Dog Groomers, Personal Trainers & Licensing

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A Dallas couple recently filed a lawsuit against Petco after their dog died following use of a cage dryer.

Turns out that inappropriate use of these dryers can lead to rapid overheating and death in smaller breeds.

Like personal trainers, dog groomers are entirely unlicensed and unregulated, and as a result efforts are underway to license dog groomers in several states.

(Background: certification is voluntary; licensure is required and means that you have to meet requirements established by the state, usually including education, test scores and years of experience. Your performance as a professional is regulated and your license to provide the service can be revoked by a state licensing board).

I’m amazed that licensing of dog groomers seems to have more momentum than licensing of personal trainers. Heck, athletic trainers are licensed and they’re dealing with athletes in much better health than many personal trainer clients!

Frankly, every fitness-related trade association out there – personal trainers, athletic trainers, health clubs, medical fitness centers and others — has a dog in this hunt. Some want personal trainer licensure, some violently oppose it, some are trying to head it off by moving in the direction of self-reglation, and others don’t care as long as they can find a way to stay afloat.

My take is that whether you like it or not, two factors will ultimately drive regulation and licensure of personal trainers.

First, the “medicalization of wellness.”

As health conditions resulting from obesity and inactivity continue to rise, much of the work that personal trainers do “bumps into” the healthcare world. But the healthcare professions will remain unaware and/or skeptical of fitness professionals until a licensing process exists that 1) gives personal trainers formal stature in the healthcare world and 2) guarantees a minimum level of knowledge.

Without this, healthcare professionals are far less likely to refer patients to trainers. They either don’t realize the profession even exists, or they don’t trust ’em.

And while many personal trainers would love to serve the unfit market through medical referrals, ideally tapping into insurance reimbursement, health spending accounts and the like, in a managed-care world this primarily happens when you’re a recognized healthcare professional – which, good or bad, typically comes with state regulation and licensure.

Second, the personal training profession is only one headline-grabbing tragedy away from giddily swift action by state legislatures.

Picture a cute kid or someone high-profile injured by trainer incompetence and think about how quickly lawmakers could react. And the negative publicity would kick in even faster.

The complete lack of personal training regulation means that consumers – particularly the unfit and overweight, who are likelier to have health concerns – remain vulnerable and unprotected from undertrained and misinformed trainers who operate far outside an appropriate scope of practice. The dirty little secret in the fitness industry is that a LOT of trainers fit this description. They repeat the urban legends of fitness: recommending nutritional supplements as “cures” for everything from obesity to high blood pressure, swearing that avoiding bananas will burn fat, and on and on and on.

We know many of the truly excellent and knowledgeable trainers out there. I know, for example, that Radial has worked with some highly-skilled individuals who could easily teach PhD classes in kinesiology. And everyone opposed to licensure is quick to offer up examples of great trainers who have little formal education and no certification (and examples of healthcare pros who who are licensed but clearly incompetent).

I agree that licensure doesn’t guarantee competence. But bottom-line, it’s the only way states have to assure a minimum level of knowledge to protect consumers. And it’s the only way fitness professionals will ever make the most of the opportunity to serve the unfit and overweight.

The only question is which state will go first, how soon, and how long existing professionals will be grandfathered from having to fully comply with whatever licensing provisions eventually make it into law.