Strengthening our bond to improve animals' lives

What is a Behavior Professional?

When looking for a dog trainer or someone to help with your dog or cat’s unwanted behaviors, you might find people with all sorts of initials after their names, or maybe no initials at all. What does it all mean?

When looking for a dog trainer or someone to help with your dog or cat’s unwanted behaviors, you might find people with all sorts of initials after their names, or maybe no initials at all. What does it all mean?

Behaviorist: This term is not attached to any specific qualification or level of education unless preceded by “veterinary” or “applied animal.” Currently there is no licensing requirement for anyone who states they are a behaviorist, unless they are a DVM or VMD. The term can be used by anyone, including those with no formal education in animal behavior.
DVM or VMD: Doctor of Veterinary Medicine or Veterinary Medical Doctor. This person has graduated from a 4-year veterinary college and passed a national board exam. Veterinarians must keep up with continuing education to keep their licenses current based on their state’s requirements.  They are monitored by a governing body and can have their license revoked if they are not practicing to the standards of care. Veterinarians are legally the only ones who can diagnosis medical problems.  They are also able to diagnose and treat behavior problems, and are legally the only people that can prescribe medication to treat them.  Most veterinary schools do not provide animal behavior as a core part of the curriculum. Veterinarians who are interested in behavior can gain more behavior knowledge through continuing education or by entering a formal behavior residency program.
DACVB – Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists: This DVM or VMD has completed a 3-year residency at an accredited veterinary college or a non-conforming residency that was mentored by a DACVB and approved by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. To become a diplomate, residents are required to see more than 200 supervised behavior cases, write three peer-reviewed case reports, author and publish a scientific paper based on their own research, and then successfully complete a national board exam. DACVBs are the only ones who can call themselves veterinary behaviorists.
To find a DAVCB go to http://www.dacvb.org/resources/find/.
Note, too, that there are veterinarians who have a special interest in behavior but have not completed a behavior residency; instead, they have taken additional classes or participated in continuing education in behavior and then specialize in behavior medicine.
Veterinary Technician Specialist – Behavior: This person is a veterinary technician who has graduated from an American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA)-accredited vet tech program and/or who has been credentialed (certified, registered or licensed) in their respective state. In addition, the technician has demonstrated his or her knowledge of veterinary behavior and behavior modification by applying to the Academy of Veterinary Behavior Technicians (AVBT) to sit for the Veterinary Technician Specialty Exam in Behavior. Technicians that pass this national exam earn the distinction of being a Veterinary Technician Specialist – Behavior (VTS-Behavior). To apply, technicians must have more than 3 years of experience in veterinary medicine and 4,000 documented hours of behavior experience. They must also have worked on 50 behavior cases, submitted three case studies for review, provided professional references, and passed a written and practical exam given annually by the AVBT. Veterinary technicians, like veterinarians, are monitored by a governing body, and can have their licensed revoked.
For more information, go to www.AVBT.net.
ABS – The Animal Behavior Society: A professional organization that grants certification to individuals that meet its high standards of education and have professional experience in the field of applied animal behavior. ABS has two levels of certification: Associate Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist.  Certification is granted by the Board of Professional Certification (BPC) of the ABS.
More information can be found at www.animalbehaviorsociety.org.
AAAB – Associate Applied Animal Behaviorist: This person has earned a research-based Master’s degree from an accredited college in biological or behavioral science. To earn certification, he or she must also have two years of professional experience in applied animal behavior, provide evidence of supervised hands-on experience with a particular species, provide professional letters of recommendation, and show that they can work independently in applied animal behavior. Recertification is required every five years.
CAAB – Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist: The ABS grants this certification to a professional who has earned a research-based PhD from an accredited college in a behavioral or biological science. He or she must also have five years of professional experience, provide professional recommendations, have a thorough knowledge of the literature on the scientific principles of animal behavior, provide original research, and show evidence of significant experience working interactively with a particular species as a researcher or with a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist. Recertification is required every five years.
IAABC – International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants: This organization was founded to support the practice of companion animal behavior consulting. The members of this group have diverse practices and methods. They believe in minimizing the use of aversives and maximizing the efficacy of using reinforcers to modify behavior. IAABC offers three tiers of membership in five different divisions: dog, cat, parrot, horse and working animal. A committee reviews applicants who want to become members at the various levels.
Supportive members simply pay a membership fee and support the IAABC mission. Associate members must provide references and two case studies that cover three core areas of competency, as well as have 300 hours of consulting and 150 hours of coursework. Certified members provide references and three case studies that cover six core areas of competency, and they must have at least three years and 1000 hours of consulting and 400 hours of coursework.
More information about IAABC is at www.iaabc.org.
Trainer: This is an individual that works with animals. There are no educational or legal certifications required to use the term, “trainer.” Trainers do not have state or national licenses, nor are they monitored by a governing body. They might have a small business license or perhaps certification from a training school they attended. Trainers may belong to professional groups that have various requirements for membership. However, trainers have no professional licensing requirements like veterinarians or registered veterinary technicians do.
CCPDT – Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers: A private not-for-profit organization whose mission is to establish and maintain humane standards of competence for animal training and behavior professionals.  To be certified, candidates must pass a comprehensive examination, have a certain number of hours of experience in the field, provide personal recommendations and agree to adhere to a strict code of ethics. CCPDT has several types of credentials.

To become a Certified Professional Dog Trainer- Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), trainers must have at least 300 hours of training experience as a head/lead trainer, as well as pass a science-based, psychometrically sound exam.  A trainer that passes an additional test that examines his or her physical skills in dog training becomes a CPDT-KSA (Knowledge and Skills Assessed).

CCPDT also has Certified Behavior Consultants. These individuals must have at least 500 hours of work with canine behavior cases and pass a science-based, psychometrically sound exam.
For additional information on CCPDT visit www.ccpdt.org.
KPA – Karen Pryor Academy: A professional educational academy for animal trainers that advances innovative force-free methods of animal training and the use of operant conditioning to modify behavior. KPA graduates have completed an intense 5-month educational program that uses online, didactic and hands-on instruction methods to teach students about animal training, behavior and client education. To graduate and become a Karen Pryor Certified Training Partner (KPA CTP), students must pass both written and practical assessments, and achieve a 90% or greater score on their final written and practical exams. Class sizes are limited, and students are required to train multiple species, including humans.

Learn more at www.karenpryoracademy.com.

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Carolyn Lincoln, DVM
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