Author Archives: majorm2003

About majorm2003

Apart from my time in the forces I have had dogs in my life since I was five years old and being in my mid sixties that means a lot of dogs (I have eleven at the moment), everything from working breeds, toy breeds, terriers, utility breeds to hounds. I have seen the joy of puppies growing up, the hard work of the elderly and infirm dog and experienced the devastation of losing many friends, the pride of being unconditionally accepted by them, the frustrations and elations of working with rescued dogs and everything in between. We currently have ten dogs and I cannot imagine life without them, they are an inspiration, no more so than when I was going through treatment for cancer eleven years ago. Without qualifications I felt that despite my knowledge and experience I could only be regarded, like so many others working with animals, as a keen amateur. I read books, picked up information from television, trained my dogs and rescued any injured wildlife I came across or was brought to me. It was then I decided that if I was to become truly professional I needed a better education, so in 1994 I enrolled at Oxford Brookes University on a combined studies degree of Psychology and Animal Behaviour. Three years later I achieved my 2:1 BSc (Hons) and for those of you wondering if it’s possible whilst working in your late thirties and paying a mortgage, there is the evidence. After graduating I studied Counselling Skills at University College London and went on to professionally offer behaviour counselling. My teaching experience and education started in the Army, where I instructed and lectured on a range of primarily military skills but as a civilian I qualified as an adult education teacher and taught everything from numeracy, literacy and communication skills in prisons and young offenders establishments to animal behaviour, mathematics and psychology up to ‘A’ or ‘Higher’ level in local colleges and adult education centres. Since 2008 I have been closely involved with the creation of standards for animal trainers and behaviourists and was elected as the first chairman of the Animal Behaviour and Training Council, I am now the elected President. My special interests include breed specific behaviour in dogs, animal personality and environmental enrichment of captive wild animals, I am also actively involved in the soft release of rehabilitated wildlife.

Ofqual regulated qualifications v Accreditation from Ofqual regulated body

The latest trend in accreditation is for providers to elect for Ofqual regulated qualifications in the misguided belief it makes for a superior course. The process in terms of the checks and monitoring is the same as courses that are accredited by an Ofqual Regulated Awarding Body. The differences are subtle and the main one is of little benefit to anyone over 21. I wrote the following in a blog in 2017 and it still holds true:

Of the many questions I get about the accreditation of courses that are available in the Animal Care Sector (particularly relating to behaviour) is the topic of providing a springboard to a university course. There is an awful lot of mis-information on the subject, most of which revolves around the subject of applying for university through UCAS – The Universities and Colleges Admissions System.

The formal process of applying for a university place through UCAS is largely designed to cater for school leavers and anyone under the age of 21. If you do not fall into this bracket UCAS Tariff Points (associated with Ofqual regulated qualifications) are of much less importance. Mature students (those over 21 and generally all of those studying to become a behaviourist) have a more flexible set of opportunities and universities have the ability to judge your suitability based on experience and a broader spectrum of education that might be better suited to the chosen degree course. The following paragraph is taken directly from the UCAS website – Tips for mature student applications:

Don’t worry if you don’t have the right qualifications – just ask universities and colleges whether you can meet the entry requirements in a different way.

You could get accreditation for life and work experience.

Accreditation of prior learning (APL) is essentially credit awarded for wider learning evidenced from self-directed study, work or training.

In short UCAS Tariff Points are far from the be all and end all they are often made out to be. This goes further, just because a qualification is on the Tariff, does not mean a university will accept it. Therefore, it’s really important to check the entry requirements for the course you’re interested in.

There are only a certain number of qualifications on the Tariff. A university may accept a qualification even if it isn’t on the Tariff, so it’s best to check with them to see if they will accept your qualification. Remember, lots of universities do not use Tariff points.

So, how do courses get onto the Tariff? Put simply they need to appear on the Qualification and Credit Framework (QCF) which is a list of courses approved by Ofqual for delivery in mainstream colleges. It also opens the possibility of the course provider drawing on government funding to deliver it. The downside for course providers is that they must give up the intellectual ownership of the course and it becomes available to any other college to deliver.

