The political will for regulation of trainers and behaviourists

Since the publication of the 2008 CAWC report into the regulation of dog training and behaviour services several things have happened. It was concluded that there was wide spread support for regulation but that is where any sense of unanimity ended. Following 18 months of meetings several factions emerged each with different ideas about who should be the regulatory authority and the shape those regulations should take and they went their separate ways. Those diverse attitudes very much remain today and are unlikely to change given that people have staked their reputations on them.

The irony of this situation is that forming multiple organisations has further compounded the confusion that all agreed was in dire need of being untangled and simplified. There are still three or four such organisations and I believe there are even plans to try and create yet another not to mention the various registers of ‘professional’ trainers and behaviourists, one at least carries out no checks at all on those wanting to be listed. None have made the sort of progress or receive the level of support that the Animal Behaviour and Training Council enjoys yet all claim to represent trainers and behaviourists and high standards but those standards and their implementation vary greatly. One such organisation only requires a declaration that the prospective member adheres to a code of conduct and pays a fee, for instance. The other characteristic to note is that being a registered charity only ABTC has any legal status other than that of a club.

The political view was originally that the sector should self-regulate which, had there been any level of agreement amongst the organisations involved, might have been a possible way ahead. It could be argued that this is what has been attempted but in no way can it be considered as being anything other than partially successful.

Recent trends are also worrying, as there is currently still no compulsion to join a regulated organisation other than a personal desire to do so based on a responsible attitude. There are many people who avoid the need for often lengthy (and potentially costly) education and training and seek the easiest and cheapest route they can find to any organisation that will call them a trainer or behaviourist. There are also those that don’t join any organisation and still call themselves professional trainers or behaviourists.

There are several organisations that feed this mentality by stating on their websites that the government is not about to consider any form of formal regulation any time soon. This gives the irresponsible free reign to do as they wish, if not actively encouraging them to do so making the originators equally irresponsible. Inevitably the easiest route is to not have education and skills rigorously assessed against independently developed standards.

For those who do not monitor political trends you should be aware that there is a developing appetite for regulation of trainers and behaviourists that will leave a lot of people out in the cold. The All Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare (APGAW) have very recently made that recommendation to Defra as follows:

‘DEFRA should regulate the industry of animal behaviour and training to ensure that pet owners can find reputable professionals to help them. This could be considered as a future part of the Animal Welfare (Licensing of Activities Involving Animals) Regulations 2018 currently being developed or during a review of the Veterinary Surgeons Act 1966.’

It couldn’t be any clearer, regulation of trainers and behaviourists is clearly on the political radar, potentially as soon as next year.


35 thoughts on “The political will for regulation of trainers and behaviourists

  1. Paddy Driscoll

    If regulation comes in that soon I’m just glad I have just about run my time in the job of helping owners with their dog’s behaviour. Roll on getting my pension!
    It’s a bit galling to know after 21 years of successfully running my behaviour and training advice business, attending respected and professional courses year after year, studying and gaining (with merit) a Master’s degree in Clinical Animal Behaviour, achieving publication in the highly respected Science Reports (a ‘top 100 read’ to boot), committed to positive training methods, a pioneer of clicker training, successful competitor in various dog training activities, author, presenting and running courses on a variety of topics, particularly aggression, teaching training and behaviour to first degree and Master’s degree students, and many years experience of just doing the job, I will probably end up on the scrap heap. Academic exellence AND practical experience AND adherance to evidence based techniques is not enough.

    On my last reading of the criteria to get onto it, the extra hoops I would need to go through are beyond reasonable. Haven’t I done enough to prove I have at least *some* idea of what I’m doing? I might bother to join the training register if I have to because it will not entail me in excessive unecessary work or huge additional expense, (fortunately I had the foresight to join the APDT many years ago or even THAT avenue wouldn’t be open to me) but its not the same as being able to continue with the behaviour work I believe I have been doing reasonably competently for some years.

    Of course there are a load of organisations popping up all over the place – because individual professionals do not all have the same professional opinion of how to do the job effectively, nor do we all agree on what is ethical and what isn’t. Nor do we all wish to align ourselves professionally with them. So instead of trying to shoehorn us all into just one or two organisations, with their own private organisational agendas, why not simply establish criteria for excellence and let us prove we are up to that?

    1. majorm2003 Post author

      Thanks for your input Paddy, if everyone was as diligent as you about their education, regulation would not be necessary – sadly this is far from the situation we find ourselves in. The problem is that individuals need to have their education and skills assessed and no one organisation can do that, especially as there are already well in excess of twenty organisations all with their own idea of what is required. Some of these organisations are financially motivated and promise grand titles and post nominal letters of dubious value in return for doing their own courses, transparency is in short supply. Equally there are many independent operators like yourself but I would suggest that very few of them would match your qualifications. The most difficult period is now when there are people who have been operating for many years and object to having to prove themselves or be ushered in a given direction, for new entrants to the sector they will be faced with a career path and proper standards it will make perfect sense.

