It used to be, if you wanted to earn titles for your dog, you had to show up at an AKC (American Kennel Club) competitive event (or multiple ones), complete the necessary qualifications, and submit for your title. The AKC was *the* only titling venue available. (Well, there was also the UKC, or "United Kennel Club," and a few agility organizations, but the main one was the AKC.)
For those people who couldn't take off sometimes an entire weekend to attend a show, who disliked high entry fees (usually $30 per class, at least, and obviously you can't even be certain you'll qualify on any given day, no matter how good your dog is), or for those whose dogs suffered from anxiety or ring stress or multiple other problems...well, you were out of luck. No title for you. Doesn't matter how well your dog is trained.
Now there are multiple online titling opportunities available. Love Parkour? There's the International Dog Parkour Association. Want to Rally? There's Cyber Rally! If you just want plain ol' regular obedience, there's the Non-Competitive Obedience Association. There's even something called the "Virtual Agility League."
In general, titling online through these organizations involves mastering the training with your dog, then submitting a video of you and your dog performing. Your videos will be reviewed to see if they meet minimum qualifications for whatever level/title you're going for. If you pass, congrats! Your dog now has letters behind his name.
Over the last few months, I've been playing with online titling, both with my client dogs and with my own dog. Here's some of the main compare/contrast points I've noted.
1) Online titling is what you make it. You can make everything simple and almost cheat-feeling, or you can really really commit and do it. Here's an example. When Halo was working on her Training-Level Parkour title, she had a great problem with "under." For no apparent reason she simply couldn't scrunch down and crawl underneath an obstacle. She's the kind of dog who stressed out if she doesn't get something right, and lo and behold, soon just the suggestion "under" would cause her to stress out and she would never, ever, ever do it. She wouldn't even go "under" things that were taller than her. I finally convinced/encouraged/cheerleaded her to go under a specific bar that I'd set up in a specific way in my kitchen. She could go under that just fine. Anything else, she would not go under.
I could have videoed her going under the specific bar set up the specific way in my specific kitchen, and sent that in for evaluation, and she would have passed. But did she really know "under?"
No, of course she didn't! I could point her at under literally any other obstacle in the world and she wouldn't go under it. But then there she'd be with a title stating that she knows "under." And that just...seemed wrong, somehow. So I spent almost three weeks slowly increasing her confidence going underneath various obstacles, and finally, when I was satisfied, I videoed her performance.
2) You can use online titling to further your other goals. I'm currently working on Cyber Rally with Halo, but I'm using it to further her work on performing in new, distracting locations. Yes, she's one of those dogs who's great in the living room, not so much in distracting areas. Squirrels? Birds? Yup, there's gonna be some trouble.
I *could* set up the rally course in a purposely non-distracting environment, or my own backyard. Heck, I could even rent a quiet room with literally zero distractions. It would be so quick and easy then, to get her through all the qualifications! But what I want is to challenge myself, by doing the courses in difficult environment. Right now we're working for some park locations -- like I mentioned, squirrels and birds are her biggest weakness. If we can get through Cyber Rally qualifications in for example Trenton Park, where those fat and half-tame squirrels will literally chase each other RIGHT THROUGH our rally set-up as we're heeling along or performing a down-stay...now THAT title will really mean something, won't it!
3) It's not actually as easy it sounds. You have to actually video things, which involves either setting up the camera just-so to capture both you and the dog, or get someone to hold the camera and film you, which can be distracting for you and the dog. It can actually be really nerve-wracking to perform for a camera. And often, random things just *happen* which will make your video submission not work.
Some of the titles can have all the different exercises clipped and edited together, but some, like the Fenzi TEAM titles, have to be done in a continuous stream. Wouldn't you know it, you'd get all the way through the first nine obstacles with the dog performing stunningly, then for no reason at all make an error on the last one. It can take weeks to get just one good video entry.
4) With a few exceptions, online titles don't say anything about your dogs level of distraction training or how well it can work in public. Don't neglect your dogs socialization and manners training just because you can do all this in your own backyard! On the flipside of this, it can be a wonderful experience for dogs who simply become overstressed and can not handle a live competition. Some venues also allow disabled (blind, deaf etc) to compete with modifications, which is not usually allowed at live events.
What do you think? Sound fun? If you're interested you can look into all the different venues and their requirements. I love titles. Maybe you will too!