The whole subject of accreditation has changed dramatically in the last twenty years and is still changing. Initially there were no privately provided courses that came with any form of Ofqual based accreditation, then slowly it became the mark of quality until now the choice of courses (and range of quality) is bewildering. The next development is for the training and behaviour sector to be regulated, many of my readers will understand that this process is now quite advanced. The introduction of regulation will mean that courses and their content will have to meet strict criteria and the vast majority of courses will not meet those requirements and it will not matter whether they attract UCAS Points or not.  I predict that, in the not too distant future, an awful lot of people will be very disappointed with choices they have made and money they have invested based on advertising promising that they will become ‘qualified’ behaviourists.

Change is definitely coming

It seems that the business of the animal training and behaviour sector being formally recognised as a profession is taking forever and it is true to say that there have been significant delays as a result of Brexit which was swiftly followed by the Covid pandemic. The net result is that progress is about two years behind schedule but the positive news is that talks with the RCVS have re-started. For those who are not aware of what is coming, there is a new Veterinary Services Act being developed that will replace the Veterinary Surgeons Act (1966). Part of the new act will be dedicated to para-professional activities (also referred to as ‘allied professions’), behaviour and training being one such activity.

In order to be included, any para-profession must meet many criteria to demonstrate that they are regulated to a sufficiently high standard to be recognised by the RCVS and that they would be confident in linking them to their Royal Charter. There are some key issues in the process of regulation that must be met including a clear set of standards that define what educational and skills requirements are to be met by each role, how those standards are assessed and independently assured on an ongoing basis, there must be a single disciplinary process, there must be a register of all qualified practitioners, there must be evidence of strong and effective governance along with many more requirements.

Being qualified cannot be self-declared, each individual will need to be formally assessed as meeting all the criteria.

Currently the behaviour and training sector is a mosaic of different organisations doing their own thing to a spectrum of different abilities and requirements and while there is undoubtedly some overlap in what each does there is no coherent structure and therefor the sector cannot be regarded as a single profession. The only organisation that provides the detailed infrastructure of such a profession is the ABTC and this is why they are discussing the way ahead with the RCVS for inclusion in the forthcoming legislation.

ABTC are well aware of their critics, most of whom are allied to other systems that have appeared over the last 10 years to try and provide an alternative form of regulation. It is unlikely that any of these systems will offer a suitably rigorous and acceptable level of governance to be considered for the moves that are coming which is why ABTC are the focus of attention. ABTC has already attracted the support of the veterinary profession and all the major animal welfare charities. It is also the only ‘Council’ (this is a legally sensitive term that requires permission of the appropriate Secretary of State to be used in a name, the organisation should normally be a local authority, an independent advisory body, a deliberative assembly, or a governing, supervisory or representative body of an activity, trade, business or profession).

There are still more steps in the process and metaphorical hoops to jump through but change is coming that will elevate the status of trainers and behaviourists that embrace it.

Credit for prior learning

As the prospect of a regulated animal training and behaviour sector draws nearer many people are examining their qualifications gathered over time and realise that there may be gaps that need filling. Over the last 12 months Compass has received an unprecedented level of registrations for the level 5 and 6 courses it offers, we have even taken on an extra tutor to manage the demand and may still need yet another one.

Every single week we get asked about credit for prior learning based on previous courses undertaken with other course providers, typically people want to go straight onto the level 6 programme based on their completion of a level 5 course elsewhere. Credit for prior learning can be awarded but there are strict requirements that need to be satisfied and many are disappointed that their previous investments cannot be recognised.

Unfortunately it is not as simple as ‘I have done a level 5 course with someone else so your level 6 is the next step’, there are four key conditions that must all be met before that is the case and evidence will be requested.

Firstly the prior learning must be fully accredited by an Ofqual regulated awarding body or be an Ofqual regulated qualification and most are not. Some applicants’ courses are not accredited at all and others are certificated by non-qualifying organisations. Examples of certifying organisations that are not regulated by Ofqual include, CPD UK, UK Rural Skills and Complementary Medical Association but there are more.

