Donkeys are highly affectionate animals once they trust you. I often see the question ‘how do donkeys show affection?’ and thought I would write a little about my experiences on the subject along with some donkey behavior information.
Personally, I find it very difficult to bond with a horse, yet fairly easy to bond with a donkey. I came to the conclusion with my farrier (an avid horse person!) that this probably means jackasses are just naturally attracted to me. Hahaha! (Got to have a jackass joke every now and then!)
But seriously, the donkey is an affectionate animal that seeks out comforts. He doesn’t seem to mind if they come from a human or another donkey. Where our horses definitely prefer to be with other horses rather than with me or other people.
Let’s take a look at how donkey behavior is affected first.
When people tell me their donkey isn’t as affectionate as they would like I tell them to examine their environment and take into account their past. Donkey behavior can be influenced by many things.
If your donkey is avoiding you and you’re are actively trying to cultivating the relationship, in a donkey friendly way, think about each of these things that could be at work. Remember, donkeys are thinkers. They rarely just react, they have a reason for everything they do.
Donkey behavior can be influenced by the environment. If they are stressed from being crowded or perhaps they are being bullied by another animal this can affect how they behave.
Bringing in a new donkey can affect behavior too as everyone has to figure out where in the hierarchy they belong now. Just changing a routine can affect behavior. Slow changes are best!
*Something to keep in mind if you are seeing behavioral problems. Have changes been made in the barnyard lately?
I use calming essential oils when changes are made. They work wonders! You can read more about that here Donkey Care [Calming a Stressed Donkey]
2. Hiding Pain
Is your donkey in pain? Donkeys are very good at hiding pain. It will be hard for your donkey to be well behaved or affectionate towards you if they are in pain.
Watch for signs of withdrawal from the herd, off appetite and weight loss. There could also be signs of aggression such as kicking out at you when you try to approach.
If you notice any behavioral changes in your donkey and nothing else has changed it’s a good idea to get a vet out. Issues like this are not easy to diagnose. It can be a number of things.
Observe your donkey’s behavior and give a well-detailed report to your vet.
Donkeys are worked hard in many parts of the world. Often overworked and underfed yet they continue to work in pain. Here is an article about Working donkeys in pain. Study reveals Working Donkeys in Pain
Something to think about. They really hide pain well, so if they are starting to act out for no reason you can see then there might be something physically wrong.
3. Previous Trauma or Good Experiences
Good experiences shape a donkey’s behavior just like it does our behavior. So do bad experiences though. Keep this in mind if your donkey is a rescue or maybe just hasn’t been handled with caring hands.
This can take months for your donkey to get over even in your caring new home. They don’t forget easy. Please give them time and work on some trust-building sessions. I’ve dealt with this in many kill pen donkeys I’ve rescued. They do get better and are so affectionate when they do.
Time is a healer! Give them love and patience.
4. Response to Human Handler
A donkey is influenced by his handler’s ability, experience, and confidence. Take time to work on your own donkey training/handling skills. If you aren’t feeling confident, your donkey will know.
Have empathy and see the world through your scared donkeys’ eyes. Approach with love and understanding. Never approach with force or speed like a predator. Remember, they are prey animals.
Be patient and never rush your donkey. Donkeys appreciate slow! Take the time it takes to make your donkey comfortable with you, especially if he has had past traumas.
Mindset for approaching a scared donkey: I am here with love and patience. I am confident but not forceful. I am a your friend.
Just getting in the right mindset can help you as a handler so much. No worrying, no fear. Have empathy, patience, and love.
Of course, previous training plays a huge role in donkey behavior! If the donkey doesn’t understand what you are asking then he can’t respond the way you expect.
However, a trained donkey may need some time to trust you before he decides to do as you ask.
A great way to gain the trust of your donkey is to use +R in training. There are many methods of training but I get fantastic results by combining +R with some modified traditional methods. It ALL starts with +R though! You can read more about +R in this post Donkey Training Tips and Information
And make sure to check out my Donkey Training Membership group! New donkey training videos, pdfs and more added twice a month. Learn to train your own donkeys for less than a cup of coffee.
Donkeys are very good at reading our body language. But reading donkey body language can be hard for us. They are stoic and tend to freeze in situations they don’t understand or don’t want to deal with. They also tend to freeze when they are bored. Recently I’ve been hiking with a new donkey. Just hiking, that’s it. I often throw training sessions into hiking but I hadn’t started that with this guy yet.
In 3 weeks time of hiking, about 4 days a week, he had already started mimicking my movements without pressure or being asked totally at liberty. If I took steps back so did he. If I stepped to the side so did he. Usually, I teach this liberty ‘game’ I call the mimic game with slight pressure and +R. He was just getting used to reading my body language. He wanted to be in sync with me on his own.
Donkey body language is not as obvious as horses and it’s not all the same. For example, when a horse pins its ears it’s usually mad and putting pressure on another horse to move away.
This can be the same for donkeys or sometimes pinning may mean they want to play! My gelding pins his ears when we pick up the pace on a hike. His steps get peppy and it is obvious he is enjoying himself or he wouldn’t do it because I’m not forcing him to with any pressure. I’m just asking and he’s mimicking.
So how is your donkey reacting to you?
Is he showing affection by gently nudging you for attention? Slightly leaning into you for comfort? Or avoiding you?
I hope this article can help you understand how donkeys behavior and to communicate so you can better understand your donkey and start building a relationship. How donkeys show affection isn’t a complicated question. They are very open to love when they are healthy and with someone they trust.
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