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October 12, 2009

Starting a Donkey - Part 1

There are so many donkeys out there who have little or no training and so few who are well trained. It's really not that hard to start one. So I thought I'd share a few of my tips.

Miniature donkey in halter

I started two young jennets this summer. They had both had a little handling, but didn't really understand being led, much less anything more sophisticated. So I started with the very basics with them. I do the same with all donkeys I start. If a donkey already has some training, then I'll make it through these steps pretty fast and on to the fancy stuff. But if there are holes in their training, this is a good place to catch and fix them.

Probably the most basic principles of donkey training are:
1. Break everything down into itty bitty baby steps
and 2. Always remember to reward your donkey for his efforts, even if that reward is just a release on the pressure of the lead rope when he takes a step forward.

So how do I start training a donkey?

The first step is for the donkey to know you are his friend, and someone enjoyable to be around. Spend some time out in the field with him. Pet him, brush him, rub his shoulders, back and neck. Donkeys especially enjoy the rubs. You don't have to spend a long session with him. Just start building a routine and positive relationship. 15 minutes of loving once a day is a good way to start. If he isn't already, he will soon be anticipating your visits and coming quickly everytime he sees you come out.

Once your donkey has learned that it is enjoyable to be around you, you can introduce him to the halter. Let him look at it and sniff it. Rub it all over his back, neck and sides as you scratch his back. He'll learn its something nice to have around. Then quietly slip it on and off of his nose a couple times, giving him plenty of good shoulder rubs in between (or wherever you have found to be his favorite spot). Don't try to tighten and buckle the halter just yet. Just put it on and take it off without actually buckling it. Once he is relaxed about letting you put it on and take it off of him, then you can buckle it and leave it on for a few minutes while you groom and praise him. Then take it off, praise hime, and repeat the process a time or two more. Quit your lesson on a good note, and leave him wishing for more. You can be sure he'll think about it all night while he's waiting for his next lesson time, and might even surprise you with how quickly he figures it out the next day.

I also like to teach my donkeys the command "Where's your nose?" somewhere about this point. Once they start looking forward to and enjoying "halter-on time", they are eager to get their halter on. Now instead of pulling the halter up onto their nose, I just hold the halter open but below their nose waiting for them to put their nose into it. I give the command "Where's your nose?". If they have learned to enjoy having the halter on, they will probably grow impatient and start looking to put their nose in it pretty quickly anyway. With even just the slightest sign of them moving their nose closer to it, I pull it up onto their nose, buckle it and praise them lavishly. It usually only takes a few times, and they start searching for it with their nose as soon as I say "Where's your nose?"

I don't always use the "Where's your nose?" command when haltering them, but it's a good way to see if they are focused on me, and to start their lesson with an easy game that they can feel good about.

Start practicing these steps with your donkey, and soon he will be easy to approach and halter. Next installment in this series I will talk about start to train your donkey to lead.

Kristie Jorgensen

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Posted by Kristie Jorgensen at October 12, 2009 06:15 PM