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Dog Training Ethics and Certification at Odds

There are some initials after my name that suggest education in canine behavior, but none of them are “CPDT.”  Some dog trainers, despite our desire for a certification process that helps insure competence, have elected not to test for that designation.  The reason is that, while the Certification Council for Pet Dog Trainers does not do anything but test, and the organizations are technically separate, the Association for Pet Dog Trainers is largely made up of people who have taken the test, and it is their ethics we question.

Originally formed by the likes of Ian Dunbar, et al, the APDT was intended as an educational organization that would uplift the quality of dog training.  For a while, it seemed as though that might happen.  Then, an odd thing occurred.  Trainers who continued to use choke, prong, and even shock collars, despite the “education” offered through continuing education, became a vocal enough crowd to influence APDT policy and ethics, we think for the worse.

Fast forward to a recent decision by CCPDT to lift its ban on the use of shock collars on puppies less than one year old!  That action prompted those of us who practice force free training to want to vomit in our mouths, for lack of a better graphic mental image to capture the disgust we felt.  Effectively, it meant that the the CPDT designation, for all intents and purposes, could NOT differentiate, for the public, the difference between a trainer who uses shock (even on puppies) and one who doesn’t.  The pro’s and con’s of the use of shock collars is fodder for seemingly endless argument between us and them, but suffice to say that the public deserves to KNOW what methods will be used on their dogs, including any possible fallout, so that they can make a decision based on the relationship they want with their dogs and their own moral and ethical values.  They need to be aware of the factions in the dog training world, that there is a rift, and that they have a choice to make.  Obviously, I have made my choice – as both a dog owner and trainer, I do not want to train my own dogs by saying to them, “Do it or it will hurt, ” and I want others to at least have the opportunity to learn what I have learned about there not being any reason to have to cause pain or fear in order to successfully modify a dog’s behavior.

One group, Truly Dog Friendly, agrees with the notion that we do not need to hurt dogs to train them, and it was hoped that they would take up the challenge of forming an organization that would provide certification, etc.  For reasons unknown, it didn’t happen.   But, recently, Niki Tudge, a force free trainer, and owner of Dog Smith, took up the incredible challenge on her own, and formed the Pet Professionals Guild.  Some of us, myself included, have joined as charter members and have high hopes that, at last, in the United States, there will eventually be a certifying organization that guarantees the public a  science AND ethics based force free choice for training their dogs.  People will have the benefit of knowing that their pet professional has assented to some very strong guiding principles. The sad thing is that the public, until now, may not have even realized that there was a choice.  A trainer is a trainer, right?  Wrong!!!

UPDATE March 15, 3016: There is now a certification that is independently tested and does have an ethics requirement. The Pet Professional Accreditation Board:


About pawsforpraise

I own and operate Paws for Praise. We offer group dog training classes and behavior consultations in a dog and human friendly environment. We think training should be fun for you and your dog. Go ahead - make a tail wag!

5 responses »

  1. Great post, Anne. You captured the rift in the dog training industry in a nutshell. The average dog owner is not aware that there is a virtual war going on between those who believe in force-training (choke, prong, shock collars, alpha-rolling/pinning, silly “tssssst” sounds, reliance on the dominance myth, etc.) and those who rely on gentle techniques and training methods based on the real science behind learning theory and behavior modification. Many of us are disappointed and downright disgusted by the direction of the APDT and CPDT certification organizations towards tolerance and acceptance of force. The advent of the Pet Professionals Guild finally gives us a chance to belong to an organization that we can support whole-heartedly, an organization that will not tolerate the unnecessary harsh treatment of the 4-legged creatures we so love and call it training. I can already hear the naysayers crying, “But all dogs are different, and some need different types of training than others!” This is true. There are a myriad of methods that can be tailored to each individual dog that are based on learning theory and do not include force, fear, pain or intimidation. I’m looking forward to participating in the Guild and helping it grow.

  2. Very informative, Anne – gotta love a person who calls a spade a spade! Keep up the good work!

  3. Just to allay the worries of your international readers – the UK APDT has a strong code of practise ( which states that “…Their actions or advice should not knowingly cause psychological or physical distress or damage to any of these….The training methods employed and advised by members shall be consistent with the principles of kindness and fairness to both clients and dogs. For this reason, the use of coercive or punitive techniques and equipment should not be used….The training techniques employed and advised by members are assumed to be the application of scientifically-based research and knowledge and to result from practical experience of the use of non-compulsive methods”

    • The standards are different for APDT in the UK, and I’m glad you reminded our readers. Thank you, Sam.

    • Sam, good that you pointed that out as I have done so often. It took me a while to realise the A.P.D.T. was not the same as A.P.D.T.- U.K. I do not want to be associated with anyone who uses punishment. We work hard to learn our logo and wear it with pride!


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