The Complex Web of Certifications and Credentials: What Do They Really Mean?

With Guest Chatters Katenna Jones, ScM., ACAAB and Sharon Madere, IAABC Certified Horse Behavior Consultant and Alice Moon-Fanelli, Ph.D., CAAB

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Why did we decide to take on the thorny and controversial issue of certification and credentialing in the pet training and behavior world?  That’s a very good question!

It’s obvious to anyone in the field that there has been a proliferation of “certification” programs, or opportunities to obtain letters after one’s name.  Most of us have heard the term the “alphabet soup” of credentials; in fact there have been conference presentations and panel discussions on this very topic.

Let’s be clear.  Our goal in this Chat is definitely NOT to critique or evaluate individual certifications or credentials.  Instead, we want to discuss a number of important issues that we believe are often mis-understood or poorly understood by both consumers and professionals alike.  Those in the field seeking certification, and pet owners who are attempting to choose a training or behavior professional should be able to make informed decisions based on some of the considerations we’ll be discussing.  Because unfortunately, misleading information is readily available.

We invite you to consider several statements about professional certification:

From the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists:

In general, professional certification programs are targeted to serve the public’s interest and enhance the status of the profession. Creditable professional certification programs provide assurance to the public that the services of a certified professional can be utilized with confidence that the individual has a high level of professional expertise, has remained current with new professional knowledge, and practices a high level of professional ethics and integrity.  Professionals who qualify and become certified gain valued professional recognition.

From the Animal Behavior Society:

Certification is the means by which the ABS demonstrates to the public that certain individuals meet the minimum standards of education, experience and ethics required of a professional applied animal behaviorist as set forth by the Society.

Not every organization we looked at with a certification program had these types of definitions about their certification programs on their website.

 Here’s a sampling of some of the issues we’ll we chatting about:

1. Licensing is different from certification.  Who has the authority to license individuals?  What rights does the license convey?  What is the licensee permitted to do that could not be done without the license?

2. What are the different kinds of certification? [ Professional certification (e.g. CAAB, Dip.ACVB), product or process certification (e.g. CBATI, Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor), educational certification (certificate of completion of a course of study, attendance at a seminar, or watching a webinar, e.g. ABCDT – Animal Behavior College Certified Dog Trainer)]

3. What’s the difference between an independent certification and certification provided by educational entities?

4.  In any field, what is the general purpose or goals of professional certification? What is the motivation for a field of endeavor to create certifications or credentials?

5. What is the advantage of holding a particular certification? Does it elevate one’s professional standing?  Should the holder of the credential expect a return on their investment (time, money) with more business, or the expectation of charging more for services, or providing services they would not provide without the credential?

6. Do credentialing entities typically dictate how those holding the credential practice their craft?  In other words is it their role to prohibit or endorse certain practices?

7. Do quality educational experiences always have to result in a credential?  In other words, is/should the desire for quality professional education be separate from the desire for additional credentials?

8.  What should one look for from a credentialing body?

9. What makes a credential useful both within the field and to the consumer? What confers “validity” to a credential?

10.  What determines whether a credential has value to the holder or to the consumer or both?  Does a credential offer any sort of protection for the consumer against bad service or incompetency?

11.  Is a Certificate the same as certification?

The following two points are tangential to our discussion but are relevant to the topic.  Be aware that programs or institutions offering education may be licensed or accredited.

12.  What is accreditation?  [Programs or institutions may or may not be accredited.  It means they have been reviewed by an independent agency that has confirmed they meet a defined standard of educational quality. For institutional accreditation, this should be done by a regional agency. For a program like a Clinical Psychology program, they should be accredited by a national or international organization such as the American Psychological Association.]

13.  What is a licensed educational institution?  [Educational institutions may be licensed by a state to offer educational programs, meaning they meet the state’s requirements to offer any sort of education or training.  State licensure is not the same as accreditation.   Accreditation sets standards for the educational content.]

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