The very first trainer I took classes from was selected based on the suggestion of a friend of the family (and their “recommendation” of me to the trainer to shadow him). I didn’t ask about methods, qualifications, background–nothing; I blindly signed my sweet dog up for classes. The first class had me fitting a choke chain around my dog’s neck and the rest is history. If I had only asked questions and sat in on a class, I may have saved my dog from 7 weeks of painful corrections. With how confusing the world of dog training can be, I figured it may be helpful to talk a bit about the dog training profession and how I go about choosing a trainer.
There are no foolproof ways to make sure you are hiring a great trainer, but there are certainly things you can do to increase the likelihood that your experience will be a positive one. The first part is to be knowledgeable about the profession–if you know a bit about organizations, certification, certification programs, and required skills (or lack there of) it sets you up to be more successful choosing a trainer.
Probably the first thing to know is that there is no one governing body for dog trainers. There are also no mandatory certifications, skills, or proof of knowledge required. Any Joe Schmoe can call themselves a dog trainer even if they’ve never interacted with a dog before. Joe can print up business cards on his printer and hand them out like candy and it’s all perfectly acceptable. Joe isn’t required to hold insurance, Joe isn’t required to have a special license or registration, and many “Joes” don’t even officially register their businesses in the state in which they operate.
Another thing to be aware of is that there are many many “certification programs” and they run the gambit from worthwhile to nearly worthless. Honestly, when evaluating a trainer to hire, there are very few training certification programs that make me more likely to hire someone. Some of the training schools that I will take into account when evaluating a trainer are Karen Pryor Academy, The Academy for Dog Trainers, and Pat Miller Certified Trainer–I feel that these programs generally produce graduates that are really knowledgeable and have a solid grasp of important skills. Unfortunately, most of the other programs produce a large number of sub-par trainers (there are some quality trainers that come out of these programs, but they are in the minority) and aren’t worth too much in terms of evaluating potential trainers.
Besides the certification programs, there are professional organizations that support dog trainers and organizations that certify them (the difference between an organization that certifies trainers and a certification program is that the program is like a college that is teaching the students but an organization that certifies is simply testing the skills). Some organizations simply require payment, while others require testing and/or skill assessment. I am a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT)–this association has an incredible amount of professional development, supports the profession, and provides a listing of trainers. To be a member I simply had to pay my dues. It was originally supposed to be for positive reinforcement trainers but it can no longer be trusted for that purpose. There is, however, a new organization that is very closely guarded and only allows positive reinforcement trainers access. Truly Dog Friendly is a great place when searching for a positive reinforcement trainer–the downside is that they do not have the same quantity of trainers listed and there are plenty of positive trainers not on that list.
Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers is an organization (I’d consider it the main organization) that offers a certification for dog trainers. To gain the Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT) designation (there are several different levels of certification), trainers must have had a certain number of hours of instruction as a head trainer for group classes or as a private trainer, they have to pass a written exam to show they have the required knowledge (CPDT-KA), and have their skills assessed by another certified trainer (CPDT-KSA– knowledge and skills assessed). I am finishing up the required hours for the CPDT certification and will pay a fee to take the test soon.
There are a large number of trainers who are self-taught that are very skilled and extremely knowledgeable, but who do not feel the desire to become “certified” for any number of reasons. I am pursuing certification because I think it shows a commitment to my field and a level of professionalism but there are many great trainers who don’t. So it’s important to look beyond the letters that come after a trainer’s name.
Stay tuned, next week I’m going to explain my process of selecting a trainer and what I suggest for others.
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