What Skills Do You Need to Work with Animals?
Are you crazy about animals? If so, then working for an animal charity may just be a dream come true. There are plenty of different organisations to work for across the UK, both local and national, ranging from shelters to organisations fighting for animal rights at home and overseas. And it’s a truly rewarding line of work. But whether you’re working in an office or with the animals themselves, there’s a certain set of skills required to successfully champion animal rights and keep our furry friends safe.
Remember, it’s not all puppy cuddles and playtime. Many of these animals have been abused or mistreated, so it takes a thick skin to do this kind of work. Still think it sounds like something you’d love to do? Here are a few skills you need if you’re hoping to land a volunteer or paid job in one of the UK’s many wonderful animal charities.
It may sound a bit strange when you think about it—empathising with animals. How can you fully understand their experience when your life is so clearly different from theirs? But empathy is about more than just putting yourself in someone’s shoes. It refers to the ability to understand someone—or something’s—feelings. When dealing with animal welfare, you need to consider what these poor animals have gone through and how that may have affected their emotions.
Many of these animals are distraught. They’ve dealt with difficult situations and may be timid or even violent in reaction to that. That’s why animal care and service workers should know how to engage with animals in a sensitive and tactful way. You always want to make them feel comfortable and safe while being cared for.
If you don’t work with animals directly—i.e. you are sitting in an office creating emotional appeals for donations to help animals abroad—you should empathise with them in the same way that they empathise with fellow human beings. It will help you appeal more affectively for donations and do the best work you can to help out.
2. Patience and sensitivity
Patience is absolutely key. Animals have a natural need to protect themselves from potential attackers, which is why they can be aggressive towards humans. However, if handled patiently and gently, these animals will eventually feel comfortable in your care and will be able to adapt easily in their new environment.
Depending on the type of animals and their condition, it could take time before they habituate to their new environment. Fearful animals will often react with violence, so be patient—wait for them to come to you. They will when they’re ready. Remember that past experiences can greatly affect how they cope with stressful situations. Animals that have gone through abuse tend to be destructive and aggressive, not only to humans but to fellow animals as well. Gentle handling and care could habituate these animals. The more contact they have with humans that are not threatening to them, the more that they will feel comfortable in their new environment.
3. Knowledge and training around proper animal handling
Some jobs require specific training in order to be done properly. There’s no way around it. If you want to work as a vet, you probably had to go to university for a few years to get a proper qualification. But for those of us who want to volunteer and work with animals in a less skill-based capacity, there’s still an element of animal training that is required. Some charities provide this training, but it can be helpful to do a bit of work in your own time to get set up. That could be dog training classes or an animal behaviour course—things that teach you the various methods of safe and effective handling of vulnerable species.
Proper handling of animals will also require having the ability to read the animal’s body language. It’s important that you tailor your approach to the animal’s mood and emotions. If you’re an animal lover, these traits should come naturally. Over time, people who work with animals will be able to acquire these skills through experience and lots of practice. In fact, the easiest way to learn basic animal handling skills is by volunteering at an animal shelter.
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It’s unfortunate to know that so many animals are still getting abused every single day. Animal cruelty can take several different forms, but the impact of this to the pets is the same. Humans should understand that, just like us, animals have feelings and experience fear, pain and desperation. Thus, animal abuse and cruelty need to stop.
People who intend to work in organisations that help animals should know about animal safeguarding skills, especially if you’re hoping to get a job as a frontline member of staff that works with the animals directly.
Understanding behaviour is key to safeguarding their welfare. By learning more about animal safeguarding skills through training, you will be able to detect signs of abuse and react accordingly.
Practically, every job that requires working with animals, from dog trainer to veterinarian assistant and animal care worker, requires proper communication because these jobs involve a lot of person-to-person interaction.
Remember that good communication is the key to professional success, regardless of the industry you belong to. So even if your job requires you to work primarily with animals, you should also learn to effectively communicate with people—both co-workers and the general public. The better you can communicate with your colleagues, the more likely you will be to keep things running smoothly and achieve the wider organisational goals.
Some of the most important communication skills to remember would be to always listen. Try not to respond while the other person is still talking. If something is not clear, don’t hesitate to rephrase what you’ve just heard. This can help clear things up and avoid misunderstandings. And no matter how stressful the situation is, try to use positive statements. Avoid blaming or denial. Accept your faults and apologise if necessary.
Think this sounds like the right career for you?
Then, by all means, start applying. There plenty of amazing animal charities in the UK looking for enthusiastic and passionate staff and volunteers. Find a charity that speaks to you and showcase all the skills you have that are right for this position.
Take a look at which charities are hiring now.