In the past, dog training courses and dog training certifications were not readily available. For many years, dog trainers entered the industry through self-education. Without formal avenues for dog training certification, many read what limited books were available, went to group dog obedience training classes, eventually assisted in those classes and, after a period of time, started teaching on their own. Some came from 4-H or similar youth organizations while others got involved in obedience trials and branched out from there.
While a certification for dog trainers didn’t yet exist, many dog trainers used their experience in American Kennel Club-sanctioned obedience trials as a marketing tool. There were (and still are) many fantastic self-educated dog trainers. There was nothing inherently wrong with entering the dog training profession this way. However, doing so requires a great deal of time and quite a bit of trial and error.
Today, a dog training certification is relevant to dog trainers of all levels everywhere, particularly since it is now desired by the general public. There is a wide range of information about dog trainer certifications available on the Internet. Unfortunately, some of it is confusing, leaving people unclear about what to look for and what exactly a certification for dog trainers means.
Dog Training Certification: What is it?
Certification simply means the person certified has mastered a specific course of study or body of knowledge and passed examinations, proving their understanding of the material. There is no state, provincial or federally accepted certification for dog trainers. Currently, dog trainers look to dog training schools and trainer organizations that offer various types of dog trainer certifications. Are some certifications better or more valuable than others? It depends on what you are looking for, and the level of experience you have training dogs.
What are the Different Types of Dog Trainer Certifications?
Most dog trainer certifications are awarded through either a dog training school or a dog trainer organization. A dog training school provides a formalized education in dog training with required testing throughout the process. A dog trainer organization offers certification to individuals who meet their criteria, including a specific amount of professional experience, and pass their examination. Individual dog training schools and dog trainer organizations may set their own educational requirements for certification as this profession is not federally regulated. From an educational standpoint, certifications offered by schools for dog trainers are more substantive than those from trainer organizations.
Choosing a Certification
The different options available can be confusing to those looking to become a certified dog trainer and even to those who already work as dog trainers. While the choice to become certified and the type of certification chosen are up to each individual, the following can help you decide.
Obtaining a dog trainer certification should be considered for two main reasons. The first is it generally makes you a more well-rounded dog trainer. Secondly, the general public increasingly considers a dog training certification a prerequisite to hiring a dog trainer. To date, no consistent data indicates whether the public prefers one type of certification over another. The choice, therefore, is up to the individual trainer and should be based on their specific circumstances and needs.
Different Certification Choices for Different Levels of Experience
The certification choice that you make will depend upon the level of experience you have in dog training. We are grouping these levels into three basic categories. These are: a person with no dog training experience, a person who trains their own dog or competes in dog sports with their dog, and a “professional” dog trainer. For clarification, a “professional” dog trainer gets paid for their dog training services.
If you are an individual with no dog training experience, or you train your own dog or compete in dog sports, and would like to pursue a career as a certified dog trainer, consider a complete program. A complete program should include theoretical knowledge, scientific principles and hands-on training experience, such as the one offered by Animal Behavior College (ABC). A complete program covers all aspects of dog training: from the history of dog training to business building, from behavior modification to the principles and applications of behavior, and much more. In addition, since practical experience is vital to success, make sure the school you attend offers a hands-on component, so that your learning is not just theoretical. Students who graduate from ABC will be certified as an ABC Certified Dog Trainer (ABCDT) and have the right to use that designation after their name.
It is also recommended that graduates pursue additional certifications through organizations like The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). ABC’s programs prepare students who are in pursuit of this and other independent certifications. In addition, it is recommended that students consider more advanced certifications throughout their dog training career once they meet the prerequisites for the advanced certifications. Your path will also depend on what you intend to do with your dog training career. For example, if you are interested in training service dogs to help owners with various disabilities, you would want to pursue an additional service dog trainer certification.
If you are an individual with professional dog training experience, you can pursue an advanced dog training certification through a dog training school or dog trainer organization. Most of these types of advanced dog training certifications require a predetermined number of hours conducting dog training classes, reference letters from other professional dog trainers, reference letters from animal industry professionals (veterinarians), and other requirements as determined by the individual school or organization. In addition, most advanced certifications require the applicant to have completed a certain number of continuing education units in the dog training field.
Continuing Education Programs and Short Term Programs for Dog Trainers
As with any career, it is important to stay relevant and to always keep learning. There are many choices when looking to supplement your knowledge through continuing education programs or short term programs. Animal Behavior College offers a variety of short term programs which include:
- Training Shelter Dogs
- The Art of Selling and Teaching Private Lessons
- Pet Sitting and Dog Walking
- Pet Nutrition and Diet
- Pet Massage
- Doggie Daycare
- Pet Fostering
Should a Dog Trainer Get Multiple Certifications?
Think of dog training certifications as tests that let you—and the public—know you have gained specific in-depth knowledge and experiences. That being said, acquiring multiple dog training certifications is likely to make you a more well-rounded dog trainer.
If you are already a professional dog trainer—or have enough experience and knowledge to become one—your situation is a bit different. Dog trainers in this category should consider more advanced dog training certifications and may even want to join a trainer organization and go through its certification program.
Many advanced dog trainer certifications offered through organizations have a relatively low cost and can be completed in a short period of time. This makes it easier for professional dog trainers to fulfill their goals of multiple dog training certifications.
In addition to advanced (or level 2) dog obedience training certifications, there are also courses of specialty training and certifications that you can pursue, depending on what you plan to do with your career as a dog trainer. Many dog trainers have a desire to go into service dog training. This specialty has the dog trainer working to train dogs to help persons with disabilities including veterans with PTSD, owners who are blind or pet parents who are mobility challenged. For service dog training or any specialized higher level of dog training, additional certifications are required to make you more knowledgeable and hirable. If you are interested in pursuing a career as a service dog trainer, ABC encourages you to consider our ABC Certified Service Dog Trainer Program.
One final note: While certification is important, it is not by itself a guarantee of your success. In order to be a successful dog trainer, you need to provide quality service and always remain open to learning more, evolving from a good dog trainer to a great one. This takes time, patience and lots of practice.
If you’re interested in becoming a certified dog trainer, please call 800-795-3294 or fill out the contact form. Check out what our graduates are saying about us.