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9 Ways Donkeys Show Aggression (and How to Stay Safe Around Them)

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Many farms all over the country have at least one donkey as a pet or as a guardian for livestock. Donkeys are usually fun, lovable animals that only occasionally display signs of aggression.

Donkeys show aggression in several different ways and it is extremely important to know how to recognize these signs.

Donkey owners that know how to detect aggression are better prepared for how to stay safe around donkeys that are upset or afraid. Not knowing these signs can be very dangerous.

Donkeys are not shy about showing aggression, so you can detect it easily if you know what to look for. Recognizing the different ways that donkeys show aggression can help donkey owners deescalate the situation before things get bad.

Here are 9 ways that donkeys show aggression.

Pinning Back Ears

black donkey with blue collar on its face

One way that donkeys show aggression is by pinning their ears back, which simply means that their ears turn and almost flatten against their heads, much like horses do.

Donkeys that are upset or angry about something will pin their ears back naturally. This is often a sign of aggression, but sometimes it can simply mean that they are excited.

If you notice that a donkey’s ears are pinned back, check for other signs of aggression before you assume the worst. You should, however, be on guard until you are sure there is no chance of danger.

Shaking Its Head

Another way that donkeys show aggression is by shaking their head. This could mean shaking it back and forth or throwing its head up and down.

Donkeys often shake their head because they are upset or agitated and possibly because they do not want to do something or they do not like whatever is happening.

Sometimes, donkeys shake their head simply because they are overexcited, but donkey owners should assume it is a sign of aggression until they know otherwise.

Pawing At The Ground

Donkeys also show aggression by pawing at the ground, the same way that horses and cows often do. Donkeys paw at the ground because they are aggravated and they are attempting to show their dominance and strength.

Guard donkeys will paw at the ground to warn predators to step back and move on. Aggressive donkeys will do this in response to their owners or other animals in the pasture as well.

Flaring Nostrils

close-up photo of donkey nostrils

Donkeys will flare their nostrils when they are mad, yet another notable way that they show aggression.

For the same reason as horses and humans, our nostrils naturally flare as we breathe more deeply in preparation for a flight or fight response.

Since donkeys rarely leave dangerous situations, more often than not, flared nostrils can be one of the first and most subtle signs of aggression.

Flared nostrils can simply be the result of a donkey running or simply getting excited, so do not be too quick to judge. Check for other signs of aggression before jumping to conclusions.


Aggressive donkeys will also snort when they are upset or afraid as an initial sign of aggression. A donkey’s snort is a warning that they are unhappy with their situation and they want something to stop.

This could simply mean that a predator is getting too close to them or it could mean that they do not want you bothering them today.

Whatever the reason, it is important to recognize that a snorting donkey is warning you that they are mad and you need to be on guard.  


Donkeys will bray, or holler, when they are excited or upset. Incessant braying with other signs of agitation is another way that donkeys show aggressive behavior.

Donkeys will often bray when they are happy to see their owners, but they will also do it to yell at other animals or alert others of danger.  


two donkey in the field fighting

Donkeys that are afraid or aggressive will bite at or actually bite other animals or humans. It is simply one of their best lines of defense, but aggressive donkeys will bite companion farm animals that they are supposed to protect.

Biting other farm animals and humans can become dangerous if it is not remedied. Some donkey owners have issues with aggressive donkeys actually killing smaller animals like chickens, ducks, and small pigs by biting them and tossing them aggressively.

Donkeys, much like horses, might bite humans to stop them from making them do something they do not want to do, including simple things like moving into a stall or switching enclosures.


Donkeys have powerful legs and their kicks can be extremely painful and dangerous. Kicking is a clear way that donkeys show aggressive behavior.

Often, donkeys can kick predators to protect themselves, but aggressive donkeys will sometimes kick defenseless farm animals that get too close or humans that they are angry with.

Donkey owners should always be aware of donkeys that appear agitated and watch out for kicking.


Another way that donkeys show aggression is by charging at whichever animal or human they believe is causing their anger.

This defense mechanism can come in handy when the animal is a predator but can be dangerous if it is directed towards other farm animals and donkey owners.

While it is not common, sometimes an aggressive donkey will charge at animals and people that do not necessarily pose a threat. The problem is that for some reason the donkey in question feels threatened.

Owners that notice their donkey is charging at them or animals in the pasture should take measures to prevent injuries. If it continues to happen, it could have an unfortunate ending for all parties.

brown donkey inside a pen

How To Stay Safe Around Aggressive Donkeys

There are many ways that donkey owners can stay safe around aggressive donkeys.

First, avoid being in an enclosed space with them. The easiest way to get hurt by an aggressive donkey is to not be able to get away from them.

Second, never underestimate them, and make sure you always keep an eye on them. Donkeys are very smart and an aggressive one may wait until you are turned away from them to bite or kick you.

Third, be patient and calm. Often, aggression is just a response to the donkey’s being afraid of something or someone. It is important to be gentle around them, avoid moving too quickly, take your time, and maintain a calm voice.

7 Ways to Curb Aggression in Donkeys

It is important to know that aggression in donkeys is most often the result of either hormones or the donkey being afraid of something or someone. Here are some of the best ways to curb aggressive behavior in donkeys.

  1. Have any male stud donkeys castrated as soon as possible.
  2. Have a vet check for signs of a failed castration.
  3. Separate aggressive donkeys from animals they are afraid of.
  4. Get a veterinarian to do a full workup including teeth and hooves.
  5. Be patient and work on gaining their trust.
  6. Introduce new donkeys to the herd slowly.
  7. Get a professional donkey trainer if necessary.

Final Thoughts

Raising donkeys is a uniquely rewarding experience, especially when everything goes right. The problem is, farm animals are not always perfect. But sometimes it just takes a little work to figure out the puzzle.

Now you know exactly how to spot the signs of aggression in donkeys, how to stay safe around aggressive donkeys, and how to curb that aggression.


Learning the various ways that donkeys show aggression is a truly educational experience. These are the sources that were used to craft this article.