How to Train Your Dog for the Canine Good Citizen Test

This is the most widely-recognized behavior test for dogs

Senior couple and granddaughter walking dogs, Norfolk, UK
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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. The test trains your dog to be well-behaved and calm in any situation.

Once your dog is ready, it can take the Canine Good Citizen test. An AKC Approved Evaluator administers the test, and if your dog passes, it 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.

Familiarize Yourself With the Parts of the Test

Before you start training, it helps to know what your dog will be expected to do to ace the test. The test consists of 10 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 it
  • Accept being handled in a manner similar to the way a groomer or veterinarian would handle 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
  • Respond to the sit, down, and stay commands
  • 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 its 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 it. Any dog that has a housetraining accident, barks, growls, or snaps during the test automatically fails.

Socialize 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 a 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 it becomes an adult. The AKC recommends that puppies who pass the Canine Good Citizen test be retested once they become adults.

Try the STAR Puppy Program

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 1 year old. Just like the Canine Good Citizen, puppies train and then get tested. Those who pass the test receive a medal and certificate.

Practice Basic Obedience

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 it interacts with strangers or other dogs.

Teach Your Dog to Stay Calm Around Strangers

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 offer praise and a treat when it's able to keep its 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, it will soon be able to calmly handle the presence of other dogs and people.

Problems and Proofing Behavior

A dog has to successfully complete all 10 of the skills on the Canine Good Citizen test in order to receive the certificate. If it can't complete one of the segments, the dog fails the test.

It's a challenging program for energetic puppies, but a dog that has failed the AKC test can retake it at a later date. Ideally, if your dog fails the test once, you should work on proofing the behaviors it struggled with. This means training the dog in a particular skill or behavior in a variety of scenarios.

For instance, if your dog can handle "sit" when it's in your living room, but gets too distracted at the dog park to complete the behavior, work on this in different environments. Practice outside, in the park, on walks, and at the vet's office, and offer treats when your dog sits on command. Continue to practice until your dog can sit whenever it hears the command (with or without a treat as a reward).

Another training option is to take a class. Many dog trainers offer Canine Good Citizen classes that will prepare you and your dog for the test, even if your dog has failed the test in the past. One of the AKC Approved Evaluators may be able to recommend a trainer in your area.

You can go to the AKC website to find a listing of evaluators in your area. Use this list to find an evaluator when your dog is ready to take (or retake) its test.