A recent article in the Telegraph reported that the UK Government will soon be requiring everyone who works with animals professionally to get a license. People who have been calling for dog training to be a licensed profession - myself included - got very excited about this, as the article specifically mentioned dog trainers. But sadly, fact checking showed our jubilation to be premature. Here's a run-down of what's going on.
The Department of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is directly responsible for animal welfare law in England, and indirectly involved with the devolved administrations in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
For the last few years, Defra has been streamlining regulations and legislative frameworks to ease the regulatory burden on local authorities and businesses. This consultation on the review of animal establishments licensing in England is part of the process, as well as explicitly being a response to public concerns about animal welfare.
The consultation document lays out the areas Defra proposes to reform. These include pet stores, boarding kennels and commercial dog breeders.
What does Defra propose to do?
Essentially, Defra wants to create a general license for all establishments where animals are kept. The license will apply to the premises itself, and will be given subject to a yearly inspection. Licenses will be given if an establishment can meet a list of Model Conditions, based on current thinking about animal welfare. The backbone of these conditions will be the 2006 Animal Welfare Act, as the consultation states on page 1:
"The law requires anyone responsible for an animal to ensure that its needs are met to the extent required by good practice. These needs explicitly include a suitable environment, a suitable diet, the ability to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, to be housed with, or apart from, other animals, and to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease."
How does this effect dog trainers in the UK?
There is no mention of dog trainers or behavior consultants in the proposal. Since the majority of trainers work in clients' homes, they don't qualify as a kennel (some will, if they run a board and train or daycare facility). It's clear that the intention of the proposal goes no further than business establishments, not professional individuals.
As it stands, the Animal Welfare Act does apply to dog trainers as it does to every citizen, but this proposal doesn't add anything to it. The UK Government has already published a comprehensive Code of Practice that guides the implementation of the Animal Welfare Act, but as far as I can tell there have been no prosecutions of trainers that fail to implement this code. I will explain why the implementation of existing laws is not an adequate way to regulate dog training in an upcoming blog.
There is one possible route to expanding the scope of the proposal to include dog trainers, however. The proposal mentions establishments like dog groomers, which are outside the scope of existing legislation:
"Such establishments are still subject to the Animal Welfare Act and have to provide for the welfare of their animals. Local authorities have powers to take action under the Act where poor welfare is evident. Indeed any person can take a prosecution under the Act. Nevertheless there have been suggestions that these establishments should be brought under the welfare licensing system although this would be a considerable new burden on the businesses and charities operating in this area. We are interested in stakeholder views and alternative proposals, such as sector-led UKAS-accredited certification schemes."
Not all dog groomers have physical premises - some are mobile, and visit clients, homes. If they are all covered by requirement to get a license or to register with UKAS, then such licenses can't just apply to the establishments where animals are kept, they could also apply to any situation where a professional is handling an animal. This would mean dog trainers could be included in the requirement to be licensed, too.
However, it's important to note that this is not likely to happen, unless the consultation demonstrates a clear demand for it.
What happens next?
The consultation period for this proposal ended on March 12th, so right now Defra is reviewing all the opinions and evidence they received, and will publish a summary at some point (they haven't given a time frame). The materials Defra received will inform the final proposed regulations, which will then be put into a parliamentary bill.
In conclusion, this might be great for dogs being bred, housed and sold in the UK, and I don't want to take away from that. But it's more than likely not going to be the regulatory framework many progressive dog trainers want. However, there might be some scope to stretch it to require some sort of registration, at least.