An understanding of the behaviour of the donkey can help to improve the safety of the animal, the professionals and the owner. It can help to create a calm animal ready and able to be treated effectively, and to improve the animal’s experience so that future treatment becomes easier.
A knowledge and understanding of the unique characteristics of the donkey are valuable when handling, examining and/or carrying out any dental procedure on donkeys, and two terms often associated with donkeys are 'stoic' and 'stubborn'.
Stoicism is typical predator-avoidance behaviour in a prey species such as the donkey. Appearing strong and normal reduces the chances of predation, as predators are likely to select weaker, easier targets, and it may also have benefited the donkey during the effective defence of breeding territories. This stoical behaviour does not lessen the donkey’s ability to experience pain or distress but does mean that it is much less likely to show the clear signals that horses and ponies display when they are in pain or distress.
The stubbornness much attributed to donkey behaviour is actually a misunderstanding of the donkey’s stoic nature and the minimal signals of pain and distress that donkeys give out in comparison to horses. Donkeys have a good sense of self-preservation and are unwilling to do things that they perceive as dangerous. Their stoic nature, combined with the donkey’s reluctance to cooperate is often mis-labelled as stubbornness rather than fear.
Understanding the clear behavioural differences between donkeys and the horse and pony, and using correct behavioural principles while taking the necessary time will pay long-term dividends when treating these animals.