Friday, February 5, 2016

Why I changed my mind on certification

I come from the "old school" of dog training. I know some of you out there twenty years my senior are scoffing right now, but at 36 years old, I was trained by your contemporaries. I learned valuable skills, important skills I don't believe should be tossed to the wayside in the face of more modern styles. I feel strongly about combining the old with the new for a superior result. 

There is, however, one bit of old fashioned thinking I am ready to toss out the window forever- the idea that certifications are worthless, stupid, and just a "piece of paper." Even ten years ago, as I was training dogs for 8-12 hours a day, I snickered at the very idea that  paper had more weight than a leash in my hands, all day, every day.

Then, something amazing happened, at least I think it is. As social media exploded, someone as opinionated and bull-headed as me was drawn like a moth to the flame to dog training discussion. I saw, to my shock, the vast numbers of people with precious little experience or knowledge hanging out their shingle as "professional dog trainers". As someone who works very hard for her money, the idea of taking it from others without the requisite skills to do so sat very poorly with me. 

I also began to research on the requirements for certifications. I found organizations that sought to push only their style and agenda. I found online for-profit schools that handed out a certification without proving that one ever handled a dog in person. 

And I continued to be turned off by the idea. After all, I had the reputation of a well-known facility behind me, titles on my personal dogs, clients with titles, and an excellent local following. I hardly needed to prove anything.

However, I was not quite getting where I wanted to be with my own dogs. In AKC, I could not quite break that 195 score. In schutzhund, my dogs were flatter than the judges wanted to see. I needed more. I started to look outside my sphere of knowledge to other trainers. Respected trainers who I've come to consider trusted friends in spite of never meeting them in person. Youtube channels of trainers considered the world over to be geniuses. Seminars held by the very best that changed the way I saw dog training, and thusly changed my life. 

Then, I saw the names of organizations I'd not heard of before, and when I read up on them, thought, "Now there's something I can get behind!" My search to improve myself, to grow when I felt my work was stagnating, coupled with the sheer volume of people calling themselves trainers, started changing the tide for me. 

Social media is truly a powerful force. I've seen work that inspired me, and seen work that horrified me. Videos of hard-working, joyful dogs in stark contrast to dogs being downright mistreated in the name of training. And I started to think that maybe our industry needs more. 

Standardization, in the face of some of the extreme agendas the dog training world is facing, is a slippery slope. I still must believe, if this is my life's work, if I am truly qualified to do what I do, how hard is it apply for a certification? Why shouldn't I put forth some effort to show the world that people who are respected peers and superiors think I have a right to charge for my services (especially now that I have struck out on my own)? And perhaps the most important of all, why on earth wouldn't I choose to throw my lot in with trainers who believe bettering ourselves and one another through a united community where we can freely share ideas and learn from one another? What has always appealed to me about this career is the neverending learning process, if you keep an open mind.

I'm not saying a certification will guarantee quality, especially depending on the requirements of the certifying body. They do vary wildly. I'm also not saying one can't find a stupendous trainer without one. 

I'm saying that maybe we as a community of dog trainers need to consider protecting our industry by coming together under a banner that best represents us, before the banner of a group with a one-sided agenda becomes forced on us. Certification is not only for yourself, for your marketing, for your business, it's to protect all of us. The internet has made our world much smaller, and we can bury our heads in the sand no longer.