Chapter Eight Pet Training and Behavior Consulting – A Model for Raising the Bar to Protect Professionals, Pets and their People
There can be no discussion about industry licensing or occupational licensing without first embarking on a journey into professional ethics!
In any business, the individual is constantly faced with ethical challenges. In the pet industry, these ethical challenges are manifested in the choices professionals must make regarding their approach to training and behavior consulting. What will their philosophical approach be, what methods should they use, what tools are acceptable, how should the business be marketed, how does transparency function within this marketing approach and, ultimately, can the business be effective without infringing on the rights of the clients and their pets? (Barry, 2008).
Defining Ethics, Defining Morals
According to the Business Dictionary (2018), ethics speak to “the basic concepts and fundamental principles of decent human conduct.” Merriam-Webster (2018) refers to ethics as “the principles of conduct governing an individual or a group.” Merriam-Webster (2018) also makes the distinction between ethics and morals: “’Morals’ often describes one’s particular values concerning what is right and what is wrong…While ‘ethics’ can refer broadly to moral principles, one often sees it applied to questions of correct behavior within a relatively narrow area of activity.” Barry (2008) highlights the importance of not confusing the two, stating that, while they are often regarded as synonyms and many people use the terms interchangeably, when discussing personal matters of one’s own individual conscience, people tend to refer to morals while, when discussing external principles of conduct people tend to refer to ethics.
Theories on Ethics
According to Fieser (n.d.), the field of ethics (or moral philosophy) involves “systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior. Philosophers today usually divide ethical theories into three general subject areas:
- Metaethics: Investigates where our ethical principles come from, and what they mean.
- Normative Ethics: Defines moral standards that regulate right and wrong conduct. This may involve the consequences of our behavior on others.
- Applied Ethics: Involves examining specific controversial issues, such as abortion, infanticide, animal rights, environmental concerns, homosexuality, capital punishment, or nuclear war.”
Notably, the “lines of distinction between metaethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics are often blurry.” (Fieser, n.d.). Indeed, the field of ethics covers a vast range of theories, concepts and categories that are beyond the scope of this publication. In brief, however, we might say that an individual’s ethics affect how they make decisions and lead their life on a daily basis. Grim (2005) states that people tend to “think of ethics as a list of dos and don’ts, much in the style of the Ten Commandments.” But, in fact, ethics are far more complicated than a system of moral principles or the difference between right and wrong.
According to Grim (2005), there are “cases in which people do the right things for the wrong reasons. There are cases in which people do the wrong thing despite pure motives.” Grim (2005) also notes that, as individuals, we “evaluate things ethically at different levels.” Each individual has their own sense of right and wrong and their values will vary depending on cultural background, education, life experience, religious beliefs, and influencers. “We are shaped by how we filter stimuli and how we think and act are an output of our own individual experiences, assumptions and perceptions.” (Tudge, 2016).
The Golden Rule approach to ethics calls for the concept of reversibility, i.e.: “Do unto others, as you would have others do unto you.” This is considered the most basic and useful ethical theory and was quoted by Confucius (500 B.C.): “What you do not want done to yourself, do not do to others,” Aristotle (325 B.C.): “We should behave to others as we wish them to behave to us,” from the Mahabharata (200 B.C.): “Do nothing to thy neighbor which thou wouldst not have him do to thee thereafter,” and Jesus Christ (30 A.D.): “As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise.” (Josephson, 2002). However, the Golden Rule is often said to fall short, as doing unto others what you would have done unto you does not take into consideration the needs of the individual, nor does it help with ethical decision-making when dealing with groups of people.
The so-called Silver Rule offers a variation of this focusing on “restraint and non-harm” (Puka, n.d.): “Do not do unto others as you would not have them do unto you.” The Silver Rule has its own deficiencies too, however, as it only requires an individual to not harm others and does not ask that person to engage in positive behavior. (Gonen, 2018).
