What's the difference between a dog trainer and a behavior consultant?

Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA

©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

Does your dog have behavior issues you want to address but don’t know where to start? Should you seek the assistance of a dog trainer or a certified behavior consultant? Do you know the difference between the two and how to determine which is right for you?

“Your dog cannot be its own advocate - that’s your role.”

Let’s first address the difference between a dog trainer and certified behavior consultant. A dog trainer is an individual who has a practice focused on basic obedience, house manners, service dog training, nuisance behaviors (e.g., digging, chewing, jumping on people, etc.), scent work, agility, search and rescue, and trick dog training. A certified behavior consultant is an individual who has a practice focused on canine fears, phobias, aggression, compulsive disorders and anxiety.

How can you differentiate between a dog trainer and a certified dog behavior consultant? Certifications are the key.

There are more than 60 recognized dog training certifications that can be obtained from various dog trainer schools around the world. You’ll frequently see these designations appended to dog trainers’ names. These certifications are awarded to the student by the school after completing their educational program.

The process to become a certified behavior consultant has a different focus. An internationally recognized independent certifying organization assesses the skills, knowledge and experience of the candidate. If the requirements are met for certification (e.g., verified experience, successfully passing a rigorous exam, professional recommendations, etc.), the organization certifies the candidate as a behavior consultant. This is similar to the process for other professions such as lawyers, doctors and accountants who are tested by independent boards to assess skills and knowledge after they complete their schooling. Just like other professional certifications, behavior consultant certifications require the holder to earn ongoing CEUs (Continuing Education Units) in order to maintain the certification.

The APDT (Association of Professional Dog Trainers) recognizes five behavior consultant certifying organizations worldwide and each offers a fully accredited certification. The two most prominent certifying organizations are:

The International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants (IAABC) is an independent international certifying organization for the canine behavior consulting profession. Its mission is to standardize and support the practice of animal behavior consulting and to ensure quality, evidence-based education of its members. It tests and certifies canine professionals to ensure they have the requisite demonstrated proficiency in humane, science-based dog training practices. Those receiving full certification from the IAABC in canine behavior consulting earn the CDBC (Certified Dog Behavior Consultant) designation.

The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) is also an independent international certifying organization. Like the IAABC, the CCPDT tests and certifies canine professionals to ensure they have the requisite demonstrated proficiency in humane, science-based dog training practices. Those receiving certification from the CCPDT in behavior consulting earn the CBCC-KA (Certified Behavior Consultant Canine - Knowledge Assessed) designation.

When do you turn to a certified behavior consultant versus a dog trainer? Issues such as general obedience, puppy training, house training, and nuisance behaviors can usually be effectively addressed by a competent dog training professional.

The following behavior problems are best addressed by a certified dog behavior consultant:

  • Aggression

  • Separation Anxiety

  • Resource Guarding of Food, Toys, Bed

  • Fear

  • Inappropriate Urination

  • Compulsive Behaviors

  • Hyperkinesis (hyperactivity)

Whomever you select to help you with your dog, your most important responsibility is to ensure the person you choose is an experienced, full-time and competent professional who uses humane and science-based methods with your dog. Your dog cannot be its own advocate - that’s your role.