Monday, October 11, 2010

Reality Check

For many professionals, e.g. teachers, lawyers, medical professionals; individuals must have a degree and pass a certification test in order to practice in their chosen field. Dog training is, by comparison, the wild, wild, west. No test (not yet anyway) is required, and of course dog owners are left having to do the vetting. I'm not editorializing, that's the way it is and while there are a number of certification programs available for dog trainers to distinguish themselves by, the CPDT-KA ("Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Accessed", say that ten times fast.) program is amongst the most well known. Trainers who want to take the test have to qualify, meeting certain minimum requirements including hours spent as a head trainer and endorsements from a veterinarian, colleague and client. It's an unusual system that takes into account the nature of this professional beast. I've wanted to take the test for years but never had the time to focus on preparing for it. 2009 was a terrific year despite all my fears that the economy would ring the death knell, with dog owners tightening their belts like everyone else. This year has been a different story. With recovery seeming much farther out than most probably anticipated, the belt tightening began in earnest. Asking friends in the business it was clear that things hadn't slowed down only for me. So there were no more excuses. The only question was whether to take the test in a couple of weeks or a couple of months. Things can change a great deal in a couple of months and while it would've given me more time to study, I threw caution to the wind and scheduled to take the test sooner rather than later a few short weeks ago on September 17th.

I felt good coming out of the test. I'd finished it with an hour to spare. My strategy was to answer all of the 250 questions I had quick answers to first and return to the remaining questions in order once that was done. I returned home confident that I'd passed it but learned Saturday afternoon that I'd failed by two questions. The test is skewed heavily for group trainers though the questions only require a healthy amount of common sense to answer correctly. There were questions with answers I didn't prepare adequately for, Kinesthetic learning for example
, one of those things I'm aware of but knew no formal name for. Parsimony is a different story however, an idea I know as Occam's Razor, parsimony poses that the simplest answer is most likely the correct one. As the saying goes, "I got robbed on that one". I've got my gripes about the test, some erroneous information I received from the testing agency prior to taking it; it's sour grapes as I'm all too aware that other trainers who work the way I do have cleared the same hurtles I have and passed the test. Instead, after imbibing a couple of potent cocktails and some wound licking, I assert myself with renewed humility and a sense of earnestness. The people in this business I respect most share some compelling similarities. They are first and foremost, thoughtful and intelligent. They are both passionate and humble, understanding that like all science, there is much yet to learn.

So there it is. I'm outing myself. I've been measured and been found wanting. There is a loud, annoying, voice in the dog training world that would suggest the CCPDT is no way to judge whether someone is a good trainer or not. On it's own, and certainly given the qualifying aspect of the test itself, it would appear that is self evident. In what other profession does an individual actually work hundreds of document-able hours before they can qualify to be certified? As an old friend once responded to the question, "Who are you to judge?" he said, "Someone's got to judge, it might as well be me." The CCPDT does not appear to my amassing an army of trainer automatons so I'm comfortable with being judged by this particular group of peers. In the meantime, it's time to hit the books. The next time someone asks me to define "Parsimony", I'll know the goddamn answer.