It is an excellent rule to be observed in all disputes, that men should give soft words and hard arguments; that they should not so much strive to vex as to convince each other – John Wilkins, one of the founders of the Royal Society in 1660
I have lost count of the number of times I have written about dog training and behaviour modification over the years: I only know that it would total many thousands of words. I should first emphasise that I am not a dog trainer. I can teach dogs to sit, catch, jump over things and walk on a loose lead (despite what you may have seen the show ring!) and over the years through my many friendships in the world of training and behaviour I have learned a great deal. Neither does the Animal Care College teach people to train dogs but it does have many courses, all written and tutored by experienced professionals, related to canine psychology and behaviour so I have been involved with that associated (but separate) world to show dogs for almost 35 years. I therefore come without a professional ‘interest’: my only concern is the welfare of dogs.
I was therefore pleased to be involved in the series of meetings Chaired by Sir Colin Spedding under the auspices of the Companion Animal Welfare Council (CAWC) several years ago. CAWC had written a report, (the Regulation of Companion Animal Services in Relation to Training and Behaviour) in 2008 and set out a list of recommendations. The report said, in no uncertain terms, that the world of dog training and behaviour modification was in chaos and pointed out that most of the distinctions and claims made by groups of trainers regarding a wide range of behavioural problems were ‘indistinct’ and that such ‘distinctions and their promotion 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’.
I wrote in an open letter to trainers at the time and said: ‘What has happened is that in some quarters there is an attitude of elitism which is at best an ivory tower mentality and at worst simple protectionism. Both attitudes will be defended on the grounds of animal welfare but I do not believe such a defence is rational or valid of itself’,
The results of the CAWC meetings were not satisfactory for precisely the reasons set out in the above paragraph.
The truth about the formation of PRTbc and ATBC
After the first meeting, a group of professional trainers got together and proposed a council of organisations and colleges which would provide a viable structure for the points being made at the meetings. I was not involved in those discussions but by the time of the second meeting I had been asked to take the chair because it was felt by those involved that they would like to have an independent and experienced person who would not be involved in the politics and commercial interests which had surfaced over the previous few years.
Both had reared their heads as more dog owners were prepared to pay to solve their problems, and through the acceptance by pet insurers that they would pay for counselling if it was authorised by a veterinary surgeon (some of whom took on the role themselves although mostly they dedicated either members of their staff or people they knew locally to take on the task).
At the second meeting, the formation of the Pet Education Training and Behaviour Council (PETbc – www.petbc.org.uk) was announced and the secretary was asked by Sir Colin to describe how it had been set up and what its objectives were. When he had completed his review Sir Colin said, and I quote exactly: ‘That’s it then – job done’. Since then, PETbc has become well established and carried out much valuable research into dog training as demonstrated by the many articles on its website. Against opposition it also persuaded Lantra (the government sponsored educational and training organisation for the land based industries) to write a series of occupational competencies for dog trainers and canine behaviourists. It has established clear objectives for the various level of dog trainers and its website continues to be an important focus for education. It is not designed to promote either specific techniques or individual trainers. It is a forum for the industry and a provider of sound ideas and information for government.
However, to return to what have become known as the CAWC meetings, they included agreement on a basic Code of Best Practice which was be accepted by everyone involved in dog training and behaviour modification. It took another meeting to hammer this out and in the meantime what some describe as ‘the Ivory Tower group’ decided that PETbc was not an organisation that they could support so set up their own. This group, the Animal Training and Behaviour Council describes itself as ‘the regulatory body’ representing animal trainers animal behaviour therapists – though this description is disingenuous for it is just one of the four umbrella groups, the others being PETbc, the Kennel Club Accredited Instructors scheme and the National Register of.Trainers and Canine Behaviourists. But ATBC sets a high financial and qualification bar for those wishing to join its lists and separates out four levels of expertise which includes Veterinary Behaviourists, Accredited Animal Behaviourists, Clinical Animal Behaviourists and Animal Training Instructors – designations not recognised anywhere other than within the ivory towers.
The formation of RCDTBP
Quite rightly, and as the CAWC report pointed out, it is vital that those involved in training animals at any level have knowledge and expertise and there is no doubt that formal qualifications added to this mix are likely to be an advantage. It is also important that animals are treated with the respect they deserve and that any encouragement to behave in a particular way or any requirement that they change their behaviour, must at all times be in accordance with best practice in animal care as set out the Animal Welfare Act in 2006 and, of course, in the Code of Best Practice hammered out during the CAWC meetings.
It was clear at the final meeting that Sir Colin felt that the development of opposed organisation was not what had been envisaged in the original CAWC report. He said that he felt that a formal Register, open to all those involved in training, should be available at a reasonable fee and at that stage the Kennel Club offered to host it. It became the Registration Council for Dog Training and Behaviour Practitioners (RCDTBP). This last was a frustrating journey for all those involved because the Kennel Club lost focus when, sadly, its enthusiastic chairman who was its driving force, died before it got up and running. Attempts have been made to revive it but have not achieved sufficient support.
All these organisations, understandably, require money. They may be charities, companies limited by guarantee or not-for-profit but they have expenses in terms of websites, postage and telephone charges which must be covered. Persuading people to part with their hard earned cash is difficult – and when there are competing organisations for that money then the natural reaction is not to become involved in any of them.
Fortunately the Pet Education, Training and Education Council is well funded and supported and continues to develop its educational programs, in support of colleges and its accreditation schemes.
by David Cavill
13th July 2018