Donkeys were first domesticated thousands of years ago, and since then, our relationship with them has expanded and grown. Although they are still used as pack animals and draught animals, they are also kept as livestock guardians, for pleasure riding, and as pets, although experts recommend that a pet donkey not be kept in the house.

Although they are considered very amiable animals, some take a little longer to trust their human owners, especially if they have not had regular handling and are a little older. Whether you have a young foal or an adult donkey, and whether it has had regular handling from somebody else or no human contact whatsoever, there are steps that you can take to help gain a donkey’s trust.

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The 7 Steps to Develop Trust With a Donkey

Below are seven steps that will help form a strong bond between the two of you so that your donkey will trust you.

1. Develop a Routine

Although it doesn’t mean you can’t pop in for an unexpected visit, donkeys like routine. They especially like routine when it comes to mealtimes and fresh water. If you work with your donkey in any way, you should try and establish a routine and then stick to it.

Once you have set up a routine, you will need to stick to it. Your donkey will notice when you’re late or if you miss a day.

woman feeding donkey
Image Credit: BearFotos, Shutterstock

2. Spend Time With Them

Some donkeys instantly approach new people, either in the hope of getting a treat, through inquisitiveness, or because they’re naturally outgoing donkeys. Others can take a little time to approach people, and if yours is one of these donkeys, the first step should be to just spend some time in the proximity of your donkey. Work in the same field, hang around near their shelter, or bring the donkey into another field you’re working in.

3. Regular Handling

Once you can comfortably spend time in the vicinity and company of your donkey, you should start with gentle handling. Set aside a little time every day to work with your donkey. Train it to walk on a leash and halter, socialize your donkey, and don’t forget to stick to the routine that you set up.

woman feeding donkeys
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4. Talk To Them

Donkeys like being talked to. Obviously, they don’t understand what you’re saying, but they seem to appreciate the effort and they may be able to recognize some degree of temperament and intention in your voice. Always chat with your donkey when working with it or even feeding it. It will help develop a bond.

5. Be Calm

Always be calm around your donkey. If you act erratically or aggressively, your donkey will pick up on it, and as well as making it more difficult to convince it to trust you in the future, it might mean that you take a few steps back with the progress already made. Speak calmly, and if you don’t jump and run around in an agitated manner, your calm nature will rub off on the donkey, too.

a little girl petting a donkey
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6. Don’t Spoil Your Donkey

You can use positive reinforcement as a training method with donkeys, which means giving them a treat to reward positive behavior that you wish to encourage. However, it is easy to overfeed donkeys, so you need to ensure that you don’t overdo it. Try to stick to healthy treats and only reward positive behavior rather than trying to use the treats to encourage them.

7. Groom Them

Donkeys usually love to be brushed and it mimics the grooming that takes place between two bonded donkeys so it can help to build trust between you both. Brush in the same direction as the fur and brush the whole body from tail to hoof. This will also give you the opportunity to look for signs of injury or illness.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How Do You Socialize a Donkey?

Donkeys are very sociable animals, so much so that a lone donkey can become anxious and depressed. Socializing is usually quite easy as they do get along so well, but if you have an anxious donkey, especially one that has been mistreated previously, it may take some time to introduce them to your existing herd.

In this case, make the introductions slowly. Try putting your new donkey on one side of a fence and your existing donkeys on the other. They will be able to smell and look at one another without meeting face to face. Once they do get used to the smell, you can try introducing them to a leash and harness.

Socializing donkeys with people takes a similar route, and if you see any signs of aggression or fear from the donkey, give it space and move away from the area. Donkeys will walk away from what they perceive to be a threatening situation rather than respond with aggressive behavior of their own.

person forking hay in wheelbarrow in front of donkey
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Do Donkeys Like to be Brushed?

Donkeys usually love to be brushed and this can be a good way to develop a strong bond between you and your animal. Don’t bathe your donkey because this can remove natural oils that protect the animal, but brush the entire body and brush in the direction of the fur to avoid causing any discomfort.

Do Donkeys Recognize Their Owners?

Donkeys have excellent memories and can remember and recognize not only their owners but other humans that they are fond of or that they recognize. You should notice that once you have bonded with and gained the trust of your donkey that it will come to meet you at the gate when you arrive. This is a good sign that your donkey trusts you completely.

donkey eating carrots
Image Credit: William Hager, Shutterstock



Donkeys are known as affectionate and loving animals, although it does depend on the individual animal as much as it does on the species of animal. However, not all donkeys are alike, and it can take some time to develop trust between the two of you.

Start slow, be patient, always present a calm exterior, and reward positive behavior with positive behavior of your own. Once your donkey trusts you enough, you can train them to walk on a leash and halter, and regular brushings will help to further strengthen the bond between the two of you.

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Featured Image Credit: BearFotos, Shutterstock