There is no single all-encompassing state or national license or dog trainer certification that an individual must earn to become a dog trainer. Any credentialing that a trainer carries is purely optional. Trainers possess a wide range of formal education and hands-on experience, and implement a variety of handling methods and tools. It is ultimately up to you to deduce if a particular trainer is the right fit to help you and your dog. There are many ways to go about sussing out a dog trainer, but the particular credentials a trainer carries can be very informative if you know what it took to “earn” them and what they mean.
It should be noted that well-qualified trainers may opt to not carry any credentials at all, relying instead on experience or the obedience titles their dogs or clients’ dogs have earned. In addition to credentialing, some other ways you can research a prospective trainer are to do a thorough review of a trainer’s website if they have one, including watching videos, and reading their blog and any client testimonials; sign up for a free consultation (if they offer one), observe a group class if they perform them, or at the very least ask a few well-crafted questions.
Because I truly want you to have a successful training experience for the sake of your dog and your family, I’m going to provide the best general guidelines I can filtered for different criteria, one of which might describe your needs.
These recommendations are based on my research of the three primary optional trainer credentialing organizations (APDT, NADOI, and IACP) that are profiled in more detail below and may not accurately represent individual trainers in some cases. If you’re curious as to how I arrived at these general guidelines, please be sure to review the rest of the blog post!
If you need…
…A trainer of a certain experience level that has proven expertise and/or are more interested in getting training and behavior modification results regardless of specific training tool or technique:
Best: NADOI “Certified” or “Provisional” level member; IACP “Professional” level member with an additional CDT or CDTA credential
Okay: IACP “Associate” level member (additional credential CPT, CDT, or CDTA is even better); APDT “Professional” level member (CPDT-KA)
…A trainer particularly qualified in teaching people and/or instructing a group class:
Best: NADOI “Certified” or “Provisional” level member
Okay: APDT “Professional” level member (CPDT-KA)
*APDT does not receive the “best” rating because there is equal emphasis placed on Learning Theory and Instruction in the CCPDT test.
…A trainer that uses only Positive Reinforcement (rewarding “good” behavior) and Negative Punishment (ignoring unwanted behavior or removing a reward), and avoids the use of tools designed to be able to provide effective Positive Punishment or a “correction” (e.g. choke chain, prong collar, head-halter, no-pull harness, or e-collar):
Best: APDT “Professional” level member (CPDT-KA)
Okay: APDT “Full” level member
…A trainer with the ability and willingness to use a wide variety of tools, including those used to provide a correction, and the full spectrum of feedback (all four Operant Conditioning quadrants) based on what obtains the best training or behavior results:
Best: NADOI “Certified” or “Provisional” level member or IACP “Professional” level member with the CPT, CDT, or CDTA credential
Okay: IACP “Associate” level member (ideally with the CPT, CDT, or CDTA credential)
…A trainer who is able to resolve tough behavior problems like anxiety and aggression:
Best: IACP “Professional” level member with the CDTA or CPT credentials
Okay: IACP “Professional” or “Associate” level member (ideally with the CDT or CPT credentials); NADOI “Certified” or “Provisional” level member
*APDT is excluded from this category because of their explicit and implied restrictions on training tools and handling approach. For serious behavior issues that could have life or death consequences for a dog, it’s imperative to be open to all tools and approaches.
…A trainer that has the potential to get a different or better training result than has previously been achieved with your dog:
Figure out what credentials your previous trainer, instructor, or behaviorist possessed and then look for a trainer or instructor that possesses credentials from a different organization.
…A trainer that will be effective in dealing with puppy-related issues (effective socialization, crate and potty-training, chewing in dogs up to 4 months of age)
Best: IACP “Professional” or “Associate” level member (ideally with the additional CDTA, CDT, or CPT credential), NADOI member
Okay: APDT “Professional” level member (CPDT-KA)
*Though trainers differ quite a bit when it comes to training adult dogs and dogs with behavior issues, most trainers agree on most issues pertaining to puppies. At this stage, it’s a matter of deciding what type of training you wish to progress to later on with your dog, one based in balance with many tools at your disposal, or one based in limited feedback and available tools, and start with a trainer that you can potentially continue to work with later on. Which direction you choose may relate to the breed or temperament of your puppy.
Disclaimers: The recommendations above are predicated on the idea that trainers are honestly meeting the organization’s Code of Conduct and membership qualifications. Trainer credentials should only be one aspect you consider among many as you research different dog trainers.
Dog Trainer Optional Membership Organizations & Trainer Certification
Following, is a brief summary and a few highlights of membership guidelines, position statements, and codes of conduct.
- APDT (and by affiliation, the CCPDT) is closely tied and allied with animal behaviorists and animal behavior societies based on “behaviorist” credentials they’ll accept for automatic qualification as a Professional level member.
- APDT promotes what they call “dog friendly” training, a term which they have defined in a Position Statement to mean the use of positive reinforcement and negative punishment to effectively train dogs (presumably, absent positive punishment and negative reinforcement, the other two quadrants in the Operant Conditioning learning model). APDT mentions “numerous scientific studies” but does not specifically cite any in particular to support their position and definition.
- Interestingly (in light of their strong position about “dog friendly” training), the APDT does not state outright their support or opposition to e-collars, prong collars, or choke chains within their numerous position statements, although these tools would be used to administer positive punishment and negative reinforcement. One might infer that they are opposed to these tools based on the position that an acceptable level of training can be attained with only positive reinforcement and negative punishment, which do not require the use of a corrective device.
