I know I am a behavioural anorak loving to learn about behaviour in all sorts of situations, and bleary eyed after the 21 hours of travelling, I arrived with a sense of ground hog day back at the Econo lodge Davis California. I start to reflect on what I had learnt on the journey.
Last year I wrote about my epic traffic jam experience having decided to take the tourist route and drive across the Golden Gate Bridge. As with all things I learn from experience, so this year I plan the direct Route 101 north and then Interstate 80 all the way to Davis. Planning tells me the 87 miles should take 1.27 minutes, allow a bit for traffic thinks me and 2 hours should do it.
So after 2 hours and covering just 30 miles, I figure something out, it wasn’t the route last year that was the problem. It is obviously that the traffic in San Francisco is just terrible everywhere. I am quite surprised this hadn’t occurred to me. I had just made the assumption that it was the route I took last year that was the problem.
And so to donkeys... so often a behaviour happens once and it is labelled as just that situation, that animal or that person. We leave it at that satisfied that we have correctly identified the cause of behaviour. We stop looking for other possible explanations, we stop questioning and keeping our options open. I mean may be it is a one-off bad day event or may be not. When the behaviour happens twice, often the donkey is incorrectly labelled, naughty, bad or worst of all stubborn. And just like my sweeping generalisation about San Francisco traffic, we again stop looking for the real cause of the problem. Is it the time of day I am travelling or the day of the week or just the direction or time of year? It reminds me to keep an open mind and not to jump to conclusions too quickly - not only with donkeys but with the people I work with too.
I spent a year expecting a faster journey because I was sure it was the route I took, and felt sadly disappointed when a different route wasn’t really much better. Same with donkeys - you think you “know” what to do and can feel disappointed when what we were so sure of turns out to be wrong. Maybe the way to look at it is... well I have just added more information to my knowledge of what might happen next time.
This thought eases my stress a little. I have been thinking about stress a lot recently, not just my own but the effects of stress on donkeys, mules and horses. Stress is so invisible that only the symptoms start to show when problems are advanced.
Our own point of reference is all we have to go on. It seems to me that in understanding our own experiences better, we might be better able to relate to the animals we work with and care for. After all we can only experience the world through our eyes so we have to take that point and see how it might relate to others.