Secondly the level of the course must be the same or higher than the one for which credit is sought. The level is determined by the awarding body and is based on a number of criteria including the technical nature of the course, the learning outcomes and the assessment criteria. If it is not fully accredited as above the level cannot be guaranteed.

Thirdly the length of the course or amount of time specified by the awarding body must be equal to the one for which credit is being sought. The length of a course is expressed in hours as Total Qualification Time (TQT), Guided Learning Hours (GLH) or sometimes as Credits where 1 Credit equals 10 hours of study.

Finally, the syllabus or the elements of the subject matter for which credit is sought must closely match the syllabus of the course being applied for. This is not done by simply comparing module titles, it is a case of matching learning outcomes and some providers are not keen to release this information for copyright reasons (some courses do not even have any).

Regrettably we are unable to give credit for courses that do not meet these requirements as being compatible with Compass provision. In the case of level 5 and 6 courses that are delivered by private course providers that fall into this category may be accepted as evidence that the student is able to enter the Compass Level 5 courses. Typically partial credit is granted automatically to qualified vets and some vet nurses or students with relevant degrees.

Some applicants wish to claim credit for experience and in Higher Education it is possible for this to be recognised through a process known as Accreditation of Prior Experiential Learning (APEL) but this is a time consuming process and usually expensive process and we do not have the resources to support such applications.

Do not feed the trolls

I think that few would disagree that the advent of the internet has brought about fantastic advantages to society, individuals, businesses and more but as is often the case, with great things comes a few unsuspected drawbacks.

There are those who have been disenfranchised by being unable to keep up with technology such as the poor, the elderly or those who have difficulty grasping the skills required to operate in the high-tech world.

Another significant drawback is that the same technology that has improved the ease and speed of operating businesses and individuals’ lives also enhances the ease with which criminal activity can take place. The spectrum of illegal pursuits is seemingly without limits, from hacking bank accounts, to scams designed to rob people of their money that often need a sophisticated understanding of technology down to cyber bullying which requires no special skill or aptitude at all, just the ability to be unpleasant and have a total lack of regard for, or understanding of, socially acceptable behaviour.

As a member of the British Psychological Society it is the latter I want to write about, what has become known as ‘trolling’. The reasons that people engage in trolling range from a need to feel they have some form of power over others, generally to compensate for their own insecurities and lack of self esteem, to trying to damage the reputation of other businesses to gain corporate advantage. Whatever the reason they all have something in common, something now increasingly referred to as trolling personality disorder. It is typified by psychopathy and sadism, they usually lack empathy and derive satisfaction from causing anguish to others, particularly if they believe they will gain some sort of advantage from it, they have no moral compass.

They might have difficulty understanding sarcasm, this is where someone says the opposite of what they mean. For example, if they make a mess of a task and someone in authority says sarcastically ‘you have really sorted that’, they could well believe they have actually done well and received genuine endorsement despite the evidence to the contrary. Such difficulties are often but not exclusively, associated with autism spectrum disorders. They may also exhibit signs of a superiority complex, people with this complex have exaggerated opinions of themselves, they believe their abilities and achievements surpass those of others and they can reinforce this belief by trolling. People suffering from such personality issues frequently don’t actually understand what is wrong with such behaviour as they interpret it as being strong and an acceptable survival strategy. The fact that it is illegal is seen as of little consequence as they believe such laws do not apply to what they are doing. They will often be quick to brag about their achievements too (real or imaginary)

Trolling takes several forms, it can be harsh and often cruel criticism of their target to spreading deliberate untruths and the more salacious the better. It is not always clear who is responsible for sending it but somehow they will want someone to know who was responsible as this is more rewarding for them. Sometimes it is clear who is responsible, in these cases the individual will phrase their odious message in such a way as to make it not worth prosecuting under libel laws, this makes them feel more talented and adds to their misplaced sense of superiority.

