So, some thoughts on donkey training...
Ramsey's "training" started the moment I first laid hands on him. Animals learn something from us every time we interact with them in any way, whether we mean them to or not. I try to always keep this in mind when I am with them. Ramsey has been handled extensively from birth and he has already learned a great deal. He leads fairly well, picks up all of his feet, is learning to stand tied and is very easy to handle.
He craves attention and considers me to be a natural part of his herd. This is a good thing, but also means that he has to learn how to be a good "human" as well as being a good donkey. Too often, I meet animals who have been handled from birth and they are dangerously spoiled and obnoxious because they haven't been taught this.
Working with Emma is a bit different since she was not handled at all until she was about a year old. She is naturally cautious and wary of new things. She is also calmer, steadier and has the patience of a saint. Ramsey is almost frighteningly fearless. In a few years, he will likely be calm and steady as well, but he is too young for that now. Emma often needs reassurance and convincing while Ramsey can be pushy and demanding. They are both intelligent, lively, affectionate and are constantly pushing me to come up with new "games". They don't like repeating the same things over and over and they get bored easily if not challenged.
I don't have any big expectations of Ramsey at this age other then learning basic skills and exposing him to as much as I can. Mostly, he is learning about boundaries and what is and is not acceptable behavior. When dealing with behaviors that I don't want (especially things that will be dangerous for him or me), I try to teach Ramsey the way Emma teaches him. When he does something she does not like, she turns away from him and ignores him the first time. If he repeats the same behavior, she gives him a glare and a small shove with her nose. If he repeats again, she may grab the top of his leg or hock with her teeth, shove him with her shoulder or hip, glare and threaten to bite, etc. He seldom repeats after this point.
When Ramsey does things to me that I don't want him to, I try to copy these methods in my clumsy, human way. For example, a month or so ago, Ramsey tried to jump up on me the way he does to Emma. I stepped away with a stern NO and walked away from him. The second time he tried it, he got a stern NO with a solid swat and a push away from me. He thought about it a third time, but a glare and a NO changed his mind. He has not repeated it since. This all happened in three swift, random encounters during the course of a single day. This is totally normal baby behavior and I was expecting it to happen at some point. I was, in fact, glad he tried it as early as he did as it was very easy to correct then.
There is no one method or training system I use. I have a lot of experience with horses, but donkeys are so different that I often feel it gets in the way rather then helps. Mostly, I try to watch how Emma trains Ramsey and copy her methods. Some of the training guidelines I have come up with and try to follow go something like this:
- Ask for very small things.
- Set him up for success, don't ask for something unless I am fairly sure he can do it.
- Reward every effort, ignore mistakes.
- Praise the behaviors I want, even if I didn't ask for or expect it.
- If he is wound up in play mode, save training for later. Forcing the issue at this stage causes more trouble then it's worth.
- Be flexible and adaptable. Plans are good, but they never survive long. Don't get hung up on them.
- Don't get in a fight. If something isn't working, go back to what does work and start over.
- There is time, don't rush. If he doesn't get something today, he will tomorrow or the next day.
- There is no such thing as "training time" and "non-training time". He is learning from me every time we are in contact.
- Keep in mind that he is also learning when I am not around, pay attention and observe the changes.
- Keep it short.
- Make it fun