Ethics in the Pet Industry
It is our view that dog trainers, behavior consultants and professional pet care providers are bound to pursue a philosophical approach that blends both the Golden and Silver Rules in that they have an ethical responsibility, a) to do no harm to the animals in their care, and b) to present their qualifications and experience truthfully with full transparency and disclosure (see Appendix F: The Recommended Corporation Professional Code of Conduct and Ethics Pledge).
According to Welfel (2012, p.3), professional ethics is about “being confident one has the correct combination of attributes, skills, and character.” But how does this apply in the field of animal training or behavior consulting? To answer, we must first address why professional ethics are significant both to the general public as well as to the professional.
According to Tudge (2010), professional ethics “cover the moral issues that can arise from the specialist knowledge that a professional body has. The industry’s ethics govern how this knowledge is used when providing a service.” The general public benefits from ethical policies through recognition of a professional individual’s autonomy and the right to be treated with respect and fairness. The individual professional, meanwhile, whose profession provides ethical guidelines and policies, benefits from the trust earned by being part of said professional body and an appropriate framework to operate within. Furthermore, a professional’s membership of a professional body may inspire confidence from their clients, as well as giving said professional the opportunity to continue to improve their skills and expand on their knowledge. Professional ethics bring credibility to the profession itself as the public assumes that those following a specific set of ethical guidelines or policies will act truthfully and competently (Tudge, 2010).
As such, business ethics are also important, and not just the ethics of how an actual professional’s services are planned and delivered. In the article, Defining ‘Business Ethics’: Like Nailing Jello to a Wall, Lewis (1985, p.377) states that: “Business ethics is a topic receiving much attention in the literature. However, the term ‘business ethics’ is not adequately defined. Typical definitions refer to the rightness or wrongness of behavior, but not everyone agrees on what is morally right or wrong, good or bad, ethical or unethical. To complicate the problem, nearly all available definitions exist at highly abstract levels.” However, according to Weinstein (2017), the ethical principles that allow us to solve problems in our daily lives are the same principles that provide guidance not only in business, but also health care, law and education. These principles are:
- Do No Harm.
- Make Things Better.
- Respect Others.
- Be Fair.
In its Code of Ethics and Conduct, the European Society of Veterinary Clinical Ethology (ESVCE) reflects these principles, stating that its members “have a responsibility to their patients, clients and to the general public. Welfare of patient and client (including avoiding danger for third parties) are to be considered primarily. Training techniques and advice should not knowingly or deliberately cause avoidable psychological, physical distress or damage to any of the above…When collaborating with people who are not ESVCE Members, they should check that the assistant/collaborator (e.g. dog trainer) also conform to the code of practice.”
ESVCE members are also expected to “[p]romote the interests of animal welfare to colleagues and to society at large and, where necessary, promote public education programs and cultural activities, [c]o-operate with colleagues and other professionals for the sake of animal welfare, and [c]o-operate with governments and other appropriate bodies to improve standards of animal welfare and ensure the welfare of all animals in their care.”
In the following two sections, we will attempt to summarize the ethical principles currently in place across the professions of medicine and psychology, both of which are pertinent to professionals working in the pet services industry. Professionals who work in the fields of medicine and psychology impact and promote the mental and behavioral well-being of sentient beings, i.e. humans, while pet training and behavior consultants work alongside humans to enhance the mental and behavioral well-being of pets, also sentient beings (see Chapter Two: Living Property – The Need for a New Legal Definition / The Issue of Sentience).
Ethics in Medicine
According to Stanford University (n.d.), there are four basic principles of health care ethics:
- Autonomy: Patients should have autonomy of thought, intention, and action when making decisions regarding health care procedures. The process of decision-making should be free of coercion or coaxing, and patients must understand all benefits and risks associated with a procedure, in order to make a fully informed decision.
- Justice: Both the burdens and the benefits of new or experimental treatments should be distributed equally among all groups in society and procedures should uphold the spirit of existing laws, while being fair to all involved.
- Beneficence: Procedures should be provided with the intent of doing good for the patient involved. This demands that health care providers develop and maintain skills and knowledge, continually update training, consider individual circumstances of all patients, and strive for net benefit.