The temptation to stand up for yourself and put the truth out there is overwhelming but strangely this is the last thing you should do. Any response is playing into their hands, it shows that you have seen the attack and it has got your attention, this marks their first success. The next success for them is that it has had the desired effect and caused you enough of an emotional response to sit down and compose an answer. They will then relish the ensuing exchanges aiming for the last word and their increasing satisfaction is in stark contrast to your increasing stress. The most effective strategy is to not respond at all, resist the temptation. Apply the advice given to dog owners when dealing with begging and ignore it, if there is no reward they will soon work out that their efforts are not working. If someone is fishing but catching no fish they will move to another spot. Answering them will just encourage the behaviour and drags you down to the same low level, not answering causes them frustration.

Do not feed the trolls.

Mis-information, cyber propaganda or just lack of understanding?

Recently in a telephone conversation with someone I had never spoken to before I heard something that I found concerning. She was asking for some career advice and when I suggested she investigated becoming a member of an ABTC approved organisation she hesitated and then told me that she had heard through social media that ABTC supported punishment as a training method. Before I go any further I want to make it crystal clear this is absolutely NOT true and if there is any doubt I would ask readers to visit http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/images/1ABTC%20Ethical%20Dog%20Training.pdf This document was first published in 2015 and has been in circulation ever since.

Having reassured her that what she had read was completely wrong and simply a case of someone spreading mis-information I set about examining the phenomenon of fake news and cyber propaganda. There were a number of questions to address as follows:

  1. Why would anyone deliberately post untruths on social media?

Of course we could consider the simple possibility of malicious mischief but I think that unlikely. More probable is someone seeking to undermine a good reputation in order to gain a benefit for themselves. If so, this takes us into the immoral and unhealthy realm of competition where spreading lies about others is seen as fair game. If it was a deliberate act, knowing the information to be false, this sort of behaviour becomes propaganda but if it was someone spreading mis-information thinking it to be true without checking their facts it can be classed as malicious gossip. Either way it is no less reprehensible and shows the perpetrator in a pretty poor light as they directly seek to manipulate opinion using false statements.

  1. If those spreading the untruths thought it was the truth why would that be?

Of course, if the originator mistakenly believed it to be true they may well see themselves as a crusader. In this case they would feel they were a whistleblower on unethical issues for the good of the community. In fact they are guilty of behaving unethically and actually causing damage to the very cause they thought they were helping. For the sake of this enquiry I will assume that it is not a case of deliberate propaganda and lean towards it being unsubstantiated gossip. Firstly, we have to consider where the lie originated but this can be very difficult to establish because it will have been shared and rebroadcast many times, potentially being embellished and exaggerated each time. As is the case in the game of Chinese Whispers, slight variations to the original telling of the story result in something quite different. A rumour will often start from a misinterpretation of something taken out of context or one small, usually insignificant issue can be blown out of proportion and generalised to a whole community. One can only guess that perhaps one incident carried out by one person out of more than a thousand others associated with ABTC (less than 0.1%) was judged by someone without all the facts to be contrary to anti-aversive philosophy. From this over time it has grown into the fake news being circulated.

As the late Terry Pratchett once said “A lie can run round the world before the truth has got its boots on.” The point being that salacious stories and tales of wicked wrongdoing are far more engaging than the truth which is, in comparison, frequently quite dull.

  1. Finally I asked myself, do the people spreading these untruths really understand the psychological principles they are quoting?

The general notion of ‘Do no Harm’ is the overarching principle that is easily understood until someone who uses shock collars for instance, insists that they are not doing any harm. In order to be more specific people start refining their definition by quoting BF Skinner’s rules of operant conditioning but this is where it starts to get bogged down, partly because it is usually viewed too simplistically and partly because his work is quoted selectively. Despite being enthusiastic exponents of force free training many people do not consider how they might unwittingly engage in positive punishment without regarding it as such. Defined as an unpleasant circumstance resulting from a given behaviour, examples can be found on a regular basis. Rushing towards a dog chewing on an electric cable could easily be described as positive punishment as is throwing water over fighting dogs, even the simple act of telling them ‘no’ or something similar fits the definition too. The counter argument proposed to these examples is that they are not training, they are management but that is avoiding the issue, whether training or management they are examples of the learning process and positive punishment is taking place.

