There are a lot of professions that exist with no formal training or certification required, and dog training is one of them. There are several that surprise me; as a horseback rider I am often surprised there is no formal certification, or anything really, needed to call yourself a horseback riding coach, or trainer. This profession may involve you putting someone’s 10 year old child onto a two-ton animal, and you could have no formal training or education what-so-ever. It is a scary thought, but the same is true for therapists, and many other professions that could easily cause a great deal of emotional and physical harm and pain to the client, when mishandled. I can’t say how often I encounter this in my own profession; dogs who have worked someone who is under-qualified and uneducated. Not to mention, I hear of several trainers who are dishonest about their qualifications, and, consequently they have made behaviors much worse.
There are several certification boards for dog training, and the one or ones that should be important to you, depend on the kind of training you need or want. There are also different affiliations trainers can have, that aren’t certifications, but instead show that a trainer has been accepted to participate with certain dog training groups and organizations. These can also be helpful to let you know if a trainer keeps up with other current trainers, and education.
The first certification that is helpful to most dog owners seeking a trainer is the CCPDT; the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. They do offer two certifications, the CPDT: Certified Pet Dog Trainer, and the CBCC: the Certified Behavior Consultant-Canine. These each have two sub sets, the KA and the KSA the KA is the Knowledge Assessed, meaning to earn this you had to, among other things, take a written test. The KSA is the Knowledge and Skills Assessed, meaning that you have completed the KA requirements, and also sent in videos of your dog training to be analyzed by a grading committee.
The next certification that is helpful if you are seeking training for behavior modification is the IAABC: The International Association for Animal Behavior Consultants. This certification requires a long application and essay testing portion. This requires knowledge of the science of how dogs learn, and how best to modify behaviors such aggression, fear and anxiety. The certification process require a certain amount of hours wokring specifically on behavioral cases, as well as 5 written case studies. If you are looking to work on something a bit more serious than obedience; this is an important certification.
Another great option is the VSPDT: Victoria Stilwell’s Positively Dog Trainer. This is a great certification because you can be sure you are working with a licensed, insured company that will only employ force-free, pain-free, positive methods. Victoria’s certification requires proof of insurance, 8 references, training videos, and an interview with Victoria Stilwell. There are are other reputable trainers who offer certifications for people who complete training work shops with them, and various other requirements. Some of these include Karen Pryor training certifications, Pat Miller certifications, and even the SPCA of San Francisco has a very reputable program for dog trainers. Some of these are very specific to a technique, such as grisha Stewart’s CBATI: Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor, which would be a very helpful certificaion if you are struggling with leash reactivity, or fear and anxiety issues. All of these are a bit more specific, but show that the trainer is continue his or her education inna responsible manner!
Some of the group affiliations that can be helpful for your dog trainer to have include being an AKC CGC: American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, as well as the PPG: Pet Professionals Guild Professional Member. These have less strong stipulations to join, as far as testing, but still show a dog trainer who is participating in the community and is likely to be more up to date on the newest training methods and learning theory. PPG is very strict to only allow force free trainers into their group so it is a great resource to find trainers, groomers, vets and boarding.
APDT Professional Member: The APDT is the Association for Professional Dog Trainers, is a group that tries to bring professional dog trainers together. Since there is no one required certification, there are so many others that are reputable, and responsible. To be a professional member of the APDT one must hold his or her CPDT. The APDT has also compiled this list of the different certifications: http://apdt.com/petowners/choose/certifications.aspx.
Be Cautious of certifications that are given from dog training schools. It is important to look into the methods that are taught at these schools. A certification could be given to a person for punishment, non-science based, old methods, and these are the exact certifications to avoid. Most of the time a certification such as “Master Dog Trainer” is not a person who will employ the most up-to-date, force-free methods to train your dog, but instead will be a punishment-based trainer. These are the people who often still believe that your sweet old King Charles Spaniel is sleeping on your couch because he is trying to dominate you, when really it is simply because there is no other comfortable spot! We really do know better these days… well some of us do! Certifications should have clickable links to follow so the trainer is easily showing you where that certification comes from. If it says the trainer is certified in the bio, but there is no higher certification board listed, be very cautious of this!
So what does all this mean? This means that if you choose a person from one of these many well respected certification boards, you are getting someone who is held to a higher standard. These certifications all require continuing education units, so you know that the trainer you are working with is pursuing his or her education, knowledge and skills. With something as serious and important as the well being and training of your dog, you shouldn’t trust just anyone. Don’t be afraid to ask someone for his or her credentials before entrusting them with your beloved pet. I hope this helps you to choose wisely!