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Decoding Trainer Speak: Figuring out what those labels could really mean

March 14, 2017

It’s a little known fact that dog training is a completely UNREGULATED industry. That’s right, that living, breathing, feeling creature you call your best friend? Anyone in the world can go online and begin advertising themselves as a professional dog trainer whenever they’d like to regardless of education or experience. And some do. After watching one episode of reality television and teaching their dog how to sit, suddenly they think they’re the next great dog trainer.


In truth, learning how to train any animal takes time and practice. Different dogs need different motivators, and a good trainer needs to know where best to use operant versus classical conditioning.  So the fact that anyone can label themselves a trainer (or worse, a behaviorist!) is frustrating, to say the least. It also means it can be difficult to figure out exactly what a trainer is saying when they throw terms like “balanced”, “purely positive”, and “cpdt” around, since there’s no one around to fact check them.



In this post, I’d like to introduce you to some terms that are frequently used in the dog trainer world, and what they mean. The following are abbreviations that mean the same thing across the board:


  • CCPDT: Stands for the “certification council for professional dog trainers”. The council is currently the only certifying body for dog trainers, and provides the titles of “CCPDT-ka” and “CCPDT-ksa” to those that pay for and pass their tests. Please note, while the CCPDT does have a code of conduct, trainers certified through them can still use positive punishment and negative reinforcement and certification does not guarantee force free methods.


  • CPDT-KA: Stands for “Certified Professional Dog Trainer- Knowledge Assessed”. Anyone who has these letters following their name has put in a number of hands on hours as either an assistant trainer or lead trainer and has been tested using a standardized multiple choice test. 


  • CPDT-KSA: Stands for “Certified Professional Dog Trainer- Knowledge and Skills Assessed”. To meet the rigorous standards of this title, a trainer must both pass the test for the knowledge assessed title, keep track of their hours training and working hands on with dogs, and also film examples of their training to be sent to the CCPDT and be assessed. There are far fewer trainers certified as Cpdt-ksa than Cpdt-ka.


  • APDT: Stands for the “Association of Professional dog trainers”. While membership to this society may show that a trainer is continuing their education, it is not a certifying body. Anyone can join this association and use their logo if they pay the fee, and being a member of the APDT does not necessarily guarantee a force free professional.


  • PPG: Stands for “Pet Professional Guild”. Similar to the APDT, the Pet Professional Guild is a professional group that anyone can join to learn more as both an owner and a professional. However, unlike the APDT, the professional applicants for this association are screened to make sure they only practice humane, scientifically sound techniques. They also cater to other animal professions such as groomers, doggy day cares, and feline/equine/avian behavior specialists, so are a little more diverse.

And the following are phrases and buzzwords commonly used by trainers when discussing their methods. First are the phrases that typically mean humane, science based training methods are being used:


  • “Purely positive”: I’m torn about the use of this terminology. While I understand that those who use this mean to say that they use and are totally committed to the use of positive reinforcement, at the same time it’s poor use of scientific terminology. I’ve yet to meet a force free trainer who doesn’t also use negative punishment (the removal of something the dog wants to decrease a behavior). However, I would not say “stay away from trainers who use this phrase”, it’s really just some food for thought for science nerd