- Nonmaleficence: This requires that a procedure does not harm the patient involved or others in society.
Ethical Principles of Psychologists
The American Psychological Association’s (APA) (2017) Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct (herewith referred to as the Ethics Code) aims to “provide guidance for psychologists and standards of professional conduct that can be applied by the APA and by other bodies that choose to adopt them.”
In its Introduction and Preamble, APA (2017) states that the Ethical Standards listed in its Ethics Code are enforceable “rules of conduct for psychologists,” and that the Ethics Code intends to “provide specific standards to cover most situations encountered by psychologists. It has as its goals the welfare and protection of the individuals and groups with whom psychologists work and the education of members, students, and the public regarding ethical standards of the discipline.” APA (2017) goes on to note that: “The development of a dynamic set of ethical standards for psychologists’ work-related conduct requires a personal commitment and lifelong effort to act ethically; to encourage ethical behavior by students, supervisees, employees, and colleagues; and to consult with others concerning ethical problems.”
APA (2017) also sets out its five General Principles. These, unlike the Ethical Standards, which are enforceable, are aspirational in nature and should be “considered by psychologists in arriving at an ethical course of action.” The intent of the General Principles “is to guide and inspire psychologists toward the very highest ethical ideals of the profession.” (APA, 2017). Much could be taken from APA’s Ethics Code and General Principles in terms of application and potential adoption by the pet industry and we will set out some examples in this chapter. Meanwhile, we present here a brief outline of APA’s (2017) five General Principles paired with, in our view, their relevance to pet industry professionals (in italics):
- Principle A: Beneficence and Nonmaleficence – Psychologists strive to benefit those with whom they work and take care to do no harm. Training and behavior professionals must always have the welfare of the pet as their first and foremost priority, not the tools, method or financial gain from the service engagement.
- Principle B: Fidelity and Responsibility – Psychologists establish relationships of trust with those with whom they work. Pet Professionals must be trustworthy and operate with integrity.
- Principle C: Integrity – Psychologists seek to promote accuracy, honesty, and truthfulness in the science, teaching, and practice of psychology. Pet Professionals must be open and honest with clients regarding any methods, tools and approaches they seek to use and/or recommend.
- Principle D: Justice – Psychologists recognize that fairness and justice entitle all persons to access to and benefit from the contributions of psychology and to equal quality in the processes, procedures, and services being conducted by psychologists. Pet Professionals provide fair market value services to all clients in their service areas.
- Principle E: Respect for People’s Rights and Dignity – Psychologists respect the dignity and worth of all people, and the rights of individuals to privacy, confidentiality, and self-determination. Psychologists are aware that special safeguards may be necessary to protect the rights and welfare of persons or communities whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision-making. Pet Professionals respect the dignity and confidentiality of all clients.
Striving to benefit those with whom we work and taking care to do no harm (Principle A) should be applicable to both humans and animals, as should establishing relationships of trust with those with whom we work (Principle B). Potential problems associated with the pet industry often involve the non-disclosure of the methods that will be used to train and/or care for a pet (see also Chapter Nine: Consumer Protection and Transparency / Misrepresentation.) Honest, accurate discussion about the training methods to be employed would allow pet owners to make reliable decisions regarding informed consent (Principle C).
In any situation where an animal is the “client” (e.g. a training class, a behavior consultation, a trip to the groomer, or a stay in boarding or day care), he rarely has any say in the situation or option to partake in informed consent. Nor is he in the position of being able to direct or take responsibility for his own welfare in such situations, making him extremely vulnerable. It is essential, then, that the pet professional’s participation is beneficial to the animal. This is a “foundational principle of professional ethics.” (Tudge, 2010).
