How Do I Train My Dog To Pass The Canine Good Citizen Test?
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Your dog is so well-trained. And you want to show the world. One way is to have him pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Test.
The exam requires your pup to pass a series of 10 tests. And you need to meet certain requirements too.
It tests your dog’s socialization and obedience skills as well as his temperament.
Passing the test indicates that your canine companion can be considered to be a respected member of his community.
It also shows that your dog can behave well at home and in public places even in the presence of strangers and other dogs.
It’s considered to be the gold standard of behavior and training if your dog passes.
Even if you’re just starting to train your dog, this article will help you learn how your dog can achieve the title that many aspire to: Canine Good Citizen.
But note that the CGC title does not mean that your dog is a therapy dog, emotional support dog, or service dog. Though the requirements may help you attain those titles.
Benefits of the Canine Good Citizen Title
In addition to demonstrating how well-behaved your dog is in everyday life situations, there are many other benefits to taking the test.
The training for the exam will also further the bond you have with your dog.
Some establishments require that a dog pass the test in order to be able to rent an apartment or condo.
Restaurants, hotels, and vacation destinations often welcome Canine Good Citizens.
Groomers, veterinarians, and boarding facilities will be thrilled to have your business.
Some insurance companies will even cover “banned breeds” who pass the test.
The CGC test also lays the foundation for other American Kennel Club sports and activities like obedience, agility, tracking, and performance events.
Additionally, it can give your dog skills that will help him meet the requirements for becoming a therapy dog.
And your dog’s life will be improved by being able to go more places.
Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge
As a crucial part of your team with your dog, you first need to sign a responsible dog owner’s pledge before taking the test.
It shows a commitment to being the best dog owner you can be.
It also demonstrates that you’ll provide for your dog’s health and safety and that you won’t infringe on the rights of others.
And that you’ll do all you can to ensure that your pup is a great companion, community member, and friend.
What Dogs Qualify
Any breed or mix can become a Canine Good Citizen. And any dog over six months old qualifies.
What’s Permitted During the Test
There are strict rules that must be followed when taking the test.
Certain types of equipment are required while your dog takes the test. So make sure that you’re ready prior to the test.
Your dog can wear a regular buckle collar, slip collar, or Martingale collar or even a body harness that doesn’t restrict his movement.
But certain training devices aren’t permitted. A harness that restricts your pup’s movement or one that’s designed as an anti-pull harness isn’t permitted.
And special training collars such as prong collars, head halters, and electronic collars aren’t permitted.
A regular leash is allowed, but a flexi isn’t. During part of the test, a 20-foot longline is required.
The evaluator usually provides the longline. But it’s still important for you to have one that you can use during training.
You also need to bring your dog’s brush or comb to be used as part of the test.
Positive reinforcement should be the foundation of our training. So you are allowed to praise and encourage your dog during the test.
But no treats or toys are permitted while taking the test.
Of course, you can–and should–use them as part of your training. When your dog understands a command and is reliable in various settings, you’ll need to wean him down randomly from treats and toys as reinforcements so that he’ll pass the test.
But keep praising his accomplishments. It can be a powerful reinforcement to your dog.
Even in real life, it would be useful for your dog to listen to your cues without using treats and toys because you might not always be carrying them when you need him to respond.
The 10 Tests
There are 10 specific tests that your pup must pass in order to be certified as a Canine Good Citizen.
In each section, I’ll quote the American Kennel Club language regarding what’s required, then give tips on how to train for it.
As a foundation for all of these tests, your dog should learn how to pay attention to you, walk on a loose leash, sit/stay, down/stay, and come when called. The “leave it” command can also be useful.
Although you’ll start with treats when you train, once your dog reliably performs the exercise, start rewarding with treats randomly.
Give more at first, then fewer over time after the training exercise. But don’t totally stop treating when practicing.
When I’m training my dogs, I eventually expect them to listen to my cues without treats. And,after they’re reliable, I sometimes give them a jackpot–at least seven treats in a row–after they perform a sequence of exercises.
