Alphabet Soup — Decoding Dog Training Certifications


You’ve decided to hire a dog trainer — congrats!  This is going to be enormously helpful for you and your dog.  As you talk to friends and get recommendations, then look online, you are probably noticing an enormous array of titles and certifications (and lots and lots of letters!).  Not all certifications are created equal, so we’ve tried to break them down for you below.


There are four titles you are likely to see in your search.  They have specific definitions you should be aware of, and are not always linked to certification:

(1) Trainer — anyone who works training dogs in any capacity may call him or herself a trainer.  There are some excellent certifications available, but not all trainers will have them.  Experience is extremely important, but most skilled and knowledgeable trainers will maintain high level certifications, and we recommend only working with certified trainers.

(2) Behavior consultants —  individuals with this title have completed coursework and had their knowledge (and sometimes skills) assessed by a certification body.  They often work with dogs with problem behaviors and are a critical part of any behavior modification plan.

(3) Behaviorists — individuals with degrees (Masters or PhD) in animal behavior.  They may or may not have specific training in applied behavior modification for pets.

(4) Veterinary Behaviorist — board certified veterinary specialists, the equivalent of a psychiatrist in humane medicine.

Certifications (please note — there are TONS of certifications; below is a list of the ones we see most often in NYC, with brief descriptions of when this certification may be appropriate for your needs)

Training (i.e. teaching manners and appropriate behavior)

  • CDTCertified Dog Trainer
    • Basic level certification; appropriate for basic obedience training.
  • CDTACertified Dog Trainer, Advanced
    • Builds upon the CDT, requires 5 years experience
  • CPDT – KACertified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge Assessed
    • Indicates that a dog trainer has passed a comprehensive exam and has at least 300 hours of dog training experience
  • CPDT – KSACertified Professional Dog Trainer, Knowledge and Skills Assessed
    • Indicates that a dog trainer has passed a comprehensive exam and an objective skills-based assessment along with at least 300 hours of dog training experience

High Level Training and Behavior Modification (i.e. addressing problem behaviors, anxiety, aggression, etc.)

  • CBCC – KACertified Behavior Consultant Canine
    • Indicates that a dog behavior consultant has passed a comprehensive exam on behavior modification and has at least 500 hours of of dog behavior consulting experience
    • This is a good base level of certification for anyone you work with to address problem behaviors
  • CDBCCertified Dog Behavior Consultant
    • Individuals who have completed 150 hours of coursework on animal behavior and modification, 500 hours of experience dealing with problem behaviors, demonstrated knowledge of scientific and practical knowledge, and maintain continuing education in the field
    • ACDBC is the Associate version, and is a step for many trainers on the path to full certification
    • This is an excellent certification for an individual you intend to work with on problem behaviors
  • DVM (or VMD, BVMS):
    • General practice veterinarian (e.g. Uptown Vets’ own Dr. Obernesser and Sullivan-Wolff), will assess your pet for medical conditions that may be linked to problem behaviors, offer recommendations, liaise with trainers, and prescribe medications for some conditions.
    • Working with a general practitioner veterinarian will not replace the need for behavior modification training, but may be a helpful addition
  • DACVB:
    • Highest level of certification — indicates a board certified veterinary specialist who has completed veterinary school and a residency, passed board exams, and practices exclusively working with behavior issues; these individuals are the veterinary equivalent of psychiatrist, and able to prescribe both behavior modification programs and medications.
    • Ideal for dogs facing severe behavior problems.

Ultimately, there are lots of approaches to training, and there is no one-size-fits-all option.  However, the more education, training, and experience a professional has, the more likely he or she is to quickly assess what WILL work for your dog and adapt programs.  Spending months working with someone unqualified to address your pet’s needs will be both frustrating and expensive.

If you have questions or concerns regarding your pet’s behavior or training needs, don’t hesitate to contact us.  Between our own pets and those of our wonderful clients, we have worked with lots of trainers, consultants, and specialists in NYC and can help you find the right fit.

Uptown Vets   –   295 West 112th St, New York, NY

(212) 222-1221   –

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