Transcript | Town Hall Video Series Part 4

Answers to FAQs (part 2)

Darris Cooper: Hi, I’m Darris Cooper. Now, you know, there are a lot of questions circulating around legislation and dog training, and I’m so very fortunate enough today to have an incredible panel. Joining me right now is Heidi Meinzer, Secretary/Treasurer at APDT, Brad Phifer, Executive Director at CCPDT, and Julia Judish, Certification Law Advisor to the Alliance. Hello everyone. How are you today?

Heidi Meinzer: Hi, great. How are you?

Darris Cooper: Fantastic. So very glad that you’re here. So, you know, let’s kick things off with Heidi. So one of the most talked about aspects of the model legislation was understanding what good professional moral character is and why it’s important. So can you elaborate and explain why that’s important?

Heidi Meinzer: Sure. This is one of the areas where we had a lot of feedback, and we were very glad to have it. We think that the final product has become much more clear, but the heart of it is the fact that a lot of the licensing is about your standards and your practice and your competency. But there’s another piece to licensing, which has to deal with consumer protection and making sure that the animals are safe. And the consumers and the humans who are asking for our services are protected. So I am going to kick it over to Julia so that she could dig a little deeper about how the good professional moral character actually ended up getting drafted. She was remarkable and substantial on this effort.

Julia Judish: Thanks Heidi. So the initial [legislation] draft talked about good moral character, which the feedback rightly pointed out was vague. And the intention of that term was to address a person’s conduct that would be relevant to whether they could do business and hold themselves out as a professional dog trainer. So that term has been redefined to be good professional moral character. The model legislation defines that as that the person has not abused a position of trust or engaged in fraud or engaged in conduct that poses a substantial risk to the health or safety of the public or of animals under the person’s care or supervision. Or if you have someone who has made a mistake in the past, the definition also allows that person to show that they’ve changed and that they they’ve been rehabilitated and allows the licensing board to make that determination. Again, so that we can go to that touchstone of any pet owner can rely on the fact that a dog trainer is licensed to say, I can entrust my dog to this dog trainer.

Darris Cooper: Right? Trust is such a critical piece in what we do as trainers. I think it’s so very critically important that our trainers know, once they sign up with whoever they’re working with, that person is going to show up and do what’s right for the dog that’s right in front of them. So very, very important. So my question next is going to be to Mr. Brad here. So, you know, will every state pass the same legislation and how long will it take, for this to take effect?

Brad Phifer: The Alliance’s model legislation can be used by every state as a baseline or framework for them to follow. It would be beneficial, I think, if every states, all 50 states had the same model or adopted the same model legislation for dog trainers in their area. But they certainly have the ability to adjust the framework or adopt more restrictive practices as the model legislation allows. And I think the timeline is really going to depend on the legislative sessions and the assembly members who are supporting the legislation and the grassroot roots efforts behind the model legislation in each state.

Darris Cooper: Right. So, you know, when we think about how many folks are involved. There is so much cross-functional work happening in with the two organizations here today, and a lot of folks behind the scenes. So, you know, I’m pretty sure there’s going to be a lot of questions out there about who actually determines which programs qualify to approve someone for licensure.

Brad Phifer: Once the model legislation is adopted, they would appoint a state licensing board that is comprised of nine members of that state. And ultimately that board would create the parameters and the qualifications for an approved certification program in their state. Following the framework that is outlined in the model legislation, as approved certification programs are defined. It’s important to note here, and I think Julia can speak a little bit more about the intricacy of the framework, but of those nine members. There are four spaces on the state licensing board, four subject matter experts, which are representatives of the dog training profession to take part in their state licensing board.

Julia Judish: One of those dog trainers should be a holder of certification as a dog behavior consultant. The other five members of the board one is going to be appointed as a state agency employee. One member would be a veterinarian who is either a board-certified veterinarian, behaviorist, or holds professional certification in dog training. Two members would be dog owners who don’t work as professional dog trainers themselves, and don’t have any business interest in a dog training company. So they’re really representatives of the consumers of these services. And one member would be affiliated with a nonprofit animal welfare group. This diversity of board membership really means that there is a voice for the dog trainers, a voice for a veterinary veterinarian who understands dog health, animal welfare, and the consumer. And that’s really important that it be that balanced board setting what the regulations are.

