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My Dog Was Ready for His Canine Good Citizen Test, but I Was a Wreck!

I couldn’t calm down until my dog Clyde showed me I had nothing to fear. He's such a good boy.

Raygan Swan  |  Dec 10th 2015


“Loosey goosey, loosey goosey.” I recited those words over and over in my head while trying to breathe deeply and imagine myself as calm and confident. Which is not what I actually was, with my heart thumping, my knees bouncing, and my attention faltering.

My young English Springer Spaniel Clyde and I were about to be evaluated for his Canine Good Citizen title – the American Kennel Club’s “gold standard” for dog behavior.

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Clyde, such a good boy. (Photo by Raygan Swan)

We were plenty prepared, but the list of 10 items required to pass the test — in front of a group, without treats, and on demand — had made me a total spaz.

Which begs the question (and the purpose of this article): Can the dog tune into your stress and anxiety, resulting in distracted or undesirable behavior?

Well, does a male dog hike his leg at a fire hydrant?

Yes, your dog feels everything. The emotion travels right down the leash. Surely you’ve heard dog trainers warn you of that before, right? That’s why our trainer Amanda Vibbart-Wilson of The Range Pet Lodge, here in Carmel, Indiana, told me to stay “loosey goosey.”

“Keep in mind that dogs are non-verbal, so when we become stiff, breathe shallowly, get tight in our face, these are all indications that there is a stressor in our environment,” Vibbart-Wilson explained. “When you exhibit these symptoms, your dog begins to look for the causation of your stress. That is why it is important to get your body loose and try to relax your face and smile through it.”

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Clyde with CGC evaluator Deb Konkol. (Photo by Raygan Swan)

Makes total sense, but I couldn’t calm down until Clyde finally showed me that I had nothing to fear. He began to follow my commands, which gave me the confidence and reassurance I needed to relax and finish the evaluation.

The first step in the test was to sit politely for a friendly greeting. No jumping! This would be our most challenging task because Clyde practically has springs in his paw pads. Plus he’s young, so new people excite him. Before the evaluator approached, I asked her to pet Clyde from the side and on his chest, which is his preference, as Clyde is a bit head-shy. It worked! Once that feat was conquered, I knew we were golden. We passed that part!

The evaluator then told our group that it was smart to give people looking to pet your dog information that will set them up for success. I knew if the evaluator went over Clyde’s head, his feet would come off the ground, so we gained an advantage.

How did we gain another advantage? I bathed in chicken broth to keep his attention focused on me. OK, that’s not true, but I was standing over a soup pot minutes before the test.

The evaluation proceeded with timed separation, down stays, meet-and-greet with a strange dog, and noise distractions. It all went very well, and now I can trust Clyde to join in on our holiday festivities and not steal the Christmas bird or knock over my husband’s 90-year-old grandma.

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Clyde with his trainers, Deb Cole, left, and Amanda Vibbart-Wilson. (Photo courtesy Raygan Swan)

Full of pride and able to breathe a sigh of relief, I chatted with fellow dog lover Deb Konkol, our group’s evaluator, on the importance of the Canine Good Citizen program and why it was developed.

“The purpose that the AKC developed the CGC program [with] was to ensure that our companion dogs can be respected members of the community,” Konkol explained. “This means that they have been trained to be well-behaved in the home, in public places, and in the presence of other dogs. It is becoming more widely accepted in the U.S. to allow pet dogs access to public places. The more well-behaved dogs who are seen in public, the more businesses will open their doors to allow them to visit.”

Indeed, grocery shopping would be less of a bore if I could take Clyde to Whole Foods. Until then I’ll settle for our usual haunts and appreciate the bond we now have because of this journey.

I also fished for a few compliments when we left the evaluation.

“Mr. Clyde is quite the gentleman, for his young age,” Konkol said. “It was a pleasure to watch him sail through all 10 test items like a pro! It was very apparent that [you] have taken the time to teach Clyde the appropriate behaviors that are expected of him. [You] and Clyde make a great team!”

Now, if I can get that kind of praise from my son’s kindergarten teacher, I’ll be up for mother of the year.

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About the author: Raygan Swan is a freelance writer and stay-at-home mom who loves to write about her adventures raising a young boy and one neurotic, pushy English Springer Spaniel under one roof. In sharing her anecdotes and experiences, Swan hopes to enlighten and educate families who strive for harmony among their two-legged and four-legged children. In addition, she likes to compete in agility trials with her springer as well as kayak and hike. She lives north of Indianapolis and can be found at facebook.com/rayganswan.