Dog Training Certification: How Do I Become A Certified Dog Trainer?

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Dog Training Certification. Golden Retriever puppy looking at the camera.
Dog Training Certification

I’ve been training dogs (not just my own) for over 10 years now. I know some of my colleagues have gone on to get their dog training certification and I started to think: Do I want to get certified and if so, how do I become a certified dog trainer?

I come from the world of I.T. Certification so it was common place to see a little acronym after everyone’s name whenever you saw an email signature.

  • Neil Perry, CCSI, CCIE
  • Todd Anderson,  MCSE, A+, Net+

I’ve seen something similar when it comes to Dog Training Certification. When searching for a dog trainer I’ve often seen something like the following:

  • Knox Overstreet, CCPDT-KA
  • Charlie Dalton, KPA-CTP

Extra Points for you guys who made the connection for the fictional names used above (tell me in the comment section).

Last year I decided it would be a good idea to get a certified and I started researching different programs.

How Do I Become A Certified Dog Trainer?

Everyone’s journey is different and we all have different goals especially when it comes to our career whether that be as an I.T. Manager, Account Executive, or a Dog Trainer.

My journey is different then yours. Honestly, you could get your dog training certification in 2 simple steps:

1. Study and learn to train dogs.
2. Pass a dog training certification exam.

This is my personal step-by-step journey to become a certified dog trainer.

  1. Read Books About Dog Training – Before I got my first puppy, Linus I read Puppies for Dummies (I read this book for the first time back in December 2004). Since then I’ve read dozens of books on training dogs and puppies.
  2. Get A Dog And Train Him – My first dog as an adult was Linus. We started him in Sue Myles group training classes when he was 10 weeks old. We continued to train him for the rest of his life until he passed in 2018.
  3. Take Your Dog To Many Different Types Of Training Classes – We love training our dogs and have taken them to puppy kindergarten, obedience level 1, 2, 3, 4, K9 Nosework, guide dog puppy classes, service dog puppy classes, rally, sport dog, agility, trick training, canine good citizen, and probably a few others I can’t think of off the top of my head.
  4. Get A Service Dog Puppy In Training And Train Him – We started training guide and service dogs in 2006 and continue to train them today.
  5. Apprentice In A Puppy Kindergarten Class – After raising my first guide dog puppy, Stetson I began assisting in the group puppy classes.
  6. Be The Lead Trainer In A Puppy Kindergarten Class – After raising my fourth guide dog puppy, Apache I began leading some of the puppy kindergarten classes.
  7. Apprentice In A Basic Obedience Class – When I was raising my fifth puppy, Adelle I also began helping the trainers with basic obedience classes.
  8. Be The Lead Trainer In A Basic Obedience Class – During our group meeting I lead many of the basic obedience classes before our dogs had to settle during meetings.
  9. Whelp, Raise, And Train Service Dog Puppies – Three years ago I made the decision to whelp, raise, and train service dog puppies in my own group. I worked privately with other puppy raisers and also held group classes to prepare our puppies to be service dogs.
  10. Apprentice At A Dog Training School – About a year ago I decided to apprentice at Wags and Wiggles to further my education and get a chance to work with different breeds and people.
  11. Attend Dog Training Seminars – I began to further educate myself by attending dog training seminars notably Clicker Expo and Suzanne Clothier.
  12. Pass A Dog Training Certification Exam – Finally, I’ve reached the point where I think I’m prepared to take a dog training certification exam. I did my research and I decided to start with the CPDT-KA exam and then possibly enroll in the Karen Pryor Academy to achieve my KPA-CPT.

That’s All! 12 simple steps! I just need to complete Step 12 and I’ll be on my way with my first dog training cert!

One of these steps require some more in depth information starting with step 11. When it comes to certification there are many different options. I narrowed my list down to some of the more well recognized dog training certification programs.

So lets get started:

Dog Training Certification Programs

White Golden Retriever puppy getting belly rubs.
What Is The Best Dog Training Certification Program?

