foal.  She does not demand more
                 from him than what he has already learned.  She teaches him
                 new things a tiny bit at a time so he is not overwhelmed,
                 confused and frustrated.  She will show him first what it is
                 she expects from him.

                 The donkey dam can also be gruff with him when discipline is
                 necessary.  She will warn him with a rumble if he
                 misbehaves.  If he fails to stop the unacceptable behavior 
                 then she gives him a physical discipline by nudging him. 
                 One warning, then action.  The first warning is verbal and
                 only when the misbehavior is repeated does she respond with
                 a physical action.  If he is distracted by other interesting
                 and curious things and does not pay attention to his
                 mother's demand for obedience than she grabs him firmly to
                 focus his attention on her.  What we can't hear unless we
                 happen to have a stethoscope pressed to her barrel at that
                 moment is she is grunting unhappy noises to reinforce her
                 discipline.  This is similar to a human sitting their child
                 on a chair and telling him whatever he was doing is
                 unacceptable and will not be tolerated. 

                 When a donkey mother is teaching her foal something new she
                 takes him aside separating from the herd so he will not be
                 distracted.  Many times I have seen the other donkeys turn
                 and watch but they stay back and do not interfere.  The
                 mother donkey will use her body to block the foal's view so
                 it isn't distracted by what the rest of the group are doing.

                 These are all things we can use when training a donkey.  We
                 can step into his world and imitate the donkey mother and
                 how she uses grunts and purrs to speak to her foal.  Be
                 consistent and develop a language of body postures and
                 sounds your donkey can learn.  Remember we use our hands the
                 same way a donkey uses its mouth.  Keep your arms and hands
                 close to your body and make your movements slow and steady.
                 With my arms at my sides I can walk among my donkeys and
                 they act as if I am one of them, but if I raise my arms and
                 walk toward them they know that means step out of my way. 
                 My raised arms are a visual wall walking toward them.  It is
                 an aggressive action. 

                 When you are ready to begin a training session I suggest
                 separating your donkey from other donkeys and other animals
                 so you can communicate with him one to one just like his
                 mother did. 

                 The size of the area you use for training can make the
                 difference of whether your donkey learns something new or
                 you and he both become frustrated and aggravated because
                 neither of you understands what the other one is saying. 
                 The training area should be large enough you can walk
                 entirely around the donkey and stay safely out of kicking
                 range.  But it shouldn't be so large that your donkey can be
                 distracted.  A 1/4 acre pasture is too large an area to use
                 for training.  If you decide to use a barn aisle or garage,
                 it must be well-lit so you can read your donkey's body
                 language.  Sometimes his "huh?" may just be a flick of his
                 ear or a raising or lowering of his head so you have to be
                 able to see him clearly so you don't miss hearing his

                 I happen to have a 60 feet diameter round pipe corral.  It
                 is too big for me to learn a donkey's individual language.
                 For a miniature donkey I prefer a 10x10 pen, for a standard
                 or mammoth a 10x20. 

                 Leave ropes and halters outside the training area.  Until
                 you have established communication with your donkey those
                 things will only get in your way and may actually do more to
                 confuse the donkey.  The only tools you will need to begin
                 training are 1) an enclosure of suitable size, 2) your
                 voice, 3) your body. 

                 Put the donkey in the enclosure and allow him 20 to 30
                 minutes to settle down.  Quietly enter the enclosure keeping
                 your arms to your sides.  Move slowly and without looking at
                 the donkey, talk to yourself as you walk the perimeter. 
                 This is what a donkey would do when put into a strange pen. 
                 It will walk the fence line and see where the boundaries

                 Do not approach the donkey yet.  Keep talking to yourself
                 and reverse direction and continue walking the perimeter. 
                 If the donkey is standing in your path, continue forward but
                 be alert for the donkey to react with fear.  Once you have
                 made two complete rounds of the pen in both directions move
                 to the center and stop.  Turn and face the donkey.  Read his
                 posture.  Most likely he will be standing with his center of
                 gravity forward, head up, neck up, ears up, ready to move
                 quickly if you make a threatening move toward him.

