By Gaby Dufresne-Cyr, CBT
Dog training needs to become a recognised profession in order to support trainers and pet owners. Professionals and the general public should be able to turn to an organisation for accountability and information. Points to consider are abuse and neglect definitions, acceptable dog trainer conduct, standardise dog training terms, define various training tools and their use, establish ethical training practices, etc.
The following points were taken from a very interesting article which I wish to share with Dogue Shop fans, owners and trainers alike. I believe the time has come where dog trainers and behaviour consultants need to take a serious look at their "profession" in order to establish responsibility. At the Dogue Shop we have framed our mission statement and abide by it, this give clients an idea of what we do and what we do not do.
Please take a few minutes to read the following points and write your feedback. Dogue Shop will define these terms and display them in our establishment. I urge you to do the same.
The nine proposed core ethical principles that can be adapted to animal trainers:
1. Do No Harm - “Do no harm” is the ethical principle that has guided professionals in the medical profession for centuries. As animal trainers begin to look seriously at issues surrounding the use of punishment, the appropriateness of aversive procedures in certain situations, and handling animals with serious behavior problems, “Do no harm” will be a most important ethical principle. Definitions will need to be developed for trainers to specify the meaning of “harm”. Harm is generally thought of as permanent damage or injury. For both humans and animals, harm can be physical or psychological. In animal training, harm to animals would most likely result from the inappropriate use of equipment or procedures or the excessive use of punishment. As we begin to address principles such as “do no harm” we will need to define terms such as “excessive,” “great” as in “great pain and distress,” and “inappropriate”. “Do no harm” is a concept that pertains to cruelty/neglect of animals, practices causing animals great pain or distress, and the need for trainers to take into account the psychological and physical well being of the animals in their care.
2. Respect Autonomy - “Autonomy” means independence or the ability to function without control by others. In human settings, ethical therapists should work hard to have their clients become self-reliant. It is considered unethical for a therapist to tell a client he or she needs to continue sessions simply so the therapist will not lose income if the client is terminated.
When this concept is applied to animal training, trainers who are ethical think about making owners and their animals as independent as possible. The skills we teach the dog should result in the dog being a well-mannered, well-behaved respected community member who is loved in a family and welcome in public settings. Teaching animal owners responsible ownership behaviors will result in all of us who are animal owners having increased independence. We want to be welcome in hotels, public parks, and other public areas and the way to get welcomed is to have all animal owners behave responsibly. Trainers should teach owners the skills they need to manage their dogs effectively in both the home and community. Animal trainers should strive to make owners as self-reliant as possible when it comes to handling their own animal. This requires /that classes and lessons provide a functional curriculum for pet owners. Why focus on teaching a “Figure 8” and “flip-finish” when the dog will not even come to the owner when called?
On a much larger scale related to autonomy (not being controlled by others), many animal owners are affected by legislation that negatively impacts animals and their owners. Legislation in some cities discriminates against certain breeds; some locations restrict the number of dogs people can own, and other places ban dogs from public areas such as local parks. This legislation generally comes following problem incidents where animal owners have not been responsible. Being a part of a society means that we will have rules and we lose autonomy to some extent. The loss of autonomy will be even greater in settings where animal owners are not responsible.
3. Benefiting Others - “Benefiting others” in the animal training context means that decisions made by trainers should have a positive effect on both animal and clients. Clients are the owners of companion animals such as dogs or horses as well as the staff/administration of agencies such as zoos, circuses, or farms. In human settings, ethical issues are applied to the professional to client relationship. Ethical issues also apply to the professional to professional relationship. For example, doctors should not speak badly to their patients about another physician. In animal training, there is an additional element added to the ethics formula - the animal. Animal trainers must address ethical issues regarding trainer-client relationships, trainer-animal relationships, and trainer to trainer relationships. In all of the relationships a trainer has, whether they be with animals, clients, or other trainers, the ethical principle of “benefit others” applies. Trainers should treat all animals with respect, be respectful of colleagues and other professionals, and be respectful of clients. Clients, whether they be the owners of pets or agency administrators, should be able to refuse methods of training with which they feel uncomfortable.
4. Be Just - Actions that are “just” are actions that are fair and impartial. This is the principle that says as animal trainers we should treat animals and clients as we would like to be treated. Another part of being fair to clients is that they are not promised something a trainer can’t deliver. Trainers will take the physical and psychological well being of the animal into account when planning behavior programs. For example, it would not be fair to use punishment with any animal who engages in an undesirable behavior that was caused by a health problem. Ethical trainers will also refrain from giving unreasonable guarantees regarding the outcome of training.
5. Being Faithful - “Being faithful” in both human services and animal training settings relates to being truthful, sincere, and without intent to mislead anyone. Faithfulness with regard to ethics relates to maintaining allegiance. This allegiance can be to animals in general, to an individual animal, or to a client. Being faithful in professional settings also applies to confidentiality, promise keeping, and not violating a trust. An ethical trainer would not discuss one client with another client. The relationship between a trainer and client is a fiduciary relationship, much like the relationship between therapist and client. Whether animal trainers are working for a pet owner or a large agency, confidentiality and the need for trainers to “respect the privacy of clients and hold in confidence all information used in the course of professional services” is an important part of being an ethical trainer.
6. Accord Dignity Professionals in human service settings begin with the assumption that every person is worthy of respect. Expanded to animal training, every client (individual or agency) is worthy of respect and every animal is worthy of respect. Trainers can give clients dignity by giving them strategies and procedures to use with which they can have success with their pet or the animals in their care. Clients are given dignity when trainers understand their problems, needs, and the dynamics of their particular situation at a given time.
With individual pet owners, some clients have physical limitations or learning problems and a trainer who gives a client dignity will make the necessary adaptations to ensure that the client can experience success. In agency settings, it is sometimes necessary for a trainer to take into consideration the limited resources a facility may have.
Animals are given dignity when trainers recognize that each and every one is a unique, remarkable creature. Different animals learn in different ways and ethical trainers will identify training methods for individual animals that results in the animal having an opportunity to be successful and get reinforced for correct behaviours.
7. Treat Others With Care And Compassion - “Treating others with care and compassion” is an ethical principle applied in medical and therapy settings that can also apply to animal training. Being able to imagine one’s self in the place of a frustrated, novice animal owner with a problem is one mark of an ethical trainer. Understanding that an animal is not being noncompliant, instead, he is really just very confused about what you want him to do, is an ability that is related to ethics. Understanding that a minimum wage staff person in a zoo is terrified of this out of control bull elephant will help a trainer work with the staff member in a more caring, effective manner.
8. Pursuit Of Excellence - In professional settings in many areas, the pursuit of excellence relates to becoming a competent professional, supporting other professionals who are trying to become more skilled, and attempting to prevent unprofessional and unethical actions.
Animal trainers who are ethical should be in constant pursuit of excellence. This means improving ones own skills as well as helping colleagues, clients, and animals “be all that they can be”. Ethical animal trainers will do their best to have an impact on the larger training community, but they will not attempt to work out of the range of their own professional limitations. Ethical animal trainers strive to stay informed of the advances in animal training and maintain high standards. Trainers can read relevant material, attend conferences, workshops and seminars, and participate in other relevant forms of continuing education.
9. Accept Accountability - “Accept accountability” relates to considering the potential consequences of one’s actions, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and refraining from shifting the blame to others. In animal training, a person who is accountable has to accept some responsibility for both clients and animals. Owners/clients should be satisfied with the services rendered, trainers should be accountable and only take credit for their own work, and trainers will work within their own professional limits after assessing their own skills.