How Do Donkeys Show Affection: Understanding Donkey Behavior

donkeys show love

Long-time donkey owners understand how affectionate donkeys can be. But unless you’ve spent a decent amount of time observing and interacting with them, donkeys appear to be stoic, aloof creatures. And even affectionate donkeys take time to develop their attachment and trust in humans.

How do donkeys show affection? Like their wild ancestors, donkeys’ primary sign of affection is proximity. They want to be physically close to the animals and people they care about. Donkeys communicate affection through grooming, nips, nuzzles, vocalization, and play. Donkeys only feel affection after they respect a person, so it’s important to build trust with your donkey first. 

Donkeys should be encouraged to show their affection for people in different ways than they show their affection for other donkeys. We’ll consider why below. 

Here’s a list of six ways in which donkeys demonstrate affection. Not every natural form of affection donkeys display to each other is acceptable behavior with humans. But, I’ll cover how you can teach your donkey appropriate affection and communicate your love back to him or her. Be sure to also check out this article on Donkey Body Language so you can read your donkey’s many emotions

Six Ways Bonded Pairs of Donkeys Show Love for Each Other

  1. Remaining close together both day and night
  2. Grooming each other
  3. Nipping and biting each others’ necks and backs
  4. Nuzzling and blowing into each other’s noses
  5. Communicating using soft sounds and brays 
  6. Playing with each other

Donkeys need other donkeys for affection

Bonded Donkey Pairs Remain Close Together

If you carefully observe a herd of domesticated donkeys in a paddock, you will notice that most of them are part of a bonded pair. These pairs demonstrate their affection in several ways. First, they remain within about a stones throw from each other constantly. Researchers agree

Their bonded partner does not have to be another donkey. While many prefer their own species, they also bond with horses, cattle, sheep, goats, and other animals. Once, I bought a donkey that was so bonded with a camel that her driver said the camel chased his trailer while my poor donkey brayed her heart out from within. 

This deep bonding can result in poor health if the pair is separated. Fortunately, my donkey Lucie was also bonded with her foal. We bought them together, so she had a distraction from her loss. 

I did not know of Lucie’s bonding with the camel before buying her. When I found out, I called her previous owner to see if I could buy the camel. The owner said I would have to take her teen daughter with the camel since she wouldn’t be separated. That was more than I bargained for!

There is much anecdotal evidence of donkeys who become so despondent after being separated from a beloved friend that they stop eating. This may lead to a condition called hyperlipidemia. Hyperlipidemia is when a donkey gets too much (hyper) fats (lipids) in their blood. This condition can be deadly and requires medical treatment.

Donkeys Want to Be Close to Their Bonded Human

Donkeys show affection for people by remaining close. If your donkey trusts you, it will approach you when you’re nearby. It will follow you around. Our pet donkeys join my family and me up on our deck during our afternoon tea or wine-time. It’s a delight.

Donkeys show their love with physical presence
Our donkey joins our wine-time. No wine for her!

Communicate Affection to Your Donkey Through Proximity

If you want to give your donkey signs of affection, spend time in its general area. Even if you don’t have time to just scratch it, do chores nearby, and be in its vicinity. 

Let it see you nearby. Such proximity encourages even shy donkeys to trust you. Let them observe you from afar until they feel comfortable enough to approach you.

Donkeys Show Affection by Grooming Each Other

Another way in which donkeys show affection for each other is through mutual grooming. The grooming process strengthens social bonds and reduces the donkeys’ parasite loads.

Like horses, donkeys stand mostly parallel to each other and then nibble along the neck, withers, and back of their friend. They use both their teeth and their upper lips in a motion that starts soft but gains enthusiasm and often ends in a nip or bite. 

While it doesn’t seem to have been studied in donkeys, research shows that grooming at a particular site actually lowers a horse’s heart rate. And other studies have shown horses’ and human hearts to synchronize during grooming. Even if it doesn’t change a donkey’s heartbeat, it is obvious that the donkeys enjoy it.

