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.
Dog Training Without Conflict™
I am proud to be a Training without Conflict™ Certified Professional Dog Trainer. The Training without Conflict™ certification is one of the most challenging certifications to obtain as a professional dog trainer.
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.