Donkeys’ aptitude for therapy work assessed by researchers

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An Andalusian donkey. Photo: Iván Salvía (based on copyright claims), via Wikimedia Commons
An Andalusian donkey. Photo: Iván Salvía (based on copyright claims), via Wikimedia Commons

Donkeys can be successfully assessed for their suitability for animal assisted-therapy work in tests of their temperament and response to stimuli, according to Spanish researchers.

The University of Cordoba study team conducted what they said was the first study to evaluate sensory and temperament tests for selecting donkeys for therapy roles.

The researchers, writing in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science, noted that donkeys were used in animal-assisted therapy for elderly people and children with mental disorders or motor disabilities, but tests for selecting donkeys for this work had not been studied.

Carlos Antonio Gonzalez-De Cara, Alejandro Perez-Ecija, Raul Aguilera-Aguilera, Evagenlina Rodero-Serrano and Francisco Javier Mendoz set out to assess donkeys’ reaction to touch and sound, as well as their temperament – their fearfulness and reactivity to humans – in order to select them for therapy work.

Thirty-six Andalusian donkeys were used in the study. They were tested for sound and touch sensitivity, and their fearfulness was assessed based on their responses to a novel object, a surprise, and crossing an unknown surface.

Their reactivity to humans was evaluated in unfamiliar passive and active human tests.

Donkeys were not very reactive to sound stimuli, the authors reported, and were more reactive to visual than sound stimuli.

Donkeys appeared to be “markedly cautious” and an unexpected stimulus disrupted their routine for longer than stimulus that was slow and gradual, they reported.

“Moreover, donkeys seem to have a reserved character.”

Age was a factor in the tests involving human interaction. A longer time was needed to finish some tests in older donkeys, the study team noted.

The authors said the tests used in their study could be used to select donkeys most suitable for animal-assisted therapy work.

Further studies were necessary to investigate the influence of age or breed on donkeys’ aptitude for the work.

In the study, the researchers also created what they said was the first cutaneous sensitivity map in this species.

Temperament test for donkeys to be used in assisted therapy
Carlos Antonio Gonzalez-De Cara, Alejandro Perez-Ecija, Raul Aguilera-Aguilera, Evagenlina Rodero-Serrano, Francisco Javier Mendoza
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.applanim.2016.11.006

The abstract can be read here

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