..Because the industry wants it and we owe it to our animals.
I have watched with great interest how training dogs has developed over the last 50 years, from the days when rubbing a dogs nose in the puddle on the carpet was called house training, through Barbara Woodhouse, yanking on a lead and ordering dogs to ‘Sit’ in the early 1980s, through the era of prong collars and of dogs being set on dominating their household, to the more enlightened time we find ourselves in now.
It is amazing how quickly things have changed and how we now understand so much more about psychology and how it can be applied to any animal in order to train them or help with behaviour issues. With these advances in knowledge comes a requirement to study the subject because it is complex and goes way beyond the days when you could learn all you needed to know by simply doing the job and picking it up as you went along by trial and error.
That is in no way under valuing experience, I have always said that covering your walls with certificates is worth nothing if you cannot connect with your dogs but equally, all the experience in the world is not going to give you the knowledge you need to be a fully functioning practitioner. There has to be a balance of both. After all you would not be happy if your doctor said, ‘don’t worry, I didn’t study medicine but I’ve been doing this for a while and seem to get good results’!
One characteristic of knowledge is that those seeking it never get to the end, there is never a point at which anyone can say ‘I now know it all’, research is constantly pushing the boundaries of our understanding of the world around us. I was late in going university but clearly remember only twenty years ago being ridiculed by an older lecturer for suggesting that personality tests should be adapted for animals. Now of course this is a hot topic of research but it is certainly not something that you can learn about by simply making casual observations of dog behaviour.
We are currently in a period of transition as far as training and behaviour go and there are so many people who have invested time, money and effort trying to do the right thing to get as ‘qualified’ as they can in this field. Sadly the only guidance until now has been the huge range of organisations all believing that their way is best, many of which have been doing quite a comprehensive job but there are also those that offer worthless certificates and apparently impressive memberships yet do an excellent sales job on their recruits. The sector has been crying out for a regulatory body to set standards to approve organisations and education provision and it is now here with the support of Defra and the veterinary profession. Inevitably there will be some who resist change or have concerns about having their own standards scrutinised, that is human nature but as new people come into this line of work it will be the norm and the die-hards who cannot adapt will drift into an ever dwindling minority. This is not just my speculation either because the responsible organisations are coming forward to ask how they can be part of this movement and what they need to do to measure up.
In 2004 the RCVS made a call for paraprofessionals to self regulate so that they would have a single body to talk to for each area of expertise that was outside veterinary surgery, the dentists organised themselves but little else happened. In 2008 the Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) published a thoroughly researched document titled The Regulation of Companion Animal Services in Relation to the Training and Behaviour Modification of Dogs (1). Despite referring to dogs in the title, a much overlooked suggestion at the end referred to applying any framework to other animals too. At that time the report concluded that there was overwhelming support for regulation but that was just the start of the disagreements concerning how it should be achieved and what constituted a sound level of education and training. Thankfully the vast majority of organisations were prepared to find common ground and work together for the benefit of our dogs and other animals and realistic standards are now in place that reflect the skills and education required of the truly professional practitioner.
Slowly but surely those engaged in training and behaviour will either find themselves part of a highly respected and organised profession under the umbrella of the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (www.abtcouncil.org.uk) or simply be sidelined into the category of the gifted amateur that was unable or unwilling to reach the standards required of that profession. Eventually the ABTC will be as much a part of the language of animal welfare as RCVS, BVNA, RSPCA, PDSA, Dogs Trust and others.
The following is an extract from an editorial titled The Rocky Road from Odiham which forms part of volume 14 of Veterinary History (2). There are some clear parallels with what is happening today in the training and behaviour sector and what happened in the early days of the veterinary profession.
The most defining characteristic of any profession, with a corpus of knowledge that embodies their particular art and science, is its ability to constantly improve, and most importantly to be able to transmit this knowledge to new entrants, in a word – education. In this respect veterinary medicine is no different from any other sector of knowledge transfer.
Veterinary medicine sprang from stony ground, with a seemingly strange admixture of folk-lore, mumbo-jumbo, religion and ‘secret’ remedies plus some accurate observations combined with a sprinkling of developing medical knowledge.
The story of the Odiham Agricultural Society is well known, of how this group of men proposed in 1785 to try to put an end to the perceived animal cruelty caused by quackery and to provide young farriers with a scientific education.
Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science.