Donkeys May Want to Groom Humans

Donkeys may show affection for people by grooming them. But, this painful behavior is not encouraged by many donkey owners. You can avoid it by tying your donkey up while you groom it. Push its head away if it turns to show you it loves you with its teeth. 

Our donkeys have offered me a nibble from time to time. While I took it as a sincere compliment, I did not allow it. Allowing my donkeys to treat me like a donkey can lead them to include me in other donkey behavior, including kicks and serious bites. Check out this article on how to stop horse biting for some useful information

If your donkey wants some human love or affection, it’s likely to lean into you as if it’s getting into a position to groom. This lean-in is also meant as affection. But, it’s wise to only permit it with caution. It can lead to other, less pleasant grooming behavior. Still, a little love-scratch as a response to a lean-in will certainly be appreciated by your donkey.

Show Your Affection Through Grooming Your Donkey

If you want your donkey to know you return its affection, spend time grooming it. Most donkeys LOVE to be brushed and pampered. 

And grooming is good for the health and well-being of your donkey. Not only does it help keep parasites at bay, but you can also check its skin for scrapes, scratches, or anything that might need treatment as you groom.

It’s not an official grooming session, but lots of scratches and love.

Donkeys follow owners they love

Donkeys Nip Each Other’s Necks and Backs

The first time I saw my donkeys biting each other, I felt awful. The mama donkey started with a gentle grooming session, but it slowly transformed into a full-on bite. The foal tolerated it for surprisingly long before walking away. 

After several incidents, I realized that such bites are love nips. Donkeys have a high tolerance for love bites, though at some point, the bitten donkey has enough and wanders off a few feet. 

Our donkeys also offer such love nips to the other animals on our farm. They start with the grooming lip motion and end with a bite. When my donkey Rosie offers our Livestock Guardian Dog such love nips, it’s not appreciated. Poor Juno yips and looks at Rosie as if she were crazy!

Donkeys May Offer You a Love Bite 

Donkeys may show affection for people by nipping their necks and backs. I have seen people allow donkeys and horses to groom their palms. But, I would not recommend it. And a bite is out of the question. No one should allow a donkey to bite them, even as a love nip. A donkey bite can inflict serious damage. It should be discouraged as soon as it starts.

Donkeys Bond by Nuzzling and Blowing into Noses

While not everyone recognizes a donkey bite as a sign of affection, there is no missing the warmth in a donkey nuzzle. Jennys can often be seen nuzzling their foals, and foals return the favor. Bonded pairs also nuzzle and rest their necks on each other.

In addition, donkeys blow into each other’s noses as a warm greeting. Donkeys rely strongly on their keen sense of smell, and the smell of their friends’ breath is reassuring. 

Donkeys Nuzzle People in Affection

Donkeys show affection for people by nuzzling. Donkeys nuzzle their humans. And it feels nice to be nuzzled by a donkey. But it’s worth paying attention to ensure that the nuzzle doesn’t lead to a grooming nibble or the infamous love bite.

Humans Nuzzle to Communicate Love to Donkeys

Donkeys love human nuzzles and snuggles. Ours regularly beg for them when we’re outside together. If you want to bond with your donkey, show it affection by gently stroking its neck, cheeks, and chin. Nuzzle away. Just watch out that it doesn’t step on your feet!

When donkeys love their people, they want to be by them

While I have never heard of a donkey blowing into a person’s nose, I have certainly heard of people blowing into donkeys’ noses. Many donkey owners swear that blowing into your donkey’s noses makes them your friends for life. It’s worth a shot.

Donkeys Show Affection by Talking to Each Other 

Everyone knows the (sometimes obnoxiously) loud bray of a donkey. It can last interminably long because the sound continues through both the intake and exhalation of breath. If one donkey pair is taken away, the donkey left behind will let you hear of its dismay.

