Demystifying the CGC

Jet being told to wait, before being released to take a bite of apple from my fingers. A year before this was taken, my fingers would have been bloody.

The AKC has a test that it offers that any dog, be they purebred, mixed breed or unidentifiable, can take. It’s called the CGC, or Canine Good Citizen test. Its sole purpose is to serve as proof to you and other dog owners that you have been through a training class with your dog and that your dog is well-behaved in public. A lot of dog owners seem to think this test is very hard. It’s really not! It’s not intended to be difficult. Your dog is still going to be a dog, whether you take this test or not. I highly recommend taking a class before taking this test and I also highly recommend that, even if you think your dog won’t pass, you take this test anyway. Doing the class that prepares you for the CGC in the environment where you’ll be taking the test is the best way to set your dog up for success. You will get that class time to go through the exact steps of the test, learn how to teach your dog to do those things on the test and get help from a trainer when you need trouble shooting on little odd things that your dog does that maybe you haven’t seen other dogs do. I’ve taken the CGC test with a couple of dogs now. I’m about to take it a third time in a few weeks with Lexi. Since I’ve done this a couple of times before, let me take some of the mystery out of the test for you. It’s really not as hard as it sounds, I mean seriously, my obnoxious pain the rear passed it. If Jet can do it, and he jumped all over me and went completely nuts as we walked off the floor to let the next person test, then your dog can do it too.

Test 1: Meeting a friendly stranger.

This one seems to hold back a lot of Lab folks because they assume that the way their dogs react to greeting strangers that come into their house, has something to do with meeting a stranger while on a walk. It doesn’t. Jet’s got his CGC. Jet still acts like a spastic little stinker whenever my doorbell rings. He barks, he jumps, he wiggles, all of it. What happens during the test is that a trainer will approach you. You will get your dog under control have him sit and stay put and then they will greet you and shake your hand. That’s it. You have all the time in the world to get your dog’s attention. You can repeat the command as many times as you need to. The only rule is that you may not touch your dog during this process, or use a leash correction to get your dog in line.

Test 2: Sitting politely for petting.

About a second after you shake hands with the trainer, the trainer will ask to pet your dog. So you say “Sure!” and then you look back at your dog, make sure he’s still sitting and staying and reinforce the “stay” as the stranger bends down to pet his head. This is not a vigorous body rub. This is not a grabbing ears and pulling tail kind of thing. It’s a pat across the top of the head, when that’s done, you’ve passed test 2.

Test 3: Appearance and grooming.

So… you have a Lab (or other breed of dog, but I’m assuming Labs since most of my readers are Lab fans!) you know they shed. You brush them like crazy and it doesn’t help. I got a robot vacuum to help reign in the hair from three Labradors. It vacuums three times a week and that seems to help keep it down, mostly. You’ve probably been doing this part of the test all along. The hard part, is actually not the part where the tester runs a brush down your dog’s back a couple of times and says “Good dog!” The hard part, is when they go to pick up your dog’s foot. If you don’t trim your dog’s nails yourself, that’s fine, but you should be able to handle their feet. All they have to do is be able to reach down and pick up your dog’s foot without them biting or pulling their foot away. This is something you can practice easily at home simply by doing body touching exercises with your dog and including their feet in the exercise.

Test 4: Out for a walk Loose leash walking.

For me, this was the holy grail. I have some weird ability to teach dogs to pull on a leash when I walk them. I used to have no idea what I was doing wrong, then I went to dog school and I realized that I keep getting these dogs that seem to think that if I give them a half a step, they can walk all the way to the end of the line and drag me down the road! I’m not sure why it is that I choose dogs like this— since this is text, it should be noted that passage was thick with sarcasm in my mind when I wrote it. ALL dogs do this, not just mine. I don’t give them that half a step anymore. Once you figure out what signals you’re giving your dog to make him think that he can be in charge of your walk, you will never go back to your old way of doing things! If you have no other problems with your dog, except for leash walking issues, I cannot stress enough how useful it is to go to a class with an actual trainer to help you see what you can’t. Once you do that, this is smooth sailing.

Test 5: Walking through a crowd.