I’ll be honest with your guys I’ve been thinking about this for more than a year and I came across a couple options that were specifically related to service dogs.

After extensive research here are the options I was weighing for my specific situation:

1. Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT)

CCPDT offer 2 dog training certifcations:

  1. Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA) measures a broad range of knowledge and skills in ethology, learning theory, dog training technique, and instruction.
  2. Certified Professional Dog Trainer-Knowledge and Skills Assessed (CPDT-KSA) is our skills based certification. It tests expert training and instruction skills through hands-on exercises.

#1 on my to do list is to achieve the CPDT-KA cert then maybe in the future get the CPDT-KSA.

By the way, another certification offered by CCPDT is the Certified Behavior Consultant Canine-Knowledge Assessed (CBCC-KA) is our advanced certification for dog trainers who offer canine behavior modification. This cert is also on my radar.

For the CPDT-KA certification:

  • INITIAL COST: $385 – price for the exam.
  • ADDITIONAL COST: $120 – There are two optional practice exams at $60 per exam.
  • *TOTAL COST: $505

2. Wags and Wiggles

Here’s a short description of the Wags and Wiggles apprenticeship program:

Before jumping into any new career, you should do some research. We offer a real-life hands-on apprenticeship program that will teach you the people skills, dog skills, and training skills needed to be a well-rounded dog trainer.

I started the Wags and Wiggles apprenticeship program in the summer of 2018, but unfortunately I did not complete it because the lead dog trainer moved shortly after I completed the first trimester of training. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard whether or not they restarted the apprenticeship program. I therefore shifted my focus to working with dogs and achieving my CPDT-KA…see the next section…

  • INITIAL COST: $2,850 – The Wags and Wiggles Apprenticeship program is broken down into 3 parts each lasting approximately 3 months. At the beginning of each trimester the cost is $950.
  • ADDITIONAL COST: $505 – Part of the apprenticeship program is to prepare you for the CPDT-KA certification. It’s an optional expense.
  • *TOTAL COST: $3,355

3. Karen Pryor Academy

The Karen Pryor Academy offer the Karen Pryor Academy – Certified Training Partner (KPA-CTP). Here’s a short description of the program from their website:

This comprehensive program offers an in-depth curriculum that teaches both the science and the practice of dog training in particular and animal training generally, client teaching, canine behavior problem-solving, and dog training business management.

This program requires hands on training with your dog at home and in classroom and also includes online learning. You do have to attend four 2 day workshops (you also have the option to attend 1 workshop, but it also requires video submissions) at the location of your choice. The closest location for us is San Diego, California.

  • INITIAL COST: $5,300
  • ADDITIONAL COST: $0 – $2,000+, Travel expenses for 4 weekends. If workshops are local and you can easily drive to a workshop then the expense could be zero. However, if you have to fly and get a hotel room then your expenses can exceed $2,000 for flights and hotel. I’d estimate for me to drive to San Diego and get a hotel room would run me about $500 per weekend times 4 = ~$2,000
  • *TOTAL COST: $7,300

4. Guide Dogs for the Blind

Yep, we looked at what it takes to become a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor.

Once in a while positions become available at Guide Dog schools like Guide Dogs for the Blind or Guide Dogs of America. These are paid apprenticeship positions. Apprenticeships are 3 years of full time work.

  • *TOTAL COST: Your Time and Commitment

5. Bergin College of Canine Studies

The Bergin College of Canine Studies offers several programs and has a focus on service dog training which would be perfect for me if only they were located closer. I’m at an age where I can’t go away to college for 4 years. However, a few options are available for folks like me that can’t leave home for an extended period.

Bergin College offer several different degree programs including Associate of Science in Assistance Dog Studies, BS in Canine Studies, and MS in Canine Studies. Unfortunately, at this age and stage of my life I do not have the time nor can I relocate to achieve one of these degrees. You can find more information about their programs including descriptions, curriculum, and costs at Bergin.edu.

