Is your dog a good candidate for pet therapy? Would you like your dog to be welcomed everywhere? Passing the American Kennel Club’s (AKC) Canine Good Citizen (CGC) evaluation is a worthwhile goal. The CGC evaluation is open to all dogs, including mixed breeds. Your dog must demonstrate solid training in these areas:
- Accepting a friendly stranger
- Sitting politely for petting
- Handling Tolerance
- Walking beside a handler on a loose leash
- Walking through a crowd, showing only mild interest in people and other dogs
- Sit and lie down on cue and stay in place
- Come when called
- Showing only mild interest in another dog who is nearby
- Calm responses in a distracting environment
- Non-stressed behavior when left under the supervision of someone other than the owner
PREPARATION FOR THE TEST
For young dogs or those with very basic obedience training, plan on spending about six months to one year to prepare for the evaluation. The preparation process could be shorter for owners who have more time to devote to training. The test must be conducted by an AKC-approved evaluator.
Treats are not permitted during testing, so all exercises must be reliable in all contexts. Training is more productive when positioning, timing, and reinforcement schedules are optimal. Coaching from a professional helps to improve handling skills and effectiveness.
TAKE YOUR SHOW ON THE ROAD
All dogs must learn obedience exercises in a generalized way. Changing training venues socializes dogs to new places and achieves this learning generalization. Frequent and positive exposure to new sights, sounds, and smells sets up for your therapy-dog-in-training to cope calmly with whatever rolls into his path. Poise amidst hospital smells, rattling gurneys, and elderly folks with canes and walkers is part of the job.
REACTIVE ON LEASH: FIX IT FIRST
If your dog struggles to calmly walk by or remain in the presence of another dog, implement a program to change this behavior. It usually takes several months of training to eliminate reactivity. (See Blog article – Improve Leash Walking with a Structured Approach.) Stop all on-leash dog-to-dog greetings and consider an equipment change. You may use a harness for the CGC evaluation.
For a complete checklist on CGC test items, go to www.akc.org and click on the Canine Good Citizen link.
Kimberly B. Mandel CPDT-KA
Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC 2015