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February 28, 2005

The "Touch" Game - Part 2

KristieJorgensen.jpgNow that your donkeys and mules know how to play the basic "Touch" game, you have an awesome tool to use in teaching them other things.

If you followed the steps in part 1 of this series, your mule or donkey should be eagerly touching your hand whenever you snap your fingers and say, "touch". He should be able to find and touch your hand when it is held in front of his nose, higher up above his nose, and lower down as well. You should eventually be able to ask him to touch your hand when it is all the way down by the ground, or held off to one side or the other, too.

Now you can start adding some variety and ask him to do something more along with touching your hand. For example, you can hold your hand out in front of him a few feet away and ask him to "touch". He will have to take a step or two forward to reach and touch your hand. Or you can stand beside him and ask him to bend his neck around to reach and touch your hand. This is a good exercise to teach them to be soft and flexible in their neck.

You can also teach your mule or donkey to touch other objects. Hold out an object (ball, brush, feed pan, or really just about anything) in front of them, tap the object with your finger or snap your finger right near it and ask them to touch it. As soon as they bump it with their nose, praise them and give them a treat.

Now you can use the "Touch" game to teach your donkey or mule that some scary object really isn't so bad after all. When a donkey has never been saddled before, they might be scared of the saddle blanket or saddle when I first carry it up to them. So I use the "Touch" game to overcome this fear and teach them that the saddle and blanket aren't going to hurt them.

First I hold the saddle blanket in front of me and stand a few feet away from the donkey. I snap my fingers and ask the donkey to touch my hand without moving any closer to that scary blanket. Now that they are into the game, I move my hand a little closer to the blanket, and ask them to touch my hand again. They may have to step closer or reach out to touch my hand, but when they do I praise them and give them a small treat. Once they are standing next to me and touching my hand beside the blanket, I will tap the blanket and ask them to touch it. Sometimes they will touch it immediately and other times I'll have to put a little grain on top of the blanket the first time to get them to touch it. As soon as they touch it with their nose, they get praise and a treat

I continue to ask them to touch the blanket until they will eagerly touch the blanket as soon as I tap it with my finger and say, "touch." By this point they have had a chance to get a good look at the blanket and touch it with their nose several times, so they are usually content for me walk up to their side with the blanket now, gently rub them with it and place it on their back.

I then repeat the process with the saddle. You might have to do this before you saddle them up the first few times, but they will soon learn to recognize the saddle and blanket as something to not worry about.

If you will be driving your donkey or mule, you can use the touch game to introduce them to their new cart and harness. You can also use the touch game get them to check out funny objects sitting around, or new ground surfaces that they need to learn to walk on. Just repeat the steps I described for using with the saddle pad, and you can teach your mule or donkey to touch all kinds of things.

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at February 28, 2005 07:56 AM