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Consent: Not Just Important for Humans




A term that Jolene and I use frequently when discussing behavior is agency (freedom of choice). When an animal doesn't have agency in a social situation, they are more likely to experience fear and/or stress. The ability to give consent is very much a part of having agency. When animals can't give consent, it can create a feeling of being trapped, which increases the likelihood of the animal shutting down emotionally or becoming proactively defensive (growling, swatting, biting, etc).


Giving the opportunity for consent builds trust. It's so common for humans to push themselves onto an animal by touching and/or picking them up (mainly because they're insanely adorable and it's difficult to hold back). If the animal is able to choose whether or not to interact with a person, they feel more at ease with them and are more likely to solicit attention.


Animals are constantly communicating with us; if we are able to read and understand some of their more subtle body language signals, we can determine if consent is being given or denied. When training, the presence of consent is something that we constantly keep track of in order to keep the animal engaged and having fun with learning. When training/learning is forced on a participant that needs a break or is burned out, they begin to build a negative association with it.


Consent is also used frequently with husbandry activities like grooming and veterinary care. Much of the reason that animals have issues in these settings is because consent is often taken away from them. Groomers or veterinary staff that force an animal through whatever needs to be done inadvertently cause stress and/or fear, and increase the likelihood that subsequent visits will be a bigger and bigger struggle.


We will continue exploring this topic in future blog posts!

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