Training and behaviour consultation is an unregulated industry in New Zealand.
Anyone with any level of experience and education can call themselves a dog trainer. This creates significant risks for animals and their guardians, from the spread of inappropriate techniques or information to the use of fear, force, pain or intimidation to gain and maintain compliance.
Ethical training follows a systematic approach that adheres to using the least intrusive and minimally aversive methods (LIMA). All animal trainers, behaviour consultants and behaviour veterinarians who are accredited with Companion Animals NZ follow the same code of ethics.
The model of the Companion Animals NZ Animal Behaviour and Training Accreditation Programme is to create a standardisation for practitioners to adhere to these principles.
In 2017, a working group that included Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI), New Zealand Veterinary Association (NZVA), DogsNZ, SPCA, Association of Professional Dog Trainer New Zealand (APDTNZ), Companion Animals NZ, Massey University, Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) and Unitec started addressing this issue of regulation. Companion Animals NZ offered to finance the establishment of a national accreditation scheme, and this is where it all began.
It was agreed that training and behaviour organisations would be accredited by Companion Animals NZ rather than creating a model to accredit individual training and behaviour practitioners. Assessing individuals one-by-one would not only be a duplication of the work those organisations were already doing, but also be very intensive. By accrediting organisations, New Zealand-based individuals who hold a qualifying membership may automatically be eligible for Companion Animals NZ accreditation.
The Companion Animals NZ accreditation scheme first came to fruition in 2019. The accreditation scheme was based on input from those in the working group and recognition that there was a need for a national standard in the animal training and behaviour industry.
The scheme was developed to recognise qualifications based on a robust assessment of the individual applicant’s practical and theoretical skills, adherence to LIMA methods and a written code of ethics, as well as a commitment to ongoing professional education. These are well-established and well-recognised organisations who align with the Companion Animals NZ standards.
In 2020, the first organisations were accredited: the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) and Association of Professional Dog Trainer New Zealand (APDTNZ). At this time, accreditation was available only for animal trainers/animal training instructors and behaviour consultants, but new ‘standards’ have since been drawn up to provide more accreditation pathways.
The scheme is currently being reviewed. Professional animal trainers and behaviour consultants in the industry have been surveyed (figure1) and there has been engagement with stakeholders to assess the future of the accreditation scheme and how it can be built upon. A new standard (behaviour veterinarian) for members of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists (ANZCVS) has been added, and a puppy preschool standard is being drafted. The impact the new puppy preschool standard could have on puppies and their guardians is exponential as it has been estimated that about 10,000 puppies go through puppy preschools nationwide each year.
A marketing campaign targeting animal guardians who seek to work with a professional is also being developed.