All animals are conscious, intelligent, sensitive, feeling beings
I was gobsmacked at one of the articles I shared on Healing Vet Facebook page this week. The tag said “A landmark scientific paper published today shows that horses have the capability to feel as much pain from whipping as humans.” The headline read: “Study shows horse can feel pain from whips”. The very idea that research needs to be done to prove this absolutely does my head in.
Of course animals feel pain if you strike them with a whip. Just like you will if you are struck with a whip. That it’s still deemed to be ok to use whips at all is an awful state of affairs. Or spurs. Or shock collars on dogs. Or electric prods with cattle. Or anything at all that causes pain to make animals do something.
The use of force implies a couple of things, in my opinion. Firstly it shows that there is a lack of understanding. Secondly it shows a lack of empathy, an inability to have sympathy with the experience and suffering of the being who is being forced. And finally, it shows a deep weakness in the person who is using the force. Anyone who feels a need to exert power over other beings with force is always deeply insecure in themselves.
True power requires no force. True power communicates, listens, connects, and inspires a willing partnership. True power is patient, compassionate, and willing to do whatever it takes to respect the beings who it interacts with. True power is willing to face it’s own shortcomings, to dig into it’s shadow, to be vulnerable, and to always be open to the idea that there may be a better way to do things that they already know.
I grew up on a cattle station. Force was the first way I got taught how to interact with animals. Branding, castrating and dehorning calves without anaesthetic. I remember the calves, screaming in agony, bellowing in pain. And this was accepted as simply normal. I remember being taught to break in horses with hobbles, bags, sidelines, whips, pain and fear.
I’ve had to unlearn a lot. I’ve had to learn new ways. And in doing so, I’ve had to feel a lot of frustration and anger in myself, to embrace those feelings, to resolve, dissolve and integrate them into who I am in a healthy way. I had to stop projecting all of that onto the animals I work with. This was not easy. But so, so worthwhile!
The thing is, using force, using painful and abusive methods are often easier and quicker. This approach does get results. But there is such a huge obvious cost to the animals (and a real cost to the humans exerting the force that is less so). The animals end up with a lot of trauma that affects their quality of life. The animals are never as willing in their work or performance. The relationship between humans and animals is a shadow of it’s potential. And the humans end up desensitised, numb, unable to connect with other beings in a healthy way, and also deeply traumatised.
Finding a way to connect and communicate with animals so that they understand you and want to work with you (without force) is harder. It takes more time. It takes a significantly higher degree of skill. It takes more patience. It takes more sensitivity. It takes more heart. It takes more courage. It takes more humanity.
The beautiful paradox of this is that it also gives so much more. More connection, more understanding, more joy, more love, more trust, more of everything that is good for everyone concerned. It makes a massive difference in everyone’s life to be kind. This is one area where you can make a huge, huge difference for your animals.
How can you help your animals have the best possible life?
Learn how to talk dog, to talk cat, to talk horse, to talk cow. Get out of your head, drop language, get into your body. Animals primarily talk with their body, not with vocalisations. (In fact humans do too, but we think that our language is most of our communication. It’s not. It’s only about 10%) You need to become exquisitely sensitive to how your animals communicate. Only then can you understand and meet their needs.
Some things you need to understand and master on this front are: Direction and intensity of gaze. Subtle shifts in facial expressions. Posture. Yawning. Licking lips. Swallowing or burping. Movement relative to other animals and people. Changes in breathing rate, heart rate, pupil dilation. Sighing, huffing, sneezing. and yes, vocalisation is important too, though far less important than all these other things. The timing of all of these things.
Most humans don’t even see signs of anxiety in their animals, let alone pain. Most humans speak and understand dog as well as a school kid in their first year of learning a new language might speak and understand french. If that! Animals are so happy when their humans start to talk their language!
Learn how to feel and relieve pain, tension, trauma and anxiety from your animals’ body with your hands. The only way to be sure that your animals don’t have silent pain is to learn how to feel for pain, tension and trauma with your own two hands. Feeling for what is going on in the physical tissues and structures with palpation, with intelligent touch, sinking your hands into the body, is only half of the story.
You need to also learn how to read your animals’ response to your investigating touch. Then your animal will very clearly tell you where they have a problem, and you’ll be able to help them by melting the pain, tension, trauma and anxiety away will loving intentional touch. This is a specialised way of communicating with and understanding your pet’s body.
Anyone can learn how to do both of these things quickly and easily. I have taught well over a thousand people how to with the Whole Energy Body Balance Bodywork for Pets training. Every week, I have emails from students telling me about how their animals are blossoming after being blessed with the WEBB work.
Learn how to train/teach your animals with positive rewards. This is a great way to communicate what you want from your animals. Don’t ever use aversives like shock collars, prong collars, choke chains, loud noises, shouting, or anything that is painful or fearful for your animals. You will need more skill to train with kindness. You will need to get a whole lot better at understanding your animal’s communication. You will need to get a lot better at your communication and especially timing. And the benefits are so huge for your animals, for you, and most of all for your connection/bond/relationship with your animals.
Learn how to communicate clear and healthy boundaries with your animals. Humans in general are so crap at this. It’s really important (especially for dogs, but this applies to all animals) to be able to communicate to your animals when to respect your personal space. This means that you should be able to clearly communicate (and have that communication respected) for your animals to stay out of your personal space when you ask. You should be able to invite your animals into your personal space, and be able to ask them to leave your personal space and then stay out of it. I teach a lot about this in the WEBB trainings.
If you want to learn more about our online trainings or one-on-one coaching and mentoring around this topic, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.