Dog Training Certifications – What They Really Mean

 

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

What does it mean when someone says they are a certified dog professional dog trainer? Specifically, what do all those letters after a trainer’s name mean?

First, this won’t be a complete list of all the certifications and letters. There are too many. I’m going to focus on the broader question and then the specific certifications our trainers have.

Let’s start with the bad news. Anyone can call themselves a certified dog trainer. There are no rules or laws. We can even call ourselves a dog behaviorist if we want to (see I kind of just did it). No rules. Sally Q can go to Joe Bob’s school for dog trainers, get a slip of paper (or a PDF emailed to her) and say “Boom, I’m certified.” That’s the ugly truth of dog training. We are 100% unregulated. Your vet tech needs a license. So does your hairdresser and your insurance guy. Dog trainers? Nope. Not us.

Most trainers these days pay more attention to independent certifications than they do to certificates issued by dog training schools. Karen Pryor Academy is a school. It issues the KPA-CTP (Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner). I’ve got one of those. The San Francisco SPCA Academy for Dog Trainers issued it’s own certificate. Others do, too. The certificate is only as valuable as the school that printed it and it’s only a reflection of what that school teaches (think: diploma).

Independent certifications are often more rigorous and objective. They are awarded by testing bodies rather than teaching institutions.

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) issues the Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) certifications. There is the knowledge assessed (KA) distinction and the knowledge and skills assessed (KSA) distinction. The latter means the certificant’s actual hands-on skills as a trainer have been graded.

The CCPDT does not teach classes in dog training.

Earning their certification requires:

  • 300 hours of experience
  • Recommendation from a veterinarian, behaviorist, or Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (more on what this is next)
  • Passing a 200 question multiple choice test covering – instruction skills, animal husbandry, ethology, learning theory, and training equipment.

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) issues the Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC) and Certified Cat Behavior Consultant (CCBC) certifications. They also issue other certifications not directly related to this blog piece.

The IAABC does offer courses and webinars on training and behavior but those are not required to earn certification.

Earning a CDBC or a CCBC is quite vigorous work. It requires:

  • 500 hours of experience
  • Minimum 400 hours of coursework, seminars, or mentorships
  • Familiarity with significant behavior issues including aggression
  • Three professional letters of recommendation
  • Passing an extensive exam that includes definitions of terms and concepts, analysis of behavior case scenarios, and actual case studies from the applicant. Earning my CDBC was still the hardest and most satisfying thing I’ve ever done in my professional life.

Veterinary Behaviorists are different from trainers and behavior consultants. Many (like our own Dr. Lore Haug) are also excellent trainers. However, veterinary behaviorists have the distinction of being a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine (DVM) and a Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB). They are also licensed by the state. Most folks don’t need to take their dog to a veterinary behaviorist, though we do refer clients to Dr. Haug and we also work with many of her patients.

Non-veterinary Behaviorists are often academics with a masters degree or PhD. They may or may not have a specialty in (or even an interest in) hands-on training or the practical application of behavior interventions. And remember, the terms behaviorist, animal behaviorist, and dog behaviorist are still unregulated. Anyone can use them, and a lot of those folks shouldn’t.

Michael’s Dogs Behavior Group is a team of Certified Professional Dog Trainers, Certified Dog Behavior Consultants, and a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant. Though many refer to us as behaviorists, we think of ourselves as practical trainers and educators with a specialty in behavior change. Okay, ditch the fancy talk. We are dog aggression experts. We help people who have pets with significant behavior problems. We are the ones you call when others have failed. We are the end-of-your rope I think I’ve tried everything and I need help trainers. Experience, education and certifications are so important. More important, though, is a kind human being who understands what you’re going through, someone who can help you weed through the confusion and unpredictability, someone who will listen carefully without judging you. That’s us. We aren’t here to criticize. We are here to help. And yeah, we have the letters after our name to back us up. That helps, too.

 

Michael Baugh leads Michael’s Dogs Behavior Group in Houston TX.

 

How to Choose a Dog Trainer – The Most Important Factor

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

We love our dogs. We want nothing but the best for them. And, when their behavior is troubling or even dangerous we want competent professional help.

The trouble is dog training is an unregulated profession. Lots of professions require state licenses, including exterminators, hair and nail professionals, plumbers and electricians, and veterinarians and vet techs (of course). Dog training is not on the list in any U.S. state.

We are self-regulated. Anyone can call himself or herself a dog trainer. So, what should you look for when choosing a trainer or dog behavior consultant? What’s the most important factor?

Education is certainly very important. Competent dog behavior professionals invest a lot of time and money into learning their profession. The very best engage in hours of continuing education every year. They focus on learning Applied Behavior Analysis, best practices for teaching humans and dogs, as well as dog handling skills.

Experience is great, so long as the trainer is practicing sound techniques backed by reliable behavior science. Anyone can do things wrong for a long time. Quality experience requires learning the profession well and putting it into practice effectively year after year.

Credentialing is essential. Excellent dog trainers and dog behavior consultants look to their peers for standards of excellence and accountably. This is different than winning ribbons at dog shows. While that may prove a trainer can effectively teach a number of skills to his own dog, it does not speak to how he teaches his human clients with a variety of dog behavior issues. Professional certification, however, requires that the dog behavior professional prove his or her breadth and depth of knowledge and skills. The two most honored certifications are the Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) and the Certified Dog Behavior Consultant (CDBC). Each is rigorous in its requirements to achieve and maintain.

Education, experience and credentials are all important. But, none is as key as this last factor when choosing a dog trainer or dog behavior consultant.

