What is a Certified Dog Trainer?
Right now, the field of dog training isn’t as regulated as we would like! Anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, and there are dozens of certifications out there- some MUCH more trustworthy than others. Here’s an overview of some of the most common, reliable certifications out there. *Note: This list is USA focused!
What does a certification tell you (or not)?
It depends. There are dog trainers out there who don’t have major certifications and are still awesome at what they do. On the flip side, having a certification doesn’t necessarily mean a trainer is good (or good for you and your dog!) even if the certification is reliable. Trainers can hold a national certification and still use harmful methods, or not be knowledgeable about the type of behavior you’re working on. Certifications aren’t a guarantee, but they help give you a good starting point.
Types of certifications:
We’ll talk about a few types of certification today. First, we’ll split certifications into categories:
Dog training certifications generally show that the trainer should be familiar with teaching your dog new behaviors and helping overcome undesirable behaviors like jumping, counter surfing, or pulling on leash. They should have a basic knowledge of dog behavior and health, as well as appropriate puppy socialization. Depending on the trainer, they may also have knowledge and skills to help with more serious behavior challenges, but dog training certifications themselves only give you a baseline about “training,” not behavior consulting.
These certifications indicate that someone has spent a number of hours working with behavior cases, from resource guarding to aggression to reactivity and others. Certified behavior consultants should be able to help with more significant behavior problems, in addition to having the training knowledge of a dog trainer.
The term behaviorist is often used by dog trainers to sound qualified, but in the professional world, we look at the term behaviorist as a specialty certification. Behaviorists typically have a graduate degree (Master’s or PhD) in animal behavior, and have more extensive knowledge of the science of behavior. *(again, USA focused! It’s much more common in the UK to be called a behaviourist)
Veterinary Behaviorists are veterinarians who are certified as experts in behavior as well. VBs are the only behavior experts who can also prescribe medication, whether to treat health issues or to treat behavior. There are few veterinary behaviorists in the country (fewer than 100), but they can work with your personal vet to help make medication recommendations. It is often recommended to work with a VB to make a plan for behavior modification and medical intervention, but also work with a trainer or behavior consultant to help work through that plan (since veterinary behaviorists are in high demand, and may not be able to work with you as often).
Ok, let’s get into the certifications! Again, this isn’t an exhaustive list- but these are the ones we see most commonly and trust.
Dog Trainer Certifications
CPDT-KA Certified Professional Dog Trainer
From the national Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. This is one of the most common certifications out there, and requires 300 hours of training and passing an exam.
KPA-CTP Certified Training Professional
The Karen Pryor Academy’s 6-month intensive training program provides a focus on clicker training, and requires lots of hands-on demonstrations of skills.
CTC Certificate for Training and Counseling
This certification from the prestigious Academy for Dog Trainers requires a two-year course, and blends into behavior consulting as well as training.
CDTK- Certified Dog Trainer
Catch Canine Trainer’s Academy has an in-depth training course covering many training topics.
VSA-CDT- Certified Dog Trainer
This is the Victoria Stillwell 6-month training program!
You may also see VSPDT, which is also through the Victoria Stillwell program but requires two years of experience.
PMCT- Pat Miller Certified Trainer
These trainers have gone through Pat Miller’s intensive in-person certified trainer courses.
PCT- Professional Canine Trainer
This is through the Pet Professional Accreditation Board
ABCDT- Animal Behavior College Certified Dog Trainer
This online course goes through behavior theory and best practices with an internship requirement.
*Note: There are tons of training programs available, many with their own certifications. Some of these are quite good, though we’ve tried to list the best and most common ones. However, as mentioned before, there are plenty of certifications or schools that do not necessarily indicate a rigorous course, a knowledge of scientific principles of behavior, or a specific ethical code for training. You can see some other common programs here.
Behavior Consultant Certifications
CBCC-KA Certified Behavior Consultant Canine
The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers uses this certification as the next step up from CPDT-KA, and it requires several hundred hours of training and an exam.
CDBC Certified Dog Behavior Consultant
The International Association of Behavior Consultants (IAABC) uses an exam with lots of case studies assessed by experts in order to certify these behavior consultants.
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB)- Animal Behavior Society
CAABs can be veterinarians with a specialty in behavior, but are typically people with a PhD or other high-level education in animal behavior. They are rare, with only about 50 in the country.
Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (ACAAB)- Animal Behavior Society
Typically the same as CAAB, but more likely with a Master’s degree rather than a PhD.
Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)- Behavior Analyst Certification Board
This would be most similar to the ACAAB, requiring Master’s level education.
Board Certified Behavior Analyst- Doctoral (BCBA-D) Behavior Analyst Certification Board
This would be most similar to the CAAB, requiring a Doctorate level education.
Veterinary Behaviorist Certifications
Veterinary Behaviorist (DACVB)- American College of Veterinary Behaviorists
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior- this is a professional group, not a certification.
Veterinarian (DMV)- all veterinarians should be certified as DVMs. If the person is not a licensed veterinarian, they cannot call themselves a veterinary behaviorist.
Other Specialty Certifications
Fear Free- Fear Free includes certifications for veterinary professionals, trainers, and even shelter staff.
Certified Separation Anxiety Trainers (CSAT)- these trainers have a specialization in effective techniques to work through separation anxiety cases.
The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT)- this is the most common professional association for dog trainers. It also requires you to have one of the common certifications, so APDT members are a good bet for certified training.
Pet Professional Guild (PPG) - this is an organization dedicated to force free training.
International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)- this is not specific to dog training, but all animals! The IAABC also has certification programs.
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