Principle D references the equal entitlement for all to access and benefit from the same quality of service, stating that: “Psychologists exercise reasonable judgment and take precautions to ensure that their potential biases, the boundaries of their competence, and the limitations of their expertise do not lead to or condone unjust practices.” (APA, 2017). Should pets and their owners not also have the right to expect a certain established quality of training not limited by the boundaries of a professional’s knowledge and skills, especially when incompetency can lead to unjust and inhumane practices?
Principle E is especially pertinent in terms of protecting “the rights and welfare of persons or communities whose vulnerabilities impair autonomous decision-making.” (APA, 2017). It should go without saying that those involved in the care and training of pets treat both owners and their pets with respect and dignity. Pets by their very nature should have their welfare protected, for who is less able to speak for themselves than they? “As pet owners and pet professionals, we are the voice both for our own animals and for those we see in practice. We are the ones that can stand up for them, speak on their behalf, look out for their welfare, and make sure they are treated with kindness and compassion.” (Gregory, 2019a).
The second part of Principle E also states that: “Psychologists are aware of and respect cultural, individual, and role differences, including those based on age, gender, gender identity, race, ethnicity, culture, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, disability, language, and socioeconomic status, and consider these factors when working with members of such groups. Psychologists try to eliminate the effect on their work of biases based on those factors, and they do not knowingly participate in or condone activities of others based upon such prejudices.” (APA, 2017).
In the pet industry, prejudice can also be an issue, specifically in the form of Breed Specific Legislation (BSL) (also known as Breed Discriminatory Legislation), a law or legal ordinance that restricts or prohibits the ownership of certain breeds (or types) of dogs. In places where BSL has been implemented it varies from a complete ban of certain types of dogs to regulations imposing restrictions on ownership and special requirements (Pet Professional Guild, 2018).
Under BSL, regulated breeds usually comprise “pit bull” type dogs. However, the breeds targeted vary in different countries and even in different states or counties within the same country. American pit bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American bulldogs, Staffordshire bull terriers and English bull terriers are often included in the “pit bull group,” wherein the term “pit bull” is used generically for a number of closely related breeds such as these. In some cases, dogs who are thought to resemble a pit bull are inaccurately labeled, based purely on their appearance. Importantly, a study by Olson et al. (2015), designed to measure agreement among shelter staff in assigning pit bull-type breed designations to shelter dogs and to compare breed assignments with DNA breed signatures, found that visual identification is unreliable.
Other breeds that often find themselves the target of BSL include Rottweilers, mastiffs, chow chows, German shepherds and Doberman pinschers. In Europe, the filo Brasileiro, dogo Argentino, presa Canaria and Japanese tosa are included on many of the lists of dogs affected by breed discriminatory laws. The laws usually target any dog that resembles the listed breed so are ‘type’ specific rather than truly ‘breed’ specific. (Pet Professional Guild, 2018).
While any size or type of dog can bite, breed is not a good predictor. A study by Patronek, Sacks, Delise, Cleary and Marder (2013) concluded that: “Most DBRFs [dog bite-related fatalities] were characterized by coincident, preventable factors; breed was not one of these. Study results supported previous recommendations for multifactorial approaches, instead of single-factor solutions such as breed-specific legislation, for dog bite prevention.” According to Stapleton-Frappell (2016), BSL causes “untold suffering to countless dogs and their families around the world – dogs whose only ‘crime’ is that they are of a certain breed or type. These dogs are both judged and condemned – often to incarceration and ultimately death – because of their appearance; with no regard being taken of their positive behavioral history, character traits, socialization, training or home environment.” (qtd. in BARKS from the Guild).
It may also be the case that some pet dog trainers, either purposely or without due consideration, apply different ethical standards when deciding on the appropriate method of training for an individual dog; and that, based on preconceived, biased beliefs regarding the dog’s size and breed, turn to aversive training methods thus potentially causing the animal physical or psychological harm.
