It may seem easy to find a dog trainer, but that’s not the case. You can do a search online, ask your vet, groomer or dog-owning friend for recommendations. You may not find the right trainer for you or your pet.
A quick online search or an introduction from a friend could help you locate a good trainer. In the U.S., there are no requirements for anyone to call themselves a behaviorist or dog trainer. You plumber can start training dogs tomorrow, even if he has no prior experience.
Referred trainers may or may not be familiar with the latest and best dog training practices. They may or may not use humane, safe, and effective training methods.
I am a dog trainer and I want to share how I find a good trainer for my dogs.
Find the best candidates for your training
Searching in trainer directories is most effective when you are looking for professional organizations with education requirements that hold their members or students to reasonable standards.
Professionals who are concerned about maintaining high standards in the field of training and behavior pursue continuing education, membership and certification through dog-training companies and organizations. We prefer professionals who are certified by organizations which support and promote dog friendly training. This includes all the organizations listed in the “Recommended Dog Trainer Certifying Organisations” sidebar below.
Find a Dog Trainer
You’ll still need to research the professional to ensure that they are suitable.
Look at the website of your candidate. Examine the website and read the information. While certification organizations try to ensure members adhere to their mission and ethical standards, this is not always the case. You should not hire a trainer if you see pictures of dogs wearing shock or prong collars.
Check out their social media accounts (Facebook Instagram TikTok). Confirm that the photos and videos are in line with your philosophy of force-free training. Read several entries on their blog. Find and read their articles in publications. Find and read at least one of their books. Be sure to read and understand everything that you come across.
Interview with the Trainer
Interview the trainers or staff. You should be able to ask them any questions you have about their training philosophy and methods. After all, they will be responsible for the well-being of your dog. Prepare your questions before calling and don’t hesitate to ask more during the conversation.
These are some questions I would recommend asking a potential trainer:
What is your training and experience? How long have worked in the field? What is your educational background and what are you doing for continuing education? What are your continuing education activities? What certificates do you hold? There are always new discoveries in behavioral science. What is your training philosophy? What do you do when a dog doesn’t listen or makes a mistake? What are your methods and tools? If you ask if the trainer would use “force-free” or science-based “positive-reinforcement” methods, they should answer “force-free” or “positive reinforcement”. Trainers who use such tools are not recommended. Do you guarantee results? No, this is not acceptable. Dogs are unpredictable, sentient creatures. And no professional can guarantee training results. This is the classic sign of an unethical or bad trainer.
A dog training class instructor gives instructions to a group of dog owners and their dogs.
Listen to the words of your trainer or staff when they answer questions. Recent research that looked at the websites of popular trainers revealed that those who employ aversive techniques are more likely than others to use phrases such as “pack leader,” Mother Nature,” “electronic” collar, or “e-collar,” and may even brag about their “balanced approach.”
Force-free trainers, on the other hand, tend to use positive reinforcement and support food as a training tool. They also call “electronic” collars by their proper name, shock collars, and don’t even use them.
Ask to observe a class after speaking to the trainer or staff. Do not rely on buzzwords, but ensure that the trainer uses force-free methods. Trainers who are “balanced”, or use both aversive and positive training, have discovered that the term “positive reward” has marketing value and use it to attract customers. If they mixed treats with yanks of the leash, we’d be on guard.
Ask for references. A good trainer will be happy to provide you with contact information of past clients that can attest to the quality of their work. Do not just look at the trainers; you should call or email a few to make sure they were happy with their experience.
Recommended Organizations for Dog Trainer Certification
These organizations have specific requirements regarding education and experience for certification of trainers. All promote dog-friendly methods of training. Some go even further, and disapprove dog-training techniques that use force, fear, or pain.
cademy of Dog Trainers
The Academy for Dog Trainers was created by Jean Donaldson, author of The Culture Clash, a groundbreaking book. It is a part-time, two-year online virtual university for dog trainers. The program offers education on all aspects of training dogs, dog behavior and behavior modification. Here are Academy graduates.
The nimal Behavior Society
The Animal Behavior Society certifies professionals who have advanced degrees in animal behavior and extensive experience. Here you can find Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists.
Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers
The organization’s certificants (called Certified Professional Dog Trainers, or CPDTs) must document at least 300 training hours, provide references and pass a written test. CCPDT certifies behavior specialists (CBCCs). Here you can find CPDTs as well as CBCCs.
International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
The IAABC certifies behaviorists who work with dogs, cats and horses. Here you can find Certified Dog Behavior Consults (CDBC).
Karen Pryor Academy
Karen Pryor, a former marine mammal instructor and author of the groundbreaking book Don’t Shoot the Dog (1984), launched the positive-training movement. The Karen Pryor Academy is now run by Ken Ramirez. It offers a variety of courses including the Dog Trainer Professional, which grants a Karen Pryor training partner certification. KPA CTPs can be found here.
Peaceable Paws LLC – Pat Miller Certified Trainer
I offer four levels (PMCTs) of certification for trainers that have completed Peaceable Paws Academies. These include Basic Dog Training and Behaviour, followed by academies in Behavior Modification, Cognition, and Aggression. Find PMCTs Here.
Pet Professional Accreditation Board
The Pet Professional Accreditation Board, a division of the Pet Professional Guild, offers the only Accredited Canine Trainer & Accredited Training technician certifications for professionals who do not believe that shock, chokes, prongs, pain, fear, or force should be used in dog training or behavior. Find PPAB certified individuals here.
Veterinarians who specialize in animal behavior have completed a special course of intensive study. They study the relationship between an animal’s environment, experience, and health. They are well-versed in psychotropic medication and can prescribe it when necessary. You can find veterinary behaviorists through the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists here and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior here. This latter list also includes non-veterinary PhD behaviourists.
Victoria Stillwell Academy for Dog Trainers
The Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training & Behavior, founded by the world-renowned dog trainer Victoria Stilwell educates and empowers aspiring professionals in dog training to transform the lives of both people and dogs with positive training. Here you can find VSA-CDTs, or VSA-Certified Dog Trainers.
Find the best trainer for you and your dog Whole