Donkeys make friendly sounds as well. I often heard my mama donkey making quiet grunts or growls to her foals. And at times, she communicated with a mere look. Personally, I preferred the looks to her brays. 

Donkey Communications to Humans

Donkeys often show affection for people by talking to them. If you have ever been more than about ten minutes late to feeding time, you’ve probably heard your donkey give you a LOUD, loving reminder. 

They can also communicate with affectionate growls. Personally, I have not noticed my donkey using the same affectionate growls that she uses with her foals. But, donkey whisperers report this occurrence.

show your donkey love by spending time with it

Communication with Your Donkey

Talk to your donkey as you feed it, groom it, and do chores nearby. Your donkey, once it loves you, will recognize your voice and come when you call it. And once it arrives, you can be sure it’s going to demand some signs of love with belly and chin scratches and back rubs.

Donkey Friends Love to Play Together

Our favorite time with our donkeys is in the early evenings during our Florida winters. The 60 – 70 degree weather is just right for some happy play among our donkeys. While they all engage in playtime, the bonded pairs spend the most time chasing each other, spinning in circles, and kicking with joy. 

When it comes to playing, inter-species activity is common. We introduced a 4-month old Livestock Guardian Dog (LGD) to our farm when our donkey foal was about 4-months old. These two grew up together. While we discouraged our LGD from playing with the foal, at times, it was impossible to avoid. 

Our donkey foal initiated the play, and the puppy couldn’t resist. We have video footage of our dog Juno, who sailed onto Rosie’s back when Rosie invited Juno to play. Rosie spun her off, then charged after her in mock fury. We eventually got Juno an LGD friend, so she could avoid playing with her charge. And Rosie had her mom as a friend.

Donkeys can bond with dogs occasionally

Our goats also love to play with our donkeys. We have seen our young goats using our donkeys as trampolines. And the donkeys are astonishingly tolerant of them. 

Donkey Play with Owners

Donkeys can show affection for people by playing donkey-style with them. But, if you’ve ever watched a donkey have a happy fit, give them plenty of distance to play on their own. The one time I was careless and walked into their afternoon activity without realizing it, I was gifted with a swift kick to the thigh. Tag. I was “it.”

Play with Your Donkey to Communicate Love

People can play with their donkeys. Ideally, most of your time spent with your donkey will feel like playtime. Grooming it, training it, spending time with it, and getting to know it is time-consuming work. But if it’s approached as part of your own playtime, you both will get a great deal out of the friendship. 

In addition, many people keep donkey play toys in their environment. While your donkeys are likely to play with the toys on their own time schedule, they may permit you to engage with them in playtime. 

Conclusion

While donkeys and humans cannot express their affection for each other in the same way that donkeys show affection, there are many parallel ways humans and donkeys can share their love. For thousands of years, wherever possible, donkeys have become people’s trusted, affectionate friends across most continents and countries.

MaryZoe Bowden

Dr. MaryZoe Bowden has taught something in every grade level from pre-K through 12th grade at the same independent school where she worked for over 20 years, and she has served as an adjunct professor at the college level. Although she is primarily an English teacher, she initiated a chicken program at her school and could be seen carrying baby goats in a bucket into her classroom for weeks at a time. MaryZoe believes that we are called to help others to recognize and actualize their dignity, charity, and obligation to fill the world with beauty and joy. It is easy to see, then, why she loves teaching, writing, and all living things. MaryZoe and her husband Bill have six adult children, two of whom have young children and live close by, one of whom is a nun in Spain, and the rest of whom they are gently prodding towards marriage in hopes of additional grandchildren. Some years ago she and Bill created a small hobby farm as a petting zoo for their future grandchildren. Her two granddaughters can now be found outside with MaryZoe tending to her fruit trees, watering her garden, or bottle feeding one of their baby goats. At the moment the grandchild count is 2.75 (one due soon), and the critter count is 2 cats, 2 dogs, 6 goats, and 50+ chickens. She’s hopeful her grandkid count will one day catch up!

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