Protected by Copyscape Online Copyright Search


When looking for a trainer, do your homework and ask some questions. You're talking about your best friend here, and virtually anyone can call himself or herself a dog trainer. Simply print up some business cards, advertise, and voila, you’re a dog trainer. There is no licensing requirement, no mandatory test, no nothing. Scary, isn’t it?

Ask your friends and relatives for recommendations. If you see a well-behaved dog on your outings, ask its owner/guardian where it was trained. Ask local rescue groups or breed rescue groups who they work with. Ask your veterinarian, groomer, or pet store. Go to a dog show and get information there.

Then visit the trainer's Website. Do you like what he or she says and how it is said? That's a big clue as to whether you will be able to work together.

Then you want to talk to him or her on the phone to get a sense of whether you would like to work with this person. Ask about their background and experience. Then go to see their classes. Look at the methods they use and ask yourself if you would be comfortable using those methods. Ask the students if what the trainer has showed them has worked for their dog.

While all trainers can generally train the basic obedience and manners exercises, there are some trainers who specialize in their particular sport or interest, i.e., obedience competition or agility. You may want to find a trainer who specifically "pre" trains for what you are interested in. There may be some parts of their training that are geared to their interest, so ask questions carefully and listen to their answers.

Return to top

What are the qualifications of a good trainer?

  • Trainers first and foremost *must* like people and have people skills because they are training owners/guardians to train their dogs.
  • Trainers should also know something about whether a dog is healthy or not because if a dog is ill, then he will not learn as readily and may even exhibit withdrawal, refusal, or aggressive behavior.
  • The trainer should be able to read dogs' body language, so they should know characteristics of the various breeds and how it impacts teaching and learning.

Generally speaking, you should find out the trainer's qualification, length of time training, what their education is, what training methods they use, as well as asking for references. Many trainers offer this information on their Web sites.

Return to top

What kind of trainer do I need?

There is a difference between a trainer, a behavior consultant or behavior counselor, a behaviorist, and veterinary behaviorist. He or she looks into the future and has a specific goal or picture in mind as to exactly what task your dog should do. Any type of dog behaviorist helps in solving a problem -- digging, chewing, house soiling, jumping up, aggression, etc. -- by looking into the past at what is causing your dog to act the way he does and then uses the specific tasks taught in dog training as well as behavior modification (for both you and your dog) to help solve the problems.

  • A trainer trains you and your dog to do specific commands -- sit, stay, heel, come, etc.
  • A behavior consultant or behavior counselor helps you and your dog with problem behaviors -- jumping on people, aggression, separation anxiety, etc.
  • A behaviorist is a person who has a degree in animal behavior.
  • A veterinary behaviorist is a veterinarian who specializes in treating behavior problems and can run medical tests and use drugs to modify your dog's behavior.

So if you want help on, let's say, aggression, a person who only trains classes in obedience (or one who is just starting out as a trainer) may not be the best one for you. However, many trainers call themselves trainers but are behavior consultants or counselors as well and actually do behavior modification in addition to as obedience training.

Another example is if you some day want to do search and rescue work with your dog. You may want a trainer who is familiar with search and rescue so your dog's early training is compatible with your ultimate goals.

Return to top

What format is best?

There are basically four formats: group classes, private lessons for training your dog, private lessons for training you and your dog, board and train, or a combination of any or all of the formats.

  • Group classes are with a number of people and dogs generally held at a set time and place with a set format.
  • Private lessons are held at a time and place mutually acceptable to you and the trainer.
  • Board and train is where you send your dog away for training.

Training works best if you are involved in the process at some point. Otherwise, the trainer can get your dog to behave, but you can't. You have to know what to do to get the desired response from your dog.

There may be a difference between what you think you need and what the trainer thinks you need. Group classes are for teaching obedience skills -- sit, down, come, stay, etc., and some specialty training such as agility. Classes are for teaching cues or commands to groups of people. If your dog tears up your house while you are away, that is a behavior issue which is best addressed in private sessions because the trainer or behavior consultant needs to work with you individually to develop a program specifically to meet the needs of you and your dog.

