Understanding State Legislation
Darris Cooper: Hi, I’m Darris Cooper. You know, one of the reasons for advocating for state licensure now is that some states are actually already looking to pass legislation to regulate the [dog training] profession. Joining me to have this discussion today is Heidi Meinzer, Secretary/Treasurer of APDT, Brad Phifer, Executive Director at CCPDT, and Julia Judish, the Certification Law Advisor to the Alliance. Hi guys, how are you today?
Brad Phifer: Hi, how are you?
Heidi Meinzer: Good Darris. How are you?
Julia Judish: Hi, Darris.
Darris Cooper: I’m doing well. I’m really glad that we’re having this really meaningful and impactful conversation that really is impacting all of us within the dog training industry. So, you know, my first question is really going to be over to Brad. So Brad, how long does it take usually to pass state legislation?
Brad Phifer: A long time. I mean, we have spent 18 months so far just drafting a model bill, getting feedback from industry stakeholders, to create our final draft and are just now starting to have conversations with state assembly members. And depending on the state’s, legislative cycle, that can be, one year, two year, three years. And so I it’s going to take a long time, but I think Julia can probably speak a little bit better to the timeline that we might be on. We are definitely anticipating a couple of years at the very minimum.
Julia Judish: The Alliance is going to focus on a handful of states initially, to work with legislators who may be open to considering our model legislation and introducing it. Then we will broaden it. The Alliance doesn’t have infinite resources, so we can’t do a 50-state blitz at once. But we’re hopeful that the legislation will speak to the dog training community and to legislators as a sensible measure to adopt. And it may be that once the ball gets rolling, it’s going to have momentum on its own. So we can’t predict what the timeline will be for when the legislation may be adopted in any given state. But as Brad said, we are looking at a long-term endeavor.
Darris Cooper: Got it. Surely, it’s a marathon for sure. So, you know, one thing that I really appreciate about this conversation is when I look at the screen, whether it’s Heidi or Brad, you know, regardless of what titles they have within organizations, we are always going to be dog trainers at heart. So, you know, when we think about advocacy, Heidi, what are ways that trainers’ boots on the ground today can get involved with this conversation and have this conversation with we know is coming?
Heidi Meinzer: For sure, your general assembly members really want to hear from you. Your legislators really want to hear from you. They have hundreds, if not thousands of bills pouring at them each session, and they don’t have a of time to figure everything out. They’re not experts in everything. If they have a constituent who is a dog trainer who can tell them we want to be licensed and here’s a bill, email or phone call, they would love to hear from you. It’s not scary. And they really do want your input. So the best thing you could do right now is look at who your legislators are and, and have it handy. If it’s coming to your state. In the meantime, the Alliance has plenty of information, and we’ll keep people posted as much as we can, as we hear how things are rolling through state by state.
Brad Phifer: I might add as well, while we’re not ready to launch any kind of grassroots advocacy campaigns within the Alliance to date, we do have on our website prodogtraineralliance.org, a submission form, a jot form where people can sign up. And as we start hearing, or receiving, news on individual states, or we need to pull in some grassroots efforts from industry professionals, we can then be in contact with them on what they need to do, who they need to contact and be a resource for. The dog trainers in that particular state will be able to contact their legislators as Heidi has said.
Darris Cooper: Right. And so I think, you know, one thing needs to be underscored here. When you think about, legislation, it is not a broad thing that happens across the entire country at the same time, it happens at a state level. So I think that’s very important for our community, certainly, to know. So, you know, when we think about this conversation and others, inclusivity and conversations and true collaboration, is very important. So, you know, Brad, when you think about what you guys have been doing behind the scenes, can we pull back the curtain a little bit and share with the community exactly how you have utilized trainers, to of course, have this conversation to focus on building out what we’re doing right now with the Alliance?
Brad Phifer: We created the first draft of the model legislation with the help of Julia and her colleague, Craig, back in 2020. We sought out feedback from a number of organizations within our dog training industry, just to make sure were we on the right track. We knew at the CCPDT that our certified trainers supported the overall idea of licensure and regulation requirements for dog trainers. And so that’s kind of what’s taught us or made us make that decision to kind of take the jumping off point. But we didn’t want to go at it alone. We wanted to be very inclusive in the idea of, of here we are, how can we all work together to make this happen? And so we were fortunate enough to have the APDT join us in this conversation.
