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January 03, 2007

Fix Those Trailer Loading Woes

So what do you do when your donkey just refuses to get in the trailer?

Trailer loading problems usually can be solved with lots of practice, patience and positive rewards. Take it in baby steps, and work on it when you have plenty of time to spend - don't be in a hurry. Start by rewarding your donkey for just walking up to the trailer. Then lead them away and then repeat.

When they are comfortable and relaxed with that, ask them to step a front foot up into the trailer before giving them the treat. This may take a while (in one case, it took me 3 hours of patience before the donkey I was training got tired of resisting and stepped his feet in), but each time you do it, your donkey will get faster and faster about responding.

His patience may run thin at times, and he may try to turn and head back to his pasture, but if you have a long lead rope run through something strong in the trailer, you can usually apply enough resistance that he will give up that idea. Just be careful you're fingers are not where they could get caught in the rope, and wear leather gloves to protect your skin! It's also a good idea to try to avoid the temptation to just tie the end of the rope off tight inside the trailer. If your donkey backs up suddenly he could injure himself before you can untie it.


Also be sure to reward any moves forward with a little release in the lead rope. Don't give him so much loose rope that he can decide to leave you, but release the pressure off of his halter for a minute as a reward for stepping closer to the trailer or even just moving his head forward. Then after his reward time, ask him to step forward more.

I've found that the donkeys I've trained usually go through a series of tactics when trying to resist stepping up into the trailer. They walk up to the trailer, then refuse to step their feet in. When I insist that that is what I want, they will try to turn and walk away or back away from the trailer. When they find themselves unable to do that (because of resistance in their lead rope), they will go through a phase of pretending to fall asleep with their head hanging heavy on the lead rope. After 15-20 minutes of trying that, they will get tired of it, and will step forward to release the pressure. Then they will start fidgeting - walking forward and back, from side to side, pawing at the ground, sniffing the trailer, etc. This is what I call the "thinking about it" phase. When I see this happening, I know I'm getting close. Usually not too long after that they decide to give up their resistance and step in. That's when they get their reward, and we walk away from the trailer and do something else for a few minutes, or maybe just end their lesson there on a good note. They'll surely think their lesson over very well while back in their pen, and remember what worked and what didn't work to get the reward.

Just remember to stay quiet and let them think it through in their heads. If you get to excited about trying to coax them in, they will often just resist more. I just stand there in the trailer waiting for them to think it through. Every so often I'll let them sniff the treat, and will give them the command to get in. After a few minutes of offering, if they are still refusing, I just stand quietly inside the trailer and wait for a while. They'll get bored, and decided to jump in after a while.

When your donkey is doing that well, ask him to step both front feet in and keep them in while he gets his treat. If he steps them in and then backs back out before taking the treat, he doesn't get it. Only while his front feet are in will you let him have the treat. When that is going well, ask him to step all four feet in before you give him his treat.

Soon your donkey will learn that he has to follow you all the way into the trailer and then he gets his treat. Once he figures that out, the time it takes to load him in will get faster and faster. Once he is getting in ok, start asking him to stand quietly for a minute or two before you choose to lead him out. You can use this time to give him attention, treats, scratches, etc, but also teach him to stand quietly and wait while you enjoy the moment. At first he will be nervous while in the small enclosed space of the trailer, but soon he will learn that it isn't something to be scared of, and will relax.

Once he has learned to relax and be comfortable standing in the trailer with you, ask him to calmly turn around to face the back of the trailer, then stop when you ask. Give him a treat or reward. Then ask him to walk forward to the back door of the trailer, and stop. Then give him more praise. Then step out and ask him to jump out and follow you (just make sure you are not standing where he will be landing). These are all very important things for all donkeys to learn. You not only want a donkey that you can quickly and easily put into the trailer, but also one that won't trample and drag you on the way out of the trailer!

If your trailer is enclosed and has windows and vents that open, you will probably find it helpful to open those when you are loading your donkeys in. This will let more light in from outside, and make the inside of the trailer not look so much like a scary cave to your donkey. I have a slant load trailer with double doors in the back and an escape door in the front. When I'm first training a donkey to load, I open both back doors. This makes it lighter inside, as well as giving the donkey a bigger opening to enter through. Usually I will leave the front escape door closed, so they aren't tempted to jump out of that door. Once they are trained to trailer load, I load them with only one back door open.

You will need to break these training steps down into at least several days otherwise your donkey will get bored of his lesson and start resisting more.

Don't resort to whipping or trying to scare your donkey into the trailer. This will only teach him that trailers are a bad thing, and should be avoided all together. If you use quiet patience along with persistence, your donkey will soon be a trailer loading pro, and jump in immediately when you ask him to.

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at January 3, 2007 07:33 PM