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The Connection Between Human Trauma and Working with Dogs.

Updated: May 4

What has trauma got to do with working with dogs?

Why do we need to understand each other with empathy and awareness in dog workplaces?

There are so many reasons that dog professionals need to be trauma informed. None least, the underlying reasons for our preference of dogs to people (which can be because people have harmed us, let us down, rejected us or made us feel unsafe).

When we experience trauma, especially early in our lives, we turn to dogs.  Dogs are safe you see, animals don’t let us down, they are consistent and loving. They are always pleased to see us and never reject us in the way that people can.

When we turn to animals because they are safe, we tend to try to work with them too. This also means working with other people. Other people who may also not feel as safe in the company of humans as they do in the company of animals.

Interestingly, childhood trauma also creates extensive empathy in the suffering child. It makes us want to help those who are suffering, even at the expense of ourselves.  

In addition, unresolved trauma creates heightened emotional responses, mood swings, defensive reactions and so much more.

Trauma isn’t even limited to abuse or severe neglect. We all have some, every one of us. There are so many types, and we might not even recognise we are living through the after-effects of multiple traumatic experiences.

As children we tend to shut traumatic events away, then we as adults tend to shut our own traumatised inner children away (often because we are told to grow up and act like an adult).

Society will tell us that everyone else is fine, and our inner critic will run with that – telling us we should be able to cope.

Then we create manager ‘parts’ that can cope because they have to. We are able to put a ‘happy face’ on. We can stuff the rest down and appear confident.

We can ignore the internal sadness and grief, by showing ourselves as professional and ‘together’. We can even appear highly successful. This manager part of us can become very well practiced. It can also be inconsistent because under the ‘game face’ we can be struggling. No-one can struggle forever though, so we often break.

Breaking can mean depression. It can mean heightened anxiety, anger and being overly critical of others. In the workplace, breaking can mean time off with stress, exhaustion and even complete breakdowns. It can mean disruptive behaviour like gossiping, arguing and being hard to approach.

Unresolved trauma in the workplace can mean poor performance, lack of commitment and letting others down. The sufferer isn’t doing it on purpose, they are in pain.

Now, if you have ever worked in a dog workplace, you might be able to see these signs in some of your colleagues might even recognise them in yourself.

Every workplace can benefit from being trauma informed, but particularly the ones where care is a priority. Particularly workplaces that attract people who are suffering with or susceptible to trauma. Particularly workplaces where dogs are involved.

Let’s remember that when we spend time with others, and when we spend time with ourselves, we are all trying our best.  

And yes, some of us have more to carry than others, but we all have something to carry.

The good news is that trauma doesn’t have to be a life sentence for anyone. It can be processed, understood and resolved.

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