What Makes a Canine Good Citizen?

by on October 4, 2011 · 6 comments

in Culture

By Louisa Golden – Special to the OB Rag

Miss Mollie Pink - Photos by Louisa Golden

Recent neighborhood events have me thinking about some of the challenges I face as the owner of a high-octane Labrador Retriever. Living in the city with a large, energetic dog is daunting. Doing so without making enemies of my neighbors is a greater adventure still.

Last January, Miss Mollie Pink earned her Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certificate from the American Kennel Club (AKC). The test seemed simple enough, just 10 easy tasks. Mollie had plenty of obedience training and socialization under her belt. Still, the CGC proved to be one tough test to pass.

The CGC is a program started in 1989 to support and reward responsible dog owners and basic good manners in dogs. The ten element test serves as a good foundation for participation in other dog sports like agility or obedience. CGC is also often used as a gateway to therapy dog team training.

Before the test, owners sign an oath to care for their dog’s health, to make sure their dog does not infringe on the rights of others, and to take responsibility for their dog’s quality of life. The owner’s oath and the 10 part manners test establish a minimum standard of conduct to which all dog owners should aspire. The Canine Good Citizen program is designed to address many common complaints the public has about dogs and the people who keep them.

Mollie and I took a class and our trainer evaluated our citizenship at the end. These are the exercises we performed:

  1. Accepting a Friendly Stranger: Mollie loves all strangers exuberantly. Having someone walk up and greet me without acknowledging or engaging with Miss Mollie was HARD. More aloof dogs do better with this, but we managed by keeping the greeting very brief.
  2. Sitting Politely for Petting: Mollie barely kept from snogging the evaluator. Shy or fearful dogs can have trouble here, too. Happily, the evaluators are experienced and the petting is brief and calm.
  3. Appearance and Grooming: Mollie had trouble not engaging the evaluator in play. Touchy dogs may object to having their ears, mouth and feet handled by a stranger. Dog owners may bring their own brushes or combs.
  4. Loose Leash Walking: Miss Mollie tends to forge ahead. Harsh corrections are prohibited during the test, but I was allowed to cue Mollie to sit or down each time she began to rush.
  5. Walking Through a Crowd: Mollie’s lust for fun and games nearly derailed us on this one, too. One of the crowd members made friendly eye contact with Mollie and that’s all the invitation she needed. A quick redirection to a sit and a direction change got us through without any problems. The test requires you and your dog to politely walk through a crowd, but not how you get through. Walking quickly and throwing in additional commands can keep an overly friendly, distractible or shy dog occupied.
  6. Sit, Down and Stay: Since these didn’t involve potential playmates, Mollie did well here.
  7. Recall: Mollie did fine because she was familiar with the testing location. If she had not been familiar with the area, I would have gone early so she could get her sniffing and exploring out of the way.
  8. Reaction to Another Dog: Handlers pass with the dogs on the outside, handlers close together. This can be a hard task if the dog wants to play with other dogs or if the dog has leash aggression, as it requires the dogs to approach head-on rather than from an angle, a threatening approach in dog-speak.
  9. Reaction to Distraction: Mollie’s evaluator dropped some loud metal object close to the dogs. Mollie thought it was cool and wanted to investigate, but shy or fearful dogs might need some practice dealing with sudden noises.
  10. Supervised Separation: This is the hardest test for most dogs and the hardest by far for Mollie. The dog has to stay with a stranger while the owner hides out of sight and sound for three minutes. The dog cannot bark or whine excessively. It was a challenging test, but an important one in case of emergencies.

That is the test in a nutshell. Those interested in Canine Good Citizen certification can find precise descriptions and more information about the program at the AKC website.

Any dog of any age can take the Good Citizen test, though dogs under a year should be retested as their personalities may change as they mature. Training classes are available, but are optional and range in price from about $50.00 to about $150.00. The test itself must be performed by an AKC sanctioned evaluator. There is generally a fee for taking the test, ranging from $5.00-$25.00. There is an additional charge of $8.00 for the certificate issued by the AKC upon completion of the test. The local SPCA, dog obedience clubs, AKC shows and many private dog trainers offer the test at various times during the year. Dog owners interested in finding a testing site or class can do so with a quick Google search.

There are some good reasons all dog owners should consider CGC certification. Polite dogs with good leash behavior have better relations with non-dog-owning people. Even those who dislike dogs get along better with dogs who stand politely during conversations and don’t sniff rudely or jump up. The responsible dog owner’s oath, in part, enjoins owners to keep their dogs fenced securely at home and leashed when in public. The oath also prohibits owners from allowing their dogs to bark excessively and requires that they clean up after their dogs in all circumstances. The two parts of the Canine Good Citizen program, the dog manners test and the owner’s oath, function together to keep pet dogs from becoming a nuisance or burden to the rest of society.

There are direct benefits of the CGC program for the dog and owner as well. Positive training enhances the communication and bond between a dog and owner. Some dog parks in other parts of the country have begun making CGC certification a requirement for entrance. It is possible that San Diego dog parks may someday follow suit. Landlords may be more inclined to grant pet exceptions for Canine Good Citizens as that is evidence the dog has basic manners and the owner is willing to put some thought and effort into pet care. If an incident or dispute involving the dog’s behavior does arise, having a CGC certificate can serve as a kind of character reference for the dog and owner. CGC certificate holders should check with their insurance companies to determine if they are eligible for reduced premiums on liability insurance.

Going through the Canine Good Citizen certification process was well worth the time, effort and money. The exercises gave me specific training goals and helped Mollie be a better neighbor. If only I could get her to stop stealing frisbees…..

Louisa Golden and Miss Mollie Pink are frequent visitors to Dog Beach!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Outlaw October 4, 2011 at 10:38 am

I used to have a Chocolate Lab. Very smart, and good dog. I used to laugh because his bark was more intimidating than he bite.


avatar Patty Jones October 4, 2011 at 2:27 pm

Thank you Louisa (and Miss Mollie Pink) for sharing your experience with us!


avatar Louisa Golden October 4, 2011 at 4:07 pm

You are welcome! OB boasts one of the most dog friendly communities in San Diego with some of the best socialized canines around. I hope some of you will take the leap and get that title, too. As our trainer pointed out, if there is an incident involving your dog, the fact finding authority is more likely to want to know what the other person did to your Canine Good Citizen rather than the other way around. The certificate doesn’t prove your dog will have good behavior all the time, but it does speak loudly for both the dog and owner who earn one.


avatar dave rice October 4, 2011 at 9:54 pm

Great info Louisa, and thanks! I heard the personality of my black lab Midnight (don’t hate, I was 7 years old when I named her) shining through in the tales (tails?) of Ms. Mollie Pink going through her certifications…


avatar Karyn Dawes October 5, 2011 at 7:40 am

Thank you Louisa for demonstrating one great way to be a responsible pet owner (obtaining the CGC) and for being a good ambassador for dog ownership in general. The CGC is available to all dogs and the training is basic and fun. It’s training you will use in a dog’s everyday life. A trained dog not only makes for better dog neighbors, but it makes for a happier dog. An added bonus is that training definitely strengthens the bond between the dog and the owner.


avatar Connie Kaplan October 5, 2011 at 9:22 am

Great article! Get involved and engaged with your dog and CGC training and testing are some great ways to do this!


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