regarding your statement about how people in the wolfdog community consider hands on experience just as relevant as academic and professional experience, would academic only apply to people who have gone to college for it? or would academic experience also include people who have spent years studying their behavior and biology in their free time?
As much as I personally would like to say that I think years of self-study can count, I don’t think it’s really a reasonable way to quantify experience. People who for whom it would be credible experience are probably a minority of the number of people who would like it to count as experience. Yes, you might know a lot, but you’ve never really proven that you’ve grasped the topic and can apply it effectively in a supervised and rigorous setting and honestly I don’t blame the field for not really trusting the validity of that credential with their reputation and the lives of their animals. (And I say this as someone who is frequently frustrated that I do not get taken as seriously as I would like by some professionals in the fields I write about specifically because I have a lot of self study in my background instead of a graduate degree.)
‘I read a lot of books on the topic’ is different, however, from doing academic research or attending conferences and professional seminars and workshops. You’re more likely to have appropriate and useful academic credentials if you’re heavily involved in continued education efforts that professionals or graduate students in the field are expected to engage with. That’s a big part of what I do to try to make sure that I’m not just reading things and formulating my own opinions without having a grounding in reality - I attend as many conferences as I can and pay to take the workshops at them, I attend lectures, I shadow whomever will let me, and I take online classes.
However, in a professional setting, this accumulation of experience would not be considered the equivalent of a graduate degree, no matter how much my family likes to say I’m “effectively self-teaching a masters”. When you’re staking the safety of staff and the lives of animals on a staff member’s knowledge, requiring an advanced degree of study in the specific area of knowledge needed is entirely reasonable and appropriate.
(In many cases, however, the appropriate staff are determined by a combination of academic and professional experience. A facility wouldn’t hire a new ethology PHD to manage a group of animals because while they have the book learning, they lack practical experience. This is why mentorship and working under career professionals is so vital to being a good keeper, trainer, or behaviorist.)