Brad Phifer: And I do think it’s important to note, too, that some of the feedback we received was that, you know, the profession felt like a lot of veterinarians weren’t really educated in dog training and may not be familiar with the industry as a whole. And so we took that feedback and rewrote those provisions to ensure that a veterinarian who was licensed in the profession and could speak to the veterinary medical health of dogs, but also had some sort of tie back to the dog training profession who could be a very kind of a liaison between the two, if you will. And this framework, in terms of having consumer representation, veterinary representation, and then the animal welfare. Julia correct me if I’m wrong or pretty standard, when you’re looking at composition of boards, there are certain positions you have to put on those boards. I think some of the concerns were that dog trainers were underrepresented on the licensing board. And, um, didn’t want to make the board so large, you know, in terms of our recommendations. The state license board could be so large, that we actually created, you know, paralysis in a process.

Julia Judish: Right? You also don’t want there to be concerns about whether this is really, for antitrust reasons, a way just for dog trainers to, you know, protect against competition. So dog trainers are the plurality of members on the board, but not the majority.

Darris Cooper: Right. You know, the diverse voices, the diverse thought that we’ve said for years, right. That’s so critically important. And, you know, one thing that I feel like that grounds all of us, you know, when you think about minimum standards is LIMA, least intrusive, minimally aversive. That approach to working with dogs and people it’s phenomenal because it really does tie the two together, right. Dog trainers and the importance of veterinary healthcare. So folks who are wanting to potentially get involved or potentially volunteer, can they just join a board? How does that actually work?

Heidi Meinzer: I imagine, and Julia can correct me if I’m wrong. I imagine there will be a call for people to submit an application, to sit on this board and, you know, going through to see who has applied and who would be the best fit to sit on that board. Julia has been through this in a number of arenas with other certification organizations and can probably speak a little more specifically about how that selection process happens.

Julia Judish: Since the board is a state agency, the governor would appoint who who’s on that board. At least under the structure adopted by the model legislation, but there certainly is room for people interested in being on the board to express interest in that. And even if you’re not on the board to reach out to board members to provide your perspective and your views also for enactment of regulations, there is a notice and comment period that typically happens. So that proposed regulations are shared with members of the public who have an opportunity to comment on that and to have their viewpoint considered just as the Alliance did itself on a voluntary basis with its initial draft of the model legislation, which has now been enriched and improved by the comments that members of the dog training community provided.

Darris Cooper: Right? So again, once more, we’ve talked about this in previous videos. If you are a trainer boots on the ground and you want to get involved, you certainly have an opportunity to have your voice at the table. And of course, we’ll share the website at the end of this video series here where you can learn more and again, provide that critical and very important feedback. So you know, this question is going to be to Brad, right? So, you know, there, like I said before, there can be many opinions on if licensure is a good thing, right? I think we can all probably agree on this, on this call here today that we believe that there’s so many benefits to this now. For folks who are saying, what kind of control will these boards have, what can we share? What can you share Brad to share with trainers who are like, man, are they really going to be taking over my career? And my destiny here?

Brad Phifer: The state board would be assigned the responsibility of overseeing the investigation of any sort of ethics violations, right? A consumer files an ethics complaint against a trainer. The state board would oversee that process. They would handle all the investigation. They would have to have evidence to support a violation and confirm the allegations. And then they would have the responsibility and the authority to set forth disciplinary actions based on the seriousness of the offense. It may be something as simple as suspension. It could be prevention of being able to apply or receive a license. It could be revocation of someone’s license. I think a lot of it will determine the seriousness of the claim and the overall evidence to support it. I think the important piece is to remember that right now at almost every level each organization that I can think of has some sort of standards of practice and some sort of mechanism for holding their members or certificants accountable to those standards of practice.

