What is an Accredited Animal Behaviourist?

As I said in my last post the ABTC has now completed its suite of standards for the animal behaviour and training sector but many people are asking what this means to them and how they can be listed on the various national registers. The first point to be clear about is that only organisations can be granted membership, individual practitioners cannot become members of the ABTC in their own right except by invitation of the Council. Organisations that represent practitioners should apply for membership and part of that process is to demonstrate how their practitioners meet the appropriate standard. Historically each organisation has developed its own method of assessing people based on what they deemed to be important rather than matching their requirements to a universal standard so it is no surprise that each organisation has different membership criteria. The ABTC seeks to harmonise this situation so that each organisation will be meeting the same high standards, some organisations may exceed the requirements and others may need assistance to ensure the standards are met.

As it is expected that this process will take some time the category of Accredited Animal Behaviourist (AAB) was created, it applies to all those currently carrying out the role of behaviourist with a reasonable level of education and training that does not quite meet the strict requirements of either Clinical Animal Behaviourist (CAB) or Animal Behaviour Technician (ABT), in short a ‘Grand-parenting Scheme’. Be aware though, this is not a free ticket to avoid eventually becoming qualified in one or other of these two roles. People who most appropriately fall into this category have until the end of March 2016 to get themselves onto this register, after which new applications will no longer be accepted. Those who are on the register at that time will have until the end of March 2021 to complete any gaps in their education and skill sets to transfer onto the CAB or ABT register and the AAB category will then cease to exist.

The message therefore is to either convince your organisation to join the ABTC or move to an organisation that is already a member (or is taking steps to achieve membership), I am also personally aware of at least two possible new organisations in the making based on ABTC requirements that feel too many practitioners are currently unrepresented.

This is the point at which the individual can start making a difference to animal welfare by making their needs felt to those who manage their chosen group and get on board with the ABTC, a movement that is now a permanent fixture in the animal behaviour and training sector.


What is an Animal Behaviour Technician?

At the end of June this year the ABTC published the standard for Animal Behaviour Technicians (ABT) (http://www.abtcouncil.org.uk/standards-for-practitioners.html#tech ), this latest standard completes the suite of core roles in the sector of animal behaviour and training. It provides practitioners with either a career ‘stop-point’ or a point at which they can start working with a range of behaviour issues to gain practical experience as they continue their studies towards becoming a fully qualified Clinical Animal Behaviourist.

Although training rehabilitation forms a good part of the role the main emphasis will be towards offering advice and educating owners and handlers to avoid issues arising in the first place, prevention always being preferable to cure. This makes it an ideal role for veterinary nurses, dog wardens, rescue establishment workers and many more in the animal care sector, as well as trainers and training instructors who want to progress with their education.

Inevitably there are a lot of questions about this role as it is new to the sector so I will attempt to address the ones most likely to arise:

Can I be a Canine Behaviour Technician? In a sense you can in that you can specialise in dogs but it is important that you have a working knowledge of other species too because frequently other animals form part of the social environment that dogs are kept in and therefore have an influence on their behaviour. Equally, this is a core role that applies to the animal care sector which means that people can specialise in dogs, cats, rabbits, horses, parrots or any other species they wish to hence the use of the word ‘animal’. This is the same reasoning behind Animal Behaviour and Training Council, Clinical Animal Behaviourist, Animal Trainer, Animal Training Instructor etc.

Why doesn’t the name include the word behaviourist? As there are already three standards that include the word ‘behaviourist’ (although the Accredited Animal Behaviourist will cease to exist in 2021) there is a need to create a clear distinction between the roles and avoid confusion for those engaging the services of such a practitioner. The title was the subject of lengthy discussions and as there are technicians in other parts of the animal sector it was finally decided to go with an established convention.

How do I become an ABT? As the year progresses you will find courses becoming available that are designed around the standard but in the meantime ABTC member organisations will be able to submit their members’ names for inclusion on a new register based on previous education and assessment of practical skills that satisfy the role requirements.

What’s happening with the regulation of training and behaviour?

To the individual who has been getting on with their business of dog/horse/cat/rabbit etc behaviour therapy and/or training it may have seemed that little has happened since the flurry of activity three years ago when the ABTC was launched. Actually nothing could be further from the truth. Building an organisation with the support of the establishment that is likely to exist well into the future has proven to be quite a task, certainly not something that can be thrown together by a few well meaning individuals in the space of a few weeks or months. Nearly four years on since the first working group meeting the structure is fairly well in place and now the time is right for responsible organisations that want to be acknowledged as operating to the highest of professional standards to join those who have worked so hard to make it all happen.

All of the core standards have now been published and before the year is out you should start seeing which courses satisfy some or all of each individual standard. This will make it simpler for those joining the sector to work their way through the wide spectrum of quality and value that has characterised the industry for so long. At last people will be able to choose a meaningful career path without having to make decisions based on little more than the adverts and media ‘spin’ they are frequently presented with.

There will, no doubt, be those who will continue to resist and criticise the aims and accomplishments of the ABTC but as I have said since the beginning, anyone hearing such comments should ask themselves ‘what motive would anyone have to resist the moves to improve animal welfare that have the enthusiastic support of so many practitioners, the veterinary profession, the overwhelming majority of the animal welfare organisations, the Sector Skills Council and the Parliamentary under Secretary for Defra?’ I personally fail to see a convincing argument.