Bergin College offers professional certificate programs and one that I am extremely interested in is…

Service Dog Training Seminar

This is exactly what I do and would love to learn more about.

Bonnie Bergin is the inventor of the concept of the service dog. She is the founder and president of the Bergin University of Canine Studies and the founder of Canine Companions for Independence.

Here’s a short description of the service dog training seminar:

The Service Dog Training Seminar is designed to introduce and educate students to the theories and applied practices involved in the selection, training, matching, placement and follow-up of service dogs with clients with mobility and psychological limitations.

The main barriers to entry for me are to take the time off to attend and of course the cost. It’s a seven week program and with three kids under the age of 3 years old it’s probably too difficult to leave home for seven weeks

  • INITIAL COST: $4,800
  • ADDITIONAL COST: $4,500; Travel = $500; Accommodations: $3,000; Food: $1,000
  • *TOTAL COST: $9,300

Maybe some day I’ll have the time and money to attend the Service Dog Training Seminar. Maybe…

*The above Total Cost is my estimated total cost. Your cost may be different depending on your personal situation.

There are many other dog training certification programs. Maybe I’ll put a more extensive list together in the future.

What Is The Best Dog Training Certification?

Question: What Is The Best Dog Training Certification?

Answer: Certified Professional Dog Trainer Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA).

I’ve been involved in dog training for over 13 years and I’d say the CPDT-KA is probably the most recognized dog training certification today.

However, to say it’s the “Best” Dog Training Certification depends on your own point of view. What determines the “Best”? I’ve defined the “Best” as the most well recognized certification.

Why is it important that it is well recognized? Because if people don’t recognize the certification then they won’t know what the heck those letters after your name mean.

The CPDT-KA is a knowledge assessment. Every other certification on the list has some kind of skills assessment and some require some very specialized skills.

  • Guide dog programs in California require their instructors to go through a full time three year apprenticeship program and have to pass state exams before they are Guide Dog Mobility Instructors (GDMI).
  • Bergin University of Canine Studies is a college degree program where you can get Bachelors and Masters degrees in Canine Studies.
  • Karen Pryor Academy is a 6 month program that includes online training, at home training, workshops, and exams.
  • Wags and Wiggles is an apprenticeship program that takes approximately 9 months and requires hands on training, observation, reading, exams, and more.
  • The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers also has a skills assessment certification called the Certified Professional Dog Trainer Knowledge and Skill Assessed. This exam requires you to record yourself performing assigned exercises.

What do you think is the best dog training certification? A lot depends on your goals.

How Long Does It Take To Become A Dog Trainer

Question: How Long Does It Take To Become A Dog Trainer?

Answer: 300 hours of dog training in the past 3 years.

This answer comes from the CPDT-KA certification. Before applying for your certification CCPDT requires you have 300 hours of dog training experience in the past 3 years.

I’d consider this the minimum requirement. Getting both practical and hands on experience are a must. If you look at the other programs for instance, Guide Dog Mobility Instructors are required to do full time 3 year apprenticeships and before applying for the apprenticeship you are required to have ample dog training experience.

If I had to guess a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor probably gains over 10,000 hours of experience in dog training before becoming fully certified.

That makes sense if you read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Gladwell explains that reaching the 10,000-Hour Rule, which he considers the key to success in any field, is simply a matter of practicing a specific task that can be accomplished with 20 hours of work a week for 10 years.

How Much Money Can You Make As A Dog Trainer?

Golden Puppy running across tennis court
How Much Can You Make As A Certified Dog Trainer

Question: How Much Money Can You Make As A Dog Trainer?

Answer: $10-$300+ dollars an hour

If you’re just starting out as a dog trainer I hate to say it, but you’re not going to make a ton of money. I’ve read big retail pet store dog trainers can start at minimum wage.

In fact, take a look at the rigors of becoming a Guide Dog Mobility Instructor. It requires a ton of work, experience, and training. However, at the end of the day a GDMI’s salary is comparable to that of a teacher.

