Understanding credentials

Posted Monday, 12 January 2015

What does it all mean?

Is Your Dog Professional Qualified?

Have you ever read a website of a dog trainer, groomer, sitter etc. and read “professionally qualified” or “accredited”? Does this impress you and help you to decide to work with that person? If so, read on.

What does qualification mean? According to the dictionary it means “a pass of an examination or an official completion of a course, especially one conferring status as a recognised practitioner of a profession or activity.”

If someone says they have a professional qualification, this should mean that a) this person has attended training and b) that the training organisation has given the individual a qualification such as a certificate or diploma etc. This should be visible and available to show you to provide evidence. There is a difference between a qualification and attendance of a course. The trouble is it can be difficult to tell. If I attend a Continuing Professional Development course I get a certificate for it, however, this is not a qualification as I have not had to do an exam or test or assessment to prove I have learned anything from it.

If someone says they are professionally trained, this does not mean they have a professional qualification and it does not state they are professional, only that they believe the training they received was professional. However, if the person delivering the training does not have professional qualifications this is very much open to interpretation.

A proper qualification will result in post nominals (standardised letters after the name) is “accredited” by an independent educational party which has assessed the standard of education given to the students. These organisations will independently spot check standards of students work. Certain qualifications, usually of diploma level or higher enable the student to put “post nominals” (letters) after their name. However, post nominals don’t necessarily mean that someone has qualifications, it can just be a title, position, office or honour. For example I am a member of the APBC and TCBTS and am allowed to use these memberships  after my name. However, these are not a qualifications, they are memberships. However, I was assessed for this membership. But this is not the case for every organisation. I also hold the post nominals M. Res and B.Sc (Hons) after my name. These are recognised qualifications and show that I attained a Master's degree in Research Science and a Batchelor 's degree in Science that I passed with honours (high grade). You can also get post graduate diplomas, these will start with PG  (post graduate), which means it is an even higher standard of education than a Batchelor's degree.

In the dog profession world it seems that The Open College Network is the most common accrediting body but Lantra, Cities and Guilds, EADL and others are also accrediting bodies for below degree level. Importantly the certificate will carry the signature and logo of the accrediting body, not the education provider. It would be in the education provider's interests to pass a qualification, this is why it has to be independent for this to be meaningful). 

Of course, some professionals hold degrees. Degrees are awarded by an accrediting body, which will usually be a University. However, if the individual is citing they hold a degree, you should satisfy yourself that the degree is relevant. For example, if your dog professional holds a degree in chemistry, is this relevant to being a dog trainer? It shows the individual can learn but it does not show they have the relevant skills for the job.  If, however, the degree is in teaching, and this dog professional is a dog trainer, then this should be a valid and useful qualification as it is the owners who are being taught to train their dogs by the dog trainer. So as long as this individual also has qualifications and experience in dog training, this is indeed a very useful qualification. So, take a look at the qualifications and decide for yourself if these are relevant. 

Of course, qualifications on their own are not evidence that the person is going to be qualified to do the job effectively as practical experience is required too. Just because a person has an academic qualification does not mean that they are going to be good at the job as they need both academic and practical experience. I personally see a dog trainer who is awesome. He has 40 years’ experience and no dog training qualifications yet he is the best trainer I have worked with. These people you will hear about by personal recommendation by other experts as their name gets known for doing a great job. So, if you see someone who does not have qualifications, ask your vet, or other highly qualified trainers/behaviourists, they may be great and if they are you will hit on many people in the know who say they are great. Do not just take the word of people on a public forum as these people will often just try to promote their friends/family or their own beliefs about training dogs. Many force based trainers have devoted followers who will promote the trainer, even though DEFRA acknowledges that force based training is contrary to good welfare and can cause aggression. 

If a person states they are a member of a professional organisation the organisation that delivered the training should be endorsing the party to show their logos etc. demonstrating their confidence in this party. 

Is dog training and behaviour regulated?

No! This means that ANYONE can set up as a dog trainer or behaviourist, even someone prohibited from keeping animals!  But, in the dog training and behaviour industry, there are now organisations that are acting as informal regulators for the industry to help prospective clients to be able to identify legitimate dog trainers. Sadly anyone can (and anyone DOES) set up as a dog trainer / behaviourist these days and their marketing can be very convincing. These regulating bodies ensure that someone other than the dog trainer him/herself says they are good at their job! The Animal Behaviourists and trainers Council (ABTC) has set rigorous industry standards that must be met in order to be listed on their register. The ABTC is recognised by DEFRA as an authority on dog training and behaviour. You can be sure that dog trainers or behaviourists that are listed on this register meet the very highest standards. This organisation requires high academic standards (minimum of an animal behaviour science degree for behaviourists) to join as well as practical standards. Individuals can only become members if they have passed assessment within a membership organisation to the standards set by ABTC.

A newer organisation, International Companion Animal Network (ICAN) has been established. This organisation also lists members of organisations subscribing to certain standards, the main difference is that there is less emphasis on such a high standard of academic achievement as the ABTC. ICAN is not recognised by DEFRA but does support ethical and science based dog training.

So, in the dog training world, you should ideally look for a trainer/behaviourist who is a member of the ABTC. This should give you some indication that they have passed a certain standard to gain membership and support ethical methods of dog training and behaviour modification.

So, if professional qualifications and experience are important to you when you select your dog professional, next time you see pet sitters, dog walkers, groomers, and trainers with impressive websites stating they are professional, hold qualifications and / or are accredited please read what is being said carefully. Make sure the accreditation of the qualification is independent. If somebody says they have qualified in something, what was the qualification? Just because a course has been attended does not make it a qualification. I have seen a groomer advertising qualifications but when I investigated, they had attended a two weeks course, not gained a qualification at all. Furthermore, they had not worked as a groomer previously anywhere else so had no practical experience at all. Very worrying. 

Remember accreditation should be independent from the organisation it is accrediting. For example, I studied a diploma with COAPE but the signature on my certificate is the Open College Network, not COAPE. This was independently certified by a third party. You can also check by contacting the accrediting body or the educational provider to find out if they are indeed qualified. You should also check that the individual is a member of an organisation if they said they are. For example, you will find my details (Denise Nuttall) listed on the APBC, TCBTS, and ABTC websites, which evidences independently that I am a member of these organisations and have had to reach a very high standard to get in. If dog professionals are serious about their trade they will join overseeing bodies like the ABTC to show they meet professional standards. This also enables prospective clients to validate their trainer's qualifications.

If you are looking for a dog trainer, look for someone listed as ATI (Accredited Training Instructor) on the ABTC website

If you are looking for a dog behaviourist look on the ABTC website for a CAB (Clinical Animal Behaviourist) or AAB (Accredited Animal Behaviourist) for more serious behaviour problems such as aggression.

If you are looking for a behaviourist that can help with less serious behaviour problems, or provide on going training support after seeing a CAB, or AAB look for ABT (Animal Behaviour Technician).


I hope you find this useful in helping you to make the right choices when working with dog professionals.