The background to I Train Dogs (iTD)

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. To give you a little background 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 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 recently wrote in an open letter to trainers: ‘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 this quote.

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. For 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 as it had been called (PETbc – http://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 drawn together and itself carried out much valuable research into dog training. 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, there were many issues still to discuss in what have become known as the CAWC meetings including agreement concerning the writing of a Code of Best Practice which could 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 (ATBC – http://www.ATBC.org.uk) describes itself as ‘the regulatory body’ representing animal trainers animal behaviour therapists – though this description is disingenuous. Nevertheless, the organisation’s website provides much interesting and useful information and is anxious to promote education for instructors, trainers and behaviourists. But it sets a high financial and qualification bar for those wishing to join its lists and separates out four levels of expertise (classes?) with Veterinary Behaviourists, Accredited Animal Behaviourists, Clinical Animal Behaviourists and Animal Training Instructors – designations not recognised anywhere other than in 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 two 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 has been a frustrating journey for all those involved. Neither PETbc nor ATBC were prepared to support it (the Animal Care College became a member because we support any initiative which will improve the quality of animal care) and, sadly, its enthusiastic chairman who was its driving force died before it could really get up and running. Attempts are currently being made to revive it.

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.

And finally – the NRDTB

I believe that a National Register of Dog Trainers and Behaviourists is an important step towards bringing all these disparate groups together. Like everything complex, it is a long hard road but last year I began to think the only way forward would be an entirely independent Register which was essentially free and would have no bias or baggage other than to post the list and enable the general public to contact trainers and behaviourists who have accepted the Code of Conduct and Best Practice. I have too long been frustrated by arguments which all too often resemble those of the mediaeval scholars regarding the number of angels who could dance on the point of a needle. In addition if you take into account my general dislike of unnecessary bureaucracy and administration you will not be surprised that I have taken the decision to cut through all this red tape and launch National Register myself.

It makes no assumptions about dog training, it does not discriminate against any dog trainer whatever their philosophy or technique so long as they are prepared to accept the Code of Conduct. It has no agenda, it does not market anything other than details of dog trainers and accepts no advertising. Joining the Register is free although there is an entirely optional choice to provide more information about the member for a very low annual fee. I am hoping that this will provide enough income to fund the costs of setting up the site and to maintain it for the foreseeable future. You can find it at www.itraindogs.uk . It has been welcomed by many and objected to by a few. I hope it works and the general public finds it useful and that in the long term, it improves the behaviour of dogs in society, lessens the stress of owners with problem dogs and eventually enables more dogs to be cared for in loving homes.

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