Looking for a Dog Trainer - buyer beware!
Updated: Oct 5, 2022
Did you know Dog Training is NOT a regulated or licensed profession?
Don’t feel bad, most people don’t know this, and the honest truth is YOU could print a business card tomorrow and call yourself a dog trainer AND CHARGE $ to people for your advice! Scary isn’t it? Sadly there are stories in the news where dogs have lost their lives at the hands of people who call themselves dog trainers. As a consumer, it is important to understand that dog trainers are not all equal, and it behooves you to understand who you are trusting to give you advice, especially if you’ve never owned a dog before. Recommendations are a great place to start, but even that does not guarantee you are going to be working with someone that has an understanding of CURRENT best practices! My advice is, look beyond the web recommendations, flashy web sites, trainers who follow and endorse TV personalities or have created their very own, unique way to train dogs and slick advertising videos. Instead, look for professional affiliations, certifications and education!
Most dog trainers I know are associated with at least one professional dog training organization, and you can check those organizations’ web sites to see what type of training they endorse. One of the largest dog training organizations in the US is the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (www.APDT.com), while they are inclusive and do not completely prevent their members from using punishment as a training method, their focus is educating trainers and encouraging them to adopt positive, force free training methods. Another dog training organization, that only allows trainers that pledge to use positive, fear free methods, is the Pet Professional Guild. There are also a number of organizations for trainers and dog professionals that specialize in certain areas like, Animal Behavior Consultants, Fear Free Pets, Obedience Training, Schutzhund and Tracking. I am a member of four professional organizations, they are the APDT, PPG, IAABC and Fear Free Pets. But being a member of a dog training organization does not mean a person knows what they are doing! Many of these organizations do offer certifications, which ensures that the certificant has an understanding of certain information.
Certifications are another way to understand what your potential dog trainer knows, but where that certification comes from matters! Having a ‘certification’ from an educational institution, or training organization that specializes in a particular type of training, only measures if the student learned what the organization taught or is in line with that training organizations methods. It does not qualify that the material taught or preferred methods are scientifically sound!
For a relatively complete list of Training Certifications and an brief overview of those organizations that are bestowing the certifications, please see this article.
My bottom lines is, while there are many educational organizations available to dog trainers and some are extremely good, there is only one organization that measures dog trainers on their knowledge against a rigorous standard in science based dog training. That organization is the CCPDT or Council for Certification of Professional Dog Trainers. The CCPDT is NOT an educational organization, rather it is an independent organization brought about to assess dog trainers knowledge of science based dog training. People who are certified by this organization have had at least 300 hours of experience before they can take the test, have demonstrated their knowledge by taking a psychometrically designed exam (180 questions based on dog training best practices), must sign a professional code of ethics AND in order to maintain their credentials they must keep their knowledge up to date by completing continuing education units. Yes, I have held my CPDT-KA certification since 2010.
Training a dog is no longer a mysterious art form, the field of Animal Behavior has made huge strides in the last 25 years, and there is solid fact based science behind dog training now days. This means your dog trainer should understand this science and have enough experience to name it, as well as the experience to apply it. Unfortunately, until more states adopt licensing for dog training professionals it is up to you to become an informed consumer.
More things to think about!
What to watch out for! Be careful of catch words like ‘balanced training’ or those that use ‘e-collars’ or trainers that require you to buy certain equipment before starting their program, these are typically trainers who are using shock collars, prong collars and other highly aversive training methods. I would also warn against trainers who follow certain celebrity trainers like Ceasar Millan. I’ve also seen trainers with no credentials or associations advertise that THEIR method is unique, in a field as well researched as dog training, I find this unbelievable. There are no guarantees with dog training as there are too many variables involved, so stay away from anyone that guarantees a certain result!
Below are some interesting links if you are looking to understand more about dog training
AVSAB statement on punishment https://www.sfanimalcare.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/Why-We-Dont-Punish.pdf
Studies showing the affects of aversive dog training methods vs positive methods
MA bill to License Dog Trainers - In 2019, legislators in Massachusetts introduced a bill to require licensing of professional dog trainers. Although the bill was created without any involvement by CCPDT, it incorporated CCPDT certification as a requirement for licensure. This bill was dead in December 2020.