Are Donkeys Smart? (IQ Comparison to Humans and Horses)

In their natural environment when donkeys do not have to work or carry heavy loads, they have a different attitude. There is a preconceived notion that donkeys are stubborn, loud, rude, and dumb. Is it true? If not, how did this misunderstanding arise? There are a lot of myths surrounding donkey’s intelligence and personality.

Most of these misconceptions are based on folklore, no one knows who started this or cared to look into the truth. That is why these centuries-old misunderstandings are still believed by human beings. Donkeys were never given due credit for their work, loyalty, and dedication.

Working in the fields, carrying loads, transporting goods, they have done it all. Most donkeys have not taken a day off and worked consistently for years. In turn, they were rewarded for their services with some myths no one is trying to debunk. Read more about how donkeys are used for riding?

The donkey is a misunderstood animal that is notorious for being stubborn and dumb. However, these are just age-old beliefs that people have been following blindly. People doubting donkey’s intelligence know little about the animal. 

A survey conducted by YouGov asked people what they think about donkey’s intelligence, 74% of the people do not think of them as smart. It is because their judgment is clouded by the age-old misconception which does not allow them to think otherwise. 

Are Donkeys Smart?

To say this loud and clear once and for all, donkeys are intelligent creatures. When they are not staggering along dusty roads carrying loads, donkeys love to bond with other fellas. They are affectionate, smart, and show eagerness to learn.

Donkeys are kind, gentle, calm, personable, and have great problem-solving skills. They are social, playful animals who form a faithful bond and strong emotional connection with other members of the family.

Donkeys love company and do not want to be alone, become friends with the fellow members with who they spend most of their time with. They play, stroll, and stay together. They often show affection towards their friends by grooming one another by scratching and nibbling their partner’s neck and shoulders.

If they are separated, donkeys show distress with their actions. They vocalize their feelings by being noticeably anxious, pacing, and falling into depression. In short, donkeys are quite aware of the surroundings, observing everything around them, and being faithful to the ones they love. Does not it sound smart? Read complete guide Why Do Donkeys Bray?

Donkeys have been dubbed dumb and stubborn for centuries because it is easier to label them ‘stupid’ and going with the age-old misunderstandings than analyzing the underlying factors.

Donkeys are smart enough to analyze the routes, know who to trust, and detect any unusual behavior.

Even though they can detect a change in the behavior of their owners. A slight rude behavior is decoded by observing gestures. If this does not indicate intelligence, what else will make you believe?

Aside from being smart, they are alert and aware of what is happening around them. It is because they have high self-preservation skills. Donkeys are prey species which makes them highly aware of the surrounding. Keep a tab on any activities happening nearby.


Why Are Donkeys Smart?

Donkeys are gifted animals who happen to live in forbidding landscapes with difficult situations to encounter every day. Being desert animals, they negotiate danger on regular basis. Discovering routes, finding water, trying to outsmart predators, donkeys have evolved and learned to do things the right way otherwise they will perish. Selecting the best course of action for self-preservation, these species have evolved to be more intelligent than their counterparts.

Problem-Solving Skills

Before you ask, animals do have problem-solving skills, only the smart ones though. Some animals can not find the way out of trouble but that’s not the case with donkeys.

Whenever this social creature finds itself in trouble, they come up with the most logical and flexible approach to solve it. For one, they rarely get in trouble, donkeys live in such a way that they do not land themselves in unnecessary problems. If they somehow do, donkeys know their way out. 

Do you know about Donkeys Swimming?


Donkeys take different routes when going to other places for work purposes. They carry loads of bricks and other stuff to several areas taking different routes. It is understandable if humans remember which route they took, however, an animal has to have a sharp memory and exceptionally intelligent to know their way home. Donkeys are intelligent enough to know complex routes they have taken to get somewhere and find their way back home without much assistance.

Donkeys do not forget friends, family, and acquaintances, even if they have been separated for a while. They will recognize a long-lost friend even if they have met after ages. The number of years does not matter, donkeys cherish the memories with loved ones and do not easily forget.

Also, donkeys remember past traumas and good experiences for a long time, often, it reflects in their behavior. When they feel scared of something, it may be because of past experiences.

Voice Command

Donkeys, like many other pets, try to understand what their owner is saying. They are easily trainable, and successfully decode what’s the trainer wants them to do. Donkey makes a great pet if you know how to take proper care.

Apart from training, they can easily comprehend dozens of voice commands, for instance, they understand when they are called upon and come running. Donkeys are not as expressive but they do communicate their feelings through different gestures. (Source)


Donkeys can not talk but they sure know how to communicate their feelings through body language and vocalizations. They are fiercely loyal to the person or fellow donkey they love. 

Donkeys blow gently into one another’s nose to transfer important, secretive information. They leave major clues as to their mood by carefully moving and positioning their heads, necks, bodies, and tails. They can even communicate with fellow herd members from miles away with loud brays and keen sense.


Why Donkeys are Considered Dumb?

Knowing all about the donkey breeds, you must be wondering why they are considered dumb when, in reality, they are quite intelligent. We often laugh about the donkey’s intelligence in everyday language. Insulting an individual’s intelligence is often done by comparing him to a donkey.

The reason behind people considering them dumb is this species’ great emphasis on self-preservation. They are resistant to taking orders and being told what to do. This often angers the handlers who end up thinking of them as not intelligent enough to understand. If they are treated well and asked nicely, they will surely hold their end of the bargain.

Are Donkeys Smarter Than Horses?

People have been comparing donkeys and horses for their intelligence, strength, life expectancy, and more. Belonging to the same family and being close relatives to one another, the comparisons between horses and donkeys are not unusual.

People who actually know donkeys and their behavior can agree on the fact that donkeys are smarter than horses. Horses get easily scared and flee in the face of danger, however, it is not easy to scare off donkeys. 

They also figure things out more quickly than horses, for instance, opening latches. Donkeys love to play with toys and other objects and are curious about their functionality. Funnily enough, they also know when they are driving handlers crazy by not following orders. Going on long walks with donkeys is always fun, they are curious about the surroundings, they stop, look around, smell, and feel things.

Myth Regarding Donkey’s Stubbornness

Donkeys being ‘Stubborn’ is nothing but a misdiagnosed analysis. They rarely show any response to fear, pain, and illness. The only time they become ‘stubborn’ is when they are experiencing fear, donkeys refuse to move and freeze their feet.

Putting it all together, donkeys are smart animals do not let anyone convince you otherwise, especially after reading all of the facts about their intelligence. It is not just that they are smarter than other pets, they also love and obey the orders of the person they trust.

Hi, I am Waqar and active in the horse world since 2012. I have MSc (Hons) in Agriculture from the University of Agriculture Faisalabad. I love to solve equine health care issues and note down in the form of research papers. I have written hundreds of equine health care, accessories, names, and history-related blogs. My equine related work is watering a lot of horse-related magazines and blogs.

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