What it is to be regulated

Since 2009 there have been many attempts to unify the training and behaviour sector behind regulations aimed at raising its practitioners into a truly professional status. Most attempts have been well motivated but nearly all have failed to understand what it means for a work related roles to be properly regulated.

The first requirement is to identify the work roles that are going to be regulated, what the scope of those roles is and any limitations to them, in other words, what people will be qualified to do.

The next requirement is to establish standards for those roles. There is a convention that dictates how a formal work related standard is written. It breaks down what people need to know (Knowledge and Understanding) to carry out the task and also what they need to be able to do (Skills). The knowledge and understanding also needs to be taught at an appropriate level of education.

There needs to be a clear code of practice/conduct that all practitioners declare they will abide by. This must be accompanied by a system of policing by an independent body, simple self declaration without any form of monitoring and control or ability to impose sanctions if the code is contravened has very little value whatsoever.

There must be a credible, independent governing body and the over riding principle for all its activities is transparency. It is essential for the management to adopt systems that independently confirm that all requirements are being met at all stages, not just for the practitioners and the organisations that represent them but also the governing body itself. This must be a ‘live’ system that continually verifies the performance of all concerned.

Only one governing body has satisfied all of the requirements creating a comprehensive framework that details every aspect of what it is to be a qualified practitioner and what is required to remain qualified. It is no coincidence that the veterinary profession and major animal welfare charities have come together in their support of the system operated by the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC) and none of the others.

This begs the question ‘why have the other attempts failed to gather the same level of support?’ The answer is not the same for each, although there are some common themes. The foremost failing is the unwillingness of most organisations that represent trainers and behaviourists to surrender authority to an independent governing body. They all regard their autonomy more highly than a common set of comprehensive rules to abide by and more importantly, be judged against. Comprehensive rules and standards frequently undermine an organisation’s ability to make unsubstantiated claims of expertise and recruit members by promising professional status based on minimal requirements, all of which undermine commercial advantage. When commercial advantage is put ahead of animal welfare and professional standards there is something seriously wrong with the organisation’s operational ethos.

The past nine years has seen seven systems (including ABTC) with the aim of bringing the sector together, the irony that seems to escape the architects of each scheme is each one further divides the sector and adds to the confusion. The latest attempt is a charter for dog practitioners which is also bound to fail to attract institutional support, largely because it mimics some that have failed before but it also aims to allow organisations to operate independently without the strict control of a regulator.

There is a misconception that self declaration of expertise or qualifications (both at individual and organisational level) is adequate – it is not. There is a misconception that calling something a ‘National Register’ or ‘Charter’ gives it some kind of authenticity or authority – it does not. There is a misconception that signing up to a code of practice that is not enforced adds value – it does not.

With the exception of ABTC, most of the numerous cooperatives and groups that claim to deliver some form of regulation actually represent little more than a marketing tool for those on their lists of people or organisations and the approach has been somewhat desultory. Being a registered charity, ABTC is also the only one of these organisations that is a legal entity, the remainder have no status in law. Inevitably they seem attractive to people in search of some form of professional validation as they make bold claims and sound impressive, they are also generally easy and cheap to join with few, if any, checks. This demonstrates a clear case of getting what you pay for, remember, if it seems cheap and easy and offers much, there is probably a very good reason. Many people are being misled into investing money, time and energy into membership of organisations and schemes that will soon be shown to be of very limited value.

As the RCVS closes in on bringing para-professionals under their regulatory umbrella I predict that by the end of 2019 the training and behaviour sector will be clearly polarised. There will be those professionally qualified and formally regulated practitioners under ABTC at one end of the spectrum and the remainder who will be consigned to a category of the unregulated and unvalidated, no matter what professional status they claim.

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