At this time there is no legal degree or license required in this country before a person can advertise their services as a dog trainer. In some states, but not all, there is a certification test that must be passed before a person is permitted to train guide dogs for the blind.
As a result, there are some very skilled dog trainers and then there are many people calling themselves professional trainers who are unqualified.
The problem with trying to regulate dog training is that it’s a lot like trying to standardize religion! There are many different beliefs and approaches to training dogs. The only thing all dog trainers agree on is that they don’t agree with each other.
Assuming you wish to become a qualified dog trainer, you should begin by apprenticing with someone who has many years of experience and has been successful in achieving results with multiple breeds of dogs.
In your search for this person, observe different training methods and compare the results.
Any dog trainer is a product of the dogs they have trained and years of experience. For example, a trainer who has only ever worked with retrievers is going to be at a loss when working with a terrier issue. People who train only Rottweilers and Dobermans only are not well prepared to deal with toy breeds. All breeds and individual dogs are unique. Part of becoming a proficient dog trainer is learning to speak the language of many dissimilar breeds of dogs.
There are people willing to take your money (usually thousands of dollars) and claim that their program will teach you to train dogs in a few weeks. They will even certify you. These “schools” advertise in the back of dog publications and on the internet. Their curriculums often consist of a lot of book work and very little hands on experience.
You cannot learn to train dogs without training dogs! There are now some accredited colleges offering classes in dog training; again a lot of books, theory and very few dogs.
Anyone wishing to learn to train dogs should first train their own dog and compete for some kind of title in one of many venues. Dogs can earn titles (degrees) in obedience, field, tracking, confirmation, agility, sheepherding, earthdog, carting, freestyle, frisbee, lure coursing, rally, hunting, flyball and even a new activity called nose work. Some of these certificates of titles are issued by the AKC and others by different organizations.
Earning titles is really the only way to test a training system. Does your training of the dog hold up under real life test conditions? There are many theories about dog training. They don’t all work in the real world, but they are written about and have followers. Earning a degree on a dog proves that the schooling of the dog was successful enough for multiple judges to approve of the dogs performance.
Over the years, organizations have evolved that attempt to provide authenticity to trainers. Some of these include: National Association of Dog Obedience Instructors (NADOI), Companion Pet Dog Trainers (CPDT), Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT) and Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT). People belonging to these organizations call themselves “Certified Dog Trainers” but this certification is only as valid as the organization offering membership. There is no licensing board for dog trainers. Often the certification is based entirely on a written test developed by the organization.
At the present time I have two interns working with me. They will spend a minimum of a year and a half observing, training and eventually teaching before they venture out on their own. As they gradually take on their own students, I will continue to be available for guidance, questions, and problem solving. Many accomplished trainers around the country offer similar apprentice programs.