So, you’ve got the loose leash walking thing licked, right? Once you do, this will be easy. You have to walk through a group of people with your dog maintaining that loose leash beside you. There will not be other dogs, or strollers or bikes for this one. Just some people your dog has never met before. It’s not hard once you practice doing this a lot at pet stores. Your dog gets used to the idea that there are a lot of other people out there that are not a part of their pack pretty quick, and they will learn to enjoy the extra pats they get for good behavior out in public.

Test 6: Sit and down on command and staying in place.

This sounds like your dog will have to do both a sit/stay and a down/stay to pass the test. This is not true. You can choose to do whichever stay your dog is best at. My dogs do best with the down/stay. So first, you will ask your dog to sit. Then you will ask your dog to down. What I have done is while they are in a down, I leave them there and tell them to stay. Then you walk a few feet (okay, more than a few, like 15 ish) from your dog and walk straight back, reinforcing your stay command as you return so they don’t pop right back up.

Test 7: Coming when called.

This one’s self explanatory. It’s okay for your dog to act like a totally insane freak as they run back to you when you call them, as long as they sit when they get to you without jumping on you. That was hard for Jet. He greets everyone by jumping on them. He loves to jump on people. It’s his zen. He jumped on me after I praised and released him during this portion of the test and the tester still passed us, because he was acting like a goof after being given his release word. The tester joked with me that he was just having a little victory dance.

Test 8: Reaction to another dog.

What you’re going to do is have your dog on a loose leash on your left and the other handler is going to have their dog on a loose leash at their left. You and the other handler will be between your dog and the other dog. All you have to do is approach the other handler, get your dog to sit and stay put, and then shake the other handler’s hand and walk away. That’s it! Your dog just has to not growl, bark or freak out at the sight of the other dog. They can notice each other. They can look. They do not have to sniff each other’s butts or actually meet each other. They are to be busy being focused on you, not doing other stuff. This one is really easy, even for Lexi who is very reactive to smaller dogs. As long as there is a job for her brain to be focused on doing, then she doesn’t care if there’s a dog there.

Test 9: Reaction to distraction.

First off, I have to give the AKC some crap for this one. Who on God’s green earth is going to expect a dog not to freak out when someone drops a crutch on the floor? You can’t expect them not to react to that at all, that seems a bit unfair to me, especially to dogs that are gun shy. I have a dog that is afraid of fireworks and gun fire. She gets spooked if things get dropped on our tile. You can’t expect me to fix that in four months of training classes. You just can’t. That said, there are things that they may encounter in public, like handicapable individuals in wheel chairs, or parents with babies in strollers, or bicyclists, or joggers. It is up to the tester which of these distractions they can use. I would go watch a CGC test at the location where you’re planning to take your dog through it and see what distractions they use. Choose a place that uses distractions that you feel comfortable working with your dog on and that you feel are reasonable for your neighborhood and lifestyle. Dropping a crutch and making a loud bang on the floor is not reasonable in my mind. My school does not drop noisy things on floors. They use strollers, walkers, wheel chairs and bicycles and you just have to walk your dog past them without him trying to lunge for them. They can smell them and show interest, but should otherwise leave them alone.

Test 10: Supervised separation.

This really is easier than it sounds. You have to be able to leave your dog alone with a stranger for 3 minutes, with you completely out of sight, without them barking or panicking. I work on this at home by leashing my dogs out to the banister during meal times and walking in and out of the room while they eat.

Some of you are probably still groaning and shaking your head. On paper, this thing looks complicated. When I first took a dog through this test, I thought my head was going to explode with all the stuff we had to learn and do together. When I took Jet through it, I was sure that he was going to be the first failure our trainer had ever had on the CGC test. He acted like a nut ball every time I gave him his release word during the test, but when I asked him to do things, he was right on top of it! That’s the important part here. You just have to demonstrate that you have verbal control over your dog when you’re out in public. It’s all doable stuff. You are not being asked to complete an obstacle course with your dog, while the building is on fire, though I am sure it feels like that. So do yourself a favor, before you decide to go do that test, go take a class. Most dog training clubs offer a class that prepares you for this test. You should take it. It will help you a lot, you will learn a lot and your dog will actually enjoy it.