Clearly it is a highly desirable aim to stop people carrying out regular training in classes or at home by instilling fear, pain or anxiety and this is vigorously promoted by ABTC but it is also naïve and illustrates a lack of understanding to say that you will never be a party to positive punishment under any circumstances, that is the real mis-information.

More wheel re-invention

In 2008 the training and behaviour industry overwhelmingly agreed that it needed regulating. At that point there were around ten organisations that represented trainers and behaviourists and even then that was widely regarded as a confusing situation to clients and outsiders. All of them were working to their own idea of what was needed to be qualified to practice. The CAWC report 2008 stated that this situation ‘may have important negative consequences for the welfare of both companion animals and their owners and the public at large if they reduce uptake of basic or competent services’. With the support of the major animal welfare charities, the veterinary profession and many of the organisations that took part in discussions to remedy the situation, ABTC was formed.  The purpose of ABTC was and still is, to set and maintain the standards of knowledge and practical skills needed to be a qualified trainer or behaviourist, maintain a national register of appropriately qualified practitioners and to promote humane methods for the welfare of animals in their work.

Despite the level of support that ABTC immediately attracted there was resistance from some quarters, there were those that did not agree with the emphasis on positive reinforcement and the KCAI scheme felt that they were best placed to become the focus of standards for the industry. Additionally, a register of people signing up to abide by an industry code of conduct was set up aiming ‘to unite all practitioners’. In the space of six months in 2009/10 we witnessed the creation of ABTC and three other groups with their own notions of how to promote industry-wide best practice. The industry that was crying out for a regulator to bring clarity and structure to the profession was evidently more interested in promoting self-interest than high standards and now there was a second tier of confusion in existence.

Since 2010 the number of organisations representing trainers and behaviourists has grown to approaching thirty, arguably more than doubling the level of confusion applied to the sector at that level but as if that were not enough those claiming some form of regulatory role for the sector has also grown. In common with the other organisations their purposes vary depending on the opinions of their architects and by 2018 there were now five of them competing with ABTC whose purpose was decided by industry. The additions included another ‘national’ register and a syndicate of organisations aiming to provide ‘a new dynamic of unity’ which was now becoming a recurring theme.

In the light of the sixth such organisation failing to make a significant impact, many of those responsible for creating it are now trying again with a seventh, calling themselves a Charter. Re-using  some of the same claims made last time they are offering ‘for the first time a clear, unified voice’ (Fact check – untrue, sounds very familiar) and ‘for the first time an independent oversight structure’ (Fact check – untrue, ABTC is governed by an elected Board of Trustees). The huge irony that surely cannot be lost on most people is that one of the aims of the group is to tackle the partisan nature of the sector but its creation is actively compounding that very issue. What is much more worrying is that this group is deliberately ignoring the issue of standards of knowledge, education and training needed to be competent to practice, leaving that issue to the membership organisations to decide what is best and thereby undermining the call for standards in the sector. So long as members agree to abide by a code of conduct they can become ‘qualified’ any way they see fit. This marks a serious backwards step eroding the hard won progress over the last ten years in establishing the need for a comprehensive set of standards that already includes all aspects of ethical working.

Of the now seven such groups there still remains only one with any legal status and answerable to a higher authority (ABTC is responsible to the Charity Commission and the Scottish Charity Regulator), the remainder are run by informal committees that are often self-appointed or in one case, just one person. One states that it is a limited company but a search at Companies House shows that the company was dissolved several years ago.

The organisations competing with ABTC’s position in the industry have one thing in common, they are offering ways to avoid the hard work of becoming part of a truly regulated profession and I continue to be amazed at the effort people will apply to achieve that. They want to be regarded as professionals but do not want to take part in all the associated requirements of a regulated profession (see my last blog). Could you imagine the mayhem if vets could choose between seven organisations running their profession and most of them were not concerned in how they became qualified so long as they promised to use ethical methods? The fact remains that ABTC is the only organisation recognised by the veterinary profession and supported by government.

