As you're interviewing a dog trainer to work with you and your dog, one of the questions you should be asking is if they hold a certification in professional dog training or canine behavior consulting. For more questions, you should be asking, read "What You Should Ask a Dog Trainer (and What Their Answers Should Be)."
It can be tough to decipher what all those different letters after their name mean, as there are quite a few different certifications available for dog training and animal behavior. Below we've listed the most common certifications and an explanation of the requirements for each.
What's the Difference Between a Dog Trainer and a Dog Behavior Consultant?
The certifications below are divided between dog training and behavior consulting, and depending on what kind of things you want to work on with your dog determines what certification is the best fit.
A dog trainer is someone who trains basic to advanced training cues, teaches a dog polite manners, or trains a dog to participate in different dog sports and activities. Trainers do this in group classes, private lessons, or in board-and-train programs. Dog trainers have learned basic learning theory and honed their handling and physical training skills.
A canine behavior consultant focuses on treating behavioral disorders and other issues, such as separation anxiety, noise phobia, aggression, fear, resource guarding, etc. A behavior consultant focuses their education on learning in-depth dog cognition, ethology, and applied behavior analysis.
Being a certified dog trainer does not automatically make you a behavior consultant, although many dog trainers will take on behavior cases. Certified behavior consultants are most likely to also be certified dog trainers, but not always. The top tier of dog training and behavior consulting is a Board-Certified Veterinary Behaviorist (DACVB), as they are the only ones who can prescribe pharmaceutical treatments with behavior modification plans as they are practicing veterinarians.
Dog Trainer Certifications
CPDT-KA & CPDT-KSA
This certification is given by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, and is a third-party certification (meaning that the council is separate from any paid education or training of the certificant).
CPDT-KA stands for Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed. Those with this certification have at least 300 hours of dog training experience within the previous three years, obtain a reference from another CPDT-KA trainer or veterinarian, and agree to the certification council's Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics and Least-Intrusive Minimally-Aversive (LIMA) Behavior Intervention Philosophy. They have also passed a 180-question exam that tests them on instruction skills, learning theory, ethology, training equipment and animal husbandry. To maintain certification status, trainers must complete continued education credits or re-take the exam every three years.
CPDT-KSA is a secondary level of certification and stands for Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge and Skills Assessed. Those wishing to obtain this certification must already have their CPDT-KA certificate, fulfill the same requirements as above, and pass an exam showing their training skills via video.
The Karen Pryor Academy for Animal Training and Behavior is a popular certification program for many dog trainers and is known for its impressive faculty. The certification is considered a first-party certification, as certificants must complete courses through the Academy itself in order to earn the designation.KPT CTP stands for Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner. Dog trainers must complete a six-month long program that includes: online lessons, quizzes, at-home training exercises, attend in-person workshops, and pass final assessment exams.
The CTC designation (Certificate in Training and Counseling) is a first-party certification given to graduates of the Academy for Dog Trainers. The online program was designed by Jean Donaldson, a well-known and well-respected dog trainer, and takes on average two years to complete. This program prepares students to work as both dog trainers and take on behavior consultations, but does not include an in-person training component in order to graduate.
The Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training and Behavior offers the VSA-CDT first-party certification for its graduates. They offer both in-person hybrid and online-only courses for students with a focus on basic training using positive reinforcement, learning theory, and common behavior problems.
Behavior Consultant Certifications
The CAAB certification requires a very high level of education and experience. Requirements include holding a doctoral (PhD) degree from an accredited college in biological or behavioral science with an emphasis on animal behavior and at least 5 years of professional experience. Read more about the extensive requirements needed for the CAAB here.
A CDBC designation after a consultants title is one of the more well-known and intensive certifications available for behavior consultants. CDBC stands for Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. Overseen by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, this third-party certification has extensive requirements. The certification is granted to practicing Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists upon membership application; other applicants are encouraged to have a minimum of at least 3 years and 500 hours of experience in behavior consulting practice, at least 400 hours of coursework related to the association's Core Areas of Competency, and submit 3 written case studies, 4 written discussion of case study analysis, and pass an exam covering terminology, techniques, assessment, and history taking.
This certification is given by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, and is a third-party certification (meaning that the council is separate from any paid education or training of the certificant).CBCC-KA stands for Certified Behavior Consultant Canine - Knowledge Assessed, and is an advanced certification for dog trainers that offer behavior modification as part of their services. To obtain this certification, trainers must have a minimum of 300 hours of experience dealing specifically with behavior issues (such as phobias, anxieties and aggression), have a reference from a CCPDT certificant or veterinarian, and agree to the certification council's Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics and Least-Intrusive Minimally-Aversive (LIMA) Behavior Intervention Philosophy. They have also passed a 180-question exam that tests them on applied behavior analysis, consulting skills and best practices, ethology, body language, observational skills, canine health, development, life stages, anatomy and physiology. To maintain certification status, behavior consultants must complete continued education credits or re-take the exam every three years.
Graduates from the Northwest School of Canine Studies receive the CCS certification. NSCS is the only certification program in the United States conducted entirely in person.
CCS stands for Certificate in Canine Studies. In order to participate in the program, applicants must have completed at least 1 year of college-level education and have at least 1 year of field experience working with dogs. Certificants have completed a 12-week program that includes hands-on practice as well as in-depth curriculum addressing methodology, behaviorism, learning theory, and advanced behavior modification.
A Certification Isn't a Guarantee
Remember, just because a dog trainer or behavior consultant has letters behind their name doesn't mean that they will be the right match for you. A certification doesn't guarantee that a trainer or consultant will actually follow best practices like Least-Intrusive Minimally-Aversive, even though they might have signed an agreement stating they would. Avoid any trainer that relies on physical punishment or aversive training tools, intimidation, or fear in their training methods.
Make sure that the dog trainer you hire uses positive reinforcement methods and follows a force-free training philosophy, as well as matches your personality and learning style so that you can get the most out of your dog training sessions. Dog training should be a fun and positive experience for all involved, whether canine or human!
We'll be frequently updating this list of certifications — let us know if you think a particular dog training or behavior consultant certification should be added to this list in the comments below!
(Note: Only organizations that promote, at the minimum, the LIMA philosophy of training and behavior modification will be considered for this list. Certifications or memberships that include a "balanced" training proponent will not be included.)
Dog Training Aversives: What Are They and Why Should You Avoid Them?
What You Should Ask a Dog Trainer (and What Their Answers Should Be)
Choosing the Right Puppy Class
The Difference Between Clicker Trainers and Trainers Who Just Use Clickers
Short and Sweet Training Sessions with Your Dog
Take Advantage of Daily Dog Training Opportunities
Press Pause: How to Manage Dog Play
What You Should Know Before Taking Your Puppy to the Dog Park