Professional Dog Trainers: How Do We Measure Up? Installment 1

When I was asked to write an article on professionalism I readily agreed. Professionalism is a major focus of my business and a personal interest. I work hard to promote professionalism: I’ve been an active member of APDT for many years; I served on the Board of Directors for the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers; I’m a member of IAABC and ABMA. I’ve spent a good deal of time thinking about the animal training field and professionalism. The opportunity to write this article is also an opportunity for me to clarify this issue in my own mind.

Since this article is targeting members of the APDT, I want to explain my thinking, and what I base my opinions on. Also, please be aware that this is an opinion-based article. Kellyann Conway, President of APDT, estimates that only 10% of dog trainers belong to APDT, which is the largest professional association in our industry – if that many! This figure was arrived at by going through various local Yellow Pages advertising for dog trainers, figuring out how many of the businesses in the Yellow Pages were APDT members and extrapolating that data to the rest of the country. There are undoubtedly many dog trainers that do not advertise in the Yellow Pages, so the estimate of 10% is probably high.

In this article, you will see comments that do not reflect the average APDT member, but do reflect the dog training community as a whole. We sometimes forget that there’s a huge population of dog trainers in the U.S. that have never even heard of the APDT, and have probably never attended a training-related educational event. When looking at the requirements for a profession, I’m considering the entire dog-trainer population, not the few that are already working towards professionalism.

So, to formulate a focus for this article, I decided to first define professionalism. With a good working definition, assessing the state of professionalism within the field of dog training will be much easier.  As it turns out, the definition was a much bigger hurdle than I had anticipated!

There are many definitions of “profession” and “professional,” none of which I found particularly useful. However, the Texas Small Library Association has some excellent guidelines which I feel nicely fill in the blanks for any profession. I am borrowing liberally from that source and – as all good professionals do – I will cite the source when appropriate.

The first set of guidelines address the major elements a profession must have. Those elements are:

  • PhilosophyProfessions have their own philosophy, which must be articulated in both written and oral form.
  • Body of Knowledge – Professions must have a body of professional literature of research, study and comment.
  • Leaders or Philosophers – Professions have, both historically and currently, those who write about and research the profession. Leaders can be writers, doers, role models and those active in service.
  • Guidelines for Behavior – Professions have codes, guidelines, creeds, oaths, commitment statements, belief statements — such as statements on ethics and professionalism.
  • Admission Requirements – Professionals in many professions are licensed, certified, and have specific initial and advanced education, as well as requirements for ongoing education. In addition, many professions require both initial and ongoing testing for admission and maintaining membership.
  • OtherMany professions require support and/or professional development opportunities outside the work environment such as associations or professional organizations. [1]

The next set of guidelines are about professionalism, and they are:

  • Criteria
    • Training: There is an extensive period of training, often after a combination of formal education, training and apprenticeship; usually in a higher education environment.
    • Intellectualism : The intellectual component is dominant.
    • Autonomy: Professionals usually have autonomy in their work.
    • Judgment:  Professionals are in a position, given their training and education, to use their own judgment in determining the appropriate approach to their clients or customers.
    • Independence: They can work independently and charge fees or they can be part of an organization.
    • Service: Their abilities can provide a valuable service to society and operate with little or no self-interest.
    • Dedication: Professionals are dedicated to services and institutions.
    • Pride: They take pride in the quality of their work.
  • Characteristics:
    • Professionals are considered experts.
    • Professionals have a high degree of generalized and systematic knowledge with a theoretical base.
    • The primary orientation of professionals is to their public and/or community interest.
    • Professionals have a high degree of self-control of their behavior and are governed by a code of ethics.
      • The code of ethics is a statement of values.
      • The code ensures a high quality of service.
      • The code guarantees competency of membership, honor and integrity.
      • The code is a direct expression of the professions’ principles of service orientation.
      • The code emphasizes no personal gain and protection of the client or patron.
      • The professional’s system of rewards is primarily a set of symbols of work achievement.
      • There is a system of testing the competence of members.
  • Professionals juggle many responsibilities!
    • Maintain associations which advance the goals of the profession.
    • Promote the well being of the profession’s members.
    • Develop standards for themselves and their institutions.
    • Control access to knowledge about the profession.
    • Make sacrifices.
    • Have the final say of what is accurate about the profession.
    • Promote favorite legislation.
    • Find money to support the profession.
    • Publish information and research to explain the profession’s uniqueness.
    • Protest against stereotyping.
  • Professionals are expected to . . .
    • Establish a special relationship with clients or patrons.
    • Have a lack of self-interest.
    • Be involved in all aspects of the profession.
    • Publicize what the profession “does” and “is.”
  • Competencies
    • Mastery of Theoretical Knowledge
    • Capacity to Solve Problems
    • Application of Theoretical Knowledge to Practice
    • Ability to Create Knowledge as Well as Possess It
    • Enthusiasm and Commitment to Clients
    • Commitment to Continuous Learning About the Profession
    • Unique training
    • Formal education
    • Achieving credentials
    • Activity in continuing education opportunities
    • Joining and actively involving yourself in professional associations
  • Education – Becoming a professional involves…
    • Unique training
    • Formal education
    • Achieving credentials
    • Activity in continuing education opportunities
    • Joining and actively involving yourself in professional associations
  • Support – Professions have responsibilities to professionals.
    • Professions create structures of subcultures for professionals.
    • Professions provide legal reinforcement for the activities of professionals.
    • Professions strive to provide environments of public acceptance.
    • Professions promote ethical practices.
    • Professions define penalties for professionals who work against the tenets and practices of the profession.
  • Issues – Any professional reading the current body of professional literature will encounter discussions, research and information on the following issues. [2]

So how is the field of dog training standing up to these criteria? Well, that’s a big topic, and one that cannot be addressed in one article. So, we are going to have a series of articles addressing just this question and using the above guidelines as our measuring stick. In the next issue, we’ll discuss the elements of a profession.

Raising Canine has a school for dog trainers which focuses on operant training for dogs, dog behavior, working with clients and addressing client compliance, and the science behind behavior modification.


[1]Texas Small Library Association  http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/ld/tutorials/professionalism/IB.html

[2] Texas Small Library Association http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/ld/tutorials/professionalism/IC.html