The specific Ethical Standards, as set out by APA (2017), are broad in order to apply to psychologists in varied roles. Section 2 of APA’s Ethical Standards speaks to competence, with Subsection 2.01 Boundaries of Competence stating that services should only be provided “within the boundaries of [a psychologist’s] competence, based on their education, training, supervised experience, consultation, study, or professional experience.” (2.01 (a)) and should “undertake relevant education, training, supervised experience, consultation, or study.” (2.01 (c)). If asked to provide services for which they do not possess the relevant skills, knowledge of level of competency, psychologists should only provide that service if they “make a reasonable effort to obtain the competence required by using relevant research, training, consultation, or study” (2.01 (d)) and that they should always take steps to ensure they protect their clients, students and others from harm (2.01 (e)).
Section 3 of APA’s (2017) Ethical Standards specifically speaks to human relations, referencing the importance of taking reasonable steps to avoid harming clients and students. It states that psychologists should never “participate in, facilitate, assist, or otherwise engage in torture, defined as any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person, or in any other cruel, inhuman, or degrading behavior.” (3.04 (b) Avoiding Harm). It is our view that pets be given these same priorities and that they, too, should never be subjected to inhumane training tools, practices or methods that risk causing physical and/or psychological pain or suffering. (See also Chapter Three: Professionals Should Exemplify and Promote Anti-Cruelty Statutes / Abusive Training Practices and Chapter Four: How Pets Learn and the Consequences of Methodology, Equipment and Philosophical Choice / Corporal Punishment.)
Subsection 3.10 of APA’s (2017) Ethical Standards speaks to the importance of obtaining informed consent using language that is “understandable” (3.10 (a)) and that, for persons who are “legally incapable of giving informed consent” (think dogs), psychologists (think trainers) should consider the person’s (think dog and/or owner) “preferences and best interests” and “take reasonable steps to protect the individual’s rights and welfare.” (3.10 (b)).
The Place and Critical Need for Ethical Guidelines and Oversight
Animals have the ability “to feel, perceive or be conscious, or to have subjective experiences.” (American Animal Hospital Association, 2019). In other words, they are sentient beings with the capacity to experience both positive and negative feelings, which “requires a level of awareness and cognitive ability.” (Broom, 2019). “Biological science, as well as common sense, supports the fact that the animals that share our lives are feeling, sensing beings that deserve thoughtful, high-quality care. The care that is offered should provide for the animal’s physical and behavioral welfare and strive to minimize pain, distress, and suffering for the animal.” (American Animal Hospital Association, 2019).
In a training scenario, as a professional becomes confident in a session with a particular animal, they may move too quickly to more complex things, while if they are struggling to master a technique, may elect to remain at a more basic level of teaching (Gregory, 2019b). How does this, however, fit in with the rate at which the animal learns? “Does he improve at the same rate as the person? Possibly, but it is more likely that one or the other will progress more quickly or slowly. How much attention do we actually pay to the animal other than being aware of his response and adjusting for it? If you think about it, we may still be focusing on ourselves and what we are trying to achieve, so if we want a particular behavior and it is not happening, we adjust to try to achieve that goal. Do we stop to think about how the animal is feeling, rather than what he is doing?” (Gregory, 2019b).
Section 5 of APA’s (2017) Ethical Standards speaks to advertising and states that: “Psychologists do not make false, deceptive, or fraudulent statements concerning their training, experience, or competence; their academic degrees; their credentials; their institutional or association affiliations; their services; the scientific or clinical basis for, or results or degree of success of, their services; their fees; their publications or research findings.” (5.01 (b)). This is also applicable to the workings of the pet industry in terms of professional transparency and honesty about credentials and education, as well as the obligation not to falsely advertise or mislead clients regarding how their pet will be cared for, trained or managed by the professional.
Ethics Across Professional Associations in an Unregulated Profession
Welfel (2012, p.3) presents that ethics encompass five dimensions, and that, when these are all brought together, they represent the “positive ethical ideas and values of behavior counseling professions.”
The five dimensions (summarized here by the authors) include:
- Having sufficient knowledge and skills to use effective interventions.
- Respecting the dignity and freedom of clients.
- Using the power of their professional title to act responsibly.
- Behaving in a way that promotes public confidence in the profession.