Brad Phifer: We have a process in place at the CCPDT, and we handle a number of complaints and look at it. The difference here is the legal enforceability, right? If my organization finds one of our trainers, we can suspend their certification. We can impose continuing education in order to re-certify, we could revoke certification. But at the end of the day, that individual may or may not abide by these recommendations because that’s kind of what they are at the end of the day and can continue to practice and continue to repeat the same mistakes and, and go against the and break the the rules, if you will. And so I think that’s the takeaway, the, the oversight isn’t meant to be punitive. It’s meant to be enforceable and to hold people accountable. And hopefully if done properly, it’s used as a mechanism to strengthen someone’s ability, right. You know, assign them continuing education, put things on hold for a little bit until they grow and evolve a little bit in some way to just to make sure people are maturing in their role.

Julia Judish: There would be due process to anyone who has a complaint against them. And also that the board’s authority to impose sanctions as Brad notes, has the force of law behind it, as opposed to what a private certification organization can do, which is just, you can’t use our credentials. But it’s on the civil side. So we, you know, we can revoke your license or suspend your license or put conditions on practicing. Like if someone has a substance abuse problem, that’s affecting how they engage in dog training can say, “Hey, if you go to rehab, you can still have your license, but you, you can’t practice.” You have to stop being under the influence while you’re training dogs. But if there is a serious criminal violation, the board would need to refer that to the other legal authorities. That’s not going to be in the board’s purview to prosecute anyone.

Brad Phifer: I think it’s also important to note, because I, I feel like on one side of the coin, people are either going to be like, yeah, we can go get ’em right. Let’s find them and make sure they can’t practice. And on, on one side of the coin is going to be, well, I don’t want someone telling me how to work, right. Did you lose the point there’s due diligence or sorry, due process? There has to be evidence, you know, the board is not going to be able to go out and for lack of a better term on a witch hunt and look for people who are not following standards of practice, who are not following LIMA right. Much like it is now organizations cannot take a stance. They cannot hold trainers accountable, nor will the state board be able to hold trainers accountable unless consumers, other training professionals, shed light on these allegations. And there has to be evidence to support a violation. It can’t just be that you disagree with someone’s practices or that you heard that they do these things, or you read something on social media. There really does need to be evidence to support that there either is a serious violation or there are multiple patterns of violations that support the idea that this person is not practicing safely and is in fact putting clients, their dogs, or the community at risk in some fashion.

Heidi Meinzer: One thing I would love to add on this as well is some substantial feedback that we got about what happens if somebody’s out there and they’re not a trainer and they’re holding themselves out as a trainer. A lot of times states right now, if you’re in a licensed profession and somebody’s practicing without a license handle that criminally. And we took a lot of feedback on this and, and made sure that, it would be a civil violation versus going straight to a criminal violation, unless there was something substantial that would, you know, otherwise be criminal. So that was again a way that we heard our members and certificants and made sure that we made a tweak that may be a little different for states, but across the board nationally. I think a lot of things are going that way and we’re going to be a leader now, thanks to input from our members and certificants on how to handle that particular scenario, still protect us so that if you’re out there and you’re not licensed, and you’re holding yourself out as being licensed, we are going to be protected if we’re licensed, but not going the traditional route. That may not have been the best answer.

Darris Cooper: Right. And, you know, let’s be honest here. You know, dog training is not the only unregulated industry within the United States. And, of course, there are multiple changes and updates that and things we’re going to have to get used to with change. And that comes with any type of change. But there are so many benefits, right? When you think about accountability, when you think about the importance of continued education, setting solid foundations for our trainers, and of always ensuring that the health and wellness of the dogs within our care and training, and of course their pet parents, are always going to remain our top priority. So Heidi, for trainers who are watching this now, where can they go to find out more information?

Heidi Meinzer: The best place to go is the Alliance’s website, which is We have up there, the model legislation, we have our frequently asked questions. And the best part about it, we have a jot form for you to fill out so that we know what state you’re in and what capacity you might be able to help out with. And if you’ve got questions, you can use that jot form or our email address there to let us know what your questions are.

Darris Cooper: Thank you very much, Heidi. And thank you to this incredible panel for your expertise and passion on a topic that is impacting so many. Thank you very much, guys, and have a great day.