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.