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December 17, 2004

So How Do You Speak "Donkey"?

In Yesterday's article, I wrote about the value of learning to use donkey body language to discipline your donkey. Here are several of my favorite disciplinary donkey body language signals, and some suggestions on how you can enact them.

Tail Swish:
I like to use this one when I am carrying hay to the feeder and a donkey is following too close behind me. It is a very mild first warning for them to back off and give me a little more room. You may think at first that this would be a really hard thing to imitate since we humans don’t have tails. But when I started pretending to act like a donkey, I found that swishing my arm back and forth like a tail behind my back worked very well as an alternative to a real tail.

Evil Eye/Glare:
Here is another fun one to do! I have been teaching my donkeys to wait to approach their hay feeder at feeding time until I tell them they can. As “Boss Jennet” I should have the authority to tell them they have to wait patiently until I’m ready to let them eat.

I like to dump the hay in the feeder, and then stand guard beside it. I find it funny to watch the donkeys’ reactions. They’ll wait out of my way, and watch me closely for the sign that they are allowed to come eat. Sometimes if I feel like one is thinking about testing me and stepping closer, I’ll glare at them and stare them down. It usually doesn’t take them long to look away in a submissive move.

Maybe the glare or evil eye is more about communicating my mood in more subtle ways, but I like to pretend like I am a mad donkey with my ears laid back against my neck warning others to leave me alone!

Some of my donkeys can make a terrifying snorting/hissing sound when they want another donkey to bug off and leave them and their space alone. It’s one of the first warning signs, and means “Get back and leave me alone! I’m not in the mood to have you bothering me (or my food).”

The volume of the snort or hiss gets louder in relation to the size of the offense. It’s kind of like when you tell someone “No.” If you want him to stop something he shouldn’t do, you may calmly say “No, don’t do that.” But if whatever he is doing is a major offense or if he is ignoring you, you might yell “NO!” in a stronger tone of voice.

The stomp should be pretty easy for you to figure out. It is a more moderate warning sign. A stomp accompanied by a glare and sometimes a snort can usually be pretty convincing for most donkeys who are not really serious about testing their limits.

If you donkey is still ignoring you and doesn’t back off when you stomp, you can do a warning kick in the air out behind you – try to make it just like what your donkeys do to warn other donkeys not to approach.

Sometimes if a donkey is getting pushy walking into me, and won’t back off when I give other warning signals, I may actually make contact and thump the donkey on the chest with my heel. My intention is not to hurt the donkey, but just to bump them and warn them in language their herd mates would use. In donkey language this is a punishment to be taken seriously. It means “Momma means business! So cut it out right now!”

I’ve found it very funny to watch the expression on my donkeys’ faces when I thump them on the chest the first time. Prior to that I can feel them saying “Oh, so you think you can make me do what you say. What if I just ignore you? Then what??? Do you really mean it?”

After I give them that one little thump just like another donkey would, their whole expression and attitude changes to one of “Oh no! Mom is really mad now! I better be good!” Sometimes they look so shocked that I actually meant what I was telling them, that I just have to laugh!

Shuffle or Charge:
This is a stronger warning to your donkeys to keep back from you. You’ve probably seen a donkey charge or lunge a few feet toward another donkey to chase them off. She doesn't run very far, but those few feet are enough to convince the other donkeys to stay back.

Jump or Bounce:
This is one that I use when I don’t have much space and I want my donkeys to back off. I usually accompany it with a snort, after trying some of the milder signals to leave me alone. You’ve probably seen donkeys do this one before. It looks they are thinking of nailing another donkey with a big double-barrel kick with both back feet, but they are too lazy to really do the kick. So they just bounce, bounce, bounce with their hindquarters.

To do this one, just pretend like you are one of those donkeys, and jump up and down a few times while snorting, with your back turned toward the donkey you want to move away. I’ve found that if I jump faster and act more irritated, they take me much more seriously.

Of course whenever you reprimand your donkey, it is important that it be fair punishment for the crime committed, and be immediate. If it is not immediate, your donkey will have totally forgotten what he did wrong and have no idea why he is being reprimanded. My instructors have always said to use the 3 second rule – you have three seconds from the time of his offense to tell your horse, mule or donkey that he has done wrong, then you just forget it and move on.

Watch your donkeys interact together, and they will teach you a lot of body language signals and what they mean. Then just use your creativity to figure out how to do them yourself. Watch your donkeys and learn their signs for communicating their different feelings – “Leave me alone”, “Let’s play!”, “Let’s just hang out and be friends”, “Don’t be scared, it’s ok”, etc.


Your donkeys will learn to have a much greater respect and confidence in you once you learn to talk to them in their own donkey language.

As always, remember safety first when working with your donkeys, mules and horses. And good luck learning to speak "Donkey!"

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at December 17, 2004 07:12 AM