Have you heard of the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Program? It’s a certification that dogs can achieve as a groundwork for agility, therapy, obedience and other activities. Even if you don’t plan to train your dog to become a therapy dog to participate in dog sports, the Canine Good Citizen Test is a good goal to work towards for raising a happy, well-mannered dog.
Why Take The Canine Good Citizen Test?
One of the most common reasons people take the CGC with their dogs is to prepare them to become therapy dogs. A therapy dog is not a service dog, and cannot be taken into public places with the exception of hospitals, schools and nursing homes, with permission. Therapy dogs are used to help patients and students feel relaxed, so they must be mannerly enough to calmly interact with many different people.
Even if you don’t plan to do therapy work with your dog or participate in dog sports, the CGC certificate you and your dog can earn together. It will motivate you to take time each week to train your dog and socialize them, which will strengthen your bond and make your dog more enjoyable to be around.
How To Prepare For And Take The CGC
During the CGC test, the evaluator will go over ten requirements:
- Accepting a friendly stranger
- Sitting politely for petting
- Appearance and grooming
- Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead)
- Walking through a crowd
- Sit and down on command, and staying in place
- Coming when called
- Reaction to another dog
- Reaction to distraction
- Supervised separation
These are basic skills that you can teach with or without the help of a professional trainer, depending on your training skills and your dog’s age, temperament and abilities. It’s always useful to take a basic puppy class if you get your dog as a pup, or a basic obedience class for adult dogs so you can get a gain a foundation on how to work with your dog in an environment full of distractions.
You can use food to reward your dog while you’re training, but you cannot use it during the test. Food rewards are best used when first training new behaviors and to keep skills sharp, but as your dog learns, you can use food intermittently so they will not expect treats every single time they respond to a command.
Many dog trainers are CGC evaluators, and you can also visit your local Petco, as many stores regularly host CGC tests.
Why The CGC Test Isn’t For Every Dog
As beneficial as it is to shoot for passing the CGC Test, it’s not a realistic expectation for every dog, particularly the requirements for accepting strangers and dogs they don’t know.
The toughest part of preparing for the CGC isn’t always obedience, such as sitting and coming when called. Many dogs feel uncomfortable around strangers, especially those who have not been introduced to many different people when they were puppies in the early socialization period.
Other dogs take issue with the last qualification – supervised separation. Your dog might bark or cry when you’re out of their sight, which means they will fail the test.
While every qualification of the test can be trained, you may need a professional trainer or behaviorist to help you. Improper training can make certain issues worse. If you force your undersocialized dog to interact with strangers, they may have a scary, negative experience that could intensify their fear. It’s crucial that you work at your dog’s pace and make each new experience brief, easy and positive. If your dog starts barking when they see a stranger, it’s unfair – even dangerous – to hold them in place on their leash and have the stranger pet them.
Working at your dog’s pace may mean it could take weeks, even months to get them totally comfortable with strangers. If your dog cannot pass the CGC test, that does not mean they are a bad dog. It just means that they would not be a good candidate for therapy work.
You should still keep your dog’s brain active by training at home, taking small group or private training classes, going on walks and hikes, and even doing nosework. There’s plenty of fun, engaging things your dog can do without a CGC certificate.
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