Finding the Right Dog Trainer for You and Your Pup

Finding the Right Dog Trainer for You and Your Pup

When you start looking for a trainer for your dog, it can be confusing on who to choose. Because dog trainers are not required to obtain a license in the United States, there are no set standards. The education, experience and skill of trainers can fluctuate greatly.

To try to address some of this problem, different training certifications have been developed. However, the “certification” programs can differ significantly. Some trainers are “certified” by schools where they learn to dog train. Other trainers are “certified” through private certifying programs that are not affiliated with any particular school. However, there are no set certification standards. Therefore, a “certified trainer” could be someone who simply took a two-week course on training.

In 2001, one of the largest certification programs was developed by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). The goal of this program was to require testing to ensure some level of competency. A trainer who obtains a CCPDT certification is called a “Certified Professional Dog Trainer.” Within this certification, trainers can be “Knowledge Assessed” (they are required to take a written test) after which they receive a CCPDT-KA Certification. Alternatively, the trainers can be “Skill Assessed” (they are required to submit video to have their “hands on” skills assessed) after which they receive a CCPDT-SA Certification.

The CCPDT is helpful but has its limitations. Prior to taking the CCPDT test, a trainer must only have 300 hours of “experience.” After obtaining the certification, trainers must thereafter complete merely 30 hours of continuing education every three years. Additionally, the certification does not require that its members use force free or positive reinforcement training techniques, which have been consistently proven to be more effective in training and behavior studies.

As a result, if you are thinking of hiring a CCPDT-KA or CCPDT-SA you should still ask a few questions.

Start with asking:

  • How long have you been training dogs?
  • Where have you learned your training techniques?
  • What techniques do you use?
  • Have you gone through any courses or done any continuing education workshops?

It is always acceptable to ask for references as well.

Understanding the difference between a trainer who teaches good manners and basic obedience versus a trainer who understands problems such as fear, anxiety, aggression and other potential mental issues is also important. Some dog trainers are only qualified to help with obedience, like a grade school teacher is for humans. Other trainers have gone beyond basic training and have learned how to help with dogs with more severe behavior problems. These trainers are more like human therapists.

If your dog is experiencing more severe behavior problems, you should be asking a few more important questions such as:

  • Have you dealt with fear, anxiety, aggression or whatever issue you are dealing with in the past?
  • What education have you done to learn how to help dogs with these types of problems?
  • What techniques do you use when working with these dogs?
  • If the behavior is too severe for your educational background, do you refer to a veterinarian with knowledge of behavior or a veterinary behaviorist? (veterinary behaviorists are vets who specialize in behavior and tend to be very knowledgeable but are not found in every city)

Trainers that describe themselves as correction trainers, traditional trainers, dog whisperers, balanced trainers or pack leaders should generally be avoided as those trainers tend to use punishment based training techniques which have been generally found to be harmful in the long run for dogs. These techniques may even be dangerous. The American Society of Veterinary Animal Behaviorists has published multiple position statements on these issues that can be found here:

Hiring a dog trainer can be a complicated process, but it is worth spending the extra time to get what you need. If you are having trouble, consider asking your vet or friends. Below are other organizations that can help you find a qualified trainer.

  • Karen Prior Academy:
  • American Society of Veterinary Animal Behaviorists:
  • Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians:
  • Gene Donaldson’s “Academy for Dog Trainers”:
  • Ian Dunbar’s “Sirius Pup”:

Shannon CoynerShannon Coyner

Shannon has been a pet lover all her life and a dog trainer for over 20 years. She has spent her life observing, caring for and training animals of all kinds. She has worked in the Bird Department at Marine World Africa USA, and worked as an handler and trainer for an African Serval Cat at Safari West, a private zoo in Santa Rosa, California. She has participated in behavior studies including observations of bald eagles and addax antelope through the San Francisco Zoo and Safari West.

Her education includes a Biology Degree, specializing in Zoology from Sonoma State. She is a Registered Veterinary Technician, Certified Professional Dog Trainer (Knowledge Assessed), a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner, a member of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers and a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

Shannon is currently serving as President for the Society of Veterinary Behavior Technicians.

Shannon’s dog training philosophy revolves around force free, positive reinforcement, however, her ultimate goal is for healthy happy relationship between pets and their people. Diet, exercise, environment and training all play a significant role in achieving this goal.

Shannon is currently the owner of Ventura Pet Wellness and Dog Training Center in Ventura, CA where she works with anxious and fearful dogs privately as well as teaching agility classes ( Shannon has also started a training website called Truly Force Free Animal Training (

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