Trainer Certifications

What Do All Those Letters After Everyone's Names Mean?

When you use the APDT Trainer Search, you will see a variety of degrees and certifications listed after our members' names. This page is a helpful guide to understand what these mean.

One thing that's important to know when looking for a trainer is that there are many ways that one can become a professional dog trainer. Some trainers have apprenticed for some period of time with an experienced trainer before branching out on their own. Some have special schooling, such as higher degrees from colleges and universities in animal behavior, or schooling at online vocational programs that may be combined with a hands-on mentoring component. Others came into the profession through working in animal shelters or competing in dog sports and competition. It is not unusual to come to the profession through a combination of experiences both experiential and educational.

Be aware that not all certifications are the same.

There is no required certification or licensing to become a professional dog trainer or behavior counselor. Certification, while not mandatory, does however imply that a trainer takes his or her profession seriously and is dedicated to continuing their professional growth and education for the benefit of their human and canine clients. Be aware that not all certifications are the same. Some trainers are "certified" by the school that they took their educational program through whereas others are certified through independent certifying bodies that are not affiliated with any particular school or program. So a "certified trainer" could be someone who simply took a two-week course on training or someone who has studied dog training and behavior extensively for years and was independently tested on their knowledge and skills. The term "certification" is widely used incorrectly in the field and most certifications are in fact certificate programs. This does not mean that certificate programs are bad and many of them are quite good, but the dog owner should be aware that the term means many different things in this field.

Dog Training and Behavior Certifications and Certificates: What's the Difference?

Certificate Programs are educational programs designed to teach you a certain set of skills or knowledge. Upon successful graduation from the program, you receive a certificate, which is also often known as a certification. Examples of certificate programs include the Karen Pryor Academy, Animal Behavior College, San Francisco SPCA, and more. The main focus of a certificate program is education and the educational process begins and ends with the program (from enrollment through graduation.) Some may also require additional CEUs upon graduation.

A Certification has a different focus – that of assessing skills and/or knowledge. Certifications are run by organizations that are independent of the actual educational process and their sole goal is determining if you meet a set of criteria demonstrating the attainment of a level of skill/knowledge. A certification is designed to show that you have met a set of standard skills/knowledge in your profession. In order to maintain a certification, further education from independent organizations is required, usually in the form of Continuing Education Units (CEUs).  Examples of certifications are the CPDT-KA (Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers) and the CDBC (International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants).

For an excellent discussion of the differences between certificate programs versus certification, visit the CFRE web site here.

When a dog trainer claims they are certified by a school or organization, a good way to assess their background and experience is by looking at what is required by the certifying or graduating school or organizations. When you review the designations list below, you can click on the associated URL for each to learn more about their individual process.

A Note About Animal Behaviorists: A Note About Animal Behaviorists: Many persons employed in the dog training field use the title "behaviorist" incorrectly. While there is no legal standard, it is generally accepted in the industry that a behaviorist is someone who has a graduate degree. An Associate Certified or Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist is a behaviorist who is certified through the The Animal Behavior Society.

Certifications On the APDT Trainer Search

When using the APDT Trainer Search, only certifications that meet the industry standard criteria for a certification will appear next to a trainer's name on the initial search. The following certifications are listed below:


Listed below are all of the possible designations you will find listed after our members' names in the APDT Trainer Search. We are providing a listing of these for the consumer to gather more information when looking for a trainer or behavior consultant. Appearance on this list does not imply any endorsement of the schools or programs from the APDT.

Please Note: The APDT does not recognize or endorse any of the following degrees and designations. We listed them on this page as a consumer education resource.