Return to top

What questions should I ask a trainer?

General Information

  • What are the exercises and/or procedure used?
  • Does the trainer provide handouts or written materials?
  • What kind of equipment is used? Will you need to bring it yourself, or is it furnished?
  • Has the trainer had experience with your breed of dog or the issue you need help with?
  • Should all your family members attend the training?
  • What kind of insurance does the trainer carry?
  • Does the trainer give information about care and ownership?
  • Will the trainer give referrals and recommendations, or are there some on his or her Web site?
  • Does the trainer belong to or work with any obedience clubs, dog-related organizations, or rescue groups?
  • Guarantees There are so many variables in temperament of dog (and their owners/guardians!!!) that a trainer should not make a guarantee as to the outcome of his or her training but should guarantee the thoroughness of his or her professional services. If a guarantee is offered, find out exactly what it is for.
  • What is the cost, and what is the method of payment? Notice that this question is l-a-s-t. The other questions are much more important when choosing a trainer for your dog!

Trainer Background and Experience

  • How did the trainer become a trainer, and what is his or her education?
  • What experience does the trainer have and with whom?
  • Does the trainer train full time or part time, and for how long?
  • Does the trainer have knowledge of your specific breed traits?
  • Has the trainer worked with the specific problem you are calling about?
  • Does the trainer specialize in any type of training?
  • Does the trainer keep up with innovations in training, tools, and techniques -- in other words, does he regularly attend any seminars or conventions? (This one is soooo important!)
  • Does the trainer belong to any professional organizations, and what are the qualifications for those organizations?
  • Is the trainer certified? (See below about certification.)

Methods Used in Training

You need to be comfortable with how the trainer works with you and your dog.

The "hot" question today is about punishment. There are a lot of trainers that say they don't use punishment. But it depends on what the definition is. Webster's definition is imposing a penalty for a behavior. Having to pay a penalty decreases the likelihood of that behavior recurring in the future. So when you're driving your car and the light turns red, you're being punished because the presence of the red light is preventing you from going forward.

But, let's differentiate between punishment and abuse. Punishment means subjecting a person or animal to a penalty for a wrongdoing, and discipline implies restricting your dog in order to bring him under control. An example of discipline is having your dog sit until you release him to go for a walk so he won't barge out the door. Punishment when it is used as discipline or as a teaching tool is not abuse but more as a penalty for overstepping his bounds.

Abuse is treating someone or something with intent to injure, harm, or damage. Abuse is hanging your dog on a choke chain if he digs a hole in your yard. Abuse is kicking your dog when you are angry with him. Trainers should not abuse dogs. Trainers should not do anything that you makes you uncomfortable. However, they should expand your knowledge by showing you different ways to get the behavior you want. If what you were doing was working, then you wouldn't be asking a trainer. Remember the "Dr. Phil" question: "How's that working for you?"

Trainers all use punishment -- but it's when, how, and how much it is used that is important. When a dog is being taught a behavior, is he being shown what you want and then rewarded when he does it correctly, or does he get corrected when he does not do it right? Is the majority of the training guidance based or punishment based?


  • Who teaches the classes, the trainer or an assistant?
  • Does each class member get individual help?
  • Are there vaccine or other health requirements?
  • Is there a maximum class size?
  • Is it okay to observe a class before signing up?

Return to top

What is a certified dog trainer anyway?

There are several entities that have certification programs to test the knowledge and skills of dog trainers.

There are four ways to become certified:

  • Through dog trainers’ associations
  • Through national pet store programs
  • By home study or Internet courses
  • At private dog training schools

Courses offered through the Internet, many home study courses, and private training schools are too numerous and varied to go into detail here. Those entities issue their own certification when you have completed their coursework. Some have qualifying tests; others do not. Some don't even require their students to work with dogs before becoming certified. It’s up to you to do the research and find out how the trainers received their certifications. You can do that by checking the Websites of the certifying organizations.

There are some organizations accept members only if they have met a required educational level and other qualifications.

