Dog Training Certification: Should Dog Trainers get Certified?

by | Jan 31, 2022

‘Certification’ is a hot topic within professional dog training circles right now.

Although dog training is a skilled profession, at the moment it’s an unregulated industry. You don’t need any type of proof you can deliver the service you (allegedly) provide.

There are pros and cons for any industry that doesn’t need certification:

Pros

  • Plenty of choice in how you practice your craft
  • Easy to set up in business
  • No long or expensive apprenticeship before you can start earning

Cons

  • No industry standards for methodology
  • No easy way to assess the skill level of a practitioner before working with them
  • If things go wrong, there may be very little comeback for the client

As you can see, lack of certification requirements is, in many ways, a benefit to dog trainers.

Yet, it leaves the client vulnerable to unethical trainers and unskilled wanna-be’s – those who sell their services without the ability to do the job properly, humanely, or safely.

Legislating Certification in Dog Training

That is, in part, what led the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) and Association for Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) to announce the formation of The Alliance for Professionalism in Dog Training on Monday, November 15, 2021.

According to their website, the alliance aims to promote the adoption of state legislation requiring professional dog trainers in the United States to be licensed. And to be licensed, a trainer will need to be certified by a recognized certifying body.

Trainers in the US will want to pay close attention to this organization in the months and years ahead as it works to enact legislation in individual states, to be sure you’re informed about any legislation in your home state.

What is ‘Certification’?

Oxford Languages defines it as:

screenshot of oxford dictionary definition of certification: the action or process of providing someone or something with an official document attesting to a status or level of achievement.

Most industries have a recognized, often hierarchical, certification process. This is to protect both the client and the practitioner. In many industries it’s mandatory — an individual can’t legally practice without it.

Why get a dog training certification?

So if it’s not mandatory, why do many professional trainers have credentials after their name? It’s expensive and time consuming. It takes a lot of effort, record keeping and diligence to gain any certification. Why bother, if it’s not a legal requirement?

Certification as Social Proof for New Clients

Many new trainers view certification as a way to validate their skills in the hope of gaining more, and better-quality, clients. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to work that way.

When we asked our facebook group of over 2K trainers, “How often have you been asked about certification as a trainer? (often, rarely, etc),” most of the answers were along the same lines:

“Never in 13 years”

“Clients don’t usually ask”

“Never been asked about it”

“Never”

“I have never been asked about certification”

It seems as if Joe Public isn’t all that interested in credentials.

The 2021 Dog Trainers’ Business Survey results validate the truth of this. Certification did not correlate in any significant way with income.

graphic showing data from 2021 Dog Trainers Survey illustrates no significant difference between those with dog trainer certification and those without relative to income.

It seems that holding a certification on its own is unlikely to boost your earning potential; counter intuitive but true!

Does a Certification Help with Marketing?

Many course providers and professional organizations promise to promote your business by listing you on their website as a ‘Certified Trainer.’ They also give you a logo to display on your website and marketing material.

While these things certainly can’t hurt, few trainers see significant web traffic to their website from these listings (though it’s certainly at least a little beneficial from an SEO perspective).

Again, we asked via facebook: “How much do you feel being listed as a certified trainer on your organization’s website has impacted your business?”

The standard answer was “little to none.”

As for the logos, they can enhance the professional ‘feel’ of your website and provide some degree of “social proof,” but it’s important to realize few members of the public will know what they mean.

Benefits of Certification for Dog Trainers

Now that we’ve talked about the reasons certification isn’t a “must have,” let’s take a look at why you may want to consider getting certified anyway. Gaining a certification might not help you gain clients but it can still benefit you and your business.

Many new trainers want to ensure they have the knowledge they need to do their job well. An industry recognized certification or qualification can help ensure you have the knowledge and skills needed to be an effective dog trainer. This can go a very long way to reducing the dreaded Imposter Syndrome that so many dog trainers experience.

Gaining certification is also a great way of ensuring you have the best, most up to date, skill set possible, because for most organizations certification is not a ‘set it and forget it’ process.

Certification often requires CEU’s (Continuing Education Units) if you wish to maintain your certification status.

This on-going learning can go a long way to quieting the nagging voice keeping you awake at 3am — the one that has you wondering if you really know what you’re doing with ‘that’ dog!

After all, almost everyone who’s ever owned a dog believes they’re a dog trainer (or could be one)! Certification can help you feel more confident in your own knowledge and skills.

How (and where) to Get Certified

There are many ways to gain ‘certification’ as a dog trainer. I’ll be taking a deeper look at these in the next post.

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