Example of CPDT-KSA certificate

Is every dog trainer or behavior specialist the same?

You want to get the best possible training for your dog, but you don’t know where to start. There are so many options! Your friends, family, and veterinarian contradict each other when you ask for referrals. Every trainer’s website looks good, and some even have letters after their names, but you have no idea what those letters mean. What now?

Here’s what’s you need to know to find the dog trainer or behavior expert who’s the best fit for your needs.

Anyone in the U.S. can call themselves a “dog trainer” – even those with zero dog experience

Dog training is an almost completely unregulated industry. In most places, anyway can “hang out a shingle” and call him or herself a dog trainer – even if that person has never touched a dog before. And while there are a lot of people out there who talk a good game, many of them don’t have the skills to back up their sales pitch.

Unfortunately, following the advice of an unqualified or poorly-educated dog trainer can mean paying a lot of money for no results. A bad trainer can also make the situation worse. I’ve had many clients who came to me after a bad experience with a previous trainer. In these cases, we don’t just need to address whatever the original issue was; we also have to fix the new problems the unqualified trainer created.

To understand the experience and philosophy of the trainer, look at the alphabet soup behind their names

If dog training is unregulated, who can you trust? And where do you start? Many professional dog trainers have opted to pursue certifications to help show their level of experience and approach to training.

Here’s a list of some of the more respected qualifications a dog trainer might have:

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers is an independent certifying organization. It offers the following three credentials:

CPDT-KA: This stands for “Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed.” This credential is focused on a person’s ability to teach behaviors such as sit and leash walking. To hold this qualification, a trainer must:

– Have a minimum of 300 hours practice in dog training.
– Get a recommendation from a CCPDT certificant or a veterinarian.
– Sign documents promising to follow certain ethical and professional standards.
– Pass a written examination.
– Regularly participate in continuing education events related to dog-training knowledge.

CPDT-KSA: This stands for “Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge & Skills Assessed.” This credential is also focused on the person’s ability to teach behaviors such as sit and leash walking, but it uses video of the person training dogs (and their humans) to assess actual hands-on skills (rather than just knowledge). To hold this qualification, a person must:

– Hold a current CPDT-KA credential (including continuing to meet all the requirements related to that credential).
– Pass a practical (hands-on) examination.
– Regularly participate in continuing education events related to dog-training skills, as well as dog-training knowledge.

CBCC-KA: This stands for “Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed.” This credential is focused on a person’s ability to deal with problematic behavior such as barking, jumping, or even biting (rather than just basic training such as teaching a dog to sit on cue). To hold this qualification, a behavior consultant must:

– Have a minimum of 300 hours practice in dog behavior consulting.
– Get a recommendation from a CCPDT certificant or a veterinarian.
– Sign documents promising to follow certain ethical and professional standards.
– Pass a written examination.
– Regularly participate in continuing education events.

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants does not qualify as an independent certifying organization since they offer education as well as testing, but their credentials are well regarded. They offer the following pet-dog-related credentials:

CDBC: This stands for “Certified Dog Behavior Consultant.” To hold this qualification, a trainer must:

– Pass a written examination.
– Submit three case studies where problem behavior was addressed and resolved.
– Regularly participate in continuing education events.

NOTE: There is no minimum experience requirement for this credential.

ACDBC: This stands for “Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultant,” and is the “junior” version of the CDBC qualification discussed above. To hold this qualification, a trainer must:

– Pass a written examination.
– Submit two case studies where problem behavior was addressed and resolved.
– Regularly participate in continuing education events.

NOTE: There is no minimum experience requirement for this credential.

IAABC-ADT and IAABC-ECA: These stand for “IAABC Accredited Dog Trainer” and “IAABC Entrenador Canino Acreditado” (a Spanish language version of the same qualification). To hold either of these qualifications, a person must:

– Pass a written examination.
– Submit two case studies.
– Regularly participate in continuing education events.

NOTE: There is no minimum experience requirement for this credential.

Independent certification in dog training makes a difference

There are other qualifications out there, but most of them involve going through a program with an education organization that then tests you on what you learned. Some of these are great programs, but there’s always a risk with programs like these that somebody passed even though they didn’t quite meet the standard, since the organizations have an interest in keeping their pass rates high. To look up different education programs and see what’s involved in each, check out this resource.

Are dog trainers and animal behaviorists the same thing?

In the United States, the term “behaviorist” is properly reserved for either Veterinary Behaviorists (a credential that requires a veterinary degree and additional residency, as well as case studies and passing a written exam), Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (requires a Ph.D. thesis and passing a written exam), or Associated Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (requires an M.A. thesis and passing a written exam).

While I am certified as a behavior consultant by two different organizations, and have many years of experience handling behavior cases, I am not a behaviorist. Anyone who calls him or herself a behaviorist in the United States and does not fit into one of the categories I mentioned in the paragraph above is misusing the term, Sadly, based on what I have seen over the years, people who misuse this term often have no qualifications or certifications at all.

Should I find a dog trainer or behaviorist who specializes in my dog’s issue?

Not all dog trainers and behavior consultants take every kind of case. In fact, some trainers may not be well qualified for certain types of cases. When looking for a dog professional, consider your dog’s needs and challenges. Think about what will work well for your family. Look into the person’s qualifications and experience. If you’re not sure if they are the right fit, ask them if they have the knowledge and expertise to help. A good trainer will refer you elsewhere if your case is not the right fit for them. Finally, bear in mind that in-person training is not the only option (and may not even be the best option). Virtual training can be a great fit for most situations, and is always the better choice if there is no well-qualified in-person trainer or behavior consultant in your area.

Hiring the right dog trainer matters!

Choosing a dog trainer who is well qualified, educated, and experienced can mean the difference between training success and failure. While no dog trainer can guarantee results, the better educated and more experienced a trainer is, the more likely they are to be able to help.

Why should I hire you?

To ensure I can give clients the best advice possible, I have gone through a rigorous general dog trainer education program, as well as additional specialized dog trainer education programs focusing on particular types of behavior issues. I have also attended countless hours of continuing education on a wide range of topics.

Because of my high level of qualifications and experience, I get referrals from veterinary behaviorists, animal welfare services (a.k.a. “animal control”), and other trainers – not to mention my own satisfied clients. My expertise has also inspired a variety of organizations to ask me to do presentations for both other professionals and families with pets, and I regularly speak at industry conferences.

I help families with everything from basic puppy training to serious issues such as fearful and aggressive behavior.  I work hard to support my clients and help them succeed.  If you have an issue you’d like to address, please reach out to me. I see clients worldwide in online sessions and clients in a limited geographic area in-person. If I am not the right fit for your needs, I can probably refer you to someone who is.

Ready to start? Contact me!

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