Following on from my previous blog about this very confused donkey, our behaviourist, Ben Hart, has now visited Hopefield Animal Sanctuary to meet George and his handlers.
To briefly recap, George was an orphan foal who was hand reared with a goat and dog for company. This has resulted in George not realising he is actually a donkey and because of his close contact with humans, he lacks the correct boundaries of behaviour when with them. So George's behaviour is rather challenging as he is very confused as to how to act. This doesn't make him a bad donkey and indeed there are signs of a very nice person struggling to comprehend his world.
Since my initial visit, George has been moved to a larger stable with Noah and these two seem to have struck up quite a bond.
Ben spent time with both George and his team of carers and advised that George has to be taken back to basics. So the plan is for his main handler, Pete, to treat every time George is handled as a training session. The steps will be very small ones and this is a long term project which will need consistency and a lot of work from everybody involved with George. Even standing still is something he doesn't quite grasp, let alone having his feet picked out or being led without problems.
Ben advised on the timing of his training sessions and working with George when at his most relaxed, as well as providing a more enriched environment for George and his friends. Toys, logs and different ways of feeding were amongst his suggestions as donkeys are very intelligent creatures and thrive on mental stimulation.
The more George has to think about in his paddock the calmer he is likely to be in his training sessions.
The team at Hopefield now have hand outs on dealing with aspects of his behaviour and future rehabilitation and these are available to anybody with similar problems.
We all found it fascinating to watch Ben work with George (including Noah who watched anxiously over the paddock fence!) and I know that his handlers feel much more confident that they can help George become much happier in his world. It is a long term project and will probably take over a year to make a real difference to him.
Too often behaviour problems are dealt with negatively by people and punishment is meted out. With George is it essential to reward anything good he does and try and ignore the more difficult aspects of his behaviour.
Basically it is all about trying to understand why a donkey behaves in a certain way. George had a difficult start in life and none of this is his fault but the long term aim is to make George a safer donkey to be around and a much happier one in himself.
I will be visiting again to see how they are progressing as may Ben when he comes up to Essex to do a Stage 5 intermediate donkey behaviour course in the autumn, which hopefully some of the Hopefield team can attend. This will be open to anybody interested in learning more about equine behaviour and interaction between donkey and handler so keep an eye on our website for training centre course dates.