What is licensure and why does it matter?
Darris Cooper: The Alliance for professionalism in Dog Training was initiated as a proactive collaboration between CCPDT and APDT, towards licensing and the dog training profession. Now, the Alliance for Professionalism in Dog Training, which represents thousands of professional dog trainers across the country, supports licensure to better protect dogs and their people. Joining me today to have this conversation as it pertains to what exactly is state licensure and how it will advance our profession is Heidi Meinzer, Secretary/Treasurer of APDT, Brad Phifer, Executive Director of CCPDT, and Julia Judish, the certification law advisor to the Alliance. Hello everyone. How are you today?
Brad Phifer: Hey, Darris, how are you?
Darris Cooper: Fantastic.
Julia Judish: Hi.
Darris Cooper: Excellent. So, you know, Brad, let’s start with you. What is state licensure, and how does that impact where we are today within the dog training industry?
Brad Phifer: State licensure is the state requirement that anyone who is practicing in our field, who wants to offer services to the public within that state, is required to meet minimum requirements in order to do so. And more importantly, that there are then enforceable standards at the state level to hold trainers accountable to those standards of practice.
Darris Cooper: Right? So, you know, let’s think about the evolution of our industry. How did we get here? And I’ll pass this over to Heidi.
Heidi Meinzer: Well, licensing is coming, whether we want it or not. There are certain states that have dabbled in it already. New York tried, and didn’t quite do it. And, and then New Jersey is considering it now. So, it is a natural progression for any profession, just as a lawyer. And we’ve got to be licensed and regulated as an industry grows and advances, and consumer protection becomes important. And when you have people out there who aren’t held to a standard, like Brad said, the next step in that industry is to get to some type of regulation or license so that you’ve got these minimum standards. And as I said, it’s happening anyway. And we really wanted to make sure that our voices were heard, and it gets done correctly.
Darris Cooper: Right. For sure. So, you know, when we think about licensure, dog training is one industry that, of course, has talked about (licensure) quite often. But we’re certainly not the only ones. So Julia, when we think about licensure as a whole, for an industry in general, why is it so important, and how does it benefit trainers day-to-day?
Julia Judish: So there are background laws on the books already that aren’t specific to our profession that consumers can use if they encounter fraud when using someone’s services, or there’s animal cruelty laws. But licensure aims to do more than just avoid the horrible circumstances, but to provide consumers assurance that if they go out and engage the services of a professional dog trainer, or whatever the profession is, that it’s going to be competent, safe, knowledgeable services that they get. If you’re outside of the industry, it’s very hard to figure out, you know, what is the best certification or does it matter whether someone has a certification or not. It’s kind of buyer beware, and there’s an overwhelming amount of information that someone who’s not part of it may not understand if a profession is unlicensed. The state is saying for someone who is practicing, at least you have that baseline assurance that they know what they’re doing, and they’ve met whatever standards it is that the state has set, to provide authorization.
Darris Cooper: Right? So, you know, when you think about setting standards, the importance of a skill and knowledge within our industry is critical. So, Brad, this question is going to be to you. So when you think about, a new trainer coming into our industry versus a trainer who’s been in our industry for say 20 years, why and how should trainers really be focusing and getting involved in this conversation right now?
Brad Phifer: I think it is important that we are all getting involved with the conversation because the end result affects each of us, whether you’ve been training for 20 years and you are a seasoned expert, or you’re just beginning your career. Having a baseline of competencies that everyone can clearly demonstrate and a standard of practice and code of ethics that every member of our profession is held accountable to abiding by affects all of us in our day-to-day operations. And each of us, I think, you know, should have that desire to say, each of us as dog trainers can get behind this minimum level of competencies. We could agree to disagree on certain things. I may not be as skilled in one area as my colleagues are, but at the end of the day, we’re all starting at the same level and then growing from there. And I think we see that now we see dog trainers who have earned their credential, and then as they’ve evolved in their career, they’ve gone on to get a graduate level degree or an additional certification or another certification that might better represent where they are in the profession.
