Learning about cattle…
I remember the first time that I stepped into a pen filled with cattle at our feed yard. I was 21 years old and had never been within a quarter of a mile of a bovine before. The first thought that ran through my mind was “They’re huge”, followed simultaneously with an almost automatic feeling of fear.
I’ve always believed in the saying Mind over Matter and, in that instant, I made the decision to figure out how these very large creatures viewed the world (and me). My gut pushed me to learn their story so that I could become a part of it. It’s been an awesome journey. Somewhere along the way, I fell in love with those big, hairy creatures. Their minds fascinate me, and I overcame my fear as I traded inexperience for knowledge.
Learning to work with cattle taught me more about myself than I would have ever imagined. Cattle’s ability to sense emotions and see the world in pictures challenged my natural linear thought process. I figured out relatively quickly that they were not able to think like me – that, in fact, it was not their job to think like me. Rather, it was my job as their caregiver to learn to think like them.
Empathy creates a powerful tool…
Today, I don’t handle cattle as often as I used to. I get my fill during the spring and summer months when we run cattle on grass pasture. But, once our grass is eaten up and I move them into the feed yard, I pass off the job of “primary caregiver” to the knowledgeable crew at Roberts Cattle Co.
Honestly, there are days when I miss that daily bovine-human interaction tremendously.
I’ve learned during my adult life that happiness is a self-fulfilling prophesy. I determine my own fate and my attitude defines my level of joy. When I sense a personal gap, I look to fill it in a meaningful way as that helps me to find daily fulfillment.
Six months after closing down my own feed yard, I brought a 7 week old yellow lab puppy into my life. Labrador Retrievers have a special place in my heart. I shared a love for them with my Dad, and I have fond childhood memories of watching him train his hunting dogs. Theodore has helped me to fill the gap and I am broadening my animal training prowess. Just like cattle, learning to understand Theodore is a journey. We have a partnership with each of us having responsibilities to fill in order to find harmony together.
The following is a short list of qualities that I believe make a good animal trainer. While cattle are incredibly different creatures than dogs, I am finding that the qualities that make me effective in training them are remarkably similar.
- Patience: Animals have a way of trying to “outlast” their handlers. Being patient tips the scale in your favor as it allows you to control your own emotions and wait for the right moment as you teach.
- Consistency: Just as patience allows for success, consistent boundaries are critical for effective training. Animals learn what happens before what happens happens which means that good caregivers must be consistent with their feedback.
- Communication: Clear communication sets everyone up for success. Expectations and asks can only be effectively answered by the animal if he understands what you want. Be clear.
- Empathy: Animals are not smart enough to think like you, so to be an effective trainer you have to learn how to think like them. When you are able to put yourself in their shoes, then you can ask in a way that is meaningful to them which leads to your idea becoming their idea.
- Love: Someone once told me animals don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. A good leader always cares.
I am so very thankful for the lessons that my animals teach me. They enrich my life in countless ways as we make the journey together. Theodore’s a pretty awesome little partner 🙂
2 responses to “What Makes a Good Animal Trainer?”
I love this post! In working to train my horses and dogs, everything you say is so true. They are just trying to please with all of their being. I find that true in my classroom. The clearer my expectations, the more students live up to, or strive for those expectations. Thank you for your continued posts!
Thank you, Kathy! Your note made me smile, as Megan read the post and said: “Mom, these are the qualities of a good elementary school teacher.” You all must think alike! Thank you for sharing your skills and your heart in the classroom — teachers are often the “unsung heros” of our country. I am thankful for all of your work mentoring our kids.
Have a great weekend! Thank you for reading.