Most of you already know this, but! I am very proud to announce that I am now officially a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed (aka a CPDT-KA). I have worked incredibly hard behind the scenes over the past few years toward this goal, and now that I have reached it - it is time to reflect & think about what comes next.
Why Become a Trainer?
To be honest, I had no intention of being a dog trainer. Look at the original email that I sent to When Hounds Fly back in 2016:
I really felt a little insecure after taking the Dog*Tec course, and knew that I needed to know more in order to give the best to my customers. I was taking some online courses, but I wasn't satisfied. I needed MORE. Andre was amazing, and took me in as a volunteer classroom assistant. For months it was cleaning up puppy pee pees, getting to say "hi" to help teach polite greetings, passing along questions, and a LOT of sitting and watching the instructors make the magic happen. I was amazed, I loved watching the classes. I loved seeing the moment when the information *clicked* with the students (both human and dog students).
I was inspired.
How the Journey to Dog Training Happened:
When Andre started to ask if I wanted to do demos in the class, I jumped on the opportunity. I was simply showing how to teach basic behaviours like down/touch - while the instructor explained things, but it was a big step forward. Soon, Andre would ask things like "Kelsey, why do we teach touch?" and I would get to explain to the class why we do it! I was starting to be a little mini instructor. Very mini. But very exciting. Soon Andre began offering us volunteers some deeper learning opportunities (read a blog by Andre about it here). We had a clicker 101 course, with both hands on and theoretical learning, and Andre assigned us readings and then would schedule 1 on 1s where we would discuss the concepts & he made sure we really comprehended things. I was obsessed. I loved learning. I know dogs, I have always lived with dogs & interacted with them - but I didn't understand how they learned and how much that friggen matters. My life was changed. And while my goal was still to make the lives of the dogs I walk better, I had another goal too - to be .a dog trainer, and give students that A-HA moment. There is so much (wrong) information out there, and I wanted to give the right stuff to students in a fun & easy to understand way. I call this method the "When Hounds Fly" method ;)
After a year of volunteering, mini sessions (both group and 1 on 1) I was given the chance to do a "Teacher in Training" class. It was pretty nerve wracking, but I loved it! I have seen classes taught hundreds of times, but to actually run one on my own was a whole other experience. After that, after passing a "shark tank" I was given the title "Associate Instructor" and became the newest instructor of Foundation Skills & Puppy Socialization. WOW!
Why Get the Title?
Andre had given me so much knowledge, and the opportunity to be a dog trainer. I was a dog trainer, I always had a hard time calling myself that though. I felt, insecure? I guess that's it. Because I didn't learn through a school like the Karen Pryor Academy or Jean Donaldson school I was technically "self taught" - and that made me feel like I was one of the 1000s of dog trainers out there who call themselves a dog trainer with no real experience or qualifications. Just like dog walking, the training industry is highly unregulated. Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer/walker - and it doesn't mean a whole lot. Despite having years of experience under my belt, I felt insecure when it came to calling myself a trainer. Part of it is of course perfectionism, which is something I am working on daily to combat, but insecurity was at the base of it.
Some of the team member of WHF said they were going to write the CPDT-KA exam (it is offered 2x a year in Spring and Fall), and I got very overwhelmed. Was I ready? Was I good enough? Was I a dog trainer? What if I wrote it and I failed? Classic negative thoughts. I was too scared to even write the practice exam. I spoke to Andre, and he SO CASUALLY was like "oh yeah you'll pass for sure". So I was like OK Kelso, chill. Write the practice exam. And I flew through it. I knew the answers to 98% of the questions. My confidence went right up. I had spent a lot of time telling myself that I wasn't there yet, that I wasn't quite good enough yet, that there is more to learn - but I never really challenged those thoughts. Writing this practice exam did that for me, and I was ready. I signed up for the Spring 2019 exam, and got to studying.
Getting the Title!
After writing the exam, I felt STRESSED. The CPDT-KA is composed of 180 multiple choice questions, with focus on Instructor Skills (38%), Learning Theory (38%), Ethology (10%), Equipment (8%), and Husbandry (6%). I felt extremely comfortable with everything except ethology and husbandry - but even then that was a total of 16%. In the past, you had to get around a 75-77% in order to pass. So I did the math and realized I could probably get around 35-40 questions wrong and still pass. Not that I wanted to get 35-40 questions wrong, but, you know you do the same thing! I didn't study Learning Theory or Instructor Skills at all because I know that stuff, and learned all about worms/vaccines/socialization periods. I felt pretty ready.
I wrote the exam and I will be honest it isn't a super fun exam to write. You sit in a testing centre, in front of a laptop, and all 180 questions are on a computer. Maybe it's because I am still old enough to be in the pen & paper generation - but I have never taken an exam fully online. But it's a whole different experience. The other tricky thing is that the questions come from current CPDT-KA who write their recertification exam - they are required to submit 2 questions as part of the recertification. Because of this, the questions 1) are not all worded in the same style and 2) this allows for a little bit of subjectivity. I found that especially with the Instructor Skills, there was a lot that depended on context - and of course you can't possibly get the full picture with a multiple choice question. Because of this, I found that many of the answers could have been correct. And with this section weighing 38%, that was a little stressful. But I reminded myself that I can get like 35-40 questions wrong and I would be OK. There were some questions I was like "lol IDK", like about dog vision & how far they can see, but overall I felt pretty good.
So even though it is an online exam, you have to wait 4-6 weeks to get the results via SNAIL MAIL (lol wut). So we just had to sit there and wait. But someone heard that they released the names on the online directory after 5ish weeks, and so I went and checked. Typed in "Kelsey Edwards" and clicked search. The STRESS was REAL. But BOOM! There she was.
A few days later, the mail came! And my pretty certificate was there. It was a little less dramatic of a reveal that it would have been if I didn't find my name online, but it was still an incredible moment. I am so proud to announce that I got 93% on the exam (which means I got 13 questions wrong, and more importantly 167 questions CORRECT). The cut off this year was 80% (so you needed to get 144 questions correct in order to pass), but thankfully I made that cut off and beyond! So here I am:
Kelsey Edwards, CPDT-KA. Feels right.
What Comes Next?
Great question. This journey to become a dog trainer has been so fulfilling on its own. I have never really known my place in the world. I know when I started my business that I had found something I was destined to do, but continuing the path and finding dog training has really solidified this - and I feel like I have found where I am meant to be. But, I don't just want to have the title and stay where I am. I want to move forward, and continue to enrich the lives of dogs and their humans.
Through my experience, it's clear that what I love the most is teaching groups & dealing with reactivity (AND PUPPIES OMG!!!!!!!). So I am thinking that is the path that I will go into. Slow and steady. I am so thankful to get to work with When Hounds Fly, and that's where you can catch me training! As time goes on, we will find what works & what makes sense - but you can rest assured knowing that I am here to inspire. I want people to know that dog training is more than just tricks, it is about enriching the lives of our best friends. About making them feel safe. Make them feel loved. Make them feel confident.
There is still so much wrong information out there, and I want to help teach people about Positive Reinforcement and make change through leading by example. Not shaming, but inspiring.
Thank you everyone who has been a part of this journey. In particular I want to thank my sister, Brooke, and my best friend, David. Both have never given up on me and pushed me to follow my dreams - even when I felt like they were so so SO far away. I am beyond thankful. And thankful to my team, and my amazing Dog's World Family. Have a great day everyone.
Kelsey Edwards, CPDT-KA (I am never going to get sick of seeing those letters next to my name).
PS - if you want a laugh... look at this press release that comes with the certificate LOL. Imagine I sent this to the newspapers, I can't.