My dog has manners, and the American Kennel Club says so! One of my favorite dog traveling moments involves letting the reservation desk know that my dog Dexter is a “CGC” — a Canine Good Citizen — and that his decorum is delightful. It shows that dogs are wonderful traveling companions who can be trusted to stay at the finest hotels.
The American Kennel Club launched the Canine Good Citizen Program in 1989. It’s designed to teach responsible dog ownership behaviors to pet parents, while dogs learn basic training and good manners. The core of the program is the 10-step testing process. Whether pedigree or mutt, spunky Sparky or golden oldie, dogs of all shapes, sizes, and ages are eligible.
Most basic obedience classes or formalized CGC training sessions cover the skills needed for a pooch to pass the test, but I taught my dog from the comfort of home. Here are the AKC’s ten requirements and how we learned, bonded, and aced the test together:
1. CGC requirement: Allow a friendly stranger to approach your dog and speak to you, the owner, in a natural everyday situation.
How Dexter learned: From puppyhood on up, I exposed Dexter to a variety of people, taught him to sit in place, and allowed people of all ages to meet, greet, and interact with him. Passed.
2. CGC requirement: The dog must sit politely for petting.
How Dexter learned: By allowing folks to pet my dog from the time he entered my life, I ensured Dexter would easily pass this test. He showed no signs of fear or resentment at being touched. Two down.
3. CGC requirement: Dog must be in healthy condition, in both appearance and grooming.
How Dexter learned: Dexter has had grooming sessions and positively rewarded brushing his entire life, with me reacting like he just won Best in Show each time. We aced this one.
4. CGC requirement: Walk the dog on a loose lead.
How Dexter learned: Having been instructed to walk and do an about-turn with one step in between, Dexter had all the skills he needed to pass this one. Six to go.
5. CGC requirement: Walk through a crowd.
How Dexter learned: We mastered walking on our quiet neighborhood sidewalks and graduated to noisier hustle-and-bustle locales. Pulling and jumping are not allowed during the test, so my roving Rover learned a positive slack goes a long way. Halfway home!
6. CGC requirement: Sit and down on command; stay in place.
How Dexter learned: Cocker Spaniel plus squeaky ball as a reward equals sit-stay to the max. On rainy and cold days, we learned this by “accident.” By slowly increasing the space between Dexter sitting and the physical distance between us, we learned while bonding and having a good time. (Note: Your dog knowing this can also mean life and death if Fido bolts and any traffic is nearby.)
7. CGC requirement: The dog must come when called.
How Dexter learned: This one intermingled with the training for sit and down on command. When I wanted my canny canine to come to me, merely saying “Dexter, come” was magic. The end is near.
8. CGC requirement: Reaction to another dog.
How Dexter learned: Dogs must casually walk by each other without incident or more than a casual interest in one another. This one had me most concerned, as I truly believe Dex was a politician in a previous life with his enthusiastic spirit. We walk by other dogs at the park, in the neighborhood, and even have play dates with dog friends. He rocked it.
9. CGC requirement: Reaction to distraction.
How Dexter learned: We needed to have a noise or distraction nearby so Dex could appear startled but not panic or bark. Walk through a busy neighborhood, go into a pet-friendly pet supply store, and soon enough many sounds of the world become white noise to a dog. One more!
10. CGC requirement: Supervised separation.
How Dexter learned: I raised a mama’s boy, so this one had me apprehensive. For this element, I had to leave Dexter with the tester and walk away, staying out of sight for three minutes without Dexter barking or whining. For dogs that follow you everywhere, use the same techniques for “sit, stay, down” for this one. Dex did break stay slightly but never lunged or barked. Whew.
I held my breath as the tester looked at the two of us and said, “You have quite the bond with your dog,” and then proceeded to tell me we passed. Having the Good Citizen title gave me the warm fuzzies and earned me a prize of my own: poochie smoochies.