There are three dog trainers associations in the United States that have certification programs where applicants must demonstrate a knowledge of dog training, equipment, and behavior. Other countries have associations that have their own certifying programs. Do your research. Investigate their Websites and talk to some of their members -- ones that are not looking at you as a potential client. Many times, board members of these organizations are a good source, and you can email them.

The National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI) exam consists of 54 essay questions. It is not a certification but an endorsement that the trainer has passed their requirements. There are no study materials provided (the applicant either "knows it" or doesn't), and the test measures the applicant’s personal knowledge and experience.

The questions cover

  • Personal Information
  • Background Information
  • Reference Information
  • General Information regarding
    • The applicant’s training philosophy
    • Student Information
    • Instructing
    • Behavior
  • How to teach and handle situations in Private Lessons and Group Classes.

To receive a Novice/Companion Endorsement, the applicant needs at least five years’ experience in dog training, including at least 104 hours training as a primary instructor accumulated during at least two years. If the applicant does not have the requisite hours for the Novice/Companion Endorsement, then a Provisional membership may be applied for.

Three current NADOI members individually read the test, and then each member passes the applicant.

The cost of the exam is $20.00. Every applicant must pass the exam to become a member of NADOI, which is an additional $45.00 fee. NADOI is the oldest of the trainer organizations. Its Website is

The Basic Trainer Skills Exam of the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP) consists of submitting six Letters of Reference, one Training Handout Sample, a Videotape showing the applicant training four different dogs of different temperaments and skills for 10-15 minutes per dog, and three written Case Studies.

The criteria for the Videotape are as follows:

  • Exhibits Confidence
  • Creates Rapport
  • Reads Dog
  • Rewards are Well Timed and Appropriate
  • Corrections are Well Timed and Appropriate
  • Competence with Chosen Method
  • Affected Change
  • Exhibits Versatility

The criteria used for judging case studies are:

  • Evaluation/Pre-Screening
  • Sets Reasonable Goals/Objectives
  • Progression of the Lessons, Instruction of the Owner
  • Homework Assignments
  • Motivates Owner to Comply with the Training
  • Flexibility
  • Follow-up
  • Critiques
  • Letter of Reference

No study materials are provided. Three IACP members must individually pass the applicant. The cost is $150 for IACP members and $250 for nonmembers. Its Website is

The Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers (CCPDT)has developed certification guidelines and its examination in accordance with the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) mission and vision statements.

Applicants need a high school diploma or equivalent and at least 300 hours experience in dog training within the last five years with 225 of those hours in actually teaching as a head trainer and 75 hours working with animals in another capacity. Applicants submit letters of reference from a veterinarian, client, and colleague.

The Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT) exam is a multiple-choice, 250-question, four-hour exam covering the following areas:

  • Instruction Skills
  • Animal Husbandry
  • Ethology
  • Learning Theory
  • Equipment

A passing score is 185. There are no study materials provided. It is the only dog trainer testing program accredited by the National Organization for Competency Assurance and the only certification program whose test sites are professionally secured and moderated by the Professional Testing Corporation. The fee is $250 for APDT members and $350 for nonmembers. APDT is the largest dog trainer organization. The CCPDT Website is, and the APDT Website is

So you can see that there are many ways for a trainer to become certified. And there are some excellent trainers who are not certified.

Whatever dog trainer you choose, do your homework. Talk with the trainer and observe a training session even if that trainer is recommended. Stay away from any trainer who will not let you watch him or her train or one that has "secret methods." Make sure you’re comfortable with that trainer and his or her methods and philosophy before you begin. Then have fun training your dog!

Return to Articles

Return to top

This Web site is a list of trainers who have submitted their names to be included here. There are no warranties or guarantees about the trainers, methods used, or the quality of instruction. It is up to each dog owner/guardian to do his own research and interview each trainer.

By using this site, you agree Dog Trainers Directory is not responsible and cannot be held liable for any of the actions or omissions of any trainer listed on this site. We reserve the right to refuse to list or remove any trainer from this site.

Return to top