- Committing to placing the welfare of the client as the highest priority.
As previously stated, pet industry services – which include dog training – are currently unregulated. As such, anyone at all can work as a dog trainer, register a business name, put up an attractive website, and set about advertising and marketing their services to potential clients Nevertheless, holding membership of a professional body may provide credibility to the trainer, behavior consultant or pet care services provider and imbue a sense of confidence in the general public – not only as to the individual’s professional ethics, but also to the credentials of any individual who is a member of that body.
There are many professional organizations worldwide that offer membership and credentials for dog trainers. Few, however, hold their members to a strict code of conduct “which involves the application of their trade through scientific protocols and the objective to cause no harm.” (Tudge & Nilson, 2017). Yet how many members of the pet owning public look beyond the membership and examine what those guidelines are, or are even aware of disparities in tools, techniques and philosophies?
Dog trainers, behavior consultants and all those working in the field of pet care services have a duty to do only what is ethical, thereby following APA’s (2017) Standard of Ethics 3.04 (b) Avoiding Harm, and should never engage in any act by which pain or suffering, whether physical or psychological, is intentionally inflicted, i.e., as per APA’s (2017) General Principle A, they should “take care to do no harm.” Trainers interact on a daily basis with their human and canine clients and yet the ethical standards required by the differing professional membership organizations vary substantially. They range from those such as the Pet Professional Guild (PPG) (2012), which, as already stated in Chapter Five: A Call for an Industry Wide, Professionally Acknowledged Best Practice, requires its members to sign off on Guiding Principles that clearly depict which training tools may not be used in any circumstances (including shock collars, prong collars, choke chains, startle devices, and any other tool or method that causes pain or fear; PPG states this to be non-negotiable) to organizations who do not prohibit the use of such aversives and support their members’ right to use training methods and management protocols based on outdated dominance theory and practices that can result in both mental and physical harm.
According to Tudge and Nilson (2017), “…professional dog trainers and canine behavior consultants currently have no legal responsibility whatsoever to disclose any information to their clients or the general public regarding the methods they use. At present, the only obligation is an ethical one, which, sadly, not all trainers elect to acknowledge. This can be and, indeed, is very misleading to unsuspecting pet owners who have no knowledge of the pet industry’s lack of standards and regulation, or the differences between training methods and equipment. In many cases, pet owners only find out about these differences – and the fallout associated with them – when they find themselves encountering behavior problems caused by the use of outdated aversive techniques and equipment.”
The decision as to which membership organization to join should be an important choice for pet professionals for many reasons, but perhaps the most obvious is whether the trainer aligns themselves with the ethical principles of said organization. Do they share the same values? Can they work within the guiding principles of said organization? Only once this is established should other factors such as membership benefits and yearly fees be considered.
As we have outlined in Chapter Five: A Call for an Industry Wide, Professionally Acknowledged Best Practice / The Humane Hierarchy, professional animal training and behavior associations often recommend an adherence by their members to a specified humane hierarchy. As we have already explained, under such protocols, the standard is to begin a training and behavior change program using the least invasive and least aversive methods available, then work up to more aversive levels – as the individual professional deems necessary.
However, any recommendation to adhere to a humane hierarchy does not take into account the incompetent or the unethical trainer. The professional who lacks either the skills, the knowledge or the desire to correctly implement the least intrusive, yet often most effective training methods, will quickly climb the hierarchy, making use of training and behavior change protocols that will undoubtedly result in fear, anxiety, stress and potential physical harm for the animal. Simply because something is included as a guideline or an ethical code does not mean that it will either be implemented correctly, nor, indeed, that it will be implemented at all. These very hierarchies argue for why a new Best Practice model is needed to guide, and if necessary, constrain pet professionals. Our proposed model is set out in Appendix A: The Recommended Best Practice Model for Pet Training and Behavior Consulting Professionals. When an individual has veiled “permission” to use aversives, either in a legal sense or by a professional body, or even by their own personal standards, it risks leading down a slippery slope whereby those who are struggling to motivate their students may quickly scale the ladder from the use of positive reinforcement to that of aversives.