                 Turn away from the donkey and walk to the farthest distance
                 from him.  Do not turn and face him.  Let several minutes
                 pass and then turn and return to the center again.  Face him
                 and read his posture again. This time his ears should
                 flicker.  That is the signal he is overcoming his hesitancy
                 and is becoming curious by your strange behavior.

                 Repeat the previous motions only this time turn to face him
                 when you are the farthest away from him. Read his reaction
                 to you facing him.  Alarm?  Curious?  Return to the center
                 and face away from him for 2 or 3 minutes.  Slowly turn to
                 face him.  What is his reaction? 

                 Now turn away from him and walk out of the enclosure.  Leave
                 him for 30 minutes and then return with a bucket of water. 
                 Place the bucket about 6 feet away from the gate inside the
                 pen.  Pull up a chair and sit down.  If the donkey displays
                 an interest in you, stand up and walk to the center of the
                 pen.  If he approaches you, stand still and let him sniff
                 you.  Do not attempt to touch him.  At this point it is
                 important for you to not make any aggressive gestures such
                 as reaching out toward him.  You have to give him time to
                 make the decision that you are not a threat to him.  Being
                 in the pen alone he will quickly become lonesome.  The only
                 animal available for him to buddy with is you.  You must be
                 patient.  It may only take a couple of 5 to 10 minute
                 lessons in the pen or it might take 10 or 12 lessons.  You
                 can't rush a donkey.  If you give him the time now to make
                 the first move toward building a relationship the following
                 lessons will go smoothly.

                 Once the donkey willingly approaches you even if he stops 6
                 feet away, it is time to reverse the situation and you take
                 one step toward him.  Do not move directly toward his head. 
                 Step to the side so you move toward his shoulder.  Take one
                 step and read his reaction.  If he seems anxious, stop. 
                 Give him a few moments to calm, then take one more step. 
                 Continue taking one step at a time, reading his posture
                 after every step.  With practice you will be able to see
                 when his posture changes and signals he is going to move
                 away from you.  It is better for you to be the first one to
                 turn away.  When you see that he is uncomfortable with you
                 moving closer, turn and face away from him.  This tells him
                 you are not being aggressive. 

                 Eventually he will stand and allow you to move toward him. 
                 Do not touch him with your hands at first, instead bump him
                 with your hip.  Stop your forward motion when you body
                 touches his.  Stand still and allow him to get accustomed to
                 the feel of you touching him.

                 Once you see him relax, then slowly move your hand until you
                 can "groom" him.  This is a communication and comforting
                 gesture between donkeys.  Rub his shoulder with your hand. 
                 Stop and move away from him before he gets bored.  This
                 encourages him to follow you and ask you to rub him some
                 more.  Every time he asks, comply with his request.  You
                 will have to provide him with a distraction before you will
                 be able to leave the pen.  Having an apple or pan with a
                 very small amount of grain in it sitting outside the pen is
                 a good idea so you can make a smooth exit.

                 Unlike horses who can only absorb 3 or 4 lessons in one day
                 before they get training overload, you can work with a
                 donkey many times in one day for short periods of time so he
                 doesn't get bored by repetition. 

                 Because up to this point you haven't attempted to force him 
                 with a rope and halter, he will be more willing to try to
                 understand what it is you want him to do.  Once he follows
                 you for one or two steps it is simple to teach him to hand
                 lead.  Put your hand under his jaw and back away from him
                 giving him a slight tug and say "come", pause and say
                 "walk".  If he doesn't take a step then step to the left and
                 repeat the tug.  If he still does not understand, step to
                 his right and repeat.  Depending on how well he has
                 understood the earlier "getting to know you" lessons, it
                 usually does not take long for him to associate your hand
                 tugging on his underjaw as a request from you for him to
                 walk with you.  If he only takes one step in response to
                 your request, praise him with joy in your voice and rubbing
                 on his shoulder.  Eventually you will be able to stand 10
                 feet away from him and hold your hand out and say "come" and
                 he will walk to you and position his head so your hand is
                 under his jaw. 

                 You can teach him to stop by placing your hand on the bridge
                 of his nose.  Say "stop" or "whoa" every time you give him
                 the cue to stop.

                 Next week:  Putting on a halter and teaching him to lead and
                 to lunge.

back to home page                                                                                                                     next: part 4

 © 2001 Vicki Abbott

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