My donkey Rose, now 19 years old, was said to be bomb proof when I got her three and a half years ago.
Meaning that she has a calm temperment and doesn't spook at unfamiliar things. Of course that's a desirable thing, especially in an animal that you plan to take out hiking or for walks in traffic or to the Fall Fair where there are kids and dogs or any number of scenarios.
But when you think about that expression: "bomb + proof," it seems a rather unfair term to apply to animals, doesn't it?
So how does a donkey become bomb-proof? Is it just a quality of character (calm, unflappable?) or is training involved? After all, donkeys are prey animals - it makes sense that if they feel threatened, they will run away. And you can't train for every occurrence.
I remember the day that five emus walked onto our property - they had escaped their enclosure and set off on a walk-about. There was no way I could have anticipated that! Or the time when two donkeys fled their paddock near the road and ran down the meadow to the farthest corner in the woods. I couldn't imagine what had scared them until I heard the quiet sound of snuffling and caught sight of a wandering piglet in the bushes!
Last night, Rose and I headed out into the cool evening air for a walk to the beach. She was a happy
companion taking in everything along the way and enjoying an occasional stop for some huckleberry twigs.
Suddenly she froze, ears forward, body tense, almost quivering. I couldn't detect anything but it's not unusual that the donkeys will hear something long before I do. I always give them the benefit of the doubt and let them assess the situation. So we stopped along the road and waited. Sure enough, from a long driveway appeared a dog and its owner, out for a walk. Phew! "Just a dog, Rose," and we continued.
But for some reason, that dog set Rose on edge for the rest of the walk. Later, we were at the path that leads down to the beach. Rose practically jumped out of her skin and would have bolted towards home had I not asked her to stay with me! Same dog, not at all interested in us and posing no threat.
Interesting reaction from Rose who was quite familiar with dogs in her previous home.
Every rustle in the bushes last night set Rose to quivering and wanting to flee. And that's where clicker training is SO useful! In spite of the night frights, I was able to ask Rose for something simple "touch my hand" and "stay with me" and she was able to refocus.
Because of the work we have already done, she was also able to trust me and that's HUGE! I wouldn't want to test this with a cougar at our heels but we will continue to work together, to build trust, to make our relationship rock solid so that we can depend on each other - positive reinforcement training works in many ways!