Professional Dog Trainers: How Do We Measure UP? Installment 4

In the first article in this series, we defined the terms profession and professionalism as they will be addressed in this series of articles. We also laid some groundwork: i.e., that this article is not specifically speaking of APDT members, but of the dog training community as a whole; additionally, this article is opinion-based. In the second installment we analyzed the major elements of a profession to see how we’re doing and in the third installment we looked at the first two elements of professionalism – criteria and characteristics.

As a quick reminder, professionalism is about an individual’s behavior rather than the elements an industry needs to be considered a profession. In this article, we’ll discuss “Professionals juggle many responsibilities” and “Professionals are expected to . . .” Again, as a reminder, here are the main elements of professionalism as laid out by the Texas State Libraries; each main element has sub-elements which will be addressed individually:

  • Criteria
  • Characteristics:
  • Professionals juggle many responsibilities!
  • Professionals are expected to . . .
  • Competencies
  • Education
  • Support
  • Issues[1]

Professionals juggle many responsibilities!

  • Maintain associations which advance the goals of the profession.

We do have associations and organizations which advance the goals of the profession, and these are organized and run by industry members. APDT, CCPDT, IAABC, IACP and NADOI are the largest associations specifically for dog trainers. Additionally, there are other training associations, such as ABMA, which address training of all captive animals. Although these organizations all have their own philosophical leanings, they are all concerned with the industry and the welfare of the animals.

  • Promote the well being of the profession’s members.

This is an area that greatly concerns me. Because of the differences in philosophy and the lack of a standard body of knowledge, there is a great deal of criticism by trainers toward trainers who are not of the same philosophy.  Not a day goes by that I don’t see some criticism of another trainer on one of the many lists available to dog trainers; in fact, some members’ only participation on these lists appears to be for the purpose of forwarding their philosophical agenda.

Until we have an agreed upon standard body of knowledge, educational parameters, and are able to embrace individual differences, I don’t see this changing. In fact, to me, this and the dispensing of advice outside our purview are the biggest challenges we face as a profession.

  • Develop standards for themselves and their institutions.

This is an on-going process, but it is happening and there are many within the industry attempting to establish reasonable and ethical standards for the industry as a whole. Of course, each organization is developing standards and everyone who has served on a board or volunteered for a committee with these organizations has been a part of that evolution.

Additionally, many individuals are working toward developing standards within the industry. In the last installment I mentioned Jim Barry’s book, The Ethical Dog Trainer, and I highly recommend it for all pet animal trainers; Cara Shannon, JD, CPDT, is building on Dr. Ian Dunbar’s bite hierarchy in an attempt to begin developing a standard of care within the industry; The mission statement for my business requires that I work toward providing quality, factual information to animal consultants and I hope that I am living up to that standard; and many others that I don’t have room to mention. And, of course, there are the people within the industry who have been working for years toward this goal – Ian Dunbar, Jean Donaldson, Karen Pryor, Terry Ryan, and so many others that I can’t name them all!

  • Control access to knowledge about the profession.

At this time, we do not have this in place. There are no standard educational requirements, no accredited programs, or any standardized body of knowledge.

  • Make sacrifices.

Certainly members of our industry make sacrifices. I have no statistics, but I would guess that a higher-than-average number of individuals volunteer their time with shelters or rescue groups and many belong to clubs that promote dogs in one way or another. Those who are members of professional organizations are very generous with their time and knowledge to help those coming into the industry, and often volunteer their time to the organization.

  • Have the final say of what is accurate about the profession.

Unfortunately, we keep coming back to this issue – there is no standardized body of knowledge and there is a wide diversity of thought about what is true within our field; therefore, there is no agreed-upon authority about what is accurate.

  • Promote favorite legislation.

This is a big issue as public perception of dogs is becoming a major concern for the dog industry; however, I don’t see that the industry has come together on what issues should be supported. APDT and IACP have legislative committees which work to keep their membership informed of upcoming legislation, but even this is sketchy and they do not appear to have developed a purposeful strategy.

Probably the most widely agreed upon issue is breed specific legislation (BSL). However, BSL is not the only issue that affects our industry. Regulation of puppy mills can unintentionally overflow and affect legitimate breeders, kennels, in-home boarders, etc. I recently saw an announcement that, in response to the puppy mill issue, one community is going to prohibit the retail sale of puppies and kittens in pet stores. Although this sounds like a good idea on the surface (and it may be), has anyone sat down and considered the ramifications of such a law?

The industry as a whole has a variety of issues and philosophies to be addressed. The organizations do not appear to have any structured plan to address these issues, with the exception of BSL legislation. It seems to me that the industry is largely reactive, rather than proactive. It would behoove us to sit down and define the issues, decide on a strategy and to then act cooperatively to support that strategy; our professional organizations are the logical ones to do this.

  • Find money to support the profession.

This has taken time, as it does; however, some of our organizations are now large enough to support a professional staff and thus provide its members with the support that will help turn us into a profession.

  • Publish information and research to explain the profession’s uniqueness.

This is beginning to happen. Certainly, there are many books and articles written by our members which address the uniqueness of our field. We are beginning to see research by the members of our industry, as well as the long-standing research from other areas which support and help the industry.

  • Protest against stereotyping.

I would say that there is protest against stereotyping by the members of our industry. Unfortunately, I worry that this is, again, one of those areas where there is a big philosophical rift, actually causing the stereotype to be perpetuated by our own industry. Hopefully, a standard body of knowledge will help.

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.”

I don’t think we need to break the above points down, as they have all been addressed in other points. Overall, this seems to be an area where we are doing quite well. The area that is most questionable is “Publicize what the profession ’does’ and ‘is.’” This goes back to that fundamental issue of having a lack of standardized knowledge. I really feel that once we get over that hurdle, a lot of these issues will fall into place.

Well, that’s probably enough for this installment. There are just a few more points that need to be examined, after which a summary can be developed.

Raising Caninehas 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 State Library and Archives Commission http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/ld/tutorials/professionalism/IC.html