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October 15, 2006

Verbal Commands for your Donkey

I've tried a lot of things with the donkeys I've trained. From my experience, I prefer to start by combining a verbal and physical (or non-verbal) cue when training. I don't know if it helps them more or helps me more, but they seem to catch on faster to some things, and it can help in translating the same action from the ground to the saddle or cart and visa-versa.

However, once they have learned a particular action or behavior, I reduce the amount that I use their verbal commands until they are almost entirely working off of other cues (seat, legs, reins, weight, body language).

The commands I use most often are:
come on: come to me
load up: get in the trailer
whoa (or ho): stop
back: back up
walk-on (or a tongue click): walk
walk (soothing drawn out tones): go from a faster gait to a walk (I never used to use this one until I started driving my lively donkey gelding, and a chirpy walk-on was to energetic to encourage him to slow down to a walk. This new command for slowing down to the walk worked wonders for him).
tur-ot (two syllable command) or kissing sound: trot
canter or "whep" sort of whistle sound: canter
walkie walkie: running walk (only for my gaited donkeys). My gaited donkeys have a walk, running walk, then a faster trot, and a canter, so I needed a different command when teaching them to differentiate between the trot and running walk. Later in their training, they are expected to be sensitive enough to my non-verbal cues that they can give me both on command, but it still comes in handy if I want to ask for the running walk from the ground.
over: turn or move over in one direction or the other depending on where leg pressure is applied or how seat and weight are positioned or reins are used. I use this for lateral movements - anything from turning on the haunches, turning on the forehand, sidepassing, turning in a larger arc, etc. But only as an aid if they are confused to help them realize I want a sideways motion instead of forward or backward motion. Once they have learned to listen to my seat, I rarely use this verbal command from the saddle or when driving.
lift: pick up your foot
hold it: stand still while I'm holding your foot (only if they are wiggling)
wait: don't eat now (either when resting on the trail, or when I'm serving hay at home or leading through a tempting grassy area)
okay: now you may eat
step up: take a step or two forward then stop. For instance when tied to the hitching post and pulling back on the tie, or when lined up in a pleasure driving class and you have just done the backup, and need to step back into line, but only a few steps so be prepared to stop soon.
touch along with snapping fingers or tapping object to touch: touch this object or hand with your nose. This is for my touch targeting game.
*donkeys name* Step it up! (in a chirpy tone): This is only used when I'm driving a team, and need the slower donkey to move up faster to catch up with their teammate, or in a turn where they are on the outside and need to move faster.
Where's your nose?: put your nose in the halter.
No!: reprimand for really bad behavior
uhn, uhn: (how is that spelled? lol) you better fix that, that's not what I asked for - gentle reminder that something's not right.

I can also see where "Gee" and "Haw" or other commands for left and right could be quite useful when driving donkeys.

Like I said, I mainly use these commands when starting their training as my donkeys seem to pick up verbal commands faster than some non-verbal signals. But as they become more aware of the non-verbal signals and their training level improves, I decrease or eliminate the use of the verbal command, and only use it when the donkey is for some reason highly distracted or seems to be having a brain cramp and or I need a quicker response now.

Some of the above commands only apply to driving, and some only to work on the ground. For instance I never allow my donkeys to graze while I'm riding them and we rarely ride where the grass is tall enough to reach without dropping their head down, so I don't have to use the "wait" command when I'm riding. But I definitely use it at every feeding. My donkeys are always tempted to slide in and start eating while I'm still fluffing their hay in the feeder, and I don't allow that. Usually a firm "Wait!" and or warning kick in the air are enough to convince them to stand back until mommy gives the "okay!" command.

I think those are pretty much all of the verbal commands that I use with mine. Verbal commands are no replacement for non-verbal cues, but sometimes can come in hand when first starting a donkey or in getting out of a pinch.

Of course I do a lot more talking than that to my donkeys when I'm visiting them or working around them (cleaning stalls, mending fences, etc), but I don't expect them to understand that chatter. I just talk to them so they'll know where I am and what I'm doing so they won't spook or kick out thinking I'm another donkey.

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at October 15, 2006 03:34 PM