Thursday, October 6, 2011

Ribbons aren’t Important. They are Essential.

I have been in a number of discussions on the net lately talking about different training methods and the importance or not both of certifying and/or competing with a dog to prove your worth as a trainer.  I seem to be a bit of an unusual person in where I stand.  I currently have two industry designations; the CPDT-KSA and the CDBC.  I worked really hard to learn the material necessary for my designations, and I continue to work hard to maintain my designations by learning new information in my field as it becomes available.  I am also getting ready to write my CBCC-KA because I feel that it is important to continue to grow and develop as a trainer and behaviour consultant.  I also compete when I can in obedience and rally with my German Shepherd Eco.  At least once a year, I enter him in a show and compete against other trainers.  I don’t always win, and I don’t have a lot of titles behind me, but I do prove my ability as a trainer by passing someone else’s test.  I also train service dogs for other people-meaning that I have to prove that I can train a dog to a minimum standard for someone else’s need.

A number of people have suggested that credentialing is worthless and should not be pursued because it only proves that you can write a test and prove you know what someone wants you to learn.  Perhaps.  Interestingly, none of the people who have suggested that credentialing is not worthwhile actually have passed a test showing what they know.  

Likewise, I have heard from another group of people who suggest that showing dogs and earning ribbons is without merit because it is really just a statement of who you have buttered up.  I also hear from a number of positive reinforcement trainers that they won’t compete against the trainers who use methods they don’t approve of.  Funny-but the people who don’t approve of showing their dogs and earning ribbons in any discipline are also the people who haven’t done it.

I will keep this short.  I probably didn’t score the highest on my CPDT exam.  And although I have taken a number of first place ribbons in the obedience ring, I have several firsts and seconds and thirds, a novice obedience title and multiple legs towards rally titles on my current sport dog Eco, I have never scored a 200.  I am getting ready to sit my CBCC this November, and concurrently, Eco and I are preparing to compete in Open and finish his Rally titles this winter.  So I have a challenge for everyone.  

Eco and I and our ribbons and trophies at the GSD National Specialty.  Yes, I know I look like a deer in the headlights!  We don't get fancy pictures like this when we pass a certification.  What a pity!
If you have passed the book tests, don’t tell me that the performance tests have no value unless you have actually titled a dog.  And if you have titled a dog, don’t tell me that the industry accreditations are worthless unless you have done those too.  Because if you think that there is no merit in understanding the theory behind the work we do, or proving the theory by showing the work, in my opinion, you are only living up to half of your potential.


  1. This is a tremendous pet peeve of mine- trainers who don't actually *do* anything with their own dogs. It's an even bigger peeve when they are teaching some sort of competitive sport (usually rally), and encouraging students toward competition, yet they've never set foot in the ring!

    I understand being afraid of failing. I understand not wanting to be judged by other trainers, prospective students, whatever. But I think it's a real shame when trainers don't have the confidence in their own skills or in their own dogs to go out there and put them to the test.

  2. I have no formal credentials nor acquired any titles..yet we (dogs and I) trial EVERY day in real time and real life, on the street in traffic, at the parks with squirrels and rabbits, among kids, skateboards, baby buggies, the workplace..striving and largely successful to be the best in civil manners and obedience, to 'show' a bit with ball play, seek and find, to waiting patiently in a sit/stay for however long it takes and among the most enticing of 'shiny objects' while I fumble with poop bags, to never cross in front of a vehicle at a crossing, to leave the moldy 'whatever' where it is. My own accreditation is of pretty high standard...where the tire hits the road so to speak.

    But I fully understand the degree of merit when in a commercial it must the street level it is what it is with or without letters..professional or the derogatory of non-professional..we all can learn from the same texts and acquire viable knowledge via experience no more no less.

  3. The biggest difference is that as a professional trainer, I can do both; I can ribbon and I can show street cred. And I have to do this on not just MY dogs, but on my clients dogs too. There is something very important about having a third party evaluate your work and give you a score. That is the point of the blog.