Ethics and the Detrimental Effect of Aversives
In the field of animal training and behavior, based on the body of scientific research and study available today, we now know much more about the fallout of aversive techniques and punishment, and we know that pet dogs trained with the use of positive punishment are no more obedient and exhibit increased numbers of potentially problematic behaviors than dogs trained by other means (Hiby, Rooney & Bradshaw, 2004).
There are many more studies of dogs that show the detrimental effects of aversives including, but not limited to:
- Effects of inescapable shock upon subsequent escape and avoidance responding (Overmier & Seligman, 1967).
- Training dogs with help of the shock collar: short- and long-term behavioral effects (Schilder & van der Borg, 2004).
- The relationship between training methods and the occurrence of behavior problems, as reported by owners, in a population of domestic dogs (Blackwell, Twells, Seawright & Casey, 2008).
- Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors (Herron, Shofer & Reisner, 2009).
- Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability (Rooney & Cowan, 2011).
- The effects of using aversive training methods in dogs—A review (Ziv, 2017).
(See also Chapter Four: How Pets Learn and the Consequences of Methodology, Equipment and Philosophical Choice / The Fallout and Chapter Six: Canine Communication and Social Behavior / Canine Warnings for more on the effects of and fallout from the use of aversives in training).
Given the research, we are compelled to ask, how can we morally stand by and condone the use of training procedures based on force, fear, pain, threat or intimidation in the name of teaching or training? And how can a professional member association include the use of aversive tools and methods in their codes of ethics and ethical standards?
All professionals have an ethical obligation to be competent in their chosen field, meaning they are knowledgeable, schooled in current theory and research pertaining to their industry, and have the necessary skills and education to actually apply that field of knowledge to a working situation with their clients (Tudge, 2010). This is of critical importance. In the case of pet training and behavior consulting, a lack of competency can lead to a professional’s inability to effectively and successfully carry out a functional assessment and, thus, to implement an effective behavioral change program based on positive reinforcement, classical and operant conditioning, and management strategies.
The functional assessment is the behavior analytical approach to explaining, describing and controlling behavior. It does not rely on guesswork, trial and error tactics, or anecdotal recommendations, but systematically identifies the functional relationship a behavior has with the environment. When these relationships have been identified, then efficient and effective solutions can be developed. The intended final product of the functional assessment is a contingency statement that the behavior consultant has confidence in. The contingency statement details the antecedents, behaviors and consequences in simple and measurable terms (DogNostics Career Center, 2018). It is also known as the three-term, or ABC contingency (see also Chapter Five: A Call for an Industry Wide, Professionally Acknowledged Best Practice / Key Learning Theory for more on learning; Appendix A: The Recommended Best Practice Model for Pet Training and Behavior Consulting Professionals and Appendix B: The Recommended Model for a Professional’s Level of Knowledge and Skill for more discussion on functional assessments).
Ethics within the Framework of Competency
We have already discussed competency in some detail in Chapter Seven: Competency Is Mission Critical and will now examine it in terms of ethics specific to the pet industry. While it is unlikely that a professional can be competent across all of their industry interventions, the important ethical factor is that said professionals recognize any deficit of knowledge and skills and only work within their area of competency.
In the pet industry, professionals should hold themselves accountable and only consult within the range of their competency and, if necessary, refer clients to another professional who can better serve the needs of the client and the case in question. (Tudge, 2016). Professionals should also be diligent and focus their attention on the needs of the client (Welfel, 2009, p.84). As we have already stated, in pet training and behavior, both the animal and the owner are clients. The priority must always be to use successful applied behavior interventions based on the science of positive reinforcement, applied by competent professionals who have an extensive code of ethics (Tudge, 2010).
