Most people associate clicker training with dogs and cats, but you can use it as a teaching tool for rabbits, birds, guinea pigs, horses, donkeys, and even rats. I used clicker training to halter train my feral donkey’s Annie and Rocky. I also used clicker training to get them to stand for the farrier without sedation. It is such a great tool and so easy to learn.
Clicker training is a form of positive reinforcement, and the animal associates the clicker’s sound with a reward. We use animal crackers as a reward for the donkeys, but you can use whatever treat your animal prefers. The clicker is a noisemaker that communicates to the animal that a reward is on the way.
Clicker training is efficient because it takes all the guesswork out of the equation for the animal. The click tells the animal precisely what it did correctly. It’s essential to click exactly when the animal is doing the behavior you wanted and that you immediately reward them with a treat.
When we first got our donkeys, Rocky and Annie, they had never been handled and were very fearful of humans. Before the donkeys, I had zero experience with equines. I came across a video about clicker training donkeys, it intrigued me and wasn’t complicated to figure out.
Afterwards I spent the first two months sitting in a chair with the donkeys in the barn, talking to them and getting them comfortable around me. Simply sitting with a bucket of treats next to my chair, and eventually, they started to get curious. After two months, they would come for treats and eat out of my hand, but whenever I would get a halter out or a lead rope, they would run for the hills.
GAINING THEIR TRUST
I wanted to gain their trust, but I also did not want to push them too hard, too fast. The first step was laying the halter next to their treats bucket and carrying it when I fed them. It helped the donkeys to be comfortable around the halter, and they eventually paid no attention to it.
When I started using the clicker with training, I held the halter out, waiting for the donkeys to touch the rope with their nose. Donkeys are curious creatures, and since they were accustomed to my presence, they did not take long to approach the halter.
As Rocky touched the halter with his nose, I clicked and rewarded him with a treat. Eventually, after 10 to 20 repetitions, Rocky learned that touching the halter with his nose was a game, and Annie started to join in. Having Annie watch Rocky do it helped to build her self-confidence, and shortly after a few weeks, they would both come running towards the halter, not away from it. I would only do sessions for ten to fifteen minutes three times a week. It became something they looked forward to.
Once they were comfortable with the halter touching their nose, the next step was holding the halter straps up against their face and touching their ears. I would count to three, then click and give a treat. This small step aimed to get the donkeys comfortable with the halter and not to fear it. After two weeks, we moved up to buckling the halter on, click, give treats, but I would take the halter immediately off after the session. Over the next few weeks, I would leave the halter on longer than before until, eventually, I would leave the harness on all day.
We don’t ride our donkeys, so the purpose of halter training was to get the donkeys to stand for the farrier and eventually not use sedation and strengthen our bond. I found a female farrier, which significantly impacted the donkey’s confidence.
We do not know much about Rocky and Annie’s history, except they came from a farm in West Virginia. From their behavior, overgrown hooves, and scars, I would say they were probably pasture ornaments and did not have a good relationship with their owner.
PICKING UP DONKEY’S FEET
Our farrier showed me how to pick up their feet correctly and use a lead rope, so I could keep a safe distance and not get kicked. I incorporated clicker training, and I would click and give a treat every time they let me pick up their hooves. I would pick up their feet daily but only for five to ten minutes.
After several months of training, the donkeys stood for the farrier without any sedation. It was a celebratory moment, and I was so proud of them. Clicker training is a fantastic tool, and it improved Rocky and Annie’s behavior and reinforced our relationship.
Animals enjoy learning, and positive reinforcement training, like clicker training, can help boost your communication, strengthen your bond, and makes training fun. I hope this blog post was helpful.