How Do Donkeys Show Aggression? (Explained)

by Kloee Ngozi
Updated on

Donkeys even though sweet tempered and gentle can sometimes be aggressive in nature and show it in different ways.

Donkeys can show aggression by braying loudly, snorting, pawing the ground and kicking out. A variety of reasons can cause a donkey to show aggression and most times the donkey is usually reacting to a specific situation or reactor.

If you are a new donkey owner and you feel worried your donkey might be showing signs of aggression then it is important you recognize the signs, know the reasons your donkey might be aggressive and learn how to deal with it.

Why Do Donkeys Act Aggressively?

How Do Donkeys Show Aggression

Before you can handle your donkey’s aggression you need to know the reasons behind such behavior.

Some of the causes of your donkey’s aggression include:

1. Reacting to Threats

A donkey, especially a guard donkey will show aggression at the sight of predators like coyotes, snakes and wild dogs.

Donkeys will bray, chase and kick out at any animal they feel is a threat to the livestock they are guarding.

2. Environment

If your donkey is not familiar with its new environment or doesn’t feel entirely comfortable, it might show signs of aggression.

It can also be stressed out from being penned in with other animals. 

You should always endeavor to provide enough space for the donkey in the pasture.

Related: Here is an article I wrote on are donkeys good pets?

3. Distrust 

A donkey that is not yet used to a human might kick out its legs as a warning that you shouldn’t come nearer.

When you get a new donkey, especially a mature one, it’ll take some time and patience for the donkey to bond with you and trust you.

4. Hormones

Hormones can especially be a cause for aggression especially when you have a jack i.e. male donkey.

Male donkeys are known to be unpredictable and can act aggressively at any time based on their hormones. 

A few have kicked humans and other animals to death even though they were previously referred to as being placid

5. Pain

Donkeys are stoic animals and are good at hiding their pain.

Most of them when they sustain injuries, the donkeys do not complain, however it can be a problem when the pain intensifies and they can get sore about it and can show it by lashing out.

Donkey owners should endeavor to check their donkeys over for injuries from time to time.

How To Deal With An Aggressive Donkey?

Because of the different reasons to which a donkey can react aggressively, there are different ways a donkey owner can deal with an aggressive donkel.

If you have a male donkey that is aggressive then the best solution to that problem is to castrate it.

Gelding usually calms male donkeys and in time they become quite cool tempered and can be left with other animals. 

If your donkey has been reacting aggressively, check your donkey over for injuries to see if they are hiding any pain.

You can take them to the vet for medical checks to ensure the aggression is not pain related.

Sometimes a donkey feeling crowded especially when kept with other animals that are not his kind might lash out and show aggression.

Keep donkeys with their kind or at least with horses as donkeys are social animals and can get bored and frustrated if they don’t have others to relate with.

A donkey might also react aggressively from trauma experienced with previous owners. It has associated that behavior with humans. 

For example, a donkey might lash out while being saddled because it has experienced pain in that event on previous occasions.

It is left to you to help the donkey unlearn such behavior and stop the aggression.

Understanding your donkey and learning to resolve his aggressive tendencies will help both donkey and owner in the long run.

Also check out this article I wrote on donkeys protecting sheep

How Can You Tell If A Donkey Is Angry?

As affectionate as donkeys can be, they can get angry and will show these in different ways including:

  • Pawing or stomping on the ground
  • Kicking out their front legs
  • Flaring their nostrils and snorting
  • Angling their hind legs and pinning back their ears
  • Baring their teeth and braying
  • Opening their eyes wide or showing the whites of their eyes
  • Walking away from a person.

These are signs that a donkey is angry at the moment and would rather be left alone. At this point it is important for you as the donkey owner to be careful around the donkey.

Remove unfamiliar presences and try to calm the donkey by petting them or leaving them alone for a while as continued disturbance might cause the donkey to bolt or lash out angrily.

