Training Donkeys (Gentling and Starting Positive Reinforcement)

Training donkeys is a passion but Donkeys have a really special place in my heart and life! 

They have a place here because they provided protection for my farm where livestock guardian dogs failed me. Jennet donkeys provided me with healing milk that turned my health around and ultimately donkeys lead me to being in the best shape of my life. They are my best therapy and stress relief management. All good things! So, of course, they will always be in my heart and hopefully my life!

There are many other reasons donkeys can enhance and benefit your life which you can read about here in this post if you like What Are Donkeys Used For?

However, if donkeys are going to be part of your life, you need to learn about training a donkey.

Training Donkeys v/s Training Horses

I’ve heard many trainers say that donkeys can be trained exactly like horses, it just takes them longer to learn. When I tried this approach, it didn’t really work out for my donkeys! They simply do not respond the same way to a -R based training program as horses.

The amount of pressure needed to put on a donkey to get a reaction seemed so unhealthy to me. I didn’t enjoy it and neither did they. In fact, it made them start to avoid me. That is never what I want my animals to do!

Once I started rescuing and taming down semi-feral donkeys, I started using some reward techniques I had used in dog training, and that seemed to work better. It still wasn’t getting it quite right, though. Primarily I used treats to let them know I’m not the bad guy and doing what I ask isn’t a bad thing! 

I ended up with pushy, nippy donkeys that didn’t take me seriously. 

**Sometimes even my exceptionally well-trained donkey Rani will get pushy to test me. They will all test but if they understand you it makes things easier when you say stop!

With my horses, since they move easily off pressure, I simply raise my hands when they get pushy they back off quickly. This didn’t work with the donkeys! They were more like, ‘hey remember we’re buddies now give me food!’ The term I use is Treat Muggers!

Then I discovered teaching ‘treat manners’ from the beginning! AKA: Positive reinforcement!

Training RocketMan the Mini Donkey

Rocket Man had been on my farm a couple of weeks when I started training him. Long enough to calm down and realize this is a safe place and I’m not going to hurt him.

He’s young, untrained, 4 years old, and intact (not anymore!)

I want him to be a driving donkey but at the very least he needs to be trained with the minimum basic manners! To me that’s :

  • Halters easy (meaning I can halter anywhere, anytime)
  • Leads well
  • No treat mugging (no biting!)
  • Picks up feet
  • Loads in a Trailer
  • No kicking out
  • Stands tied 

The first thing I have to do is get him to trust me. He is not a trusting donkey! And he has a big issue…

donkey training

Training A Halter Shy Donkey

Rocket Man was extremely halter shy!!! Meaning when he even saw a halter he bolted! He even aggressively kicked out at me! He may be a miniature donkey but he is very strong and could easily hurt me or someone else.

This is not good! Because it’s the first thing on my basic manners list and key to being able to manage him. What if I need to move him? What if I need to stall him? He needs a farrier and will need a vet at some point. I have to be able to halter him easily and lead him where I need him to go.

I don’t know why people ignore this very basic but very important part of the training with so many donkeys. They assume the donkey will just follow a feed bucket anywhere. They will not!

So training this little RocketMan took awhile. I’ve trained many donkeys to halter and it’s always easiest if they have no idea what the halter is. But since he’s had bad experiences and doesn’t seem like he has been handled nicely I’ve had extra work to do.

How To Get a Donkey to Trust you

I said before I had to gain some trust first. This is the most important step when training donkeys! Rocketman lived in the small training area I have here. It’s 30 by 20 with a small shed for shelter. Ideally, a smaller round or square pen with no shelter would be better. It’s what I would normally use but since he’s going to be in this pen a while it needs to be a bit more comfortable with a good shelter. I did not let him in a pasture until I had gained the trust and can get a halter on him.

Have you ever seen the ads “FREE DONKEY if you can catch him you can have him”? I have and it’s very sad! So the ‘long term’ training area was his temporary home for a while. My donkeys need to be haltered anywhere, anytime!

halter sky donkey training

My first steps and goals to Training Donkeys

  1. Gain Trust: I do this by simply going in his area a couple of times a day and standing there. Not facing him head-on though. If he approaches me, I will offer him a treat or a scratch. Try to stand close to him. He acts uncomfortable I retreat and stand away from him. If he comes over again, I’ll offer nice stuff again. Repeat until he accepts my presence and doesn’t act like it’s a bad thing. 
  2. Using a Marker for to teach treat manners. Once he’s ok with the above now, I start adding a ‘marker’ to mark good behavior and quickly let him know good things are coming. This is basically clicker training only I’m not using a clicker which you can see in the video below. I’m simply making a click sound with my tongue. I also wait until his head is turned away from me before he gets a treat. This helps prevent pushy treat mugging behavior.
  3. Enter with the halter and repeat the same thing. He knows I will not hurt him. He knows I have good things he likes. BUT the halter is there! So I repeat the same gaining trust exercises again until he’s comfortable with me in his space with the hater.
  4. Targeting: A lot of +R trainers use this as the beginning part of trick training. It works really good for training a halter shy donkey or horse though. This is easier to show than explain so I made the video series below. It shows using the marker and targeting to get him to accept the halter. Go to my youtube channel to see the whole series. Don’t forget to subscribe because I add donkey training videos all the time.

I have a Guide Booklet to my Level 1 training in the Donkey Training Membership Group (link below)

Here is a video of one of our 1st training sessions. It’s a 3 part series:


Training Donkeys isn’t hard but sometimes it does take longer

Donkeys can be slow to trust, especially when they’ve not been treated all that great by humans. 

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