We shared very similar ideas and visions on where we wanted to go. And from that original draft, we were able to then, form the Alliance for Professionalism in Dog Training, and share our model legislation with the industry as a whole. And we received hundreds and hundreds of comments that everyone that’s involved in the Alliance has read and discussed. And we responded to individual responses, and we made some very important and substantive changes to that original draft because of the feedback that we have heard from dog trainers who participated in our comment period.
Heidi Meinzer: I could add to that as well, that around the early days, when Brad was speaking of, APDT likewise, wanted to make sure what our membership wanted. And we did a survey that overwhelmingly said, yes, yes, we want licensing. We are at this point in our profession, that’s what we would like to do. And it was just perfect timing that CCPDT was starting this process. And we were natural partners in this, and we cannot thank our members enough. And the certificants enough in the community who gave us input on this last round of model legislation to build out a phenomenal product.
Darris Cooper: Feedback is critical. So is of course the collaboration then, like, of course the community that we certainly are all in. So, you know, I would be remiss to say, you know, our dog training community, there certainly are a lot of opinions when it comes to multiple different things, how to work with dogs and methodology. I would love to get the viewpoint from this group on how do we navigate conversations when we have some folks that might be anti-legislation within our industry.
Julia Judish: I think one thing to emphasize is that the model legislation, though, it sets a framework for states. There’s a lot of places where the model legislation includes brackets or includes options for the legislature. So for example, the model legislation specifies that LIMA, the standard for least intrusive, minimally aversive techniques, be the baseline or whatever other standard that is more restrictive of aversive techniques, a state wants to adopt. And it leaves it to the states as to what is an approved certification program, with some parameters around it. So any member of the public or of the dog training community can have a voice in this and talk to legislators, as they’re considering this legislation. Can talk to the dog trainer board once that’s established about what the regulation should be and help give a sense of how in, in their state, the legislation should take shape.
Brad Phifer: Well, and probably to add to that a little bit, the horse is out of the barn, if you will, right. I mean, we know in New Jersey, that was one of the things that kind of prompted CCPDT to take the next step in working with Julia and her office was that, you know, New Jersey state assembly members put a bill on their ballot to be considered at the committee level that would require dog trainers to be licensed in the state of New Jersey. And that bill was very exclusive. You had to be a CCPDT certified trainer in order to practice. And we felt strongly that there were multiple pathways to gain a license or an approved certification within a state. And so we took that step back and worked with Julia to create this stronger, more comprehensive framework.
We, as dog trainers, to your point are probably never going to fully agree, but if we can create a baseline, which we say all the time, minimum standards for practice, that we can all agree upon, some of them may be more restrictive of aversive practices. Some may have more gray area, but this minimum baseline, we’re all going to start here. We have to do something, right? You know, Rome wasn’t built in a day and, we’re not going to spend a lot of time fighting. And we’re never going to make any headway if it’s got to be “my way or the highway,” we’re just trying to set this standard expectation. And I think that we’re each going to have to give a little bit and get a little bit in order to go to that next step in our industry of growth and working under this framework. And, as Julia had said, the individuals, states, or constituents of those states can work their legislatures to pass more restrictive standards. The model legislation allows for that.
Darris Cooper: Right. You know, one thing I’m also hearing in this conversation is, you know, trainers can get involved, they have the opportunity to have a voice in this, right. And so I think that’s the great thing about having this video series out there is we’re really pulling back the curtain, right. At the end of the day, every single one of us on the screen, here, we are animal lovers. We are pet parents. We are of course trainers. And I think that is one thing that really unites all of us, regardless of what side of the conversation, of course, you sit on. So again, I appreciate our panel today for, again, bringing so much to the table, and this is an evolving conversation, my friends. So of course, if you want to learn more about the Alliance for Professionalism in Dog Training, licensure, frequently questions, and the model legislation, and of course, so much more head on over to prodogtraineralliance.org.