Donkeys have a reason for everything they do. Their behaviour is controlled and influenced by a wide range of factors. Misunderstanding of the donkeys’ true nature and behaviour leads to the incorrect but common belief that donkeys are stubborn.

Stubborn as a donkey

Donkeys have an unjustified reputation for being “stubborn” this reputation has come from a common misunderstanding of the differences between the behaviour of donkeys and horses. Donkeys do have a great sense of self-preservation and are unwilling to do anything that might be dangerous. This sense of self-preservation combined with different body language from that of a horse leads to confusion about donkey’s anxiety and fear levels.

Once you understand the subtle body language of your donkey, and have worked to build enough trust with them so they are confident that you would not persuade them to do something that might cause them harm, you will find donkeys are quick and willing learners.

Excellent memory and intelligence

Donkeys have an excellent memory, and great ability to learn. A 2013 study by The Donkey Sanctuary found that they can learn and problem-solve at the same pace as dolphins and dogs. These factors mean that donkeys remember good and bad experiences for a long time. Negative or painful experiences affect the donkey’s behaviour, sometimes for years so being a careful and considerate handler is vital.

Gentle and calm

Donkeys show less obvious signs of fear than horses. For example, when they find something scary they will generally move away a short distance before turning to observe whatever it is that is worrying them. Perhaps due to their territorial ancestry, donkeys tend to have a heightened defence response and so, when feeling threatened, they will stand their ground more than horses, which makes them appear calmer and less fearful than horses in the same situation. However, it is important to remember that donkeys are just as fearful as horses but the signs they show aren’t as easy to observe, especially to the untrained eye.

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