In last month’s column, I discussed the importance of having serious conversations with customers whose veterinarians suggested they switch pet food brands based on the Great Grain-Free Scare.
Of course, your customer might be skeptical about your education and why you are recommending something that goes against the veterinarian’s advice. In fact, the veterinarian might even contact you and ask what you are basing your recommendation on. It is great if you can pull out a resume with all of the courses and certifications you have relating to nutrition.
For those wanting more education, there’s so much out there for holistically minded pet store owners. Here’s a brief listing of the most popular certification courses available:
Dogs Naturally Magazine has a university, DNMU. You can buy the courses singly, or join DNM Pro via a subscription arrangement. DNM Pro allows you to pay a monthly fee to access all of the courses, based on the number of users. Two big benefits of DNM Pro: Everyone on your team can access all of the courses, and if someone leaves, you can substitute a new team member at no extra cost. These courses are aimed at pet businesses, but individuals can take them too. It has six certification courses: Pet Food Nutrition, Raw Food Nutrition, Advanced Nutrition, Acute Canine Herbalism, Acute Canine Homeopathy and, coming soon, Canine Essential Oils. In addition, it has courses, which are not certification courses, covering various canine health topics such as raw feeding, parasites, diarrhea, parvo, fleas and ticks, Lyme disease and more.
I learned that DNMU is going to add some business subjects such as marketing, training and customer service in the future. Even these non-certification courses will have quizzes at the end, so if you are running employees through the course, you can track their progress.
The Possible Canine website, run by canine nutritionist and chartered herbalist Catherine Lane, has lots of options. The Basics of Canine Nutrition Course covers canine nutrient requirements and digestion, reading dog food labels, identifying food sources of various nutrients, deciding between raw, cooked or commercial diets, and generally making sound nutritional choices for dogs. It also has courses on diet formulation and herbalism as well as tutorials on a wide range of topics.
The pair behind My Healthy Dog really needs no introduction. Jean Dodds, DVM, and Diana Laverdure-Dunetz, MS, are the authors of two of the most respected canine health and nutrition books, "The Canine Thyroid Epidemic: Answers You Need for Your Dog" and "Canine Nutrigenomics: The New Science of Feeding Your Dog for Optimum Health." Their canine nutrition courses seem to be focused on the pet owner, but I think any micro independent will learn something. Dr. Dodds is just an amazing person for our industry and offers a wealth of information.
The Science Dog has a certification course covering all of the essential nutrients and nutritional requirements of dogs. Linda Case is probably best known in the training world, but she is a canine nutritionist. She has a B.S. in animal science from Cornell University and an M.S. in canine/feline nutrition from the University of Illinois.
Companion Animal Sciences Institute is another crossover from the dog-training world. It has the Certificate in Canine Nutrition program, which it describes as "solid science-based foundational exploration of nutrients, life-stage nutrition, digestive anatomy, and other topics related to this area of study."
Academy of Natural Health Sciences has several courses related to nutrition. Its Clinical Pet Nutritionist course is a 500-hour course covering canine nutrition, feline nutrition, sports nutrition, diseases and natural remedies, and a whole lot more.
This one might surprise you; the University of Illinois Department of Animal Sciences offers an online companion animal nutrition certificate program. In order to be accepted, applicants must have a bachelor’s degree, and, to obtain the certificate, the student has to complete the Animal Nutrition Course and also two other courses of their choice between Pet Food and Feed Manufacturing, Advanced Companion Animal Nutrition or Pet Food Regulations.
The Royal Animal Health University (RAHU) was founded by Dr. Barbara Royal and Dr. Natasha Lilly. The university has a monthly fee that gives you access to all of the content, which includes courses about supplements, herbs, ketogenic diets, cancer and much more. I think most independents will love the Wild Health Nutrition segment, which is done in several video lectures and features Dr. Royal, Dr. Karen Becker, Steve Brown and Rodney Habib. If you’re unsure of who any of those people are, I am instructing you to immediately read up on all of them. They are all incredible individuals who have pushed the real foods category further along than anyone else.
Don’t forget your manufacturers when you’re talking about education. Many manufacturers have education programs that will not cost you anything. However, you have to remember they are certainly biased toward their products. Several kibble companies have produced education courses. Years ago, those companies would give you some type of certification you could market for your store, but most have gotten away from it.
Raw pet foods really do invest a lot in educating retailers. Answers Pet Food has Answers University on YouTube. Bones & Co. has an online education and testing program, as does Primal Pet Foods.
A very unique education site is PetSchooled, from the maker of the documentary "Pet Fooled." This site has a series of interviews that have been formatted into courses. For example, you can watch Dr. Doug Knueven give a lecture about how and why to transition to raw pet foods, and then take quizzes based on the lecture. The really unique side of this site is all the documentation from Freedom of Information (FOI) requests related to governmental agencies and pet food. If you want to learn about the dirty underbelly of pet food, spend some time reading all the FOI documents the site has cataloged.
That is just a small list of the popular courses. Please email me if you find others or send a review if you have completed any of them. I’m sure I will write about this again. In full disclosure, I have not taken any of the certification courses to completion. I have done some coursework in DNMU, and I have seen segments of what is in RAHU. Those two courses are definitely from like-minded micro independent-focused people. If you are looking for formal certification courses, make sure you do your homework. Anyone can put up a website offering courses and a certificate, but that doesn’t mean it is of any value. Not all veterinarians will look at your certifications and change their minds, but they will give you credibility with your customer and, most important, in yourself.
B.C. Henschen is a well-known champion for pet owners who want the best in their pet’s food. He is the Association for Truth in Pet Food (ATPF) consumer advocate, and is a past director with the World Pet Association (WPA). Henschen is a popular speaker at industry events and meetings. A certified pet care technician and an accredited pet trainer, he is a partner in Platinum Paws, a full-service pet salon and premium pet food store in Carmel, Ind. His knowledge of the pet food industry makes Platinum Paws the go-to store for pet owners who want more for their pet than a bag off a shelf.