Dog Trainer Certifications: What do all the letters mean?

Below is a list of some of the certifications you might encounter if you hire a professional dog trainer.

We will work to keep this list up to date, so if you find any errors in this list, or if you have a certification you think we should add, please let us know.

One could argue that every person who is trying to affect any kind of behavioral change in a dog is a Dog Trainer. So what makes someone officially a “professional” dog trainer? The answer is debatable!

There is no officially-sanctioned “dog training” license or certification in New York, or anywhere, really. However, there are certain organizations dog trainers can join; some offer certifications that will give you the right to put the alphabet after your name. Many of these designations may be so unknown to the majority of people in this world as to border on meaninglessness. Some letters-after-your-name can be purchased. There is a dog trainer who works in the same area as School For The Dogs who puts the letters “APDT” after his name, which stands for Association for Professional Dog Trainers, an organization that absolutely anyone can join for $89. To me, it seems a little like triple A card and then writing AAA after your name.

There are, however, a handful of certifying bodies that conduct tests, require certain qualifications, and are generally respected in the professional training community. Many require things such as a bachelor’s degree or a graduate degree, published research, letters of reference, documented hours of training, and more. If you have their required qualifications and pass an exam (either written, practical, or both), you might have the right to put certain other sets of letters after your name. The most common of these is probably the Certification Council For Professional Dog Trainers’  CPDT-KA,  which stands for Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed.  There are also certifications that are bestowed upon completion of a program. I, for example, sometimes put the letters KPA CTP after my name, because upon graduating the Karen Pryor Academy and agreeing to uphold their values, I became one of their Certified Training Partners.

Then, of course, there are a few degrees that dog trainers and vets can earn from universities, which denote the completion of academic research and the stamp of approval of an accredited university. A handful of vets (and a smattering of non-vets) have a CAAB certification, meaning they are a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. This certification is pretty heavy duty and relatively meaningful. You can see the details below.

So what does it all mean? In my personal opinion, it’s unclear. If I hire someone who has letters after their name, as a consumer I like to know what they mean. In practice, at least in this industry, I think they aren’t really for the clients. They’re more like maritime signal flags recognized mostly by other dog trainers. And I am frankly suspicious of some of certifying bodies, even if they are a place that require passing tests and such. The reason is that there is often not a lot of follow up once someone gets the certification, so I think that some trainers may have the “certified” stamp of approval, but aren’t necessarily adhering to whatever the code of ethics is that the organization may have asked them to agree to.

I’ve never met two trainers who have had the same education, even if they have similar certifications. And I’ve met plenty of trainers who have had no formal education and aren’t members of any larger group, but still are excellent. So, my belief is that someone’s work means a lot more than the letters after their name. That said, it can’t hurt to be able to decipher the codes! Here are some that might see, and what they mean.

  • AABP-CDBC: AABP Certified Dog Behavior Consultant through Association of Animal Behavior Professionals
    • Requirements: Written exam, practical exam submitted by video, proof of liability insurance an agreement to a code of ethics
    • Cost: $60 to join; $200 for exam
    • Number: 620
  • ABCDT: Certified by (graduated from) Animal Behavior College
    • Requirements: Graduation from Animal Behavior College program, which involves online course work and mentorship by an ABC dog trainer
    • Cost: $3000 and up
    • Number: 2500+
  • ABMA: Member of Animal Behavior Management Alliance
  • CAAB: Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist by The Animal Behavior Society
    • Requirements: A Master’s or Ph.D. degree in a behavioral science with specific courses in animal learning, and ethology (behavior), or a DVM or VMD, with advanced training in animal behavior, liability insurance, and more. Further information may be found here
    • Cost:  $100 per year
    • Number: Approximately 50
  • CABC: Certified Animal Behavior Consultant through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants
    • Requirements: High school diploma or GED, minimum of three years and 500 hours experience in animal behavior consulting, 400 hours of coursework, a minimum of three years and 500 hours experience in animal behavior consulting, three letters of reference, three written case studies, written discussion of four case scenarios, completion of questions regarding terminology, techniques, assessment, and history taking
    • Cost: $125 for application, then $110 per year
  • CBATI: Certified Behavior Adjustment Training Instructor, (through
    • Requirements: A practical skills assessment with video case studies, a written exam with essay questions, agreement to a statement committing to the principles of progressive reinforcement training, and at least 200 hours of experience training dogs using force-free training techniques
    • Cost: $750 one time fee
  • CBCC-KA: Certified Behavior Consultant Canine through the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers
    • Requirements: A minimum of 300 hours’ experience in canine behavior consulting (on fear, phobias, compulsive behaviors, anxiety, and aggression) within the previous 5 years, a signed attestation statement from a CCPDT certificant or a veterinarian, agreement to a code of ethics, and passing grade on a 180 multiple choice question exam
    • Cost: $385
  • CPDT-KA: Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed through Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers
    • Requirements: Passing score on a 250 multiple choice test covering learning theory, animal husbandry, ethology, instruction skills, and training equipment, a signed attestation statement from a CCPDT certificant or a veterinarian, a minimum of 300 hours’ experience in dog training within the last 3 years, a signed attestation statement from a CCPDT certificant or a veterinarian, and an agreement to a code of ethics
    • Cost: $385
  • CPDT-KSA: Certified Pet Dog Trainer – Knowledge and Skills assessed through Certification Council for Dog Trainers
    • Requirements: Must already by CPDT-KA. Requires four video demonstrations and an additional multiple choice test covering training and instruction skills, training equipment, application of modalities, and CCPDT’s training policies & position statements
    • Cost: $225 (In addition to CPDT-KA fees)
  • CTC: Certificate in Training and Counseling – run through the Academy for Dog Trainers
    • Requirements: Completion of the Academy for Dog Trainers two year online program
    • Cost: Approximately $6800+
  • IACP-CDT: Certified Dog Trainer through the International Association of Canine Professionals
  • KPA CTP: Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner through the Karen Pryor Academy
    • Requirements: Completion of the six-month Dog Trainer Professional online and practical program, demonstration of excellent technical knowledge and hands-on skills in positive teaching and training, and a commitment to ethical guidelines.
    • Cost: $5000 +
  • VSPDT: Victoria Stilwell Positively Dog Trainer,
    • Requirements: Passing an evaluation given a few times a year
    • Cost: $150 application fee. After that, between $500 and $2000 a year