What Differentiates One Dog Trainer & Behavior Specialist From Another?

 Fun Paw Care is keenly aware that anyone can call themselves a dog trainer, behaviorist or make a website, so what differentiates one dog trainer from another?

The world of dog training is rife with fly-by-night startups, people dog training part-time, people watching a dog training television show and copying those reality show methods, or simply unemployed people looking to make some extra cash because they like dogs or once experienced being a pet parent. Whatever the reason, you have likely stumbled across someone’s polished, pretty website and now you owe it to yourself and your pet to research this person and organization thoroughly. So how do you know whom to believe and what is important?

Please note this is not an exhaustive list. All of the organizations listed throughout this article are the most respected and widely recognized dog training organizations and certifications by veterinarians from the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (ACVB) and many others.

Because there are no barriers to entry in the dog training and behavior industry and no formal licensing, regulations or oversight involved, it is extremely important to verify your dog trainer’s education, independent certifications from unaffiliated schools, affiliations and to also check with those certification organizations to see if your dog trainer is still affiliated and in good standing with them. Many trainers do not continue their learning process (continuing education units) after they initially become certified as a dog trainer or behavior consultant and therefore no longer qualify for membership. In addition, many organizations do not require their members to complete CEU’s, to have any formal education or understanding in canine ethology and cognitive ethology or dog training experience to become a member under their charter.

When reading through a dog trainer and behavior modification specialist’s credentials, be aware that all certifications are not the same. Some dog trainers are “certified” by the dog school that they took their educational program through with inherent conflicts of interest and lack of independent oversight, whereas others are certified through independent certifying bodies that are not affiliated with any particular school or program (much like the Bar exam for a lawyer or the Medical Board exam) such as the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) or the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). So a “certified trainer” could be someone who simply took a five-day course on dog training or someone who has studied dog training and behavior extensively for many years and was independently tested on their knowledge and skills.

First, find out which certifications your dog trainer has and from what organization certified them. If no independent certification organizations are listed on their website that is a huge red flag. If certification organizations are listed on the dog trainer’s website, make sure to call or email those organizations, and verify the dog trainer, the company and the level of their certification for yourself. Do not simply rely on the dog trainer’s website for your information, verify. You should only hire  Certified Dog Behavior Consultants (CDBC), certified by the IAABC (the equivalent of a dog psychologist) and they should also be a member of the force-free, positive reinforcement dog training organization the Pet Professional Guild (PPG). Typically, retail dog/pet stores, police and military-style dog trainers and companies that start with “K9”, “balanced” or “traditional” are not based on science, are inhumane and are  punishment-based and you will do yourself and your best friend a great service by staying away from those organizations and dog “trainers.”

UPDATE: Please note, that in 2013 the APDT changed their membership status obliterating any meaning or levels of membership tied to trainers’ qualifications or certification level. APDT membership is now based on nothing more than how much an individual pays, thereby making it a useless metric for the general public to find a skilled dog trainer. Therefore the “level’ of membership is meaningless to the individual or family looking for a competent dog trainer. Anybody in the world may join, simply by paying. Further muddying the waters, the APDT changed their name from Association Pet Dog Trainers to Association Professional Dog Trainers. Please read this article for a more detailed and intelligent understanding of the changes APDT made.

Another thing to consider is that most dog training organizations have different levels of membership.  For example, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) has three different levels of membership, with different criteria for joining each (Associate, Full and Professional level memberships).  To obtain an Associate or a Full membership you simply pay money, and any citizen can join, however, the situation is different for the Professional level membership. The Professional level membership is the highest level of affiliation and cannot merely be bought whereas the lower levels can. At the Professional level, one must be a professional member of another independent certification council, meet strict requirements and education levels, as well as be recommended by veterinarians, clients, professional peers and be affiliated with other independent certification council organizations such as the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). In addition, most of the organizations that are affiliated with the professional level designation of the APDT, stipulate an amount of experience necessary to become a professional level member of their organizations as well. To qualify for membership within these professional affiliations, one must/should be a documented, professional, head dog trainer for many years (typically 5 or more), have taught a certain number of hours as a head dog trainer/director (typically over 300), practice humane, force-free, scientific, positive reinforcement, up-to-date dog training methods, complete many CEU’s every year and be selected to take a lengthy exam given once or twice a year. These are just some of the requirements to become a Professional affiliate in many of these organizations.

Unfortunately, there are many unethical and dishonest people in the industry because there is not a regulatory body to crack down on ignorant, inhumane and nefarious dog trainers, so the onus is left on the pet parent. Therefore you will have to do a little legwork to find the right company, dog trainer, behavior modification specialist and fit. Many times the certification designation listed on a dog trainer’s website is not what it seems to be. After you call to verify their certifications you may come to realize that they are not certified by any independent council such as the IAABC or CCPDT or their level of affiliation is misleading and incorrectly stated on their website altogether. It is essential to do thorough homework about a dog trainer and their company; after all, this is your pet and part of your family. You wouldn’t send your child off to a nursery school without researching it thoroughly, would you? The teacher qualifications you would look for before sending your child off to school are the same with your pet:  the quality of education, teachers, staff, experience and teaching style, how long the teachers or institution have been in the industry, trustworthiness, honesty, ethics, awards, recognition, results, professionalism and positive reinforcement and not choking or punishing your child for the results of their efforts …etc. Certainly not anyone who practices corporal punishment.

Do your homework and know your dog trainer.

Dog Training Certification, Certificates & Affiliations (part 2) 

Dog Training Certification, Certificates & Affiliations (part 3)