Trauma can be an issue for the animals we train. It can be an issue for the people who care for them. Literature continues to emerge on positive reinforcement approaches to help animals move beyond past trauma and form trusting relationships.
We will look at current concepts in medical care, both veterinary and human, to see how these concepts may be relevant for animal trainers. As trainers, we are frequently reminded that loving and working well with animals isn’t enough. To be effective, a trainer must also connect with the human handler. The scientific literature supports approaching animals with patience, realizing they may be stressed, and that stress can impact their ability to learn. But what about the human component of the team? How do we approach those people, who may be challenging to work with? People may not embrace or incorporate the training lesson into their routine. In the medical profession, we refer to this as “nonadherent” or “noncompliant.” How can we learn to understand that just having to train the animal can be traumatizing on a scale from mild “anxiety” to severe, life-threatening stress (and this is not hyperbole!).
A veterinarian and a human doctor discuss theories developing in the medical professions which hope to allow us to approach others with increased compassion and tolerance. We review the growing recognition in human medicine of the social determinants of health, and an intentional approach to caring for the whole person in order to meet their medical needs. Trauma-informed care is a large part of this approach. Kathie Nurena, MD, KPA and Linda Randall, DVM, provide a framework for a discussion centered on how this may translate into re-imagining our ability to better attend to the emotional and physical needs of animals. Compassionate care in veterinary practice and trauma-informed care in medical practice attempt to engender trust in the doctor-patient relationship. Seen through these lenses, it is hoped a more tolerant and healing relationship will develop. Trainers can add these concepts to their approach with the clients and animals they serve.