In any profession, self-care is important. If you aren’t taking care of you, then it will be difficult to maintain your optimal self, both inside and outside of work. If you neglect your own care, something at some point will give, whether it is mental health, physical well-being, emotional stability, relationships, or your interests.
With Animal Trainers this is actually essential. Animal Trainers are not only working in their chosen profession, they are negotiating schedules, relationships, communication, and observation of not one but multi species.
It is a profession that bridges two worlds, two cultures, two ways of communicating, and the Trainer needs to be fluent in all of it in order to be successful.
So it goes without saying really, that in order to be a Trainer, you must take care of yourself first and foremost, so you can take care of, and assist others, of all species.
Whoah, did I just say it goes without saying? HA!
This actually needs to be said more, lots more. Why? Because Animal Trainers tend to burn-out, emotionally, mentally, and physically within months or years into their professional career. This is super common.
I think this happens for a few reasons.
IT’S ABOUT THE ANIMALS NOT YOU! When someone is in the process of becoming a Certified Professional Trainer, it is years in the making. Hundreds of hours of teaching and observation, conferences, seminars, endless reading, internships, volunteering, and then testing. There is not one, not one anything in that huge process about taking care of yourself so that you can take care of others.
There is nothing during the process to give new Trainers a heads up that they really need to invest in self-care if they want to enjoy a long and healthy profession.
WANTING TO WORK WITH ANIMALS. Most Trainers get into the training profession because you either wanted to work with animal’s, or you were already accomplished at working with animals and decided to make it a profession, or you were a dog sport competitor and it was the natural next step. I’m sure there are other reasons, but those are crazy common.
And what Trainers learn very quickly is that the animals human is the one you are really working with, as they are the ones booking and paying for the appointment, and the ones that need to learn the skills in order to work with their animal. So while it is Animal Training, it is totally not, it is Human Training, which is way harder.
BOUNDARIES. Most Certified Trainers that I know have really good boundaries with animals. Trainers have good observational skills, they understand the use of space and timing, and they have learned how to work with an animal, not against an animal.
But Trainers, especially in the beginning, rarely transfer those same boundary skills over to the human end of the leash.
And this is where most Trainers get chewed up and spit out. Not all humans are boundary pushers, but you only need to meet one to know how damaging they can be, and you only need to meet two to take a step back and reevaluate what you are doing with your life.
THE REALITY – Trainers know full well that when they are working with an animal, it is the least confusing part of their world. Everything just makes sense. And when they work with the human end of the leash, if they don’t have people skills, well they had better start yesterday because it is critical if they really want to enjoy their career, and their life.
FOR STARTERS – Self-Care is learning how to take the time to care for yourself before you care for others. It is about balance. This is super easy for men, super difficult for women. That is a fact my friends. Women tend to take care of everyone else’ wants and needs before their own, most of the time at the expense of their well-being.
So find the time, make the time for yourself. Whether you pencil yourself into your own work schedule, or block of certain days of the week, however this would look for you, this is the most important time!
- SLEEP and lots of it. Sleep is actually a super power, this shouldn’t be over looked. It isn’t selfish to go to bed early, and sleep a bit later.
- NUTRITION because you are what you eat. 75% of our fitness is nutrition. Take the time to nourish yourself. Create the time.
- RELAXATION is so hard for the Animal Trainer who trains with clients all day and then comes home to train their own animals. BUT this is super important. Turn off and relax for just 20 minutes to start with. Let go of anxiety, tension, and breathe, just breathe.
- INTERESTS are tricky for the Trainer. Many Trainers started training because their interests were about animals. But once you start working with animals, you have to find another interest. This is balance, this creates really healthy balance.
- EXERCISE is outside of the already physically demanding job of animal training. Whatever physical activity you like, or would like to get involved with, this is important.
- RELATIONSHIPS are good. Besides your trainer friends, who are easy to talk too, foster relationships in some way with people outside of the animal world, it creates more balance. Not talking BFF’s unless that is what you want.
- TRY SOMETHING NEW. Always invest in learning something new. It doesn’t matter what it is, just always be on this path. A documentary, a new magazine, maybe a foreign language, or a book by a new author, knitting, gardening, wine tasting, or cheese making. New, keep building your repertoire of skills and knowledge.
- SPIRITUALITY. Many Trainers find working with animals to be a spiritual experience, especially Horse Trainers. It is really hard to put into words, but sometimes the connection is overwhelming. It is a good practice to take care of your spirit, whatever that means to you. Nurture that.
- RESPECT. Learn how to respect yourself. You. Your business. Your home. Your animals. Your life.
- PERSONAL BOUNDARIES. Part of taking care of yourself is having boundaries. You must identify reasonable and safe ways for others to behave towards you. And you need to know how you want to respond if someone passes those limits.
AN EAR – For new Trainers, especially those that get overwhelmed by the human end of the leash, it is important to have someone to talk too, someone who is not family or friend, or another client. Sometimes a close colleague is the best, as there is already someone who understands from the inside-out what you are talking about. But it can be anyone that makes you feel safe and is a good listener.
CLIENTS – In the beginning all Trainers are hungry for work, to build a clientele, and so they take anyone who calls, signs-up, or walks-in.
In the beginning, this isn’t a bad thing as long as there are mental notes of the style of client that makes you feel comfortable while working, and the style of client that is a hard pass.
As you grow as a Trainer you must, absolutely must be honest with yourself and focus on the clientele that you can work with, and makes you feel comfortable.
SPECIALTY – While most Animal Trainers have diversified skills, it is good to know what you really excel at at, and we all have one thing within our profession we are really good at, FOCUS on that. If you hone what you are really good at, you will attract the people who need that with their animal.
APPOINTMENTS – Listen to the human end of the leash, honestly and openly, and watch the animal end of the leash, observation without judgement. It will lead you to what really needs attention and what really needs to be worked on. That is always your starting point. And if you come from a place of honesty and experience, it is always accepted.
This is the short version of a workshop that I give for Professional Trainers. I hope in some way it helps the new Trainers trying to find their footing, or reimagining their business in a healthier way.