By Sabrina Brando – AnimalConcepts

People often ask me how to become a professional and successful animal trainer. I’ve learnt a few essential building blocks that I would like to share with you.

Optimal animal welfare is promoted with sensitivity to the individual, and with the realisation that learning happens. No matter whether it’s planned or not, whether we like it or not, when we are present or not. As such we need to always consider this, and give due attention, preferably using data of different kind e.g. behaviour, use of areas, to make evidence-based decisions.

A compassionate, empathetic and successful trainer will know and recognise this, and will share and promote this philosophy this with others. Together we can move forward in a positive and connective way.

Being an animal trainer means being an animal caregiver. It means your job revolves around the care and welfare and connection to the animals you care for. Together with many other program aspects such as nutrition, an appropriate and engaging environment and attention to social needs and preferences, training is one of the ways that you provide and promote predominantly positive animal welfare.

Being connected in a healthy and happy manner, revolving around care, empathy and compassion, for all involved, including yourself and others you work with. Care for self is key, more on this in a separate post.

An animal trainer should be connected with the direct team, as good record keeping, communication, evaluations and evidence-based decision-making are at the core of animal care and welfare programs, including animal training. These programs are guided by a strategic plan reflecting contemporary scientific knowledge and an animals’ first philosophy, as well as achieving other goals such as research, conservation, education, public safety or other.

A good animal trainer is open and listens with all their senses, with the head and heart, and asks if this is the best that they can be, and importantly, letting the student in them never die. A growth mindset and an open attitude to learning. A good animal trainer recognises that she/he/they have to be and stay coachable, by the animals, and by other people. They have to be able to ask critical questions and challenge the status quo.

Every day ask yourself, “Did I enrich a life today?” Enriching the lives of the animals, your live, and of those around you. Enriching lives through understanding theory and best practice, compassion, empathy and ethics.

The essential building blocks to me are:

  • Growth mindset
  • Empathy and compassion
  • Science & evidence-based
  • Ethics

which together make you into a caring and successful trainer.

What do you think? Can you relate to these building blocks? Do you have specific building blocks of your own? Let me know!

PS: Do you think the posts stops here? … no, I got some feedback and 1 was in particular interesting to me, altruism (thank you Nuno), and I want to elaborate on the original post.

As I have had some time to think and research, I agree to altruism but a slightly modified version, and here is why. PS: it likely cannot be called altruism but that is ok.

Altruism is when we act to promote someone else’s welfare, even at a risk or cost to ourselves. As a caregiver and trainer, I experience fun, relaxing and other positive experiences with the animal. I could develop fun exercise programs, engaging activities including objects and challenges to explore and solve, I could get animals to choose to opt out of participation in a presentation or educational activity. And this is where it gets interesting.

Let’s think for a moment about things that could come at a risk or cost, we could think about the straight and close definition of these to the individual, me, like losing sleep or being late or absent again at a family party in order to be there and serve the animal in her/his needs. Technically distant but I also think from an organizational level we could apply this principle, at the risk of receiving complaints from members of the public, or cancelling a program costing potential income, the animals’ first approach is an act of altruism. We believe it is our moral duty to act to promote the other’s welfare, and we are willing to face and accept the risks and costs. Professional facilities practice altruism, as well as the other 4 building blocks. We will follow the animals’ first approach, and we have non-negotiables, criteria which guide our decisions and actions, what is acceptable and what is not. In order to achieve our goals of education, research and conservation we design programs and processes which satisfy the needs and preferences of the animals, and those of the visiting public, using educational program to inform and teach a considered and compassioned attitude to other animals.

I like the idea of doing something for someone, an animal, which promotes the wellbeing of this individual. What you might be doing is perhaps not of real interest to you, you might not like doing it, or even be averse to it, but because you know it will promote welfare for the animal in mind, you will do it anyway. This is itself an important part of the role of a caregiver, as you recall, to me a good trainer has to be a good caregiver.

Now this is where I want to add in a clause. Recall that ‘Altruism is when we act to promote someone else’s welfare, even at a risk or cost to ourselves.’ I am all for helping, for doing good, to be the best you can be, but there is a but here. The risks and costs that come with this would have to be critically reviewed and understood. Self-care and resilience in a caring profession is fundamental for a healthy, happy and meaningful career, one where you serve animals and other people with integrity and joy.

So, if you ask me, a professional and successful animal trainer is a caregiver who understands the importance of focusing on her/his wellbeing as well as the animal’s.

Want to know more about Sabrina Brando and what she does to better the welfare of animals? Visit her website AnimalConcepts.eu

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