I will be posting on this subject as events unfold throughout the year and encourage supporters to spread the word, convince the doubters and join the movement that is reaching an unstoppable momentum.

David Montgomery

Bad marketing practices can lead to poor choices of course provider.

Since we started Compass Education 15 years ago the provision of distance learning education has changed beyond recognition. There are so many more people and groups involved and accreditation has developed from non-existent to a reasonably common feature. Unfortunately the increase in provision has brought about its own problems and students are still left wondering who is worth signing up with and spending their hard earned money on. The problem is not made any easier by courses that have appropriate accreditation yet still offer poor value for money in terms of the quality of what is taught. I have written before about the potential pitfalls that students face in choosing a course provider because I am angered that despite all the safeguards that seem to be in place, students frequently end up at Compass following a poor experience elsewhere. Comments such as ‘the tutoring was terrible’ or ‘what I received was a waste of money’ or even ‘they claimed to be experts but clearly did not know what they were talking about’ are all too common even when supported by suitable accreditation.. Politicians quite rightly receive heavy criticism for massaging the truth and dodging questions in order to appear whiter than white and sadly the same bad habit has crept into the descriptions that some course providers use about themselves. Some of the tricks that are employed are: 1. The use of a fake address, apparently impressive addresses can be rented for very little money when the ‘national college’ is actually being run from a back room in someone’s house. 2. Tutors and course writers being described as experts yet they have little or no proper credentials to support the claim. 3. Appearing to have a wide selection of courses when they are actually just agents selling on other people’s courses. 4. Using recorded messages such as ‘All our staff are busy answering calls at present please leave your name and number….’. When actually there is nobody there at all. 5. Inflating study levels, I was actually told once that if we advertised a level 2 course as a level 3 it would sell better! 6. Making unsubstantiated claims, for instance making statements that are not, in themselves untrue but when the full context is known a very different interpretation emerges. An example might be a claim to be influencing government in the formulation of animal related policy when the truth is that suggestions were made in a public consultation that was open to everybody. I could go on and on but you can probably understand where I am coming from. One important point is that even though proper accreditation is of value, it only covers the academic process, not the content. There is so much more in the way of bad practice that is not controlled by this measure alone. It can be very difficult to work out who is genuinely providing a quality education in all respects and who is more motivated by profit at any cost. Be careful. David Montgomery

How to choose a distance learning course in animal care/welfare/behaviour/training

There seem to be so many courses available these days that it can be tricky choosing the right one for you and there are a few things that people should take into consideration before parting with their hard earned money to avoid a bad buy. Fifteen years ago when Compass Education was started there were few courses to choose from and there was not the public interest there is today but coming from a teaching background we knew it was important to have some form of independent approval to reassure our students. We were the first to achieve such approval from an academic awarding body in the form of OCN, we even introduced our main competitor to them. Since those early days we have been accredited by no less than four such bodies and approved by a number of government sponsored organisations and professional associations (see http://www.compass-education.co.uk/Articles.asp?ID=252) which makes us the most widely approved private provider of animal related courses in the UK.
What people do not generally understand is what such accreditation actually means. We are constantly asked the question ‘is it a recognised qualification?’ but that question itself is full of difficulties to explain. As there are currently no regulations governing the subject there is no such thing as a course that qualifies practitioners. This is actually in the process of changing as the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (www.abtcouncil.org.uk) are about to publish standards and will accept courses that are submitted for approval from 2012. I predict that very few of the accredited courses that are currently available will reach the required standard. If they do it will be the most important measure of relevance and quality that has ever been available. Needless to say Compass will be doing everything possible to achieve this important level of accreditation.
When learning providers advertise their courses as accredited by an awarding body all it means is that it will be delivered to a good standard, it does not mean that the contents have been checked against any national requirement because there isn’t one (at the moment). They are simply teaching you what they think you need to know.
Many will indicate that they are registered as learning providers on the UK Register of Learning Providers which might make you think that some kind of checks have been carried out as to their legitimacy. Nothing could be further from the truth, a registered number is obtained by simply completing a registration form. This gives the student no protection whatsoever and says very little about the organisation.
You should be sure that the people who write the courses and the people that teach them are qualified to do so. It should not be enough for them to say that they are practicing behaviourists for instance. Just because someone has been doing a job for a while is no measure of their ability or authority to pass on anything other than their personal opinions on the subject. At least check to see that course authors have studied the subject themselves and that tutors have some form of teaching qualification otherwise you could be walking into a poor investment.
Of course if you are studying for the fun of it rather than to improve your employability or professional knowledge much of what I have said reduces in importance but most people want value for money these days. Just remember that if it is cheap there is a reason for that!

New website sparks massive spike in interest for Compass Education animal courses in the UK and around the world.

Following the recent launch of the new website for Compass Education analysis of visitor details has shown a massive increase in both new visitors and return visitors. Already, after only three weeks numbers have trebled with visitors from around the world. We expected an increase from the UK and Europe but the reaction worldwide has been staggering with visits from 122 countries so far including unexpected hits from countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam and Taiwan in the East, Syria, Jordan, Iraq and Iran in central Asia, Morocco, Uganda and Tanzania in Africa, Guatamala, Costa Rico, Colombia and Venezuala in Central and South America.

The tally of countries outside the UK that has students taught by Compass has now also risen to 45, making the college a truly global phenomenon and we are very proud to bring together a worldwide audience of people with a common interest in animal welfare.

David Montgomery