No matter how it is packaged and promoted as being different or new, the charter is a clear case of the re-invented wheel but sadly this wheel has some crucial spokes missing. It is no wonder that anyone wanting to make a career out of training and/or behaviour services is completely baffled when they start looking into how to become qualified and the mess that the sector continues to create for itself.

Where are we now with regulation?

In December 2018 I made a prediction (see my blog ‘What it is to be regulated’) that failed to come to fruition due to the Brexit debacle. Up until the Covid-19 crisis took hold things were slowly getting back on track at the end of 2019 after being severely delayed by the impact Brexit had on the RCVS, now the whole process is back ‘on ice’ while higher socio-economic problems take priority. Very few trainers and behaviourists have any work at all at the moment and I doubt that all will survive the shutdown unscathed, whatever emerges in the future will also take a while to re-establish as a thriving industry. There will however, still be people with pets and still a need for training and behaviour work and some would suggest the need for trainers and behaviourists will be greater. It is predicted that we will experience more cases of anxiety issues once owners start getting back to work and there will be many puppies that have not been able to experience the breadth of socialisation they would have done in different circumstances. Couple an increased need with the forecasted levels of unemployment and subsequent lack of ability to pay for such services, self-employed trainers and behaviourists competing for the business under the spectre of potential reappearance of the virus and it doesn’t take much imagination to picture an industry in turmoil for a while. Regulated services will be more important than ever.

As we are all stuck at home with our internet devices for company some of the ABTC scheduled meetings and decision making are continuing and constructive work continues. Social media has helped keep people’s social interactions going and provides a positive outlet in many instances but inevitably its less constructive characteristic is there too. Rumours and fake news spread quickly at all levels. Some of the old myths about ABTC are doing the rounds again and no doubt being accepted as gospel by many, here are two examples:

Myth 1: You cannot be an ABTC behaviourist without a degree. Absolutely not so. In many cases a degree will only cover some of the academic requirements and further study may be required anyway but the important phrase is ‘degree level of study’. There is a growing number of privately delivered programmes at the correct level but be aware that they do not all qualify in terms of covering all the topics required or being of sufficient length (100 credits at level 5 and 120 credits at level 6). For the less academically inclined there is even a process of APEL (accreditation for prior experiential learning).

Myth 2: You have to go through ASAB assessment for CCAB to become an ABTC behaviourist. This has never been the case, for sure it is an option that some choose and one organisation uses it for their membership process. But any organisation can create a process of assessment that demonstrates that all their full members have their skills properly assessed and have the required knowledge and understanding to be equipped to competently carry out the work.

So what is happening about regulation right now? A number of schemes have been attempted to provide alternatives to ABTC over the last ten years and another is about to launch shortly but most largely avoid the qualification issue choosing to place their emphasis on ethical methods instead. This is fine as far as it goes and is no different to ABTC in that respect but they miss the point of regulation. The latest scheme is no different and is claiming that ‘for the first time the dog training industry will have a clear, unified voice’ and ‘Most importantly everything will be supported by an independent oversight structure – the first time this has been put in place within the industry’, this is, of course, far from the case. I lose count but it must be the fifth or sixth such scheme and as with all the others it does not do everything that ABTC has been doing for the past ten years.

There are five crucial elements to any regulatory framework and any organisation that does not meet them all falls short of the mark, they are:

  1. Governance must be independently accountable and transparent
  2. Defined technical competence based on a standard body of knowledge (academic requirements).
  3. Defined technical competence based on a standard of performance criteria (assessment of skills)
  4. Complaints and disciplinary procedure must be in place.
  5. Standards of ethical personal and business practice including customer service, financial probity and advertising must be adhered to.

ABTC is the only organisation that meets all these requirements and remains poised to go through the RCVS accreditation process when circumstances permit. This will be the single most important step so far in the industry’s development, it is not just important, it is essential because it is an absolute requirement of formal Defra recognition that any such regulatory body is independently accredited. Nothing short of this will be accepted. Any scheme that does not meet these requirements, no matter how well intentioned, is simply misleading people and creating more confusion in an industry that is crying out for clarity.

