The Canine Good Citizen Program was designed by the American Kennel Club (AKC) to encourage dog owners to teach their dogs good manners. It also promotes responsible pet ownership. It involves training your dog to be well-behaved and calm in any situation.
Once your dog is ready, he can take the Canine Good Citizen test. An AKC Approved Evaluator administers the test, and if your dog passes, he receives a Canine Good Citizen certificate. Many people use the Canine Good Citizen training to start preparing dogs for pet therapy, advanced obedience training, or dog sports. Dogs of any breed or mix can earn their Canine Good Citizen certification.
Before you start training, it helps to know what your dog will be expected to do to ace his test. The test consists of ten parts. Your dog should be able to:
- Remain calm while a stranger approaches and stops to talk to you.
- Remain calm while a stranger pets him.
- Accept being handled in a manner similar to the way a groomer or veterinarian would handle him for grooming or an exam.
- Walk on a loose leash without pulling or lunging.
- Remain calm and walk on a loose leash through a crowd.
- Sit, down, and stay on command.
- Come when called.
- Remain calm as another dog and handler approach.
- Remain calm when distractions such as loud noises are presented.
- Remain calm while you hand his leash to someone else and walk away.
You are allowed to pet and talk to your dog during the test, but you can't use food rewards or toys to encourage him. Any dog that has a housebreaking accident, barks, growls, or snaps during the test, automatically fails.
Training Your Puppy
If you have a new puppy you want to prepare for the Canine Good Citizen test, start with socialization. Get your puppy used to a variety of different people and being handled. You can also begin working on basic obedience commands, such as sit and down with your puppy. A puppy kindergarten class is great way to get your puppy on track to becoming a good canine citizen.
Although there is no minimum age requirement for the Canine Good Citizen, keep in mind that your dog's temperament may change as he becomes an adult. The AKC recommends that puppies who pass the Canine Good Citizen test be retested once they become adults.
Another option for puppies is the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program. S.T.A.R. stands for socialization, training, activity, and responsibility. This is a pre-Canine Good Citizen test for puppies younger than one year. Just like the Canine Good Citizen, puppies train and then get tested. Those who pass the test receive a medal and certificate.
You can begin working on basic obedience and socialization at home. Positive reinforcement training, such as clicker training, is a great way to work on basic commands and loose leash walking. Work on the "look" command so you'll be able to keep your dog's attention on you in any situation. This will come in handy when you're teaching your dog to remain calm when he interacts with strangers or other dogs.
Teach Your Dog to Accept Strangers and Other Dogs
To teach your dog to stay calm when strangers or other dogs approach, start off with a fairly large distance between you and a stranger or another dog. Give your dog the "look" command, and praise him and give him a treat when he keeps his attention on you rather than the other person or dog. Slowly work up to keeping your dog's attention on you while the distance between you and the other person or dog gets smaller. If at any point, your dog becomes excited or reactive to the approaching person or dog, move back a little bit, and begin again from the last point where you were able to hold your dog's attention. If you work up to it at a pace your dog is comfortable with, he will soon be able to calmly handle the presence of other dogs and people.
Finding a Class and an Evaluator
Another training option is to take a class. There are a number of dog trainers who offer Canine Good Citizen classes which will prepare you and your dog for the test. One of the AKC Approved Evaluators may be able to recommend a trainer. You can go to the AKC website to find a listing of evaluators in your area. You can also use this list to find an evaluator when your dog is ready to take his test.
Edited by Jenna Stregowski, RVT