Today’s society is full of letters. Letters that come after a name, meant to engender trust, respect, some sense of work an individual has undergone to earn the right to provide services. Some combinations of letters are universally acknowledged: JD, MD, PhD, DDS. You wouldn’t receive cancer treatment from an individual with an MS. Nor would you trust a PhD to perform a root canal. You wouldn’t let an MD fill out your tax returns. We compartmentalize these letters into neat little categories to help us trust people with the most important, fragile aspects of our lives: our bodies, our families, our lives.

But what about our dogs? That category is sorely missing from the score of letters circulating in the professional arena.

I have accumulated a small collection of letters in my 28 years. I received an MS in 2010, along with the letters CRC (Certified Rehabilitation Counselor). And, most recently, I acquired a CTC (Certified in Training and Counseling from Jean Donaldson’s Academy for Dog Trainers.) If I wanted to, I could print out several hundred business cards reading “Maureen Backman, MS, CRC, CTC.” But I’m willing to bet most people wouldn’t know what those letters mean.

Before entering the dog training community, I thought very little about the credentials required in the industry. (As it turns out, there are none. Anyone can set up business tomorrow, call himself or herself a dog trainer, and start taking money in return for services rendered). I’m shocked I never did, considering the care and consideration I put into my university degrees. I naively assumed that there was some overarching credentialing requirement for those performing behavior modification on dogs. There isn’t.

When I was a social worker, my MS and CRC were merely stepping stones. In order for me to work with vulnerable populations with dual diagnoses, I not only needed those letters, I needed a supervisor with even more letters, as well as various other quality control measures to ensure the safety of those under my care. I had to adhere to a governing ethics body in order to maintain the CRC credential. And, had I continued on in the field, I would have undergone more rigorous examinations to obtain licensure in the field, along with continuing education.

None of this is required of dog trainers.

Fortunately, there are dog trainers out there, like myself, who have endeavored to achieve education, to adhere to a code of ethics, and to pursue continuing education in the field. But in our laissez faire dog training society, I fear people won’t understand what I mean when I put “CTC” next to my name. It’s not for praise or bragging rights. Nor will it be on my business card to make my name look more important, or to subscribe to the notion that the more combinations of letters after one’s name, the better. When I put “CTC” after my name, this is what I’m really telling people:

– I will never use fear, pain, intimidation or coercion when training your dog.
– I will never use fear, pain, intimidation or coercion when coaching you to train your dog.
– I will not take for granted the fact you are trusting me to care for a member of your family.
– I will consult with colleagues and refer if the case is beyond my scope or if I need further assistance.
– I will not be dishonest with you, and will respect the time and money you have invested into training for your dog.
– I will do everything in my abilities to help you and your dog achieve your training goals.

Over the time I have studied dog behavior at the Academy, I have met so many trainers who share these same goals. This gives me hope for an industry rife with snake-oil tactics, misinformation, and myths. Dogs and their owners deserve better. They deserve real science, competent practitioners, and a mutually agreed upon ethos to use the least aversive methods possible when undertaking behavior modification.

When choosing a dog trainer, don’t just look at the name. Look at the letters. Look for certain letters. And look at what those letters mean.

– Maureen Backman, MS, CTC

Maureen is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. You can contact her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.

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