Friday, April 4, 2014

Because you asked: Translating ear-speak

Awhile back, reader Onhazier asked, "Can you demystify the ear language employed by equines? I understand 
the body languages of cats and dogs but feel like I’m missing out on half of the conversations your photos document."

Ears are just one component of a donkey's body language, albeit the most obvious given their size.
Donkeys also speak with their their tails, their legs, their voices, even their nostrils. 
I'll attempt to translate the pictures below based mostly on ear-speak.

This picture tells me that Lucy is relaxed but alert, George is half asleep, and Alan is a little agitated. 
Look at Lucy's ears: she is multi-tasking, listening to something off to the side with her right ear and to me with her left ear. 
George ears aren't as perky; he can relax because Lucy and Alan are paying attention for him. 
Alan's ears are pointed at me, but look at those flared nostrils! I think that means he's agitated about something ... 
probably Lucy, because she's standing closer to me and would have first dibs on a cookie were I to offer one.

A noise! Everybody turns toward the sound, which was a vehicle pulling an empty stock trailer over a cattle guard 
about a mile away. If I could identify it with my puny ears, it must have sounded like a sonic boom to the donkeys. 
Alan's keeping an ear out for something happening in the barn (the "something" being Hank, 
who might emerge from the doorway and run over him at any moment).

Lucy is still listening to the vehicle on the road with one ear and to me with the other. 
George's ears are playfully back, as opposed to angrily back (context is everything when trying to translate). 
Alan's look tells me he's concerned; he is listening to the vehicle and to Hank in the barn, 
plus he's got George on his back wanting to play, but he's trapped on all sides.

Alan can't handle the pressure and walks into the barn. George gets miffed because Alan has turned down 
his invitation to play. And Lucy is half annoyed at both of them for being disruptive. 
If she were really annoyed, she would have pinned both ears.

This is why I don't get lonely out here – the animals never shut up!


  1. I spent my morning yesterday listening to my sheep. I know what you mean!

  2. Now tell us about the "tail" language. I'm curious about that one! :)

  3. It took me a while, but it seems that donkeys don't put both ears forward as much as horses. It takes something really interesting to get both my donkey's ears forward, such as me running a hose and the water making a little stream that passes in front of her. Another thing that took me a while: my donkey swishes her tail at me when I pass closely behind her. What? She's telling me to stay out of her space? Ha, she constantly invades my space (for cuddling), why would I worry about hers? I love the dynamic between horse and donkey. The horse is the boss (as it should be), but the donkey always gets what she wants through force of character. The horse likes to nap in a tight spot where the donkey cannot pass by to get to the shade or water trough. The donkey stands there a moment, planning her move, and the horse, half asleep, threatens her with ears pinned and tail swishing. And every single time, the donkey "wins" - she presses her body between the fence and the horse, ending up walking diectly under the horse's neck. And every single time, the horse bites the top of the donkey's back as she passes, and the donkey clearly says, "I can't feel that, doesn't hurt!" Your donkeys seem to respect Hank and let him choose their movements. The horse here is boss, but if the donkey wants grass, they're at pasture. If she wants hay, they're by the house.

  4. no donkeys or sheep here, but we did spend a delightful 10 minutes in the back yard listening to a very loud mocking bird go through his songs, and there were many, i love the ear talk and nose talk and any thing donkey talk.

  5. Fascintating! Thanks for the lesson.


  6. Wow, you sure do know your kids! Also, interesting post.

  7. Great donkey tutorial! Thanks, SP

  8. This was a fun and interesting commentary on ear language.


  9. Wow! I had no idea. You should translate them all the time. I had no idea they spoke so much.

  10. I think it's so cool how they can move one ear one direction and the other ear another direction.
    When I get my little donks, you'lll have to enlighten me as to 'tail language', as I was not aware they spoke with them also.

  11. Life would be so much simpler if people communicated with their ears as clearly as donkeys! Great post.

  12. That was a great tutorial!! Thanks! Now speaking of earspeak I had to tell you this: I've been seeing the Cadburry candy commercials where they are auditioning various critters to take over the Cadburry Bunny job, every one of which must wear fake bunny ears (the roaring lion always makes me laugh)! Well, I hereby nominate our dear Lucy because she has a sweet face and THE longest ears of any bunny-wannabe, PLUS they're real and don't have to be attached on a headband!! What do ya think?! Of course you wouldn't be dying them pink or any such nonsense!

  13. Very interesting. I learned something new today and it isn't even 7:30 yet.

  14. it's actually pretty loud sign language...

  15. Interesting post, and I just wish I could rub those beautiful donkey ears! :)

  16. that is an ear orchestra you have!

  17. Thank you SO much for this post. I feel a big more enlightened today and would have missed Alan's anxiety if you hadn't pointed out his nostrils. Please give your lovely models a nose rub of thanks for me. I appreciate their patient teaching.

  18. Entertaining and informative as always. Have been reading really sick cat's language all night, not that different really.

  19. An American in Tokyo4/6/14, 6:27 PM

    Oh fun! I wish I knew someone with some donkeys or burros nearby! =)