Darris Cooper: Right. I think that’s huge. And you know, one thing that I think is very important and I think of course, Heidi, we’ve been having this conversation on and off camera. It really isn’t, it doesn’t need to be so scary, right, Heidi?
Heidi Meinzer: Absolutely. It, it looks like a lot of legal rigmarole. When you look at the model legislation, it can be overwhelming. But when it gets put into practice, it really won’t be all that scary. It is setting forth some minimum standards that the trainer has to adhere to, and it will provide clarity and framework for trainers to know where they stand and what they need to know to enter the field. It will provide comfort to a dog owner, so they don’t have to sort through all of this alphabet soup to figure out who’s who, and what’s what. And if somebody hasn’t gone through that licensure, they will not be able to practice as a trainer. So, we will know who has made the cut and who hasn’t, who is adhering to the standards and who isn’t. And the standards are minimal.
Heidi Meinzer: They are something that all of us who are dog trainers should easily be able to meet. And so long as you’re meeting them, great. And as you go on in your profession, as Brad was mentioning, you can specialize and do something in aggression or something else. But we’re all at a bare minimum level as things happen, as the law is passed. And then as the regulations get put forth, it will be a very logical comfortable setting. It will not be as, I think, overwhelming as looking at the model legislation and saying, oh my goodness, what are all these pieces?
Brad Phifer: Just add to it, Darris. I think the other piece of that to kind of carry on Heidi’s thought is most of the provisions that we have outlined in the model legislation. Now a large percentage of the dog training population is already adhering to (them), right. I mean, they’ve, they’ve met eligibility requirements in terms of their education or experience. They’re maintaining continuing education on a regular basis in order to maintain whatever certification they may currently have. And they are abiding by some level of a professional code of ethics and standards of practice, right? Each organization that we are members of or certified through may have some variation for their group. But the bulk of dog trainers in this country right now are abiding by something in a similar bubble, right? And so, if we can create that floor, we create the sieve that we all have to fall through. You know, we are going to end up weeding out those individuals who are practicing that each of us hear stories about, or probably concerned about to a degree and create that floor. So, then the profession can continue to grow from there and evolve and, shape itself a little bit more.
Heidi Meinzer: And I should add as well that there really are multiple pathways to authorization to practice under the model legislation. So, there’s room for those holding provisional permits, who don’t have a license and don’t have certification, but agree to abide by the basic standards of practice for the profession and a supervisory relationship with a licensed dog trainer. They don’t have to ever get a license on their own or get certified on their own if they want to practice. The legislation also recognizes that there are, you know, board certified veterinary behaviorists, or licensed veterinary technicians holding BTS behavior certification, who should be able to offer dog training services without going through this system. And it really leaves it to each state board to decide what an approved certification program should be and recognizes certification as a certified applied animal behaviorist or associate certified applied animal behaviorist as also pathways to licensure. So, it’s really a very inclusive model that as Brad said, most people who are practicing as professional dog trainers and offering their services for compensation, they’ll be able to keep doing what they’re doing under this legislation.
Darris Cooper: So, Heidi, when we think about licensure, how quickly does the Alliance expect licensure to actually take place?
Heidi Meinzer: It will really vary state by state. We’ve already seen some states dipping their toe into the legislative world with licensing. And so, we want to be ready and able to jump in as soon as possible. Some states, like Virginia where I am, have a cycle that’s incredibly fast, every January, February, and it’s 45 days, 60 days. So, you live or die very quickly in Virginia. Other states have a one-year cycle or a two-year cycle. So, it will take some time to get the model legislation introduced in a state and have it trickle through, But, we are wanting to be proactive so that we can get in there and hopefully someday hit all 50 states.
Darris Cooper: Right. You know, one thing I appreciate about this conversation we’re talking about proactively getting ahead of it. And, of course, spotlighting the critical importance of the trainer voices as we have this conversation about licensure. So, I want to thank our panel for joining us today. And for all of you watching to learn more about the Alliance, dog trainer licensure, frequently questions, the legislation, and much more, head on over to prodogtraineralliance.org.