Donkeys – handling

Information about handling and training donkeys.

Fences, gateways, gates and all facilities used to secure donkeys must be constructed and maintained to reduce the risk of injury.

Approved activities Category
Observation of animal behaviour 1
Observation of particular animal behaviours, e.g. oestrus, parturition 2

As with all livestock, donkeys have a flight zone. This flight zone is the area around the animal, that if penetrated, the animal will attempt to move away. Each individual animal’s flight zone will influence how the animal can be handled and how they will react to a handler and groups of students. Donkeys will have a decreased flight zone after extensive handling when they feel comfortable around the handler and in handling facilities.

Donkeys should be trained to make working with them more efficient and safer for them and the handlers.

Routines are extremely important when training animals. Older, well-trained animals can be used to guide younger or newly acquired animals into good habits and help reduce the time taken in training.

Donkeys are highly intelligent and have great memories but are also very aware of dangers which makes them highly trainable but also stubborn at times as they will move slowly if unsure or sensing danger around them. Their good memory makes them thrive in a routine and they will easily remember routes to paddocks and familiar locations. Donkeys can be trained to lead with a halter, tie up and load onto a float or truck similar to horses. Teaching a donkey to tie up should be done in safe environment using the correct equipment such as a pull back-collar and with an experienced handler.

Donkeys are typically calmer, more docile and less flighty than horses, particularly when they have been handled well however they have a strong self-defense instinct and will aggressively defend themselves and their herd from predators such as dogs and foxes. Care must be taken to avoid working dogs approaching donkeys.

Donkeys that are kept in schools should be handled/trained to be able to do the following as a minimum:

  • Be caught in a paddock
  • Lead with a head stall
  • Be touched all over their body
  • Accept worming and vaccinations
  • Have their feet picked up and be trimmed
  • Load onto a float, truck or trailer

Training to be tied up is not essential but is recommended.

Capture, handling and yarding of donkeys

Approved activities Category
Capture, restraint and handling of donkeys 3
Familiarisation 2

Donkeys should always be handled calmly and patiently using a soft voice. Donkeys are very trainable animals and will easily respond to food reward, coming up to a feeding pen when called or at a routine feeding time. Donkeys can also be trained to lead with a halter and to be tied up. Halter training and tying up is used when moving them to new paddocks and handling them to perform maintenance tasks such as hoof trimming, vaccinating and worming.

The way that donkeys behave during handling is a result of:

  • the amount of handling they have had
  • the quality of that handling
  • their genetics
  • their production status, pregnant or lactating
  • their gender and age.

Donkeys that are used to being fed will usually come when called or when they hear the feed, rather than being herded. However, donkeys that are used as guard animals and kept with a herd of animals will usually walk with the rest of the herd when being mustered. Working dogs should not be used to herd a mob of animals if guard donkeys are being used with the mob as the donkeys may become aggressive towards working dogs, resulting in risk of injury and increased stress for donkeys, the mob and working dogs.

Donkeys will need to be handled for husbandry tasks such as vaccinating, hoof trimming and worming. A well-constructed and safe yard area is essential, in order to allow efficient handling, safety and minimal stress to the animal and handler.

Donkeys in a school system should not need to be herded. They will usually come when called or when they can hear feed and should be able to be approached and caught in the paddock. Older donkeys that have been in the school system for longer can be used to train younger animals and aid in making new/young animals more familiar with the routine. If donkeys cannot be approached and caught in a paddock, they can be brought into a smaller yard using feed where the animals can then be caught and restrained if necessary.

Extra care should be taken when handling pregnant donkeys, foals, jacks or isolated donkeys. Always ensure that donkeys have one or more donkeys or other familiar animals in close proximity or view. This will reduce the chance of them becoming stressed and possibly dangerous to the handler. Jacks can become aggressive when stressed or defending their herd and all donkeys can become stressed and defensive if approached by a predator.

Avoid penning donkeys for long periods of time unless necessary for weight control or regular handling and return them to feed and water as soon as possible after handling and yarding. If they are being yarded for weight control, donkeys should be provided with low quality roughage. Donkeys dislike wind, cold and rainy weather and should be provided with a shelter or a good amount of trees/bushes if they are being yarded in adverse weather conditions.


Capture is very similar to when handling a horse. The handler should approach quietly and confidently and start by placing a hand on the donkeys neck, usually on the near side of the animal. The lead rope can be placed around the neck while the headstall is fitted gently over the head. Before attempting these tasks, students should be familiar with donkey/horse behavior and always approach and handle them calmly and quietly.


Donkeys should be trained to lead, stand for the handler and be tied up while routine husbandry activities are performed. Donkeys should not be restrained in a crush unless this is required by a veterinarian, under veterinary instruction only. If a donkey is not standing for routine husbandry activities, a second handler can help to control the animals body by standing at the shoulder or beside the rump and placing a hand and some pressure on the animal to encourage it to stand still. A safe fence, railing or small yard can also be used to stand the donkey in the prevent them moving around too much. Handlers should always be on the same side of the animal to ensure handler safety.

Donkeys can be restrained by being tied up but must be trained to be tied up. This process should only be performed by, or under the guidance of an experienced handler using the correct equipment such as a pull-back collar and in a safe tying up area.


All donkeys in schools should ideally be halter trained. They are easily trained to a halter but need to be introduced to the halter slowly and patiently before they are surrounded by a group of students.

Halter training can begin when the donkey foal is about 2 months old and should take place in a small pen. Halters can be placed on donkeys at a younger age to familiarize them with the equipment. Care must be taken to ensure the halter is correctly fitted.

Halter fitted to a donkeys head Halter fitted to a donkeys head
Image: Care must be taken to ensure the halter is correctly fitted.

It is important to have the donkey very familiar with the handler and groups of students before attempting to lead it with a halter. The calmer the animal is with being in close proximity to the handler, the easier the training process will be. It is also preferable to have another donkey close by, as this will reduce stress for the donkey being trained.

Handler leading a donkey Handler leading a donkey
Image: Leading a donkey with a halter.

Once the animal is familiar and comfortable with a handler and its halter, a lead can be attached. The handler should stand in front of the animal and increase pressure on the lead, gently pulling the animal forwards. As soon as the animal makes a forward movement, pressure should be released immediately as the reward. It is important to speak softly and calmly but to be firm and definite with all actions when handling. Continue the pressure and release steps until the animal is walking behind the handler. The handler can then begin to walk beside the animal. A second handler can encourage the animal forward by placing an arm around the back of the animal between the hocks and the tail in a firm but gentle way and applying small amounts of pressure as the leader asks for forward movement.

Young donkeys will happily follow another animal. This can be used when training them to lead by leading a young animal behind a well-trained donkey. This aids in the ease and speed of training.


  • Teaching and learning


  • All high schools
  • All primary schools
  • All school-based staff
  • All staff
  • Curriculum and Reform
  • Teaching and learning
  • Web page

Business Unit:

  • Curriculum and Reform
Return to top of page Back to top