What do these certifications mean? How do I know if one certification is better than another?
These are all good questions. Certifications indicate the level of education a trainer has. Each one has a different focus. All the certifications listed below are R+, or positive reinforcement based training methods. They also reflect the Best Practices heirarchy of LIMA (Least Intrusive, Minimally Aversive).
CPDT-KA – These initials stand for Certified Pet Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed. The Council for Certification of Pet Dog Trainers (CCPDT) is an independent organization that assesses the knowledge base of an individual in the areas of teaching skills, ethology, Applied Behavioral Science and husbandry.
The certification requires 300 hours of verifiable teaching experience as a head trainer before you can even sit for the exam. The exam is given on-line in various testing locations around the country (mine was at the Keene, NH airport!). It took me 4.5 hours to complete the exam. Success is based on a passing score. It took me about two and a half years of teaching group classes to accrue enough hours to even sit for the exam.
KPA-CTP – These intials stand for Karen Pryor Academy, Certified Training Partner.
This certification is about knowledge of and application of Applied Behavioral Science in the training of domestic dogs (and other animals but primarily dogs).
From beginning to end it takes about nine months to complete. You are assigned a regional course leader who is responsible for your group of ten students.
The teaching of the course is done on-line but every two months students travel with their dogs, to their workshop location and spend two days with their fellow classmates and their course leader. Students are expected to be able to demonstrate their assignments with their dogs. Together the group runs through the principles and skills they have been responsible for up to that point .
At the end of eight months and four workshops, students must pass and on-line exam and then demonstrate assigned teaching skills. Finally they are required to pass a timed training exam with their dog at their final workshop. It must include of a minimum of ten unique behaviors in a behavior chain, with one mark and reward at the end.
The workshop parts of the test are video taped and submitted to the KPA certification team for assessment.
IAABC-CDBC – These intials stand for the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants – Certified Dog Behavior Consultant.
To become fully certified, a trainer must have a deep history of training and working with their specific species before being eligible to apply. The application includes a series of hypothetical scenarios that the applicant must diagnose and present all the possible interventions based on the available information. It also includes writing up three case studies from beginning to successful resolution that the applicant has completed. My application was 250 pages long.
This certification indicates a high level of competency in the area of diagnosing problem behaviors in dogs and in designing effective interventions to change those behaviors.
Dog trainers do not have to be licensed (yet) and anyone can print up a business card and call themselves a dog trainer. And, anyone can set up an online course, charge big bucks and at the end of of the course, issue a certification that has little value.
FFC – These intials stand for Fear Free Certified. Trainers with Fear Free Certifications are qualified to partner with veterinary practices and veterinary behaviorist practices to support animals who struggle with veterinary visits and procedures. Fear Free is a movement that is revoluntionizing veterinary practices across the country to support the animal’s emotional well being before, during and after veterinary care.
Below are three of the major certifications to look for. Most good trainers will have multiple certifications. To read more about each one, just click on it.