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Veterinarian Technician July 2013 (Vol 34, No 7)

Inside Behavior: Choosing a Qualified Dog Trainer for Your Hospital: How to Assess a Dog Trainer

by Julie K. Shaw, KPA-CTP, RVT, VTS (Behavior)

    It's a great time to be involved in animal behavior and dog training. Pet owners are more open than ever to training their pets and are beginning to expect their veterinary professionals to provide training options or, at a minimum, recommend a qualified trainer. This means the “window” has opened for dog trainers and veterinary professionals to work together to improve pet owner–dog relationships and strengthen the human-animal bond.

    Helping Your Clients Choose a Qualified Dog Trainer

    Clients often find a dog trainer through an Internet search or a recommendation from a friend or a family member. Unfortunately, this does not ensure that a dog trainer is qualified, professional, and humane. The most significant referral to a dog trainer should come from a pet owner’s own veterinary professionals. Therefore, all veterinary hospitals should know of a qualified trainer who can be recommended with confidence.

    Qualified dog trainers can perform a behavior assessment triage for clients and their dogs. A behavioral assessment involves obtaining an informal impression or evaluation of a situation, which is the first step in triaging a behavioral problem. Often, the undesirable behaviors that clients report about their dogs are simply due to (1) inappropriate training or (2) conditioning of unwanted behaviors (e.g., begging at the table). Often, trainers suspect that a dog has a strong emotional basis (e.g., anxiety, fear) for its behavior. In these cases, trainers should refer clients to their veterinarian for a medical and/or behavioral diagnosis, which may include referral to a veterinary behaviorist. The veterinarian and/or behaviorist can then determine the treatment plan, and the veterinary team can help implement it. When a veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist becomes involved, the trainer’s goal is to continue working with the client and dog to implement training plans that may be prescribed.

    A Qualified Dog Trainer

    A qualified dog trainer is certified from a standardized, positive-based curriculum and is policed by an organization that can revoke certification if the trainer acts unprofessionally or outside the organization’s code of ethics. The trainer should understand the difference between a behavior problem and a behavior disorder. Behavior problem means an animal’s behavior is a problem for the owner. The causes could be inappropriate training, conditioning of the unwanted behavior, a behavior disorder, or a combination of issues. A behavior disorder is a psychological or behavioral pattern outside of behavioral norms; the disorder usually has an affective (emotional) aspect.

    Choosing a Dog Trainer for Your Hospital

    One of the most accurate methods for assessing a professional trainer is to send an “undercover” veterinary technician to the trainer’s classes. Most trainers allow potential clients to observe a class; trainers who don’t allow this aren’t right for your hospital. Your hospital should not recommend trainers who use punishment (e.g., choke, pinch, or shock collars) or follow the dominance theory (e.g., dominance rolls, muzzle grabs). Punishment-based techniques and dominance are not recommended by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (click here for its dominance and punishment position statements), and trainers using these methods are not following up-to-date training techniques. TABLE 1 is a form that you can use to assess potential trainers for your hospital.

    Other Considerations

    Trainers should routinely attend continuing education events and belong to training organizations such as the Association of Pet Dog Trainers or the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants.

    Dog training is a highly unregulated profession. Reputable trainer credentials include the following:

    VTS (Behavior) indicates a board-certified veterinary technician specialist in behavior. Technicians with this credential have qualified for and passed a stringent examination process, including an extensive multiple-choice examination, an essay examination, and a practical examination. The Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians is a policed organization (credentials can be revoked) with detailed educational requirements, a standardized examination process, and continuing education requirements.

    Trainers with a KPA-CTP (Karen Pryor Academy Certified training partner) have completed a 6-month standardized training program, including written projects and hands-on workshops guided by a KPA faculty member, and have passed an extensive assessment process. Individuals with a KPA-CTP are required to continue their education and have taken an oath to use force-free training techniques. Certification may be revoked if a trainer does not follow KPA’s code of ethics.

    Certification programs test a trainer’s knowledge but do not require standardized education. Completion of a certification program is not an endorsement of an individual by an organization, but certification tells those who are considering a trainer that he or she has pursued and completed a certifying program. Certification programs include the following:

    Certification by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants requires recommendations, a written examination, and submission of multiple case studies. The certification can be revoked for reasons such as failure to meet continuing education requirements, breach of ethics, and nonpayment of dues.

    A trainer with a CBCC-KA (certified behavior consultant canine—knowledge assessed) has already obtained a CPDT-KSA (see below) and taken a written examination pertaining to canine behavior.

    A trainer with a CPDT-KSA (certified pet dog trainer—knowledge and skills assessed) has passed written and practical examinations conducted by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers.

    A trainer with a CPDT-KA (certified pet dog trainer—knowledge assessed) has passed a multiple-choice examination to test knowledge only.

    The Next Step

    If a trainer passes your initial assessment process, the next step is to invite the trainer to an in-house staff meeting to further evaluate his or her communication skills and education.


    When you refer clients to a dog trainer, your clients assume that you are sending them to someone you trust and consider qualified. The trainer’s techniques, level of professionalism, and attitude are a direct reflection on you. Having a qualified trainer associated with your hospital and part of your behavior team can help enhance and promote the human-animal bond.

    An upcoming companion article will discuss standards of care that you should expect from your hospital’s dog trainer.

    NEXT: Inside Behavior: Choosing a Qualified Dog Trainer for Your Veterinary Hospital: a Standard-of-Care Guide for Trainers


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