In the US anyone can print business cards and call themselves a dog trainer, regardless of their knowledge, experience, or ability. So it can be difficult for people to know whether or not the trainer they hire is qualified to work with them and their dog. That’s where certifications can be helpful for potential clients. Trainers who hold certifications demonstrate that they have studied extensively and understand a wide range of topics related to training. To maintain certifications, trainers must also commit to continuing education, learning more about different aspects of their field and remaining up-to-date as the science of training evolves.
The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) is probably the best-known certifying body in the US. They offer several trainer certifications, including the one I hold (CPDT-KA) and the CBCC, one I’m working toward getting. The CPDT-KA (certified professional dog trainer-knowledge assessed) requires an applicant to complete a minimum of 300 hours of training within a three-year period, submit a letter attesting to their qualifications signed by another certification holder, a vet, or other relevant professional, and pass a rigorous 200-question examination that covers instruction skills, animal husbandry, ethology, learning theory, and training equipment. This certification comes up for renewal every three years and holders must complete thirty-six continuing education units in order to maintain it.
Some of the the requirements for becoming a CBCC-KA (certified behavior consult canine-knowledge assessed) are the same as the CPDT-KA except that the 300 hours should focus on consulting with clients to help modify a wide range of behaviors based in fear, phobia, anxiety, or aggression. The exam tests the trainer's knowledge in four key areas: applied behavior analysis; ethology, body language, and observational skills; health, development, life stages, anatomy and physiology; and consulting skills and best practices. Certification holders renew every five years with the same requirement for continuing education units as the CPDT-KA. I started tracking hours for this certification last year and I’m hoping to complete it in late 2024 or early 2025.
The International Association of Animal Behaviorists (IAABC) offers certification in a wider range of species than the CCPDT. For dog trainers, there are multiple options, including two focusing on shelter behavior and another broader one, the CDBC (certified dog behavior consultant). To become a CDBC, applicants submit three letters attesting to their skill from a colleague, a vet, and a client. Then they must pass a written exam that demonstrates thorough knowledge of all aspects of dog behavior, including explaining how to use different behavior modification protocols and how and why they change the dog's behavior. To renew their certification, trainers must complete thirty-six continuing education units every three years.
Some training academies also offer certifications to their graduates. Students who successfully complete the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional Program receive the KPA CTP (Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner), demonstrating that they have undergone an extensive training program that includes in-person workshops, online webinars, and multiple modes of assessment. KPA holders are also expected to maintain their learning with continuing education.
While certifications cannot guarantee that any trainer is the right one for you, they do demonstrate ongoing dedication to the art and science of dog training.