Have you ever procrastinated on something for years, and then once it was over with you took a step back, a deep breath, and promptly wondered why you had procrastinated for so long?
If you said no, congratulations! You’re a far more organized person than I am.
I did this same song and dance recently. And at the end of it, I passed my test to earn my Certified Behavior Consultant Canine certification (CBCC) through the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). I put this test off for years, I knew that I knew the material, but I was overwhelmed with trying to figure out how to develop a plan to study for it. They provide a reading list and a very broad idea of topics that are going to be covered, but no specifics.
To become a CBCC, I had to pass an exam, show over 300 recent hours of dog behavior training, and submit letters of recommendation. The exam covered applied behavior analysis; consulting skills and best practices; ethology, body language, and observational skills; health, development, and life stages; biology and anatomy; and the scientific method.
Proper and appropriate certifications are really important to me because the dog training industry has a dirty little secret that is ignored, swept under the rug, and costs dogs their lives.
The secret is that dog training is an unregulated industry. It’s basically a free-for-all.
There is no oversight, experience requirements, or minimum ability needed to say you are a dog trainer. If decides to call themselves a dog trainer, they unfortunately can without any repercussions.
This bothers me. A lot. It ruins dogs, it tears families apart, and it costs people, children, and dogs their lives. No, I’m not being dramatic for dramatic effect.
People get killed because of bad dog training.
Kids get killed because of bad dog training.
Dogs get euthanized because of bad dog training.
As a consumer, it unfortunately falls on your shoulders to ensure the person you are hiring is experienced, actually knows what they are doing, and can help you and your dog without causing harm.
On a dog trainer’s website, you may see people say that they have had dog’s their whole life or specialize in your breed. These statements are not enough. They should be able to show you much more to prove their competence.
And fancy words are nothing but a marketing ploy deployed to convince the unwitting dog owner that the so called “professional.” They probably don’t. If they did it is unlikely they would rely on those words to convince you.
First, look for memberships
One of the first things to look for are memberships. A membership will likely inform you about what this dog trainer’s ethics are surrounding punishment, positive reinforcement, and balanced training.
But, be careful!!
Is a membership enough? No, a membership means someone paid some money to be a member. They likely follow and agree with the ethics of the organizations they are members of, however a membership does not show any type of ability, skill, or knowledge. By tomorrow, I can be a member of 10 different dog training organizations. My fingers will be tired from typing in my credit card number over and over, and my bank account will be lighter, but otherwise I will not have to do anything.
Next, look for dog trainer certifications
Dog trainer certifications indicate a professional who is dedicated to continuing to grow and learn about dogs, and they also hold the belief that dogs and their owners deserve better. Certifications vary, but are generally national. These programs should take a year or more to compete, or there should be an exam or other requirements that must be met before earning the certification. If you come across a certification that you are not sure about, just find the certifying bodies website and find out what they require. Below five of the most well respected and in depth certifications are listed, and their common initials in parentheses to the right.
- Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT – KA)
- Certified Behavior Consultant Canine (CBCC-KA)
- Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC)
- Karen Pryor Academy, Certified Training Partner (KPA – CTP)
- Certificate in Training and Counseling (CTC)
- Pat Miller Certified Trainer (PMCT)
One exception, though, are specialized certifications. These typically take less time to complete because they are secondary to general dog training certifications. They do not replace any of the above certifications, they are supplementary. Also, specializations should be in specific behaviors, and not specific breeds. Five common specialization certifications are:
- Sophia Yin Low Stress Handling
- Fear Free Professional (for vets, trainers, or groomers)
- Family Paws
- Certified Separation Anxiety Trainer
- Certified Trick Dog Instructor
What about academic credentials?
Academic credentials should be in animal behavior or a related field like zoology or psychology. If someone has a bachelors, masters, or PhD, check what it is in and make sure it is directly dog related or adjacent. They also need to have the in-person, hands-on experience, in addition to their academic coursework.
What about a certified dog behaviorist?
The only place you will find certified dog behaviorists is The Animal Behavior Society. To be a real dog behaviorists, one must have a masters or PhD in a dog related field and fulfill several other requirements. However, lots of trainers do behavior modification, which is often confused with being a behaviorist. The CBCC and CDBC certifications are the two to look for if your dog needs help with problematic behaviors like aggression, anxiety, separation anxiety, resource guarding, or fear.
Third, look for experience
You want to find someone who has been training dog professionally for a few years. But more does not always equal better. The dog trainer you hire should have experience in the behavior problems you are experiencing. Do not just hire the person who has the most experience, specializes in your breed (that’s not a real thing), or has lots of dogs.
Even if someone says they’ve had dogs their whole life. Even if they say they specialize in your breed. Even if they say they are a master dog trainer or a behaviorists. That unfortunately means nothing. Experience does not equal competence.
So, which is the best dog training certification?
There isn’t really a best dog training certification. I wish there was. It would make everyone’s lives so much easier. All the certificates listed above are good and indicate a professional who is dedicated to continuing to grow and learn about dogs. They also show that the professional who believes that dogs and their owners deserve better.
To find the best trainer for you take your time and do your research. Call and ask questions. Don’t let fancy marketing fool you. Avoid trainers who have experience and nothing more. Find a trainer who has memberships to organizations whose ethics you agree with, and certifications that indicate they have experience working with dogs who need help with the same things you need help with.
Finding a certified dog trainer near you:
Directories to find a dog trainer:
Directories to find a trainer who does behavior modification:
3 Bonus Tips! — How to Dig Deeper
- Look at pictures and videos that feature dogs the trainer has worked with
What sort of story do these pictures and videos show? Ideally, you will find pictures and videos that show happy dogs who are engaged, and are not showing signs of stress with the trainer. You also want to look for the type of equipment the dogs are wearing. Harnesses are best, and flat collars are ok. But, stay away from trainers who showcase dogs wearing prong collars, choke chains, or any type of e-collars. It is also a red-flag when the pictures seem to be hiding the equipment. Don’t just look for dogs who are well-behaved, look for dogs who are well-behaved AND happy. Also, look at the way the trainer is interacting with the dogs. Do they appear kind and compassionate? Are they rough and over-bearing? It is possible to be both kind to dogs and firm with them about boundaries and rules. These traits can coexist and should be present in the trainer you hire.
- Read reviews
Sentiments like “they helped fix our problem” are important. But also look for reviews that clue you in to how the trainer worked with the dogs, how they treated the owner, and what the training process looked like. A bad review or two are ok, not every client is a fit for every trainer. But a myriad of poor reviews and complaints should be considered. Any instances of dog’s being hurt or mistreated should be taken seriously and investigated further.
- Google the Business
Are there articles written about horror stories and dead dogs? If yes, skip. If no, that’s great! Look for no articles or positive ones. But, doing something poorly enough that it gets written up in the local or national news is very concerning.