The course accreditation minefield (continued)

Compass was one of the first course providers in the Animal Care Industry to go down the route of having its courses accredited by a regulated awarding body over 20 years ago. Since then much has changed in the academic world of accreditation. The questions we have been asked over the years have also changed as students have become more aware that an advertised course may not be exactly all it is presented as.

The process of achieving accreditation has become steadily more involved over the years with more and more hoops to jump through and corresponding additional cost. Costs have to be passed on to the students and a growing number of course providers have decided that the benefits do not justify the cost and effort involved and have abandoned formal accreditation, some have turned to unregulated accreditation bodies which confuses potential students even more (see my last blog) but others have simply given up altogether in favour of keeping costs and burdensome administration down.

Those course providers who remain with an Ofqual regulated Awarding Body have two choices for accreditation, they can adopt Customised Qualification status for their courses or Regulated Qualification status. Already I can hear the majority of readers losing the will to carry on with this blog but if you are interested in the subject the difference is important.

Both types of qualification go through essentially the exact same process of checks to ensure they meet the high level of quality required by Ofqual in terms of content and delivery. They must reach the level of study claimed which indicates the difficulty and depth of the course and they are allocated a Total Qualification Time (TQT) figure to indicate the length of the course. TQT is often quoted in ‘credits’ with one credit equalling 10 hours so, to give you a benchmark, the TQT of a GCSE is usually around 120 hours or 12 credits while each year of a three year degree is typically 1200 hours or 120 credits.

So far there is absolutely nothing to distinguish between Customised and Regulated qualifications but there is one crucial difference. When an organisation submits a qualification for Regulated status through their awarding body it relinquishes its intellectual property rights, in other words it no longer owns the course. Customised qualifications remain the property of the course provider who produced it. In giving up ownership the now regulated course is given an identifying number and appears on a register of regulated courses published by Ofqual, customised qualifications do not have such a number and do not appear on the register. The process of appearing on this register does not alter the value or purpose of the course in any way.

A question I am constantly asked is ‘is your course a recognised qualification?’ and my answer is to ask ‘recognised by whom?’. For qualifications to reach their potential they must attract industry recognition to be of any real value other than just for personal interest. It is possible to have a regulated qualification (registered by Ofqual) that is not recognised by industry. In this case Ofqual is saying that the course meets educational requirements but industry says it falls short of their requirements. Equally, a customised qualification that does not appear on the Ofqual register may be recognised by industry as fulfilling all the requirements of industry. The reasons that industry might reject a regulated qualification range from incorrect content (not covering required topics) to inadequate level or too low a TQT value (the course is too short). Courses that are produced by industry tend to meet their requirements exactly because they are written to satisfy their own requirements whether they are regulated or customised qualifications.

For further reading see: https://ofqual.blog.gov.uk/2016/06/14/when-size-does-matter/

Superficial routes to appearing professionally qualified

Having watched the animal training and behaviour evolve for over twenty five years I have watched dubious ways of creating an apparently professional profile mushroom out of all recognition and some things go full circle back to the days when virtually no courses were properly accredited. Everyone seems to be chasing the cheap, quick fix when none actually deliver genuine results.

At one point course accreditation was an important factor in demonstrating quality but slowly many course providers have found that the profits that are lost by not being accredited is not enough to justify the extra effort and cost involved in maintaining accreditation. This leads to a business decision to drop external quality checks leaving them free to lower their standards and make more money. Equally I notice the rise in businesses offering accreditation services that are not regulated and therefore of the same standard as others. UK Rural Skills for example are not a regulated awarding body, unlike NCFE, Lantra Awards and others who are regulated by Ofqual, the government Office of Qualifications and Examinations Regulation.

Unregulated awarding bodies are cheaper, conduct far fewer checks and controls on course providers and are not overseen by a higher authority but the course provider can legitimately say that their courses are accredited which makes it look as if their courses are on a par with those who are properly regulated. It also means that the provider can artificially inflate the levels of their courses to make them a more attractive purchase, this explains the widening selection of apparent level 5 and 6 courses. It does mean that the students looking for the right course need to be aware that such courses are not recognised as valid when compared with properly regulated accreditation. Another organisation that is of little or no value in our sector is the CMA, this stands for Complementary Medicine Association, it is an American business that displays articles on subjects such as Men’s Health and Natural Beauty yet is presented by at least one Dog Training Education provider as a governing body that provides ‘Global Recognition’ for their course. Forgive my scepticism but how this adds any value whatsoever to their course provision escapes me.

