NBC News recently posted an interesting article about a subject near and dear to me, Fake Service Dogs A Growing Problem. I believe that we do need regulation of the animal training industry and the service animal specialty in particular. Getting from the wild west where we are now (absence of any regulation) to that end goal isn’t going to be easy. We will need to work together to create what reputable trainers crave and the public deserves.
Service animals need some sort of certification process administered to appropriate standards in order to stem the tide of inadequately trained animals masquerading as service dogs. As the NBC article mentions, imposters put everyone at risk.
Professional animal trainers, and service dog trainers perhaps most urgently, need professional certification. As an example, the following is from the Human Resources Certification Institute, where I currently hold a PHR (Professional in Human Resources) certification.
Through the combination of formal education and experience, adherence to high ethical standards, demonstrated knowledge and achievement through exam and a commitment to continuing professional development, certified [...] professionals enhance their credibility and the organizations they serve.
Right now, there are several bodies offering their own education and/or experience credentials for trainers based on a spectrum of criteria. The relative merits of the different acronyms are difficult for the public to decipher easily. What does each one mean? Which is better or right for me? Are any of them really needed? Which one means my pet will be treated humanely and trained effectively?
It seems to me, and I don’t think I’m alone in this opinion, that optional certification is insufficient to stem the tide of charlatans and inhumane practitioners. We do our profession, the animals, and the public a disservice by not requiring more of ourselves and our colleagues. In considering potential remedies, we should also look seriously at licensure as an end goal. [For helpful reference, check out this explanation of certification vs. licensure provided by the ANMA.]
I don’t know what the next step is, but I and many of the +R trainers I know are keen to see a standard for service dogs, service animal trainers, and animal trainers in general. The solutions aren’t necessarily linked, but the problems associated with imposter / inadequately-trained service dogs and sub-par animal trainers can both be traced back to a lack of regulation and minimum standards.
I support Assistance Dog International‘s attempts to engage the Justice Department as a start. I’m eager to learn more about the subject and the compelling and nuanced arguments by thought leaders in the animal training field. Please share your thoughts and any links to articles on the subject.