What Do All Those Letters Mean Anyway?: What Qualifies Someone to be a Dog Trainer
Updated: Sep 12, 2020
Often I am asked "So what are you qualifications to be a dog trainer?" A fair question for sure. However in our profession this is a question without a common answer. You see dog training is not a regulated profession. Anyone can watch some YouTube, file for a business license, and say they are a dog trainer. I'm not saying there is anything wrong with being self taught, but that is the reality of the training industry. Then you have people who I call certification chasers. They will take any and every workshop, seminar, online class etc that they can add to their list of certifications. Also not a horrible thing, they are still learning. But here's the thing about it; those certifications are not held to any standard. "I went to XYZ and became a certified dog trainer". Great! However all that means is you passed that organizations course, whether it was good, bad, or useless in the real world of dogs. There is no governing body that oversees these things sadly. Professional organizations like the International Association of Canine Professionals (that I am member of and have my certifications through) do their best, but they can't be every where all the time.
Another good question you should ask people, what organizations are they a part of and why. I joined IACP because I believe in their view that there is no one way to train dogs. They are inclusive to everyone, no matter your discipline or training style. That being said, if you have allegations made against you they have an internal investigation system and can strip you of your membership if found guilty. They have watchdog programs to keep an eye on canine legislation going on around the country and world and they do everything they can to help better dogs lives. Their mission means something to me, and it says a lot that the big name trainers I follow are members as well. They should be able to tell you the why, not just who they belong to. And when they do I encourage you to look up that organization and see for yourself if it's simply something to fluff up a resume or something meaningful.
They should be able to give you tons of examples of their dog experience. This should be more than "I've owned dogs all my life". That's a start, but not enough to be truly effective. Just because they have owned dogs does not mean they have done any meaningful training with their dogs. That also doesn't mean they've ever crossed paths with your breed before. And even if they have, your dog is an individual. As an example, I learned the bulk of my knowledge about dog behavior in rescue. Seems odd that that is true, but dogs under stress are the very best teachers of reading dog body language. You have to do your job without getting injured (missing signs from the dogs) and you have to be able to keep volunteers, the public, and adopters/fosters safe. From there boarding and veterinary care taught me most of the rest. Boarding taught me about play group dynamics and more about reading dogs in social situations. Veterinary care taught me even more about dealing with dogs under stress. But all these experiences taught me something else valuable; people skills. Every animal related job I've had has had some type of people component to it. In rescue you have other staff, volunteers, and the public to deal with. In grooming, boarding, vet care, and pet sitting/walking, all those dogs had owners. If you can't reach the owner, you don't get to work with the pet. It's as simple as that. So make sure any trainer you're working with takes the time to connect with YOU, not just your pet.
When a trainer tells you about their certifications, ask what they needed to do to obtain them. Was it just a test? Was it turning in case studies? Was it in person, online, etc? This will tell you alot about their hands on dog knowledge. Books and videos are amazing, but you cant truly know about dogs until you work with them in person. Don't be shy to ask them! If they are confident in their abilities and the organizations they are associated with they will be more than happy to explain it to you. Ask questions about their methods, and why. Pay attention to how they handle your dog, if you disagree with it ask them and they should be able to explain to you why they are doing what they are doing (of course except for all out abuse, stop that right away!). You need to build a relationship with your trainer, and you should be confident in their abilities. Do your homework, and as always reach out! We're here to help you any way we can.
For the Dogs,
Christina, Dog Trainer Foundation Certified, IACP