It’s most effective to hire a professional with an appropriate amount of experience and expertise in dealing with the amount of aggression your dog displays.
If a dog’s aggression is not too far advanced, I recommend looking for a trainer with any of the following credentials:
The Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers (CCPDT) confers the titles of “Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Knowledge Assessed” (CPDT-KA), “Certified Professional Dog Trainer – Skills Assessed” (CPDT-KSA), and “Certified Behavior Consultant, Canine – Knowledge Assessed” (CBCC-KA) to trainers who have passed a written exam designed to test broad knowledge in the field. CPDT-KSA means the certificant has also demonstrated that they have a professional level of training skill. The CCPDT has not yet developed a skills-assessed certification for behavior consultants. CCPDT certificants are not required to use “all positive” methods, but they do agree to follow a “humane hierarchy” that puts positive methods first. You can find CCPDT certificants here.
Jean Donaldson is a well-known trainer and teacher, and former director of the trainer academy program at the San Francisco SPCA; she now offers her own rigorous online course and credentials through the auspices of the Jean Donaldson Academy (JDA). You can find JDA graduates here.
Karen Pryor is known as the mother of clicker training in the dog world. She offers an in-depth distance-learning program for training and behavior professionals through the Karen Pryor Academy (KPA). Students work on their own, and meet from time-to-time to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and accomplishments with one of several Karen Pryor trainers. Pryor does not teach the courses herself. You can find KPA trainers here.
Pat Miller (yes, that’s me) offers academies for trainers, and confers titles with increasing levels of designation (Pat Miller Certified Trainers, PMCTs) as a trainer successfully completes more academies. You can find PMCTs here.
The Pet Professional Guild is a membership organization committed to force-free training methods. Pet Professional Guild Members (PPGs) must agree not to use pain, force, or fear in their training and behavior practices, but there is no test or certification required to be a member. You can find PPG members here.
Professionals with Advanced Education and Training
In many cases, an experienced trainer with a good education and an interest in and comfort with dogs who display aggressive behavior will be sufficient to help you. But for dogs with more severe aggressive behavior, or complex or confounding aggression, I’d look for one of the following professionals with advanced education and training in animal behavior:
Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (CAAB) and Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorists (ACAAB) have advanced degrees in behavior and have met rigorous standards to obtain their credentials. Not all CAABs and ACAABs necessarily follow a positive reinforcement-based philosophy, so be sure to investigate. You can find CAABs and ACAABs here.
Veterinary Behaviorists (VBs) are veterinarians who are board-certified in behavior. This means they have studied behavior extensively and passed rigorous testing to obtain their credentials. Not all VBs necessarily follow a positive reinforcement-based philosophy, so be sure to investigate. You can find VBs here.
Veterinary Behavior Consultant (VBC) is not an official title or certification; these veterinarians are not (yet) board-certified in behavior but are educating themselves in animal behavior and making behavior a specialty. As there are fewer than 70 boarded Veterinary Behaviorists in the country, VBCs provide a very valuable service to augment this scarce resource. There is no official source that lists Veterinary Behavior Consultants. Try an Internet search for “veterinary behavior consultant” and (your state) to find any who might be near you.
Which Kind of Help Do You Need?
Mild aggression cases might involve a dog who growls and might even “air-snap,” but who hasn’t made contact with a person, or whose teeth touched a person but did not break the skin. For mild aggression cases, I’d consider professionals with one of the following credentials (and of course, experience and interest in aggression cases): CBCC-KA, JDA, KPA, PMCT, PPG, or VBC.
For help with a dog displaying moderate to significant aggression – a dog who has actually bitten and broken skin – I’d look for a professional with any of the following credentials: ACAAB, CAAB, PMCT 2 or 3, VB, VBC and some CBCC-KAs, JDAs, or KPAs.
For dogs with severe aggression (multiple significant bites, mauling), I’d consider only professionals with credentials ACAAB, CAAB, VB, or VBC.