How Does A Donkey Show Dominance?

Donkeys like other animals also have a natural pecking order with the most dominant donkeys at the top and the eaker more submissive ones at the bottom. 

Male donkeys need to establish dominance to get breeding rights with the female donkeys.

The donkeys have a territorial social system which consists of one dominant male and other matured males with the jennies.

Male donkeys show dominance by dropping their feces and braying loudly or covering the female’s feces with their urine and as such establish dominance to other males. 

The dominant male has the right to mate the females and he can allow the subordinate males mate with the females but only after he has mated.

When dealing with other species the donkey will stare down another animal in an act of defiance.

This stemmed from the fact that donkeys can not run fast from predators like horses.

Donkeys generally show dominance by standing erect and pointing their ears forward. This is a warning posture and the donkey will chase and kick after this.

Will Donkeys Attack Humans?

Male donkeys are quite aggressive and unpredictable and they have been known to kick out at humans even their trusted owners.

Jacks are usually bothered by a variety of hormones which can cause them to be suddenly aggressive.

Most donkey owners are advised to geld jacks as soon as they are weaned to let them mature in a calm manner.

Jacks have attacked and killed humans in the past and owners are even told not to turn their back on jacks.

Strict management and routine is necessary for handling. 

Jennies are more maternal and might kick out against predators and threats in an instinctual protective act.

But they rarely attack humans.

Why Do Donkeys Bite Each Other On The Neck?

Donkeys bite and nip each other on the neck when they are playing around or fighting.

Usually one of the donkeys, most likely the younger ones, bite on the other’s neck and holds on while he screams till the biter lets go.

The behavior might seem odd to humans but it is their natural way of cavorting and sometimes, a jenny can bite a foal or younger donkey who is being bratty on the neck.

This might be dangerous behavior though if a donkey is kept with other smaller livestock such as goats or sheep.

The donkey might repeatedly carry out this play with them which can harm or kill them in the long run.

It is always advisable to keep donkeys with their kinds, if you are keeping a guard donkey then you might consider getting a second donkey to keep it company as it might take out its boredom and frustration on the smaller less hardy livestock.

What Does It Mean When Donkeys Show Their Teeth?

There are different reasons why a donkey might show its teeth. It is not smiling or about to laugh as some people incorrectly interpret. 

One of the major reasons for donkeys showing their teeth is the flehmen response which is exhibited by a lot of mammals.

This is done in response to new smells where the curling of their lip passes the smell to the roof of their mouth and in turn to the olfactory system. 

The olfactory system sorts the smells, files it and is able to recognize it in future. It is more of a reflex instinctive behavior. 

Donkeys also bare their teeth to show anger. This is a sign that it wants to be left alone, if you persist there is the possibility the donkey will lash out at you or try to kick you. 

Other reasons include hormones, showing dominance, tooth problems and treat expectations.

Can Donkeys Be Vicious?

Yes donkeys can be vicious especially when they face predators or threats.

If a donkey is guarding a livestock or it’s own herd, encountering predators especially canines will bring out the aggressiveness in the donkey.

Donkeys will stomp and kick out at them in a show of defiance, instead of running away, a donkey will rather face the threat and go down fighting.

Donkeys have killed coyotes and wild dogs who have tried to steal from the herd they are guarding.

For jennies, the maternal instinct in them will rouse them to act instinctively and protect themselves and the young. If the predators don’t stand down, they can get vicious.


Donkeys are a great addition to any farm however any new donkey owner should be able to recognize signs of aggression in his donkey.

A donkey can be aggressive for quite a number of reasons which we have examined in this article. 

By studying and understanding your donkey, you help it trust you and also have a smoother relationship over time.

Photo of author

About the author

Kloee Ngozi

Kloee is a backyard farmer and avid gardener who enjoys tending to her garden and plants. She is so engrossed with her plants that she has pet names for all of them. She likes to relax with a bottle of wine and read a book.


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