Think of the smartest animal that comes to mind. It’s not a donkey, is it? Donkeys have been considered dumb, stubborn, and mean as far back as Homer, but the Egyptians held them in high regard.

Donkeys are about as smart as the average dog, and more optimistic estimates say they’re as smart as dolphins. And before you ask, yes, donkeys are even considered smarter than horses! Research is still ongoing, but studies show that donkeys are intelligent and emotional creatures.

The problem is this: how exactly do we measure the intelligence of a donkey? Intelligence is multifaceted, encompassing memory, problem-solving, and more. Emotional and social intelligence are more nebulous and harder to measure, but just as relevant when considering how smart a donkey is.

Just like people, dogs, or any other creature, the intelligence of donkeys varies. Some of them are true to the stereotypes, while others are curious and thoughtful. Measuring intelligence in donkeys and other animals is essential because it helps us identify and quantify desirable characteristics. In the future, this will allow us to breed smarter donkeys.


The 5 Key Aspects of Donkey Intelligence

As mentioned, there are several factors that come together to form what we think of as intelligence. By observing these, we can get a general idea of how smart donkeys are. Let’s cover these in more detail below.

1. Memory

Donkeys have one of the best memories of all animals. They can memorize complex routes, even if they’ve only traveled it once several years ago. Perhaps most interestingly, donkeys remember people and animals. Some people claim that donkeys never forget a human face and can even remember animals they only saw once in the past.

2. Problem Solving

Donkeys show remarkable critical thinking skills not seen in other animals. For example, donkeys have been known to carefully dip a hoof into running water before crossing it to gauge the depth. While donkeys are thought to be stubborn, it could just be the creature assessing risks before taking action or following orders.

Brown and white donkey sleeps in a meadow with a wooden hut
Image Credit: Pierre-Olivier, Shutterstock

3. Emotional Intelligence

You’d probably be surprised to learn that donkeys are just as emotionally intelligent as dogs. They can form strong bonds with other donkeys, humans, and even other livestock animals. Donkeys especially like to pair up and will become visibly distressed when separated. If separated for too long, they can even become depressed.

That’s not all. In recent years, donkeys have been discovered to be great therapy animals. That’s right—there are emotional support donkeys. In particular, donkeys are great companions for the elderly and autistic children. They appear to understand how to read our faces and body language, just like dogs.

4. Training

Donkeys can be trained to respond to verbal cues, just like dogs. They also respond to clicker training.

Donkeys respond best when you use positive reinforcement. If you yell or hit your donkey, it can become fearful and more difficult to train later. Plus, it’s just mean.

Not all donkeys are equally trainable, though. Some are truly stubborn, while others are more cooperative.

woman feeding donkey
Image Credit: BearFotos, Shutterstock

5. Curiosity

Owners of horses and donkeys commonly report that donkeys like to investigate and fiddle with things, like the latches on a barn stall. They love to check out unfamiliar objects and animals, especially toys.

By taking advantage of a donkey’s curiosity, you can make training them easier. The flip side is that sometimes donkeys can be too curious and hurt themselves by accident.



Despite the inexplicable and pervasive belief that they’re just dumb pack mules, donkeys have been shown to be just as intelligent as dogs in most ways, and their memories are phenomenal. By measuring the intelligence of donkeys, we can help find ways to breed smarter donkeys and even help save them from extinction.

Featured Image Credit: Kevin, Pixabay