      1. David Lamb

        Hi Paddy, Good to hear from you and of your success in combining academic knowledge with practical skills with dogs. We met up a couple of times on canine behaviour courses. I went on to teach animal welfare courses at Cambridge and whilst I still work my giants I am now involved with the big cats and rhinos at zoos who respond well to clicker training. I was one of the authors of the CAWC Report on trainers and behaviourists. Completely agree with your suggestion for establishing criteria for excellence.

      2. Rebecca

        I read this with great interest!
        2 years ago I left The Vet Nursing Profession after 32 years to work for myself as a Dog trainer.
        This follows a 20 year history of running Behavioural clinics in Practice on a first opinion basis.
        I now promote force free, positive reward based training where the dogs are rewarded for making the right choices and bad choices are totally ignored. I show owners that their dogs are not errant but merely need to be shown in a way that they understand. Teaching owners to teach their dogs… all is going well and word of mouth is keeping me busy.
        I am not affiliated with any organisation but I choose to study every day from ethical trainers, seminars, podcasts, books and much more.
        I have learnt more in the past 18 months than I have in the past 10 years because I am keen to be the best that I can…
        My question to you would be, can you recommend one of the 20 or so organisations to become affiliated with should the law dictate that this is the case?

  2. Paddy Driscoll

    “if everyone was as diligent as you about their education, regulation would not be necessary”

    and so where will have all that diligence got the likes of me then? After a lifetime learning and doing the ‘right thing’ (except not picking the right organisations to join it seems) – I’m dumped?
    Seems a bit harsh…
    Just a casualty of war then?

    1. majorm2003 Post author

      time will tell Paddy, but if so, it is those that have chosen short cuts and profits that have undermined your position. What is sad is that so many are still resisting and going out of there way to try and stop it.

      1. teamworkdogtraining

        Who is resisting? Dog trainers are pretty well unaware it even exists let alone is trying to regulate them from some office in whitehall (or weherever).
        I polled a UK based obedience (training) fb group last March if people were aware of the abtc.
        Out of over 6000 members only 100 responded.
        ‘What is the abtc?’ 86
        ‘Yes, but don’t see the point’ 6
        ‘Yes, but don’t know anything about it’ 6
        ‘Yes, really useful and I refer people to it’ 2

        Hardly grounds for assuming resistance, but plenty for assuming lack of information I’d suggest? 86% of dog trainers – working in the field – teaching at clubs, classes and on courses – have never heard of the abtc.

  3. teamworkdogtraining

    and to blame other people for your group’s decisions is pretty reprehensible. YOUR group have decided an MSc in Clinical Animal Behaviour, and 20+ years of experience working in behaviour counselling and training (having been on pretty well all the recognised courses avaiable at the times I needed to update my skills) is not good enough. Not them.

    1. majorm2003 Post author

      we are now drifting into mis-information, the standard for Clinical Animal Behaviourist (academic element) is a Bachelors degree level of study (not necessarily achieved at university) that covers all the topics required.

  4. teamworkdogtraining

    or are you suggesting I have to go back to square one (professionally speaking) and try for membership of one of your favoured organisations? I have chosen NOT to align myself with them for prefessional and/or ethical reasons, and those are the unacceptable hoops I mentioned in my first comment. I believe my experience, expertise and academic qualifications should stand on their own merits.

    1. majorm2003 Post author

      Part of the issue is that most who barely have a GCSE in something related also firmly believe they are in the same category as you and many of them are happily preaching positive punishment as an acceptable way to train dogs.

    2. majorm2003 Post author

      The organisations you refer to are not ‘favoured’ but they have all submitted their procedures for scrutiny and found to satisfy the ABTC requirements. these are the organisations that have been ‘licensed’ to assess practitioners and place them on the various registers. Every notable profession has a membership structure with qualifications to join and monitored CPD etc, individuals are answerable to nobody and therefore cannot be subject to complaints procedures or any form of sanctions in case of wrong doing.

  5. teamworkdogtraining

    The abtc would have no role in policing the system then? That if I were to be the object of a complaint it would be handled by the body I am a member of? Nothing to to do with the abtc?
    And the abtc have no say on the processes they use to assess me?

    Which brings me back to the hoops they demand people go through. Assuming I was willing to forego my professional opinions and ethics enough to join one of them, so I could be on the abtc behaviourist register, is anyone looking at them critically in the way they assess experienced practioners,with qualifications and proven experience, already working in the field? Or is it the abtc’s view that people with both should be assessed on a level playing field with a graduate with no experience? That we are all equal in skills level in the eyes of the abtc?

    Have the abtc conducted any research into seeing how many people the abtc should WANT working in the field (the positive, up to date, evidence based people like myself) this might affect and exclude? The reason some people (at least a few I have spoken to) are organising themselves into other organisations – I am not one of them – is they mistrust this system and have stronger reservations than even I do about the organisations they are expected to work with and belong to. Let alone the need to put their work (and income) on hold for a couple of years while those bodies take their time assessing them.

    The focus seems to be on ‘the baddies we want to keep out’, not ‘who the goodies we should try to include’.