On the other hand I’ve worked with established dog trainers who charge $300 an hour for in home training.

I can’t imagine what a world renowned or celebrity dog trainer would charge for their services. I be it’s not cheap.

Do You Need A Certification To Be A Dog Trainer?

Question: Do You Need A Certification To Be A Dog Trainer?

Answer: No, but…

What is certification?

Google says: the action or process of providing someone or something with an official document attesting to a status or level of achievement.

My translation is it’s someone (or some organization) acknowledging your skill set.

Now if you’re looking for employment some companies may require you to achieve some level of certification. Other times it helps you get your foot in the door.

In my estimation it does verify that you have a level of competency in your field (dog training).

So, do you need a certification to be a dog trainer? No, but it helps.

Do I Have My Dog Training Certification?

I started the Wags And Wiggles Apprenticeship program and completed the first trimester. However, the lead trainer and my mentor ended up moving out of state and the program was in limbo after I completed the first portion.

I’m not sure if I will complete Wags and Wiggles apprenticeship mainly because I’ve been waiting to return, but haven’t heard yet if they have a new lead trainer. I’ve gone ahead and moved forward with my goals and #1 on that list is to achieve my CPDT-KA certification.

I started the process, but it looks like I’m a few days too late to participate in the Fall 2019 testing. The current goal is to apply and pass the exam in the Spring 2020.

So until then I’ll continue studying and working with dogs.

My journey to become a certified dog trainer has been long and windy. Every road is different and everyone will follow a different path.

Are you considering a dog training certification?

What is your path?

How did you become a certified dog trainer?

Tell us your story in the comment section below

How to get your dog training certification. Puppy sitting obediently.
How To Get Your Dog Training Certification

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10 Comments

  1. Very helpful first article to read as I consider becoming a dog trainer. Some great resources to review as I’m weighing the financial/time commitments.

    Also, I had to get to Knox Overstreet before I realized it, but nice job on the Dead Poets Society references. 🙂

    1. Yay! Someone finally gets one of my silly movie references. Dead Poet’s Society is one of my all time favorite movies. RIP Robin Williams. Good luck with your possible career choice as a dog trainer. While dog training is not my full time job, I do enjoy working with the service dogs and helping people along the way.

  2. I sometimes take home service dogs in training over the weekends. I had no idea how much it took to become certified! Very interesting!

    1. Yes! The apprenticeship for guide dog trainers is no easy feat. I have a lot of respect for those who go through these training certifications.

  3. Puppy in training its helping me a lot with my dog. I’ve had a completely crazy dog, he was barking to people at street when we was outside and chewing things that he shouldn’t all the time, I’ve found this brain training and everything has changed(thanks god!). Thanks for the content, this blog its great!

  4. I love your blog, Colby! Thanks for all the helpful tips. 🙂

    Recently I was googling stuff by CPDT-KA’s about how to train dogs with other basic commands, and it seems the key for training our pups is to keep things fun and lighthearted… which is some of what you seem to be saying here? Is that right?

    Anyway, in researching ways to better train my dog I ran across a CPDT-KA’s list of these top 5 commands and how to easily implement them using, you guessed it, fun and lightheartedness ha

    I thought I’d share them here with you and your community, if you don’t mind.

    After reading some posts I really trust your expertise and was wondering if there’s anything you’d add/comment on these 5 tips.

    Thanks again!

    1. Thanks! Yeah, 10,000 hours is a lot! Mobility instructors put in a lot of work to become experts. It’s tough to tell without actually tracking, but I bet someday I’ll hit 10,000 hours if I haven’t already.

  5. Very interesting article! I would love to do training as my career but life circumstances make that difficult. Your article got me thinking though that I could probably apprentice in some classes eventually at least!
    I just found your site and am enjoying it very much.

    1. I’m glad you’re enjoying the site. There are a lot of different options if you want to work towards a dog training certification. Apprenticing under another experience dog trainer is great. Also, you might look into volunteering with a local animal shelter.

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