Choosing knowledgeable and skilled professionals for any required service is a good idea. This is no different with dog trainers. However, professionals such as electricians and plumbers have standardized certifications and licensing requirements. This is not the case with dog professionals.
In the United States, licensing and certification for dog professionals vary by state and county. Some places offer licensing and certification. Others don’t. Whether there is a professional standard in your state or county, there will most likely be qualified, skilled dog professionals.
Counties that do register dog professionals simply issue licenses to do business.
As of the writing of this article, there are no prerequisites to apply for a license as a dog professional in most licensing counties in the United States. So, at this point, a professional dog training license holds no meaning in most parts of the country.
This can change in the future, but for now, this is a big difference from many other professions where licensing requires training, and certification holds meaning.
Dog Trainer Schools and Certifications
You might have seen “certified dog trainer” ads and business cards. Just as there are no standards for licensing dog professionals in the U.S., there are also no standards for certifications. Yes, you read this correctly. There is no national or state standard for dog trainer certifications anywhere in the United States.
Various dog trainer schools have created their curriculum and designed graduation certificates for their students. Any person who attends one of these schools and graduates is granted a certification. They can then call themselves “certified dog trainer.” That doesn’t mean they are skilled trainers, nor does it mean they are unskilled. It only means tuition was paid to that school, a class was attended and completed, and a certificate was printed. Whether those graduates are capable depends on the school’s curriculum, testing, and interest in continued and supplemental education.
Unfortunately, many dog trainer schools (including the largest and best well-known) have a predominantly theoretical curriculum with hardly any hands-on experience. Anyone who thinks they can learn how to be a great dog trainer in a classroom alone is kidding themselves.
You are out of luck if you count on dog training certification and licensing standards to help you find a qualified dog trainer. But please check our article on Hiring a Dog Trainer for a list of meaningful certifications. These can serve as a starting point in your search.
Professional Dog Trainers
This is exemplified by some of the best trainers and behavioral experts in the United States and worldwide. In any field of dog training, the best of the best tend to all have one thing in common—none of them ever attended a dog trainer school.
They learned from other trainers, working “hands-on” with dogs for hundreds or thousands of hours, and learned to understand the nature of dogs, how they function, how they learn, and how to motivate them.
To become great when working with animals means to keep learning, keep an open mind, never be tied down by any random, people-invented method, and never advocate or follow a one-size-fits-all approach.
While there are many similarities and consistencies among all dogs, there are significant differences between individual dogs and many breeds. For example: If a dog is not food motivated, trying to train it to sit down with a treat won’t work. That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the dog. Trying to bribe it with food is the wrong approach for training.
However, if that’s all a trainer knows, they might use the excuse that the dog is not trainable. This is nonsense. Every dog is trainable—regardless of age or breed! Yes, every dog is trainable, regardless of age or breed. You just need to be realistic in your goals.
If you have a little pug and would like it to become a police dog, that’s probably not going to work. That breed is not physically capable of doing the things required in that line of work, and last time I checked, the police weren’t using pugs. But it can certainly learn to sit, come, stay, lie down on command or fetch the newspaper from the driveway in the morning.
By understanding a dog’s breed and genetic predispositions and identifying its motivations, any dog is trainable to the maximum of its potential. The more experience and knowledge a dog trainer has, the more they will be able to make your dog the best version of itself.
The theoretical, visual, and practical exams are rigorous, and every graduate has to earn them by demonstrating skill and knowledge; the failure rate is significant. It is a meaningful standard in an ocean of meaningless certifications.
We are located in Southern California and train dogs nationwide. Happy Dog Training currently offers local dog training services in the following counties. Riverside County, Orange County, San Bernardino County, Los Angeles County, and San Diego County. In addition, we offer our board-and-train program nationwide and all virtual training services worldwide.
Do you want your new puppy trained right from the start? Are you looking for help for your fearful dog? Do you need to resolve a severe aggression problem? You came to the right place! We are experienced, professional dog trainers. Ralf has trained over 1500 dogs in over 18 years, and Sarah has trained over 1200 dogs in over 11 years. Consequently, we can help you with any dog training goal.
We can help you, regardless of your dog's challenges or training goals. Being a professional dog trainer means having experience, knowledge, and skill. Further, we developed a highly effective training program to specifically help fearful dogs gain more confidence and become the best possible version of themselves. Building Confidence is our second most popular training program.
Last but not least, we are experts in dealing with all types of aggression in dogs and are often the trainers of last resort after many other programs have failed. Most of our aggressive dog clients previously spent significant money on half-baked solutions without much improvement. This is different from us. We will give you an honest assessment of what goals are realistic for your dog. We will tell you what can be resolved reliably and what likely needs to be managed before we start.
Happy Dog Training is the pet dog training business of Ralf Weber and Sarah Gill. We are certified professional dog trainers in Southern California. We are specialized in advanced obedience training, all forms or behavioral challenges and service dog training. For behavioral training, we are known for our work with aggressive and fearful dogs. Our service dogs, through Total K9 Focus, have a nationwide reputation for their reliability, longevity and performance.
Ralf Weber, MS, TWC CPDT, IACP CDT, CDTA
Certified Professional Dog Trainer Ralf Weber is lead pet dog trainer of Happy Dog Training. Ralf is a long-time dog owner of German Shepherds. During his career, Ralf has worked with over a 1500 dogs of many different breeds. Moreover, Ralf has a thorough understanding of all aspects of canine training. This includes evolutionary psychology, ethology, and, most importantly, learning science. Ralf is specialized in resolving dog behavior challenges—especially fear and aggression. Apart from this, Ralf trains dogs in basic and advanced obedience, service dog tasks, and GRC Dog Sports. Ralf is further certified in a broad range of other canine training areas. Last but not least, Ralf is the author of the behavioral book If Your Dog Could Talk: Understand Your Dog Like Never Before.
Ralf loves helping people have a better relationship with their dogs. He is a certified professional dog trainer in the Training without Conflict™ methodology by Ivan Balabanov (TWC CPDT). Ralf is also a member of the International Association of Canine Professionals and also holds their basic and advanced dog trainer certifications (IACP CDT, CDTA). In addition, Ralf is an AKC-approved evaluator for the AKC Puppy Star, CGC, and Advanced CGC programs and is also certified in canine first aid by the Red Cross.
Sarah Gill, Certified Professional Master Trainer
Sarah Gill, is a professional service dog trainer and handler. Sarah entered the world of professional service dog training after a car accident. As a result, she had to use a wheelchair for almost two years, trying to maneuver in a house not designed for it. No one expected Sarah would walk again. This opened her eyes and became a driving force behind pushing herself to defy the odds. When she regained some stability, Sarah attended a dog training school and learned how to train service dogs. Sarah completed her Master Trainer Certification and gained further experience by training new trainers. However, the school wasn’t accommodating to those with physical difficulties and PTSD. Hence, Sarah moved home to Dallas. In 2019, Sarah teamed up with Ralf and moved to California.
Sarah started this journey because she had a trained dog to mitigate her disabilities. But Sarah needed additional tasking for a new diagnosis. The only option she could find was getting a second dog for the new diagnosis. She knew there had to be a different way to address this. Sarah's passion is changing the ways of the service dog training industry.