A common misconception about donkeys is that they are stubborn or ‘dumb’, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. People have believed it to be true for ages, but anyone with experience with donkeys will vouch for their intelligence. However, in reality, how smart is a donkey? And why do people think donkeys are dumb?
Let’s find out.
The truth: how smart is a donkey?
If you’ve found yourself asking, “how smart is a donkey?” well, the truth is they are exceptionally intelligent. Donkeys are smart because of their self-preservation skills, excellent memory, and phenomenal decision-making skills. They can easily learn how to do just about anything when working with a dedicated trainer who knows exactly just how smart a donkey is.
Why do people think donkeys are ‘dumb’?
There is no clear answer as to where this misconception about donkeys being dumb, stupid, stubborn, or whatever the word of choice may be, originated. Perhaps folklore? A family of storytellers had a donkey that wasn’t all that bright? But whatever the reason, donkeys have certainly been done a disservice by not having been given proper credit for their loyalty and hard work for all these years.
Intelligence and self-preservation
One of the ways donkeys show their intelligence is through self-preservation. They are desert animals who historically have lived in difficult conditions and environments throughout the centuries. Forced to find water and vegetation, hide from and outsmart predators, they’ve evolved for their self-preservation. Their intelligence is a clear indicator of that.
For example, donkeys are not the fastest equine, so it is unlikely in many cases that they could outrun a predator. Instead, a donkey would usually choose to stay and fight by using its powerful hind legs to kick at and fight off its enemy or predator. They would use their legs, and they’d also use their teeth and bite the predator.
A donkey has a truly incredible memory. It can remember complex and winding routes, even if it has only taken the course a few times or even only once before. Donkeys also rarely forget the face of a friend or even of an acquaintance. Even if it is years later, the donkey will likely remember.
Another skill of the donkey and sign of its intelligence is its problem-solving skills. In the face of trouble, a donkey won’t panic but will adapt and approach the situation from a different angle instead. Say, for example, a donkey gets its head stuck on a barrel it finds out in the pasture. It will try to get it off one way, and if that doesn’t work, it will move on to another method to remove it. It won’t keep doing something that isn’t working.
Another factor to consider when considering a donkey’s intelligence is its trainability. Donkeys are quite easily trainable and respond very well to voice commands and positive reinforcement. Some people have even found great success using clicker training for their donkeys just as they would for dogs. And, of course, treats are always a must as well.
Donkey Intelligence Testing
Did you know that we have been studying the intelligence of animals for over a hundred years? And now, as we can test for IQ in humans, we can also test for the level of intelligence in donkeys. One study developed a type of test that would measure a donkey’s performance in concentration, memory, curiosity, and problem-solving. This testing finally provided scientific proof of the intelligence of donkeys.
This study scientifically proved that donkeys are intelligent, but it also found a similarity shared between donkeys and humans. Some are smarter than others. Researchers discovered that the donkeys who scored lower on the IQ test shared similar traits, and the donkeys who scored higher shared similar traits. The donkeys who scored higher were more easily trainable, manageable, more willing to cooperate, easier to handle, and more likely to remember new tasks.
These findings are especially important to the world of therapy animals. Thanks to their empathic natures, donkeys are becoming increasingly popular therapy animals, especially for children. Trainers will want a donkey that scores higher on these types of tests to train the animal more easily.
Are Donkeys Smarter than Horses?
Many people, many veterinarians included, think that donkeys might be smarter than horses. One of the main reasons is that they don’t spook as easily as a horse will spook. Though they may feel fearful of something, a donkey will usually stop what it is doing and ‘freeze’ so to speak, rather than spook, panic, or flee as a horse might.
Some might think this freezing motion is the donkey being dumb, but in truth, it is a great self-defense mechanism. The donkey is stopping and taking a moment to determine if the thing he fears is actually a threat or not rather than making an instantaneous rash decision.
In the simplest of terms, emotional intelligence is the ability to have feelings and build relationships with others. Emotional intelligence isn’t something people usually necessarily ascribe to most animals. Still, several animals like elephants, dolphins, chimpanzees, dogs, and donkeys do have a certain level of emotional intelligence.
Donkeys are highly sentient creatures and can form incredibly strong bonds with other donkeys and even with humans. Donkeys will often develop a strong friendship and spend most of their time together in a pair. They’ll walk around the pasture together and groom each other.
If they are ever separated, they will become visibly distressed. They will display signs like vocalization, pacing, or, if separated for extended periods, can even fall into a depression. This ability to form such a strong connection speaks to their emotional intelligence.
No longer should donkeys be considered the ‘dumb one’ of the equine world. They have been so valuable to humans for so long, and it’s time they get the recognition they deserve. Without a doubt, donkeys are incredibly smart. Next time you cross paths with a donkey, give it a little praise and tell it that it is indeed smart.