Some parents spend the first four years of their human child’s life to select and gain entry into an elite preschool. While we would never advocate for waiting that long to find a certified dog trainer, we do think that a lot of thought should go into selecting one.
Whether your goal is to teach your dog basic obedience or teach them a specific set of skills, it’s important to choose a trainer who can do these things successfully without traumatizing your dog. Before you hire a certified dog trainer, ask yourself these three questions:
- What are my goals for this dog? Identifying your goals will help you identify a trainer who matches these goals.
- Which trainers are recommended by professionals and people I respect? Ask for recommendations from professional dog sports competitors, professional organizations, friends and family.
- What types of training methods does a trainer employ? Before employing a trainer, find out from them (and others) if they truly use positive, rewards-based training.
No where is it more important to look for personal referrals than in the dog training world. People love talking about their dogs and their dog’s certified trainer. Ask around. You will hear everything from “my dog disappeared while under their care with no explanation provided” to “they changed my life, and the life of my dog.”
Look for those who are generally enthusiastic about their dog’s trainers and ask for concrete examples. What type of methods do they use? Is it positive or negative based? Are they training the owners as well as the dogs?
Look for a balance
Behaviorists, vets and trainers are all different things. A behaviorist focuses on behavior. Vets focus on health. Trainers focus on training. If you can find someone who is all three, it’s the trifecta of dog training. But, they’re as rare as unicorns.
Choose a Process
Depending on what you want or need, there are many options available for training. Working with a new puppy and need some guidelines? An online course may be enough to refresh your work with your dogs. Do you have a specific behavior that needs to be fixed? A private class may be needed. Just need to teach your dog basic obedience? Group classes are affordable options.
- Classes (group)
- Private (individual)
It’s always a good idea to have your dog checked before heading out to any certified dog trainer. Most importantly, your dog should be fully vaccinated before going to any group event.
If you’re dealing with specific behavioral issues, it’s imperative that your dog visit a vet before beginning. Training won’t help a dog stop eliminating in a house if they’re dealing with a urinary tract infection. Training won’t stop your dog from snapping at you when he has a slipped disk. Training won’t resolve your dog’s refusal to enter a house if he’s been injured by a family member. Many behavior issues are resolved much faster through a veterinarian. For the ones that aren’t related to health, you will need a trainer.
Just like humans, dogs learn and process new information differently. Some learn by doing an action over and again, others are prone to sniffing out a solution, and more. Identify ways to train your dogs by identifying their learning styles.
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) highlights several things to consider:
- Positive, Rewards-Based Training: “Research shows that dogs do not need to be physically punished to learn how to behave, and there are significant risks associated with using punishment (such as inhibiting learning, increasing fear, and/or stimulating aggressive events). Therefore, trainers who routinely use choke collars, pinch collars, shock collars, and other methods of physical punishment as a primary training method should be avoided.”
- Good Teacher (explains why and how they train, then demonstrates)
- Continual education
- Observe a Class
- Do you feel comfortable?
- No guarantees
- Problem Behaviors: Many behavioral changes are caused by underlying physical problems, and a proficient trainer may ask you to visit your veterinarian for medical testing.
While certification is not a requirement for being a dog trainer, we believe it is one of the distinguishing features of being a trainer versus being an excellent trainer.
The dog training world is filled with programs, certifications and accreditations. But, what do each of them mean? Here is a short list of common abbreviations seen behind a trainer’s name and title.
- ABCDT: An ABC Certified Dog Trainer (ABCDT) In support of ABC’s strategic alliance with The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) and our commitment to keeping dogs safe from injurious training methods. ABC Certified Dog Trainers understand how to teach new behaviors through luring, shaping, capturing or molding and have mastered the behavioral principles of operant conditioning. They have studied positive reinforcement dog training techniques as their primary training tool, which allows your dog to learn the desired behaviors while keeping that unique spark that makes your dog so special to you.
- AABP: Association of Animal Behavior Professionals (AABP)
- IAABC: International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC)
- CCPDT: The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers® (CCPDT®) Thousands of dog training professionals worldwide maintain the CCPDT’s certifications as a mark of high professional distinction.
- CBATI: Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor (CBATI)
- CTC: The CTC is an advanced, two-year program from the Academy for Dog Trainers. This program discusses dog training as well as behavior. The Academy is known as “the Harvard of Dog Training” and is run by world-renowned dog trainer Jean Donaldson.
- IAABC: International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
- IACP: International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP)
- KPA CTP means that someone has taken the Karen Pryor Academy Dog Trainer Professional program.
- NADOI: National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI). The NADOI was established in 1965 and is billed as the oldest certification organization for dog trainers. Certified membership involves a minimum of five years experience in obedience training (with at least with two years as a head instructor), experience working with at least 100 dogs, documenting time spent teaching groups for at least 104 hours or private lessons for at least 288 hours and passing a written essay test. Additional specialty certification areas include Puppy, Novice, Open, Utility, Tracking, and Basic Agility.
- PMCT: PMCT means that someone has taken the Pat Miller Certified Trainer course through Peaceable Paws. You can find a list of Pat Miller certified trainers, Peaceable Paws affiliates, and Academy graduates via the Peaceable Paws website (look under trainer referrals).
- VSA-CDT means that someone has graduated from the Victoria Stilwell Academy Dog Training program. This is a six-month program and you can find graduates here.
- VSPDT means that someone is a licensed Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer. To be accepted, trainers must have an education and at least two years experience, and be admitted through the process.
If you haven’t, then you can look for people who have CPDT-KA, CPDT-KSA, or CBCC-KA (all assessed by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers) or the PCT-A or PCBC-A (assessed by the Pet Professional Accreditation Board). Again, these are people who have had their knowledge of dog training assessed.
Choosing a trainer is one of the most important things you can do as a dog owner. Make sure your trainer fits the needs of you and your pets. Animal Behavior College graduates are trained to use the Least Invasive Minimally Aversive (LIMA) techniques. Our strategic alliance with The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) and our commitment to keeping dogs safe from injurious training methods ensure that our graduates are among the most successful trainers.