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"ABCDEFG...What?: Unraveling the Meaning Behind Dog Training Certifications"

Finding a qualified dog trainer is crucial if you want to successfully train your furry friend. But how can you and your pal determine which one is best? A trainer's credentials (or lack thereof) might be an indicator of their level of knowledge and dedication to their field. In this article, we'll discuss the various credentials that dog trainers can get and offer advice on how to choose one that best suits your needs.

Let's just jump in! If you've looked at my "About" section, you will see that I am (obviously) biased on some of these. After I earned my first accreditation (CTC) I couldn't make heads or tails of all the other post-nominals out there, so I did what anyone else would do, I decided to work my way through the accreditation to get a better understanding of what they mean.

It is good to note that there is a difference between a "dog trainer" and a "behavior consultant"; these are also very different from a 'behaviorist" .

There can be an entire blog on this alone (most likely there will be), but for now, something short.

Dog trainer: teach basic behaviors, manners, and some advanced behaviors; perhaps specialize in something like agility.

Behavior Consultant: These people are also trainers but then go deeper into the more challenging situations, such as working with separated related behaviors, anxiety, or dogs showing aggressive behaviors. A behavior consultant dedicates their education to a comprehensive understanding of dog cognition, ethology, and applied behavior analysis. Collaborating closely with veterinary behaviorists is common in their practice.

It's important to note that obtaining certification as a dog trainer doesn't automatically confer the title of behavior consultant, even though many trainers may handle behavior cases. While certified behavior consultants often hold dog trainer certification, this is not universally the case.

Behaviorist: You might encounter individuals promoting themselves as dog behaviorists, a title that carries connotative credibility for their skills. In the United States, the term is ideally reserved for board-certified veterinary behaviorists (DACVB) or certified applied animal behaviorists (CAAB). Certified behavior consultants in the U.S. often refrain from adopting the title of behaviorists, recognizing it as a high-level designation and aiming to show respect for those who have invested substantial time and effort in earning advanced degrees.

If you're considering hiring a trainer who identifies as a behaviorist, it's crucial to research their education and background in applied animal behavior, as well as any professional certifications they may hold. Given the lack of regulation in the dog training industry, exercising due diligence is essential to safeguarding the relationship and bond you share with your dog.

There are just so many accreditations out there, so here are just a few to start with, and I'll do part two with more later.

Jean Donaldson's Academy for Dog Trainers (CTC)

Jean Donaldson's Academy for Dog Trainers is renowned for its comprehensive curriculum and rigorous training standards. Graduates of this program are highly skilled and well-prepared to address a wide range of canine behavior issues.

I LOVED my experience going through Jean's schooling and just can't speak highly enough of it. Two years of pretty intense work and lots of VERY intense testing Jean does not let just anyone into the program, and you need to prove you know what you are doing to get out of it with those CTC (Certified Trainer and Counselor) letters.

Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA-CTP)

Trainers with KPA-CTP certifications have completed a program developed by renowned animal trainer Karen Pryor. This certification focuses on positive reinforcement training methods and is highly regarded in the industry.

I am not a KPA but with all of the KPA trainers I have met, I have been so happy with our connection, their competence, and their commitment to well-being and welfare.


CPDT-KA, short for Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed, is one of the most widely recognized certifications in the dog training realm. Issued by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers, it's a third-party validation, meaning the council operates independently of any paid education or training.

This certification isn't a typical study program; instead, you showcase your canine expertise by logging in hundreds of hours working with dogs and acing a test. Once you pass, you proudly earn your CPDT-KA post-nominals.

Maintaining your CPDT-KA status involves taking classes, reporting them, and renewing every three years. The CCPDT organization emphasizes a code of ethics and adopts the Least Intrusive Minimally Aversive (LIMA) standard. However, it's worth noting that they've faced criticism, including from yours truly, for admitting trainers who don't strictly adhere to LIMA, opting for aversive methods without consequences.

Despite the critiques, I'm still part of this organization. However, it's essential to exercise caution, as being a CPDT doesn't guarantee an evidence-based and compassionate approach from every trainer. Buyers beware, indeed.


Introducing PCT-A and PCBC-A, prestigious certifications offered by the Pet Professional Guild's Accreditation Board.

Commencing with PCT-A, an acronym denoting Professional Canine Trainer (Accredited), it signifies the second-highest tier of certification. Prior to this level, individuals have the option to pursue the CTT-A designation, which stands for Canine Training Technician (Accredited). Both certifications necessitate the fulfillment of specific criteria, encompassing hands-on training hours, professional references, the completion of continuing education credits, and the submission of comprehensive videos and case studies.

Conversely, PCBC-A, the apex accreditation among the three, represents Professional Canine Behavior Consultant (Accredited). Aspiring individuals seeking this accolade must demonstrate a requisite number of hands-on training hours in group or private settings, secure references from industry professionals, showcase an ongoing commitment to education, provide evidence of business insurance, and submit thorough case studies and videos, among other stipulated requirements. These certifications epitomize a commitment to excellence in the domains of canine training and behavior consulting.

This organization also has rigorous standards and practices and takes its governing responsibility much more seriously than other organizations.


The Victoria Stilwell Academy for Dog Training and Behavior awards its graduates the VSA-CDT first-party certification. They provide a variety of courses, both in-person hybrid and online-only, focusing on essential training methods that center around positive reinforcement, learning theory, and addressing common behavior issues.


Family Dog Mediation®, represents a contemporary addition to the realm of professional dog training and behavior consulting. Crafted by Kim Brophey, an applied ethologist and certified dog behavior consultant, this certification program delves into the underlying reasons behind dog behavior. Brophey introduces the L.E.G.S.® model, encompassing learning, environment, genetics, and self, to provide a comprehensive framework for comprehending dog behavior. This model aims to reshape our approach to dog training and behavior modification on a broader scale.

I have taken this course and have enjoyed aspects of it. Keep in mind that this is something that has simple tests and no hands-on component.

OK, I think that is more than enough of the different accreditations. There will be a second blog to explain more post-nominals out there.

If you have any questions about this, feel free to leave a comment or reach out to Kristine Adams of Woof Wisdom dog training and behavior consultations:

Thank you for reading and happy training!

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