I am always open to speaking up about credentials when owners ask, but I’ve never got it written down so here it is.
When it comes to dog training, credentials are nothing more than a piece of paper to tell you that the individual has the understanding of a subject, based on the issuer’s criteria and beliefs.
Why do I say that? The fact is, every school has different beliefs on how dog training should be and what is considered “correct”. To me, it doesn’t necessarily make any school better than the other regardless of how popular they are within a community. A piece of paper can be achieved by adhering to what the school/issuer believes, and this often comes in the form of studying the theory designed by that individual organization. For instance, we can have different force free schools around the world on a list, compare their curriculums and you will observe the different rules and theories set by the different organizations, especially on what is considered force or humane in this case.
From an honest point of view, as much as I respect the public’s preferences to assure themselves that their trainer has credentials to back them up, I do not believe in the idea of being qualified to work with dogs just because someone is certified. Let me share and clarify more below.
First, it doesn’t make sense for behaviour training to rely on qualifications because of the fact that the four quadrants of reinforcement are proven to be effective when it comes to reinforcing behaviours. From a school’s perspective, there are many factors to consider when they decide to create a system, if they were to design their system base on changing behaviours, then they would need to accept that the four quadrants of reinforcement includes both reward and punishment. If you take a look around, most popular schools these days do not support punishment, and in my opinion that itself is already breaking the law of reinforcement. However, what I observed further is that the reason these schools are rejecting the idea of positive punishment is because they incorporate psychology into their system, which is linked to understanding how using fear to teach can be unhealthy, unnecessary and unethical to a being especially with the intellectual ability of a toddler. So as you can see from here, every detail can affect how a system of a school is designed regardless if they have the same objective.
Back to my opinion of credentials, I am seeing the trend of trainers rushing to certify themselves with as much credentials as they can, and it is not so much for learning, but for the sake of public trust. While it’s not entirely a bad thing, this trend tends to cause trainers to over rely on credentials to gain potential clients rather than self education, this in return causes most of them to lack hands on experiences, to have an actual understanding about dogs before they start out as a professional. It is a totally different experience when the dog is actually in your hands, would fresh graduates really be able to apply everything they have learnt in school on dogs in actual situation, and having to teach owners to apply this onto their dogs at the same time? It just feels like a repeat of the 90s-2000s, where trainers are constantly advertising their experiences as ex police/military dog handlers, which in this day and time most of you should have learnt that police/military camps are considered one of the slowest organizations to catch up to modern dog training, meaning that most of them have been stuck with applying unnecessary force and punishment on their dogs even when science are proving otherwise, with the exception of scent detection work whereby using reward base training is considered one of the most effective option since a long time ago. So regardless of what the trainer is practicing now, if they were to include this as part of their training portfolio, I would assume that the trainer finds the skill useful and would not hesitate to apply them to household pets. This is where it becomes concerning, because it is an entirely different subject training working dogs versus household pets, it is unfair to apply this theory and experiences just because they are called dogs.
As much as credentials can provide better assurance, I’d always advice to remember this; a piece of paper can never reflect the person’s experience, passion and love for animals. To put it harshly, any dog abuser can take a course from a force free school and still pass with flying colors, they can then start a purely positive school and punish dogs behind closed doors. My point is, there are no credentials for being a dog lover, just as there are no medals for being a good behaviourist. I mention about this because a lot of people see medals on someone’s walls and they automatically assume that these are applicable for behaviour modification. Just to reiterate, there are no competitions for behaviourists.
My advice is, ignore the papers, ignore the medals, look at the person instead. The heart is what matters most.
Dog Trainer | Amber’s Cottage | Behaviour Modification