Unbeknownst to many, the dog training industry is unregulated, which means anyone can make a website, print some business cards, and proclaim themselves a dog trainer. Trainers don't need a license, they don't need any training, heck, they don't even need to have owned a dog! Now don't get me wrong, some trainers that are not certified are very good trainers, but there are a lot who are not. When I decided to pursue a career as a dog trainer I knew from the beginning that I wanted to do it the right way.
In my mind the right way meant education. I began by researching several dog training schools and programs and was pleasantly surprised to find that Kutztown University offered, at the time, a Canine Training & Management Program. This year long course, instructed by dog trainer and search & rescue expert Susan Bulanda, laid the foundation for what has turned out to be a never-ending learning process of the dog training profession.
Once that was completed and my business was up and running I set my sights on becoming a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT). Until the creation of the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers in 2001, there was no true certification process for canine professionals. Many schools teach dog trainers and offer certifications for their specific programs. These certificates, therefore, reflect the teachings and quality of a specific school. Other organizations offer take-home tests for "certification". These canine professionals are not monitored to ensure they are completing the test without any assistance or collaboration nor is the testing process standardized.
The unprecedented process was originally implemented by the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), the largest association of dog trainers in the world, founded by noted veterinarian, behaviorist and author Dr. Ian Dunbar. A task force of approximately 20 internationally known dog training professionals and behaviorists worked for three years to research and develop the first comprehensive examination. Professional Testing Corporation (PTC) was hired to ensure the process met professional testing standards. APDT then created a separate, independent council - The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers - to manage the accreditation and pursue future development.
To be eligible to take the exam requires 300 hours of dog training experience in the last 3 years. The exam itself is 250 questions long on the subjects of Instruction Skills, Learning Theory, Ethology, Equipment, and Animal Husbandry, requiring 75% correct to pass. In October 2015 I was informed that I earned my CPTD designation with a score of 91%!.
In 3 years I will have to re-certify my CPDT, meaning I will have to earn continuing education units (CEUs) by attending seminars and conferences, and participating in training workshops. All the while I continue to read trade publications Chronicle of the Dog (APDT) and Barks from the Guild (PPG), the wonderful Whole Dog Journal, and any books or articles that cross my path. As I said, it's a never-ending learning process.
So to answer "why certification is important to me": I did it because I love dogs - my dogs, your dog, all dogs - and I want you to have the confidence that the trainer you hire will train your dog the right way.
Jeff Dentler, CPDT-KA, CTDI
Dentler's Dog Training, LLC
Jeff Dentler, CPDT-KA, IAABC-ADT, FFCP, CTDI