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The Importance of Self-Care as a Dog Professional

Holly Leake
All dog professionals have two main things in common...
One, their love and passion for dogs and two, the habit of disregarding the need for self-care. Self-care is engaging in activities that preserve and improve our mental, emotional and physical health. Unfortunately, we likely don’t take any time for ourselves to engage in such activities, unless we feel particularly ill or we have a family emergency. Ironically, when we become stressed, self-care is often last on our list of priorities, even though it’s the very thing we need. When we fail to acknowledge this, burn out is inevitable.

Burn out results in the very thing we’ve been striving to avoid; failure to meet the demands of our job and life. When we are both physically and emotionally exhausted, we’ve got nothing left to give, leading to feelings of worthlessness and pessimism. Such negative feelings immobilise us and can make it impossible to seek out things that replenish and inspire us.

“You can’t pour from an empty cup.”- Unknown
Self-care can be likened to filling a cup. If the cup is empty, nothing can be poured out until we refill it. Engaging in hobbies, going on holiday, spending quality time with friends and family, disconnecting from social media and any other positive experiences can help to fill our cup, enabling us to be energetic, organised, and productive. In contrast, long work hours, conflict on social media, distance from friends and family and any other negative experiences can empty our cup, which rids us of energy, reduces productivity and diminishes our joy and passion.

Each one of us has the power to fill or empty each other’s cups. For instance, clients have the ability to fill or empty our cups by the way they treat us. When we have a great training session and the client is enthusiastic and grateful, we can feel a buzz. We experience joy and feel inspired, thereby replenishing our cup. On the other hand, if we have clients that are pessimistic and unwilling to cooperate, we can feel tired and frustrated. We may also experience compassion fatigue, because we are desperate to help the dogs we are working with and feel powerless to do so. Such feelings empty our cup, making it difficult to give our best to other clients.

Therefore, it’s important to try avoiding or eliminate anything that empties our cup, where possible, and make time for the things that fill it. While we can’t necessarily avoid all negative experiences, we can ensure that we plan to decompress when they occur. If you work as a dog trainer, you likely spend a lot of time discussing stress management and the importance of providing activities that help dogs decompress. Despite this, we often don’t practice what we preach. Engaging in calming activities that we enjoy, is an excellent way to relax and recover from stress.
“Self-care is not self-indulgence, it’s self-preservation.”- Audre Lorde

It doesn’t matter how hard we work; we can still battle with feelings of guilt, the moment we take any time for ourselves, because it seems self-indulgent. Rather than enjoying a rest, we often dwell on all the things we should be doing, resulting in no rest at all. When we are wrestling with these feelings, we need to look at it objectively. Consider an example. When you are on a plane, the flight attendants perform a safety demonstration for emergencies, instructing you to put your own oxygen mask on before you help others to put their masks on. Why? If you do not ensure your own safety first, you will be in no position to help others. The same is true of self-care. If we have no energy, no time to rest and no opportunities to look after our own needs, how can we help to meet the needs of others?

Ensuring that we make time for self-care puts us in the best position to help others, because it protects us from burning out. Thus, self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent, it is self-preservation.