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How Do I Chose a Trainer?

If you want to be a Cosmetologist in most states, you need a license or certification. In Florida, for example, the requirements are:

  • Prerequisites

  • At least 16 years old; High school diploma

  • Training

  • 1200 school hours; Exams

  • Instructor License

  • Attend a cosmetology school that offers a certification program

  • Renewal

  • Renew by October 31; Group 1 licenses: even-numbered years / Group 2 licenses: odd-numbered years; $55 fee

  • Reciprocity

  • Hold an active license in another state with equal requirements; Otherwise, must complete additional training hours to qualify for endorsement

  • CEUs

  • 16 board-approved CEUs for renewal

There are similar requirements in most states.1

If you want to become a Dog Trainer or Animal Behaviorist in the USA, these are the requirements:

  • Say you are a Dog Trainer

  • Or advertise that you are a Master Dog Trainer

  • Or claim you're a Dog Whisperer

  • Or announce you're a Professional Dog Trainer

  • Or proclaim you are a Dog Behaviorist

There are NO licensing requirements for dog trainers. There are no required hours of education, no continuing education, no required schooling, no exams. I'm not even going to get into the issue of board & train for dogs, and the fact that in most states there are no basic facility requirements to board a dog for training, and that there are "board and train" operations run out of people's homes, basements, barns, garages, warehouses, spare rooms, rental homes, sheds, trailers, etc.

So you see an advertisement for a dog trainer that looks like this:

"Master Dog Trainer. We will turn your dog into the pet you've always wanted, using our unique system for dog training developed through 30 years of experience. There is no dog that can not become the obedient, happy pet that you long for."

Let's break down this advertisement.

"Master Dog Trainer" - we already know there are no regulations regarding what title one can claim as dog trainer or behaviorist. Look for credentials, more on that later.

"We will turn your dog into the pet you've always wanted" - no truly qualified dog trainer would ever make this claim, because every decent trainer knows there are no guarantees. Dogs are individuals, and the Basset Hound is unlikely to be a great jogging partner, and the field bred Pointer unlikely to become a couch potato. A trainer determined to fundamentally change a dog to fulfill a promise may resort to cruel or unethical methods.

Look for statements that make clear the trainer will work WITH your dog, will HELP, will TRAIN, will TEACH. Any trainer that makes guarantees (except that they will try their best) is to be avoided.

"Using our unique system for dog training". Be wary of special or proprietary "systems", methods, or equipment. These are often simply variations of existing methodologies or equipment, many times based on magical thinking like energy or outdated theories of dominance or pack leadership. Special or proprietary equipment is often a modification of a shock or spray collar, a no-pull/no jump harness, or a startle device. Look for trainers who advertise they use science, science-based, modern, humane methods.

"developed through 30 year of experience". There is an old saying, doing the wrong thing for years is years of experience in being wrong. This is not to say that there are not wonderful trainers that have been at it for decades - of course there are. But just as a new doctor may have a better grasp of new methods, a trainer may be "stuck" in the methodologies of the past, which included the routine use of punishment. We have better ways today. Look for trainers that demonstrate they stay up-to-date on current behavioral science.

"There is no dog that can not become the obedient, happy pet that you long for." Don't we all wish this was true? Unfortunately, we know it is not. Experience and realism is what you want from a trainer, someone who can partner with you to work on what can be modified, mange what can be managed, and help you understand all your options. Above all, a good trainer will never push methods or management that are inherently cruel or reduce the quality of life for your dog. Look for a trainer who is honest about what your dog is capable of, one who is practical and compassionate.

So this leads us to the subject of credentials. There are no State issued credentials that provide for basic competence. But there are credentials you can look for, and they fall into three groups.

1) Dog training schools. Graduation from a dog training school demonstrates the trainer has put time, effort and money into the program and been offered a chance to learn. Dog training programs vary widely, some are 100% on-line, some require some in-person work, some have apprenticeship components which students must complete. If a trainer claims they are a graduate of a dog trainer program, ask them about it! Most are proud of their accomplishment and will happily detail the program they competed.

Most reputable dog training programs require graduates to maintain a regular number of Continuing Educational Units (CEUs) in order to use the program's graduate certification designation. This help ensure that the trainer is active in the training community and staying current on the science of dog training.

Some dog trainer programs you may see are: ABCDT - Animal Behavior College Certified Dog Trainer, Victoria Stilwell Academy - Certified Dog Trainers (VSA-CDT), Karen Pryor -Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP).

2) Professional Organizations. These organizations require a membership fee, often require members to adhere to a Code Of Ethics and provide access for members to conferences and seminars, as well as group chats or lists for mentoring and working on complex issues. Some professional organization memberships you might encounter are Pet Professionals Guild (PPG), the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) and International Association of Animal Behavioral Consultants (IAABC). If a trainer you're considering is a member of a professional organization, you can review the organization's Code of Ethics to understand the commitment the trainer has made.

3) Lastly there are certification organizations. These organizations do not offer a training program like a vocational school does, though they may offer membership and access to learning resources via conferences etc. There are usually various certifications that reflect different levels of professional achievement. The International Association of Animal Behavioral Consultants (IAABC ) has several levels of certification, as does the Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). Both organizations require continued acquisition of CEUs in order to maintain a certification once requirements have been met.

So, before you hire a dog trainer, do a little due diligence. How did they learn to train dogs? How do they stay current on dog training issues? Is their training philosophy one you can agree with, so that you and the trainer are on the same page about how you expect your dog to be treated? Unqualified, one-size-fits-all, outdated training can cause huge harm to your dog, and to your relationship with your dog. Take the time to make sure you get what you expect from a trainer, and what you pay for.

For a fairly complete list of acronyms you may encounter, try this article from the wonderful Whole Dog Journal .

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