Upon my recent graduation from The Academy for Dog Trainers, I've had a lot of people ask what this means for me. What did I accomplish? How does a Certificate in Training & Counselling (CTC) change my status as a dog trainer?
The sad reality is, my education and my credentials change nothing. Nope, not a thing. I don't get a pay raise, nor do I achieve some Gold Status in the world of Dog Trainers.
So why bother continuing my education at all?
Dog training is an unregulated profession. There are no laws, there are no education requirements, no qualifications needed. You could wake up tomorrow morning and declare yourself a dog trainer and start your own business.
The biggest problem with this (there are several), is that there are also no regulations or laws on HOW we train dogs. What techniques, tools, or equipment we use to achieve the training goals laid out for that particular dog. Scientific research in animal behavior tell us how to humanely train dogs, but nothing in the law requires dog trainers to apply these proven techniques in their practice.
Dog training really became a 'thing' post World War II during the baby boom. People started to become interested in formally training their dogs. The techniques employed at this time were passed down from Military dog trainers, who generally employed harsh techniques in order to weed out the 'soft' dogs from their programs. Timid or sensitive dogs would not serve well in the war. Generally speaking, the dogs during this time were 'motivated' by the use of aversives, or, something they found noxious or punishing.
In the 1930-40's scientists started to dig into the study of how animal's learn. This brought some pretty important players to the table, including Ivan Pavlov (remember Pavlov's dogs? This is the guy!) They started explore operant and classical conditioning and different ways of achieving results in dog training that did not involve fear, intimidation or pain.
There is plenty of disagreement on the 'correct' way to train dogs, and who's to say what's right or wrong? I myself have chosen to base my training methodology on scientific, proven methods of training. I strongly believe that fear and pain are NOT necessary in dog training. Period. It is not necessary to scare or hurt dogs in order to educate them.
Some potentially adverse effects of punishment based training are: inhibition of learning, increasing fear-related and aggressive behaviors, and injury to animals and people interacting with animals. So the kicker here is, the onus now falls on you, as the dog owner seeking professional help. There is no consumer protection out there, so you really need to do your research when looking for training for your beloved furry friend.
"What should you look for in a dog trainer? If you ask us, the most important thing is *transparency.* If a dog trainer is not willing to fully disclose, in clear language, exactly what will happen to your dog (in the physical world) during the training process, keep shopping! Look for verbs, not adjectives. Demand to know what specific methods will be employed in what specific situations. Don't settle for smoke and mirrors." (The Academy for Dog Trainers)
You should think of picking a dog trainer as an interview process, where you are interviewing the trainer. Here is a great article with questions you should be asking a potential trainer: How to Choose a Dog Trainer
I look at dog training as a static profession; there are always new studies, and new techniques and new information being learned everyday about dogs. I am fascinated by the inner workings of dogs' brains and do not think I will ever be finished learning. My credentials are important to me, because I think they show my commitment to the field of animal behavior, and providing the most up-to-date, humane and scientifically proven methods and techniques to my clients and their pets.
So while the extra letters behind my name don't give me any advantage in the profession, but they are invaluable to me and to my business. I want to be the best trainer that I can, and I think I can only push that package by continuing to learn and hold myself to the highest standard.