What is a dog training “Certification” Can I trust it or them, does it matter?

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What’s in a certification anyway?

I’ve mentioned before how we often get harassed in the middle of training sessions, with people yelling at us that we’re cruel and abusive for using a prong collar. And at some point, a lot of these people question our expertise by asking, “What certifications do you have?”

Obviously, we try not to engage, for a lot of reasons. But this gets asked enough that I want to address it. The simple truth is that a certificate means very little. Here’s why:

  • Point 1: Dog training is not regulated. Anyone can hang up a shingle and call themselves a dog trainer. That could be someone with 40 years of experience who has trained thousands of dogs—or it could be someone who trained his dog to sit in four hours and now thinks he’s qualified to help others.
  • Point 2: Anyone can set up a dog training certification program. There are many organizations that offer dog training certification. Dog training isn’t regulated—neither is dog training certification. And what that says is that a certificate doesn’t actually mean anything, other than someone took a course and passed through the hoops of a particular organization.
  • Point 3: By itself, certification is an incomplete education. I’ll get a lot of flak for this one, but it’s true for one simple reason: most organizations that offer a certificate focus solely on so-called positive training. The coursework generally consists of a history of dog training, a lot of reading on behavior and operant conditioning, and then a limited amount of actual training. There’s no reading on alternate approaches. There’s often very little training about how to deal with aggression. The practical exam is usually, “train a dog.” There are no standards for what “train a dog means.” (As a side note, the Karen Pryor Academy also requires that you train another animal, like a turtle or a bunny, with a clicker. Call me crazy, but I don’t understand how training a bunny qualifies you to train a dog.)

Qualifications come from successes—not from a string of letters after your name.

In the old days, dog training was a family business. Knowledge was passed down from generation to generation. Interestingly, this is true to a certain degree even today. But unlike other trades, there’s never been a formalized apprenticeship system. Most serious dog trainers today apprentice unofficially with another dog trainer, or work and communicate extensively with peers—usually both. Most serious dog trainers also have read and keep up with all the literature, not cherry-picked studies and pre-selected materials. There’s no way to quantify this because methods and techniques vary.

So when you’re selecting a dog trainer, don’t be swayed by whether they have some certificate or another. Don’t get me wrong: there are lots of great dog trainers who have so-called credentials. But those are a lot of really bad trainers who have them too. Instead, ask for success stories. Ask for references. If you’re facing a particular issue, ask whether your trainer has dealt with it in other dogs and how.

Oh, and if you’re wondering about the original question.

Christina has a boatload of certifications, all from her positive training days. I don’t have any certifications because I can think of a lot of better uses for my money than paying for something that doesn’t make a difference.

The dogs are our qualifications. Like this. Or this. Or this.

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