You may have seen these fancy letters after my name and wondered, "What does that even mean?" Would it surprise you to know that there is no official licensing or certification required for a dog trainer to start charging money? In many other professional industries, some type of identification is necessary to let the public know that you can be trusted to know what you're doing. Not so with dog training.
I'll lay out what CPDT-KA means and how it differentiates someone in the professional dog training industry. The acronym stands for "Certified Professional Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed." It is awarded through the Certification Counsel for Professional Dog Trainers, one of the largest and well recognized certification organizations out there.
How did I get these letters?
First, and most importantly, I wanted it. I chose to pursue a professional certification even though it is not required. I didn't do it for prestige because honestly, few people even know about it. I did it for myself. I wanted to demonstrate my commitment to the industry, to humane methods of dog training, and to continuing education. It means a lot to me.
To become a certificant, one must complete the following criteria:
Log and document 300 professional dog training hours. By the way, that's a lot. And they have to be teaching classes, working directly with clients, or training shelter dogs. No, training your own dog doesn't count. The purpose here is to get lots of experience working with a variety of different dogs. That is the best way to become a competent dog trainer. I logged my hours teaching group classes, working with shelter animals, and training a large variety of dogs with behavior issues through private training services.
Provide a signed letter of attestation from either another certified dog trainer or a veterinarian. This ensures that another qualified professional has evaluated your work and recommends you for certification. It's not just a piece of paper; it's a vote of confidence. Mine came from our veterinarian who is also an agility colleague and who knows how I interact with my dogs and clients' dogs.
Agree to the code of ethics as set forth by the certification counsel. Again, not just a piece of paper or a signature. This is a professional code of conduct as well as agreeing to follow the humane hierarchy. This ensures that those certified by this organization are trustworthy and following ethical and humane dog training practices. I was happy to do so because all of their values align with mine. You can read it here.
Complete, and pass, a rigorous exam in a professional testing facility. They allot you 4 hours and it consists of 250 multiple choice questions covering a range of topics from learning theory to animal husbandry to teaching skills. This is NOT a walk in the park or something you can just take a stab at without studying. They are asking scientific questions more than anything and you must have a firm grasp of ALL methods of dog training. I'm proud to say that I passed with 94%, but I'm a bit of a testing junkie. It was not easy though and I took most of the time allotted.
Pay the certification counsel $385. I'm adding this because this is what I signed up for. I voluntarily sought this out and agreed to all of the terms because I believe in this. I didn't "buy" a certification. I did all of these things to exhibit my dedication to this profession.
So there you have it. What do the letters "CPDT-KA" mean? They mean that I care and that I know what I'm doing.
Danielle Lindblom CPDT-KA
High Spirits Dog Training