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How to Become a Certified Dog Trainer (CDT)

written by: Laura Wise•edited by: Laurie Patsalides•updated: 10/19/2011

Whether you go to college for it or not, you can't have a career in dog training without the proper certification. Certified dog trainers can earn $80 or more per hour. Here is what you need to know in order to become a CDT.

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    The Types of Dog Trainer Certifications

    If you want to start a career as a dog trainer, certification is a must. There are various types of certifications for dog trainers, and different organizations offer different certifications. Most programs require actual dog training experience, as well as client references, veterinarian references and job references. For basic or entry level certification, the following certifications do not require a college degree:

    • Certified Dog Trainer (CDT)
    • Certified Dog Trainer Advanced (CDTA)
    • Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT)
    • Endorsed Member of the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI)

    In addition, several trade schools and two-year institutions offer dog trainer certification. These programs will provide you with a certification that has the school initials followed by the letters CDT --- for example, a degree from the Animal Behavioral College will issue a dog certification as ABCDT. This is not, however, the same as a regular CDT.

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    Certified Dog Trainer and Certified Dog Trainer Advanced: CDT and CDTA

    CDT and CDTA are two official certifications issued by the International Association of Canine Professionals (IACP). In order to receive either certification, you must apply to the IACP and meet a series of strict requirements. In addition, all applicants and certified trainers are required to abide by the code of conduct established by IACP. It's part of what gives the association and its members credibility.

    In order to obtain a CDT from the International Association of Canine Professionals, you must be a member of their organization for at least 6 months. A formal test comes next. It consists of several parts and requires a fee. First you must submit 3 case studies of actual dogs you have trained within the past year. In addition to these case studies, each client must fill out and submit a form for each dog. Then you will need 3 current references who are not your clients in the case studies. A copy of your training brochure that you give to clients is also required; the IACP prefers original brochures you have developed yourself over ones that are commercially available. Finally, this package must be submitted in the proper format (the guidelines of which can be found on their website, which you will have access to with membership).

    After they earn their CDT, IACP members are eligible for the CDTA, or Certified Dog Trainer Advanced certification. This involves another test, part of which includes submitting a video of your training methods for review by your peers.

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    Provisional and Endorsed Members of the National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors: NADOI

    The National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI) is another dog training organization. It has two levels of membership: Provisional and Endorsed. Both require proof of experience and references as well as a list of any courses taken on dog training.

    Provisional membership is open to professionals with 2 years experience in dog obedience training. Although you do not have to own your own dog training business, you must have worked with dogs and be able to provide proof of your experience. For instance, if you work at a pet store or boarding facility as a trainer or instructor, list that experience.

    Endorsed membership is the second level of membership, and requires a higher level of proficiency and experience. To be eligible, a trainer needs at least 5 years of experience and must have worked with at least 100 different dogs. Group instructors must have performed a minimum documented 104 hours of training.

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    Schools for Dog Training Certification

    Many schools today offer online dog training certification. A school offering certification in dog training will supply you with an XXCDT certificate, the XX being the school’s initials. The trick is to locate a reputable institution that meets your needs. Avoid schools that offer a multitude of unrelated certificate subjects. For example, a school that offers certification in gun repair, dog training and home inspection is probably not going to give you the education or the reputation you are looking for.

    Look for a school that has regional or local certifications. Many good schools are able to offer financial aid of some sort. In addition, a reputable school will have job placement assistance and, once you complete your degree, will list you as a certified dog trainer on their websites. Finally, be sure that any school offering a certified dog trainer program has a practical part of the training, with live dogs. Most importantly, there are safety issues that need to be addressed and dealt with in the field before the student can start training dogs professionally. Aggression in dogs is a main reason owners look for training --- and if you don't have practical experience in addressing canine aggression, you will put yourself, the dog and others at risk.

    One reputable school to look into is Animal Behavior College, a good online school. Part of their program includes assigning a mentor. This mentor will be a local graduate from ABC who will work with you for the final part of the course, which includes hands-on training. Another school, The Tom Rose School of Dog Training, is a highly recommended residency program.

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    CDT vs. School Certification

    There is a difference between school certification and Certified Dog Trainer (CDT) offered by the International Association of Canine Professionals. Only the IACP can issue a CDT. While a CDT may or may not have completed a certificate course in dog training, a CDT has demonstrated that they are a working professional dog trainer who possesses the necessary skills to safely and effectively train dogs.

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    Other Certifications

    The American Kennel Club (AKC) offers dog trainers the status of Canine Good Citizen (CGC) examiner. This allows you to administer the CGC exam, a basic level of obedience offered by the AKC that is open to any dog regardless of pedigree. As a certified dog trainer, you can become affiliated with a local AKC club and offer training lessons to dogs so that they can successfully complete a CGC exam.

    Becoming a certified dog trainer is the first step toward a successful career in dog training. As your career progresses, other training may be required. Many top trainers have advanced degrees in animal behavior. There are other certifications in dog training available, but most high-level positions require at least a Master's degree.