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October 02, 2006

New Donkeys and the Family Dog

How do you train a new donkey to accept or tolerate your family dog?

Question from Reader:
A week and a half after bringing two donkeys home, the gelding started acting aggressively to my arthritic old lab. His behavior goes beyond warnings or fun chases. He has come close to stomping her as she lay still in the grass, minding her own business. She has never bothered the donkeys and is unable to move quickly. He will even pursue her while I'm leading her away by the collar. I know he was used to his former owner's dogs being underfoot. Is there any hope of stopping this behavior?

Most donkeys naturally seem to relate to dogs in the same way that they see coyotes, one of their enemies in the wild.

However, from what I've read most donkeys can learn to accept the family dog, although it may take a while. You might try shooing your gelding away when he acts aggressively toward your dog. Be firm with him and let me him know that you don't appreciate him acting like that toward your dog. You might read my article on donkey body language to get some ideas. Some of the actions are hard to describe without going into a lot of detail, but your gelding should understand donkey-like body language if you can learn how to act like the "boss donkey" around him. The article will give you some ideas of some of the body language I use around my donkeys. Watch how your donkeys posture toward each other and what kind of reactions they evoke in each other, then try your best to imitate them. They will understand that kind of body language the best.

You may need to keep your dog near you for a while when you have her out with the donkeys, but if you learn to use donkey body language to tell your gelding that you are herd boss and want him to go away and leave your dog along, it shouldn't take too long before he respects your space.

Our first donkey was a little BLM jennet that we got as a 2 1/2 yr old. We got her to be a guard donkey for our two pet sheep. Most days she got along just fine with the sheep, but every once in a while she would get a little irritable or fussy and start chasing the sheep. The sheep both had bells on them, so we could hear if they were running out in the paddock. If the jennet got into one of her irritable moods, I'd stand in the pasture and the sheep would come stand by me. The jennet learned that I would reprimand her and chase her a little ways off if she came and threatened the sheep while they were standing near me. She'd get all in a tizzy and run around the perimeter of the paddock. She'd lay back her ears, shake her head and kick out in the air. She'd even nip her own back leg to get herself more worked up, but she wouldn't dare come near me and the sheep while I was standing guard! Once she'd had a chance to settle down and get her temper-tantrum worked out, she'd be just fine again with the sheep.


I don't know if any of that will help with your dog, but these are some ideas you might try. I don't know how long it will take your new gelding to get used to your dog, but in the meantime if he respects you as herd boss and the fact that she is *your dog* and you are standing guard, maybe he will learn to leave her alone as long as she is with you. And eventually he will probably catch on that she belongs there and shouldn't be chased away.

Right now he is pretty new to your farm, so your dog is probably still quite a stranger in his mind.

Note: With regard to donkeys as sheep guardians, not all donkeys do well with sheep or goats. I would not trust most of the donkeys I've owned with sheep. Most of my donkeys are larger, more energetic mammoth donkeys. I choose them for that temperament because they make better show and performance donkeys, but they aren't good herd guardians for smaller livestock because their energetic temperament makes them a little too playful for the safety of the smaller stock. So please be careful when selecting donkeys to pasture with smaller livestock.

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at October 2, 2006 04:27 PM