    1. majorm2003 Post author

      The ABTC police the organisations and ensure that the assessment systems of each organisation meet the required standard for the role being assessed but do not get involved in individual complaints. It is not so much a case of everyone being equal as everyone meeting a minimum standard. No formal research has been carried out but the general estimate is that around 10,000 engaged in training and behaviour work, currently ABTC represents over 700 of them. There was a grand-parenting scheme for the ‘goodies’ that is now closed but not many took advantage of it, largely because they didn’t believe it was going to amount to anything.

  6. teamworkdogtraining

    But thank you for engaging in this conversation – it is appreciated. There is no forum for the likes of me to have our say or try to make sense of what is an anonymous website and since it is likely to put lots of people out of work it matters!

    1. majorm2003 Post author

      It will probably be a while before anyone is put out of a livelihood but those working outside of the profession will probably find it more and more difficult over time.

  7. majorm2003 Post author

    No, I was not suggesting you are but if regulation comes into being, those who decide not to take part will find themselves outside of regulation and therefore find it increasingly difficult to continue.

  8. Lorraine Godfrey

    I agree with you Paddy. Why if people have studied years, completed courses by a founder of ABTC now made to feel its worth nothing ??

    So all of these people will find it difficult to practice ? They have spent years dedicated to workshops, qualifications, CPDs, seminars, courses and they are kicked to the curb ! I am appalled by this.

    I absolutely agree that we need to stop people practicing that have no knowledge of dog behaviour, trainers who use aversive methods, surely this can be done by refusing those that do. Sadly there are some on the list I wouldn’t want working with my dog, however they are accepted to join.

    I really hope there is a way that these people can continue to do what they have committed their lives to doing.

    1. majorm2003 Post author

      I don’t understand where the notion that some will be ‘kicked to the curb’ or ‘casualties’ comes from. Every true profession has a governing body and registers of those who have achieved the requirements to practice, the opportunity to be assessed and join a register is there for everyone under ABTC (this is assuming that ABTC becomes the eventual regulator). Nobody could expect doctors, lawyers, psychologists or even gas fitters to practice without being assessed as qualified to do so and be answerable to their regulator. If someone decided to become a doctor by studying what they believed to be appropriate and then declared themselves qualified (which they may be) without submitting themselves to the GMC because they had reason to dislike elements of that system, they still wouldn’t be allowed to practice.

      1. teamworkdogtraining

        It seems to me is that you are unaware of the impact of the way regulation is intended to be implemented is going to have on a number of well qualified, professional people who have spent many years establishing good practice, working in the field of dog behaviour.

    2. Angela Pitman

      I agree Lorraine, the goalposts have definitely been moved so that now, unless you go for the Grad.Dip, a new level with compass, you are stuck at a lesser level, like many others, I have, since 1989, studied, gone on workshops, done courses on a variety of subjects at a variety of different levels, been working full time in my chosen line of ‘work’ (passion) for over 25 yrs, and yet, all of this means little unless you have a couple of ‘suitable’ letters after your name!

      There is also a member of ABTC that i would also not want working with my dogs, knowing for a fact that some members of that body of Behaviourists will use whatever method is needed ‘by fair means or foul’ or that ‘nobody is going to dictate to me how or what i am going to use’,
      Almost all of my work comes from veterinary recommendations, word of mouth and previous clients returning, very rarely have I had anyone coming to me saying they found my name on xxxxx body of trainers or behaviourists.
      Although I am currently a member of ABTC, I don’t feel enthused to continue with it.

      1. majorm2003 Post author

        It is not so much a case of the goalposts being moved as goalposts being erected. The standard for Clinical Animal Behaviourists was established by ASAB around 15 years ago although very few took any notice, this was then adopted by ABTC six years ago. It was at this time that Compass started developing the more advanced top-up programme to align itself with the requirements. As I said in an earlier reply once ABTC has some real authority people who act outside of the rules will be in a position to lose something tangible, at the moment being ‘expelled’ simply means that people can operate totally outside of any structure, call themselves what they like and say all sorts of untruths on their websites.

  9. majorm2003 Post author

    ABTC is acutely aware that there is a significant number of well qualified and responsible practitioners (albeit probably a lesser number than the inadequately qualified) and systems were put in place to accommodate them getting into the process. For various reasons many have chosen to avoid the recommendations, others have overtly rejected them, opportunities are still there.

  10. teamworkdogtraining

    time to draw a line under this I think. But at least there there a few more organisations I can look into joining now since I last looked, so I may still pursue it so I am not totally out of a job. But not at any cost! Professionally, ethically or financially. I am still pro positive techniques and training as well being up to date scientifically. I just wish I believed the members of the organisations that are members of the abtc were also. I can only hope some individuals have changed by dint of being added to the register and the process of joining has changed their minds about using abusive techniques.

  11. majorm2003 Post author

    I agree or this will go on for ever but please bear in mind these are early days and everything is being done on a voluntary basis, once authority is established much more can be achieved and the welfare of our charges will be able to be brought into even sharper focus.


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