Of more significance now is the ever increasing number of logos people and organisations can collect and display to create an air of industry recognition and professionalism. To the un-initiated such an array can look impressive because they do not understand which of them has any real value and which are simply bought with little or no checks or monitoring. Self-declaration of expertise is valueless, for example, anybody can declare that they will not use force when training dogs for instance but there are many other ways of causing stress or mistreating a dog and if someone is not properly educated and trained the chances are such practices are quite likely to take place despite the good intention of the person with the flimsy validation.

For years I have also warned people about the bogus post nominal letters that some course providers say their students can use to make themselves look well qualified but still that practice continues. Ofqual describe this practice as a ‘misleading representation’. The people that proudly display such letters have no idea that they are actually advertising the fact that they are poorly qualified, the unsuspecting pet owning public buy into the charade as well because they don’t know any better. In mainstream education the use of such post nominals is seen as laughable. What is really alarming is that many people wanting to be dog trainers and behaviourists put their money and efforts into this without understanding that they are being misled, they genuinely believe that they have real and meaningful credentials.

In 2008 the training and behaviour sector unanimously agreed that regulation was needed (it is probably the only topic that attracts total agreement) but actually that is not quite what many want. What has emerged is a desire to appear regulated with minimal effort or controls, in other words, freedom to do whatever each organisation sees fit in the way of education of its members in the most profitable way. The latest trend is to equate a code of conduct with professionalism but this is only a part of what it takes to be a professional and simply signing up to a code of practice camouflages the more important issue of thorough education and training to produce competent practitioners.

Latest progress towards regulation

As we approach the 10 year anniversary of the decision to form the Animal Behaviour and Training council the sector is coming close to a major milestone in the recognition of a formal regulator. It is a topic that has divided opinion and raised emotions since the CAWC report was published in 2008.

 

As things stand there are far more regulatory requirements to sell burgers than deliver training and behaviour services to our pets, this cannot be right and has to change. The irony is that the majority of people involved in this work agree that regulation is required but many don’t want anything that is going to impact on the way they operate and that is the root of the problem of voluntary self-regulation. Without any compulsion to take part in regulation only those who least need it get involved, those with the lowest levels of knowledge and training simply avoid being a part of it.

 

Everybody believes they an expert, nobody wants a system that is going to mean undertaking further education and assessment and they don’t want to be told what they can and cannot say on their websites because it is only others that need such interventions. Organisational loyalties play a large part for many as well with clearly identified ingroups and outgroups (see social identity theory) and conspiracy theories abound as a result.

 

On 29th October a meeting to consider the question of regulation again was attended by about 175 interested people, it was hosted by the All Party Parliamentary Dog Advisory Welfare Group at Westminster. I say ‘again’ because it is something that was first considered around twenty years ago and has had regular airings since. The mood at the meeting reaffirmed the general agreement with the principle of regulation and we went on to hear opinions and some new proposals for such a structure although this has been done several times before. We are now at the stage when some of the people learning about this topic were still at school when the process started and are not fully aware of the work that has gone into reaching the point we are at now. We have now gone full circle and are starting to go over ground that has already been discussed tried and not succeeded before.

 

Since 2009 there have been five different attempts to bring practitioners together under one regulator but none have enjoyed the steady growth and progress seen by ABTC. No other has the support of the veterinary profession, no other represents as many practitioners and no other operates a fully comprehensive system of ensuring that trainers and behaviourists are suitably qualified and competent to practice. It operates the only independent complaints and disciplinary process and is now poised to be accredited by the RCVS in early 2020.

 

If you are interested in another blog on the subject  go to https://www.bva.co.uk/news-campaigns-and-policy/bva-community/bva-blog/integrating-qualified-trainers-and-behaviourists-into-the-vet-led-team/