Part Three -
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
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