In Columbia, there are many restaurants that allow your dog to accompany you at outside eating areas or at events, such as Soda City. Those of us who also attend these events or eat at these restaurants appreciate seeing a well-behaved dog enjoying the outings with his pet parent.
If you have spent time training and socializing your dog and you pride yourself on being a responsible pet owner, there is a way to show the community the work you have put into training him to be a welcomed addition to public events. The American Kennel Club’s (AKC) nationally recognized Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test is one way to do this.
This test is offered periodically by training organizations, such as Pawsitive Results. It is a 10-step test that includes basic obedience cues such as sit, down, stay, and coming when called. It also includes exercises such as reaction to distractions, walking in a crowd, greeting another person who has a dog, accepting petting, greeting a stranger, and accepting handling and grooming. The list and description of test items can be found on the AKC website at www.akc.org/dog-owners/training/canine-good-citizen/training-testing/.
The test must be taken without giving the dog treats. This provides an indication to the evaluator that the dog can be controlled without the use of food and that the dog has learned all the skills without the incentive of a treat. Dogs are tested in regular collars or harnesses, including front- clip harnesses. Other collars or devices, such as head halters, prong collars or electronic collars, are considered training devices and the dog cannot be tested in these.
While you cannot use treats in the test, you are encouraged to praise and talk to your dog throughout the test. During a test, evaluators are looking to see how well your dog is trained and that you and your dog work well together as a team.
Just as important as the training items is the Responsible Dog Owner Pledge you must sign before you can take the test. When you sign the pledge, you agree to take care of your dog’s health needs, safety, exercise, training, and quality of life. You also agree to show responsibility by doing things like cleaning up after your dog in public and not letting your dog infringe on the rights of people or other dogs.
Any dog, purebred or mixed, can take this test. The only requirement to take the CGC is that the dog has completed its vaccinations, including the staterequired rabies vaccination. The AKC recommends dogs that have taken and passed the tests be re-evaluated every two years.
If you and your dog pass the CGC test, you can be issued a certificate showing that you passed. If your purebred or mixed breed dog is registered with the AKC, you can also choose to have the CGC shown as a “title” for your dog. A title is listed in the dog’s record with the AKC and the initials “CGC” can be listed after the dog’s registered name. You can then also buy lots of neat things with the CGC logo, such as CGC collar tags, bandanas, leashes, and patches.
I have been a CGC evaluator for about 15 years. I have observed many teams take the test throughout those years. The most common problems I have observed during the test are the Staying in Place and the Reaction to a Neutral Dog parts of the test.
Training in lots of different locations and using reward-based training methods can help solidify the skills needed to pass the test. Learning to watch your dog carefully and using steps, such as asking your dog to sit and stay when you greet someone else with a dog to prevent rude dogdog greetings, can help prepare you for the Reaction to a Neutral Dog part of the test.
Another common problem I see, at every test, is that often handlers become anxious and stressed at the time of the CGC test. Their body language and tone change. The dog senses that something is wrong and that, in turn, can stress the dog and cause him to act differently. The only advice I can offer to prevent “test nerves” is to BREATHE and to practice skills often so you have confidence in your dog. Remember, it is only a snapshot of one moment in time. If you and your dog do not pass the test the first time, you can take it multiple times. The main thing to remember is you are taking the steps to train your dog and be a responsible owner, whether or not he has the certificate.