Transparency. Your trainer or behavior consultant should be able to answer your questions before you hire him or her. How will you treat my dog if he does something wrong? Challenge him or her to be specific. What will you do when my dog does something correctly? What training tools do you use? And yes, what is your education, experience, and what credentials have you earned? Look for clarity in the answers, offered freely and without hesitation. Qualified dog behavior professionals should have web sites rich with information and modest in their promises. Sure, a bit of marking is fine. But, we all know what it means if something sounds too good to be true. Look for authenticity. Behavior consultants and trainers who value transparency will post videos of their work. They will seek and share feedback from clients. They will write blogs about their cases; publish their knowledge; put themselves out there to see.

Excellent trainers and behavior consultants celebrate positive reinforcement learning. They are eager to teach it to you. Beware the trainer who wants to take your dog away and won’t disclose what happens behind their closed doors. Remember transparency. The dog trainer you are looking for has nothing to hide.

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston TX. He specializes in fearful and aggressive dog training.

Related video: The World Dog Trainers’ Transparency Challenge

 

 

Inside Michael’s Dogs – How We Survived 2020

Michael Baugh, Houston dog trainer
My last in-home client in March 2020

Michael Baugh CDBC CPDT-KSA

I saw my last in-person client on March 18th 2020. A week later my partner, Tim, and I had a hard talk about how long we could keep Michael’s Dogs afloat. Could we keep it afloat, period? Were we built to survive a pandemic? After all, in-home dog training and behavior consulting is close-contact work. It’s house-to-house work, in the living room work, passing treats and handing off the leash work. In other words, it’s potentially dangerous work.

My Dad was an entrepreneur. He was a child of the depression who reinvented himself more times than I can count – from hard times to good times to the best of times. He passed away in 2014. And, in those early days of April 2020 I missed him desperately. I pulled from memories and stories he shared through the years looking for inspiration – for advice – for answers. What would Dad do?

Victoria Thibodeaux had joined me in the group in January. It was just the two of us then. We talked every day that Spring. I told her that my dad had taught me that when the business is slow you work on the business. So, Victoria and I worked on the business and we worked hard – trying out ideas, taking on projects, pushing the company hard into the waves that

Jack Baugh 1924-2014

threatened to sink us. We launched online classes, including Puppy Socialization in a Time of Social Distancing and a prep course for clients working with aggressive dogs. And we started using Zoom for Live Video Consultations.

All the while, there was a voice in my heart (perhaps it was Dad) leading us back again and again to our core values. Our mission is to help people who are suffering with their dogs. The world was changing, yes. But, the mission wasn’t.

KTRH News Story: Dog Training As a Small Business – Reimagined

I’d done online dog behavior consolations before. Victoria and I literally transitioned to doing them exclusively overnight. The first one was March 19th 2020. As of this writing we’ve done over a thousand Zoom consultations and resolved scores of complicated cases start-to-finish. We’ve had clients in Houston, of course. But, our service area quickly became all of Southeast Texas and beyond. We’ve helped families with their dogs in Austin, San Antonio, Phoenix, Los Angeles, Seattle, Rural Missouri, Suburban Washington D.C., and more.

Of course, we weren’t the only ones. This was an industry-wide shift. The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) launched a campaign to provide behavior consultants with useful resources for making the transition to online work. The Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT) and The Pet Professional Guild (PPG) followed with similar efforts.

I won’t say that the pandemic has been a  good thing for any of us. As the months added up, so too did the friends, clients, and colleagues who fell ill. My niece, an intensive care nurse, got a bad case of Covid and spent a night in the hospital herself (she’s recovered). Another dear friend in the dog community has permanent complications. We’ve all suffered in some way, even if only from the isolation and the drudgery of it. But I will say this: our mission to help people and their dogs has seen us through even the hardest days.

Victoria Thibodeaux and Freddie. I haven’t seen them since March.

Some folks were hesitant about doing the training online at first. But, we’ve learned that the benefits of online dog training are actually greater than we’d imagined. We’ve been able to help more people and dogs than I ever thought possible (twice as many clients in 2020 than we helped the year before). To meet that need we added two additional certified dog behavior professionals, Erin Richardson CPDT-KA and Jeannie Seuffert CDBC, as well as an assistant, Everett Lowenstein. Hard as this year has been, it has also been the most thrilling and fulfilling year of my professional life.

Do we miss seeing our clients in person? Yes, of course. We especially miss that close contact with dogs (even the ones who appear they want to hurt us at first – haha). And, yes, we will return to that work as soon as we can. Our plan is to start seeing clients in their homes again as soon as each of us is vaccinated. But we won’t just go back to “business as usual.” This pandemic has taught us too much for that. We will continue to offer live video consulting online even after the pandemic. As I sometimes like to say, it’s not an either-or proposition. It’s a yes-and one. The benefit for clients of online dog behavior consulting is just too great to abandon it. We’ll be able to help people far beyond our boundaries, as we are now. And we’ll be able to help our local clients and their dogs more efficiently with a combination of online and in-person options.

We have learned so much these past few months. Personally, I have learned how important human connections really are both personally and professionally. I think we can all relate to that. There was a real fear that physical distancing and isolation would break those connections. But, here’s the most beautiful thing I’ve learned. Humans always find a way. We’ve been able to connect in new ways. We’ve forged new relationships. We have held close the connections that mattered most to us. And, we’ve grown even closer to the people we love.

Because that’s what we do. Turn into the storm, head high above the water, towards the rising sun and the new year ahead.

 

Michael Baugh teaches dog training in Houston, TX. He specializes in aggressive dog training.