According to Meine and Dunn (2013), “[e]thical competency is a matter of great importance in the public sector. The search for and promotion of ethical competence has most recently focused on professional organizations and their constituencies.” In the meantime, how can pet owners make informed decisions? As we have already outlined in Chapter Three: Professionals Should Exemplify and Promote Anti-Cruelty Statutes / Truth in Training and elsewhere, dog trainers are already using multiple terms to advertise and describe their approach to training, including “results based,” “positive,” “force-free,” “balanced,” “fear-free,” “evidence based,” and “compulsion.” This assortment of labels reflects both a lack of transparency and much confusion for potential clients. The pet owning public deserves to know whether a service provider will use up-to-date training methods that seek to do no harm, methods that rely on scientifically supported protocols and are based on positive reinforcement, or if the trainer they hire plans to use methods that include pain, fear and potential fallout. As things currently stand, clients will have a difficult time choosing service providers as “so many fear-based training and behavior change methods can be very subtle, or even invisible, in the slick, magical way they are marketed to unsuspecting pet owners.” (Pet Professional Guild, 2016). (See also Chapter Nine: Consumer Protection and Transparency / Misrepresentation.)
Informed consent is a behavioral science concept referring to a professional’s acknowledgement that a client has the right and responsibility to ensure they can advance their own welfare, emotional and physical well-being. In the case of animal behavior consulting, a pet owner is required to fulfil this obligation by advocating for their pet. This means that owners – and thus their pets – have freedom of choice in terms of the type of behavioral and training services they venture into, and that they do this voluntarily once they have sufficient information at hand to make informed decisions. Obviously, our pets cannot read and write, so the expectation should always be that both the owner and the professional will do no harm. Conversely, the goal must always be to do good, a significant part of which involves not using any method or equipment that may cause physical or psychological harm. As such, informed consent is ethical and in the best interests of both the pet and his owner(s) (Tudge & Nilson, 2017).
Informed consent ensures that all relevant information pertaining to the services the professional will provide and the tools and methods utilized, are understood and agreed to by all parties. A key component of the agreement must be a clear outline of any potential risk from the application and use of the tools, methods and philosophies employed by the professional. This will ensure clients have an appropriate understanding of the circumstances and the expected results that will materialize from the client-service provider relationship, and any pursuing transactions. According to Welfel (2009, p.157), “clients have ethical and legal rights to this information.” Indeed, given the full responsibility pet ownership carries both in the home and in public, pet training and behavior professionals should be obligated to fully disclose all aspects of the professional-client relationship in terms of confidentiality, each party’s role, methodologies, equipment, systems and individual service provider philosophy (Tudge, 2010).
It is essential that industry professionals and public service officials are cognizant of a pet’s vulnerability and his obvious inability to offer informed consent, as well as the ethical and legal responsibilities pet owners have to their families and local communities, and the umbrella responsibility local governments have in terms of providing for safe public environments. This disclosure process should include statements that address potential conflicts of interest concerned with the animal’s welfare and the local and state animal control ordinances and laws. (Tudge & Nilson, 2017).
Irrespective of whether an individual, a membership organization, a professional body, public legislation, or any other source recommends or enforces an ethical code, all individuals have their own moral standards. For pet professionals, the goal should always be to train and care for pets in the most humane and least intrusive manner possible, and to never cause any physical or emotional harm.
Regardless of any ethical guidelines set out by a membership organization or public legislation, it is our opinion that the use of aversives in training or behavior change protocols are not the right choice, either morally or ethically. Nor does their use reflect the current scientific findings.
For individual professionals to act ethically within their own service scope, they must be able to make good moral and ethical choices. They need to be capable of developing a moral vision and hold a set of beliefs, values and ethical principles that apply to their marketing message, their methodology and approach as to how their services are executed, as well as possess the integrity to be honest and transparent with their clients –both two- and four-legged. Essentially, pet professionals must operate within a collection of systems that protects the animals in their care from any intentional – or unintentional – harm through a lack of knowledge and skills. The pet industry also needs an agreed and collective set of principles and ethics to which professionals across all related services are held accountable. (See also Appendix F: The Recommended Corporation Professional Code of Conduct and Ethics Pledge).
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