Trainer, Consultant, Behaviorist: What Do These Titles Mean?
After having a rather interesting online exchange with a young lady who referred to herself as a behaviorist, I feel I should quickly address some confusion between the term 'dog trainer', 'behavior consultant', 'dog behaviorist' and all the acronyms related to training. Although she had quite a few years of shelter volunteer work with dogs, this woman had little practical knowledge of dog training, learning theory, anatomy, neurology, or ethology. She may have had a lot of practical experience and developed techniques that worked, but she couldn't explain why they work or any supporting science to support her claims that her techniques worked. It wasn't until a few emails later that I discovered her scholastic experiences were "reading all of Cesar Milan's books."
To your average person, this terminology doesn't matter. To people in the training/behavior fields, it matters quite a bit. The most accurate description for what I do is 'certified dog trainer' or 'credentialed dog trainer'. Occasionally clients or friends refer to me as a 'behaviorist'. It's flattering, but I am about four years and $40,000 away from that designation. A dog behaviorist is a Certified Canine Behavior Consultant who has their Ph.D in psychology, sociology, zoology, or biology or their veterinary medical doctorate. There are less than 70 behaviorists in the United States.
A dog trainer can be anyone who has taken a class or set of courses on dog training, has apprenticed or worked with a trainer. Quite honestly, anyone who says they are a trainer is a trainer. Affiliation with Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) is not a credential. The APDT is a professional organization. Membership is available to anyone in the dog training, grooming, day care, or vet profession for $150 a year. Sometimes uncredentialed trainers appear to use 'APDT' in their professional names, such as "Suzy Snowflake, APDT" or "Joey Sunshine, Member APDT". I'm not sure why they feel the need to do that. ( For the record, my personal feeling is either be confident with your knowledge and experience, or get the actual credentials. Don't fake it.)
A certified dog trainer is nationally credentialed and has certification through Council of Certified Pet Dog Trainers (CCPDT). Designations are CPDT (certified prior to '08) or CPDT-KA (Knowledge Assessed) or CPDT-KSA (Knowledge Skills Assessed). Applicants must have 500 hours of relevant dog experience, 300 of which need to be teaching classes as a head instructor or private lessons. They must also include written references from a dog professional, vet, and client. They must pass a 250 question exam that covers husbandry (health/anatomy, breeding/gestation, tools used for grooming/handling), dog learning theory, human learning theory, ethology (study of evolution as a species), ADA law, and dog classroom management. You must re-certify every six years and do 30 hours of CCPDT approved continued education credits every two years.
A certified behavior consultant is certified through either the CCPDT or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC). The official designation for a dog behavior consultant is Certified Canine Behavior Consultant --CCBC.
To be certified with the IAABC, applicants must have a minimum of 3 years and 1500 hours of relevant experience: 500 hours of coursework and 1000 hours with the animals in a behavioral capacity. They must apply and produce three written references and once application is accepted, they must submit 3 client case studies which are peer reviewed. Once certified, they must show proof of 30 hours of IAABC approved continued education credits every two years.
To be certified with the CCPDT, applicants must have 500 hours in canine behavior consulting on fear, phobias, compulsive behaviors, anxiety and aggression within the previous five (5) years OR a Master’s Degree or Doctorate in psychology, social work, a biological sciences field, or a life sciences field with three hundred (300) hours in canine behavior consulting on fear, phobias, compulsive behaviors, anxiety and aggression within the previous three (3) years. They must provide five references: one from a veterinarian, one from a colleague, one from a client, and two more from any of the three categories. After the application is accepted, they must complete a 250-question exam.
I am currently applying to take the CCBC exam with the CCPDT as well as writing my case studies to qualify for the IAABC designation as well. I will keep you updated on my progress with that testing as I go along. Believe me, when I qualify and pass, I will be shouting it from the rooftops.
Until then, I'm happy to be just a credentialed dog trainer.
After matching dogs with families as an adoption counselor and working with shelter dogs on socialization and basic obedience, Melissa realized one of the best ways to keep dogs out of rescues was to help restore the original spirit that caused dogs to bond with humans in the first place.
Melissa has been working with dogs since 2005 helping owners and dogs learn how to communicate with each other to better facilitate training and reduce the stress in their lives. Her methods are based on current research and tends to avoid dominance theory or other techniques with a limited view on dog's behavior. She received her CPDT-KA credentials in spring of 2011.
When her life hasn't gone to the dogs, Melissa volunteers for the National Disaster Animal Rescue Team, helping with emergency animal sheltering during natural disasters, puppy mill raids, and hoarding and criminal neglect or abuse cases.