With an unregulated industry, it can be very difficult to know where to go as a new trainer or behavior consultant, or as a pet owner needing some help. While certifications may not be perfect, they at least provide somewhat of a level ground and give some information about the level of knowledge and experience that people may have.

My neighbor can start a business tomorrow dog training, and the next day could develop their own certification program for trainers. It’s important to know who or what group has developed a certification program, what the requirements are, assessment of requirements, if there are continuing education requirements, and also what that could mean in terms of credibility.

Certifications by third-party organizations ensure that trainers, behavior consultants, or behaviorists have a certain level of competence, a professional code of ethics, as well as some accountability built in through a recertification process.

Here are some of the third-party Certifications that I look for, as they are based on our scientific understanding of animal behavior and training. They are listed in approximate order of ease of achieving.

For each, there will be information on the eligibility requirements, as well as experiential and educational requirements. All involve either exams or applications for certification, as well as some recertification requirements.

CCPDT (Certification Council of Professional Dog Trainers)

The CCPDT offers two types of certifications, as well as two levels for each. They have a dog trainer certification program (Certified Professional Dog Trainer, CPDT) and a behavior consultant program (Certified Behavior Consultant Canine, CBCC). For both of those, there is a Knowledge Assessed (KA) and Knowledge and Skills Assessed (KSA) designation.

The CCPDT has a Board of Directors, develops their tests with subject matter experts as well as psychometric evaluation of test questions and association with the Institute for Credentialing Excellence.

For the knowledge assessment, 300 hours of experience in training or behavior consulting in the last 3 years is required. The exam consists of 200 multiple choice questions. Skills assessment include four hands-on exercises that must be completed and video recorded for evaluation. Additionally, an attestation statement from a veterinary or behavior professional is required during the application process. There are no education requirements for certification.

Applicants must sign a Standards of Practice and Code of Ethics during the application process. Continuing education credits are required for recertification.

IAABC (International Association of Behavior Consultants)

The IAABC focuses primarily on behavior consulting, and certifies based on species – Dog (CDBC), Cat (CCBC), Horse (CHBC), Parrot (CPBC), and Shelter certifications. They also have a dog trainer accreditation.

In general, the suggested experience for certification includes four years and 500 hours in behavior, as well as 400 hours in coursework, seminars, mentorships etc. Their exams are much more in depth than the CCPDT exam, and not only include questions but also provide sample scenarios where recommendations must be given as well as case studies to complete.

Three letters of reference are required for application, one from a colleague of the same profession with the same species expertise, one from a veterinarian that you work with, and one from a client. There are no education requirements.

Applicants must sign a Code of Ethics and Standards of Policy. Continuing education credits are required for certification.

CAAB (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist)

Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists are certified through the Animal Behavior Society (ABS) and have either a PhD (CAAB) or an MSc (ACAAB) in a behavior-related field. Veterinarians can also achieve CAAB certification. Requirements include a graduate degree in an appropriate field along with a minimum number of undergraduate or graduate classes in associated topics. CAABs must have 5 years of experience and ACAABs must have 3 years of experience in animal behavior. Applicants must provide references from three animal behavior professionals, one of which must be from a CAAB or ACAAB, and another from a member of the Animal Behavior Society. It is highly recommended to intern with an ACAAB or CAAB, who can in turn write a reference with appropriate knowledge of the applicant. A list of all refereed and non-refereed publications is required. Formal case studies and/or publication reprints from peer-reviewed journals that are authored by the applicant are required in the application process.

While no continuing education credits are required as with other certifications, continuing education is indirectly measured. Presentation at an Animal Behavior Society conference is required. Additionally, those seeking recertification must show evidence of contributing to and staying current with the field of applied animal behavior.

Members must also maintain professional liability insurance and show annual proof of insurance. Members must also sign a Code of Ethics.

Veterinary Behaviorist – Diplomat of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists (DACVB)

In order to become a veterinary behaviorist, a licensed veterinarian must complete 3 years of behavior-specific training under another board certified veterinary behaviorist, 200 cases of which must be completed under close supervision. Roughly 2600 hours/400 total cases are required. They must conduct behavior research and publish in a peer reviewed journal, write 3 formal peer-reviewed case reports, and pass a 2 day Board Examination. Three references must be provided.

Veterinary behaviorists can address medical as well as behavioral components to a behavior problem, as well as prescribing any required medication. While there is no formal Code of Ethics specifically for veterinary behaviorists, all veterinarians do have a Code of Ethics. Veterinarians must also have insurance.

Certificate courses

There are also many programs that provide their own training/education. Following completion of the training an exam may be required for certification. Some programs are fantastic and well-respected, while others may not have the same level of credibility. The concern with some of the programs is that the education included is typically based on one person’s experience, whereas a third party evaluation should in theory be less biased.

These programs will be covered at a later date, but some of the science-backed and well-respected ones include the Karen Pryor Academy and the Academy for Dog Trainers. Several of these certifications also require continuing education.

There are, however, many many programs designed by others, and the certifications, education, and experience may be unknown. In these cases, it’s really important to look into the people or group providing the training as well as the reputation of the program.

When looking at new programs to take as a trainer or behavior consultant, or looking into the certification that someone has, it’s important to look carefully at that program and the requirements.

If you’d like a less technical version of this to share with clients, one can be found at the Landmark Behaviour blog that is written for pet owners.