Donkeys Are Smart

Donkeys Are Smart

Target training with donkey
Target training with Dolly at Raystede Centre for Animal Welfare

Millions of years ago, horses roamed in the cool, wide open spaces of north America, where it was easy to run away from danger. Donkeys evolved in the hot, hilly and rocky African desert, where it wasn’t so easy to flee. So donkeys learned to analyse situations before reacting. They are the calm reasoners. They think things through.

This makes them such reliable carriers. Donkeys are the only animals capable of crossing tricky terrain in parts of India, Africa and South America, where they are still vital to the economy. A donkey will not put his hoof anywhere he is not sure of.

Donkeys have a reputation for being stubborn but they merely have a very strong sense of self-preservation and will not do anything unless they are sure it is safe. They have their own minds and will not be bullied or frightened into doing things.

A donkey needs to know and trust you before you can proceed with training. Then patience is required. It’s necessary to allow a donkey thinking time. But once they’ve got it, they never forget. Donkeys have extremely good memories, remembering other donkeys and places they’ve been for 25 years or more.

After some initial mulling over of the problem, Dolly didn’t take too long to work out that touching the target with her nose resulted in getting a treat. After a few sessions, I could position the target high or low, near or far. The only time she didn’t get it right was when I wasn’t clear. If I held the target too close to my treat holding hand, she would touch my hand instead of the target.

This might suggest that she hadn’t fully grasped the exercise but who can blame her for taking the most efficient route. I was positively encouraging her to bypass the target and go straight for the treat. She probably thought such as silly human needed a bit of help. After all, not everyone can be as smart as a donkey.

Donkey target trainingCNV00026CNV00028

Copyright 2016 Amy Swift

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