The Muddy Language of Dog Behavior Titles

THIS POST HAS BEEN UPDATED AS OF 2024. The new post is located here. This is now an archival post.

If you’ve been around here a bit, you may have noticed a strong theme of transparency in my posts and on social media.  For those who may have missed it, dog training is unregulated in the US.  Not only does this mean consumers have no protection and anyone can do practically anything to your dog in the name of training, it also means there’s a lot of muddy language out there with titles.  Hopefully this will help clear things up and make people better consumers and know what questions to ask when hiring a dog professional. (Note, this is targeted for those in the US.  The UK and Canada have different uses of some terms.)Click for full PDF download

The term behaviorist is a particularly tricky one, because there are behaviorists, mostly Veterinary Behaviorists, who are certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists but there are only about 80 VBs in the whole world. There’s also Certified Animal Behaviorists, given the designation CAAB (Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist) or ACAAB (Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist) by the Animal Behavior Society and there’s only about 50 of those worldwide.  So it’s not terribly likely the trainer calling themselves a “behaviorist” actually has these credentials.  But unlike falsely calling yourself a veterinarian, which would have high legal stakes, it’s not illegal to call yourself a behaviorist, so it happens without repercussions every day.  And to further complicate things, other places like the UK, use the term much more generally, so those coming here from other countries may be further confused.


And if you’re trying to make sense of the acronyms and letters after people’s names, here’s an incomplete guide.  (Please note: I’ve intentionally left out any that endorse or are predominately aversive training methods like prong and shock.  Some listed here do follow LIMA training practices (least invasive, minimally aversive), so I do not endorse all of these.)

As you can see, there’s a lot of titles, and this isn’t even a complete list.  And it seems like there’s new schools or certifying organizations popping up regularly.  It can be overwhelming and confusing.

Stay safe out there.  One day I hope we will have regulation and minimum requirements mandated by a central overseeing body.  But until then, ask questions and walk away.  Don’t believe hype.  Remember, these are animals.  There are no quick fixes.  If someone promises to “fix” your dog quickly, run away!  Seek out a qualified trainer or contact me if you are unsure.  I offer remote sessions for most issues, or can refer you to someone who can help!

Happy Training!



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