5 Tips for Picking a Dog Trainer or Behaviorist


And a glossary for sorting out the initials

By KL Snyder

It’s a quick hop from here to official dog trainer. 

“Anyone can declare himself a trainer, print business cards and go into business,” says Aditi Terpstra, CPDT-KSA, owner of Urbane Animal Behavior (theurbaneanimal.com) in Winona. 

The same Wild West situation exists in the canine behavior field. Hiring a trainer
or behavior specialist is a buyer-beware activity, says Sara Reusche, CPDT-KSA, CVT, who owns Paws Abilities Dog Training (pawsabilitiesmn.com) of Rochester and the Twin Cities.

The lack of regulation allows people to use outdated and potentially harmful training methods and puts those trainers on a par with their informed counterparts who use up-to-date, science-based methods, says Deb Bahr, CVT, KPA-CTP. She and Jessica Smidt, CVT, KPA-CPT, co-own Think Positive Pets Training and Behavior (thinkpositivepets.com), Rochester.

Did you notice the letters behind the trainers’ names? The training and behavior industries abound with baffling initials. Some signify quality. Others mean little. And some excellent trainers forgo the credentials process altogether.

Still, certification by an independent agency brings assurance that the trainer or behaviorist meets specific standards and follows a code of ethics.

“The professional field of dog training is in its infancy,” Sara says, “but that doesn’t mean that we can’t hold ourselves to personal standards of excellence.”

She, Aditi, Jessica and Deb offer suggestions for finding good dog trainers and behavior experts and provide help in decoding dog training initials alphabet soup.

5 Tips

1. Ask veterinarians, veterinary technicians, pet sitters and owners of happy, well-behaved dogs for recommendations. Use the trainer-search tools at CCPDT, APDT and KPA websites (see the glossary) to find instructors in your area. Then study their websites to learn about their methods and philosophies.

AVSAB, IAABC and CAAB websites are good resources for finding canine behaviorism pros.

2.  Talk with prospective trainers. Find out how long they’ve been working, what training they’ve had, what equipment they use (clickers? pinch collars?). Do they practice positive reinforcement? Do they adapt training techniques to individual dogs’ needs?

3. Listen to their terminology. Do they use understandable terms or mystify you with pro-speak? Even though Humane Hierarchy and differential reinforcement of alternative behaviors represent a positive, science-based approach, you’re better off with a trainer who accentuates the positive AND speaks plain English.

The following expressions, signs of negative training, should set red flags flying: You have to be pack leader, punishment, alpha, show the dog who’s dominant. And if you hear alpha roll, in favor not so long ago, Aditi advises you to run for the hills.

4. Consider the class’s canines-to-teacher ratio. Aditi’s ideal is six dogs per trainer, but with an assistant, a few more dogs would be all right.

5. Observe a class. If a trainer won’t allow it, consider it a bad sign.

If a behaviorist won’t, it’s probably because the sessions are private. If you can’t watch, ask, What are your methods? Because behavior issues often stem from health issues, look for someone who works closely with a vet.

Certificate Programs vs. Professional Certification

Certificate programs provide instruction, test participants’ achievement and award certificates only to their students. The certificate doesn’t expire.

Professional certification comes from independent organizations that assess  applicants’ knowledge and skills and grant credentials to those who meet the standards. Professional certifications require continuing education and periodical renewal.

KL Snyder is a freelancer from Rochester.


Credential Alphabet Soup: A Glossary
The following initials are of good repute and rate approval from Sara, Aditi, Jessica and Deb.

ACDBC – Associate Certified Dog Behavior Consultant. See IAABC.

APDT –  Association of Professional Dog Trainers, apdt.com.

AVSAV – American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, avsav.org.

CAAB – Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists, corecaab.org.

CABC – Certified Animal Behavior Consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC).

CBCC-KA – CCPDT’s (see below) Certified Behavior Consultant.

CCPDT –  Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, ccpdt.org. An independent testing and certification group accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies.

CDBC – Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through CCPDT.

CPDT-KA – Certified Professional Dog Trainer–Knowledge Assessed.

CPDT-KSA – Certified Professional Dog Trainer–Knowledge and Skills Assessed.

CVT – Certified Veterinary Technician.

IAABC – International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, iaabc.org. IAABC provides independent certification for behavior consultants for dogs, cats, horses and parrots.

KPA-CTP – Karen Pryor Academy–Certified Training Partner. It’s the equivalent of a CPDT-KSA, Deb says. KPA’s training for trainers programs are highly regarded. karenpryoracademy.com.

The other outstanding training school for trainers is, Aditi says, Academy for Dog Trainers,