- The certifying body for APDT Professional membership (CPDT-KA credential) is the CCPDT. Their 250-question multiple-choice test weighs subject matter as follows: Instruction Skills 32%, Learning Theory 32%, Ethology 20%, Equipment 7%, Animal Husbandry 6%, Business Practices and Ethics 3%. This gives good insight into the emphasis the CCPDT, and by extension the APDT, place on different areas of the body of dog trainer knowledge. For example, we can see that demonstrating an understanding of learning theory (32% of test questions) is far more important than demonstrating an understanding of how to effectively identify and use different pieces of training equipment (7% of test questions), further demonstrating how closely allied the APDT is with the field of animal behaviorism as opposed to animal training.
- NADOI places an emphasis on dog obedience instructors, meaning the professional has shown to be able to teachpeople effectively, in addition to demonstrating proficiency as a dog trainer. (APDT also emphasizes “instruction” as evidenced per the CCPDT exam. However, NADOI’s standards are more stringent than APDT’s.)
- NADOI is the only organization that is exclusive to dog trainers/instructors, and that requires a minimum level of expertise for their lowest level membership (Provisional). The other organizations will take a person’s money without requiring proof of any expertise at their entry level membership option. NADOI is also the least-expensive group to be affiliated with.
- NADOI states that they endorse the expertise of the trainer based on their ability to achieve positive training results, regardless of tool or method. “NADOI is strongly opposed to cruel or unnecessarily harsh training methods. It is, however, the position of NADOI that the humaneness of equipment and training methods is dependent upon the skill and knowledge of individual trainers and that limitation or restriction regarding the use of certain equipment or training methods is detrimental to the purpose of and goal of NADOI.”
- IACP generally positions themselves as a group that is open and accepting of all approaches and tools, stating “The IACP advocates the education of canine professionals and the public in the correct, humane use of all training tools.”
- IACP and APDT mix up dog trainers with other dog professionals such as pet product suppliers, groomers, etc. However, IACP is the only organization that allows non dog-trainers to attain its highest membership level, which could be misleading to a consumer.
Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT)
Membership Qualifications Overview
|Professional||$150.00||Part or full time dog trainer that has met the following: 300 + hours of class instruction, high school diploma, 3 letters of reference, passed the 250-question multiple choice test administered by the CCPDT ($385.00)** (which earns the credential “CPDT-KA”) or a behavioristwith one of these credentials: ACAAB, CAAB, CABC, CCAB, CDBC, DACVB. Sign and support the APDT Mission Statement and Code of Professional Conduct*|
|Full||$100||Part or full time dog trainer, animal behaviorist, or dog training educational personnel. Sign and support the APDT Mission Statement and Code of Professional Conduct *|
|Associate||Open to anyone who has an interest in the field of dog training, e.g., suppliers of goods and services, and related professions. Sign and support the APDT Mission Statement and Code of Professional Conduct *|
Full member logo (Associate members use an “Associate” logo)
Note the designation “Full” to identify the individual’s membership level
Professional member logo
Note the designation “Professional” to identify the individual’s membership level.
National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI)
Membership Qualifications Overview
|Certified||$45||5+ years experience in dog obedience training, 2+ years as full-charge instructor, worked with minimum 100 dogs, group instructors minimum of 104 class hours taught, private trainers minimum of 288 hours taught, submission of entrance exam consisting of extensive written exam and DVD ($75)* and signed the Standards of Conduct and Code of Ethics**|
|Provisional||$45||Provisional membership may be offered to instructors who lack the requisite instructing experience and are otherwise qualified as per the provisional entrance exam, 2+ years obedience training, submission of entrance exam consisting of extensive written exam ($75)* and signed the Standards of Conduct and Code of Ethics**|
|All members may use the NADOI logo, but provisional members must indicate they are “provisional” level.|
International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP)
Membership Qualifications Overview
|Professional||$100||5+ years experience as a “practicing canine professional,” two professional references, recent photo, copy of business card, sign code of conduct*. Member has the option to complete the “certified dog trainer” exam** to earn additional credentialing|
|Associate||$75||Under 5 years experience as a “practicing canine professional,” two professional references, recent photo, copy of business card, sign code of conduct*, or graduate from National K9 School for Dog Trainers. Member has theoption to complete the “certified dog trainer” exam** to earn additional credentialing|
|Affiliate||$50||Individual has an active interest in making a career within the Canine Profession but does not yet have the experience to qualify for acceptance as an Associate or Professional Member. This category applies to apprentices, students, trainees, volunteers, and devotees of all canine-related occupations.|
Associate Member Logo
Note the designation “Associate” to identify the individual’s membership level.
Professional Member Logo
Note the designation “Professional” to identify the individual’s member level.
Dog Trainer Schools
Dog trainer schools are another form of optional credentialing.
National K-9 School for Dog Trainers (Columbus, OH) issues the credential “CPT” (Certified Professional Trainer): The National K-9 School for Dog Trainers is granted the authority to issue professional certification by the Ohio State Board of Career Colleges and Schools.
Triple Crown Academy (Austin, TX) issues the credentials “CTS” (Canine Training Specialist) or “CTBS” (Canine Training & Behavior Specialist) Triple Crown Academy for Professional Dog Trainers, Inc. is a licensed school, approved and regulated by the Texas Workforce Commission, Career Schools and Veterans Education Section, Austin, Texas.
Michael Ellis School for Dog Trainers (Fairfield, CA) does not issue certification.
That’s My Dog E-cademy (Dubuque, IA) does not issue certification.
Animal Behavior College (online correspondence course) issues the credential “ABC” (Animal Behavior College)