Keep training sessions short. And try to do three a day.
You can train individually with your dog or take a training class to learn the exercises required to pass.
Even if you take a class, you still need to practice on your own.
Some organizations even offer classes that specifically cover the test items. The test is usually administered at the end of the classes.
PLEASE NOTE: These exercises assume that your dog doesn’t have behavior problems such as reactivity or aggression, both of which will cause you to fail the test.
If he has such problems, it’s advisable to get professional advice from a qualified behaviorist or trainer.
PRO TRAINER TIP: Always set your dog up to succeed. Exercise him prior to the training. Go for a walk or engage in a play session. You don’t want to have excess energy that causes him to fail the test.
Test #1: Accepting a Friendly Stranger
“This test demonstrates that the dog will allow a friendly stranger to approach it and speak to the handler in a natural, everyday situation. The evaluator walks up to the dog and handler and greets the handler in a friendly manner, ignoring the dog. The evaluator and handler shake hands and exchange pleasantries. The dog must show no sign of resentment or shyness.” [My note: during COVID, the evaluator and handler don’t shake hands.]
How To Train for This Test
Part of the training for this exercise involves socializing your dog to new people and environments.
This test has real-life implications. No one wants a dog jumping and lunging at them as they approach you.
If you have a high-energy dog, it’s important to exercise him physically before training. If he has too much excess energy, he’ll be more likely to be unruly and fail.
Even though a dog isn’t required to sit during this test, I advise having him sit. A dog who’s sitting has impulse control and can’t jump on an approaching stranger.
Once you’ve taught your dog to sit and stay on command, then you can use a helper.
Have some pea-sized treats ready. Tell your dog to sit and stay next to you. Praise and reward with a small treat when he does.
Use your release word to tell him when to get up.
Vary the time that he has to stay. Go from 10 seconds to 30 seconds and longer. Mix it up as he can handle it.
Just do each exercise a few times during each training session.
Don’t move too fast or you’ll set up your pup to fail.
We always want to set up our dogs to succeed.
Once he’s reliable staying, bring in your helper. Have your friend walk towards you slowly, not staring at you or even talking.
You don’t want to over-stimulate your pup while he’s learning.
If your dog remains sitting, calmly praise him and give him a small treat.
If at any time your pup gets up, have the helper walk away, saying nothing.
Behavior that’s rewarded will repeat itself. Conversely, behavior that’s not rewarded will eventually stop.
So if your dog Fido loves people and your friend retreats when Fido gets up, your pup will learn he must remain sitting to get rewards from you as well as your friend’s company.
As long as Fido remains sitting, have your friend calmly approach, stopping about 15 feet away.
Do this a few times.
If Fido’s successful staying in a sit, have your friend go away and approach and stop at about 15 feet away. Exchange pleasantries (“hi, how are you?”).
Don’t forget to ALWAYS calmly praise and give your canine buddy the treats he’s earned.
After you’ve been successful, up the ante.
Have your friend approach closer–about three or four feet away without speaking. As long as Fido can handle it and remain in a sit, praise and give him his well-earned treat.
Then, have your helper approach the same way, but exchange pleasantries as stated above.
You may still have to give your dog the “sit” cue. The goal is for your dog to eventually do a default sit as someone approaches.
If you practice these exercises regularly, he will.
Even my rescued golden retriever Riley–the greeting committee wherever he goes–has learned to automatically sit when someone approaches.
With each successful greeting, your budding Canine Good Citizen gets a treat.
If he gets up from his sit or whines or otherwise gets overly excited, your friend silently retreats and no praise or food rewards appear.
It’s time to add motion once Fido’s successful with your friend approaching and greeting. Motion is so exciting for most dogs.
As you meet and greet your friend from a few feet apart (Fido remaining in a sit), greet calmly.
As your dog progresses, you can make the greetings sillier and more excited–as we would in greeting a long-lost friend.
The point is for Fido to remain sitting and relaxed.
Of course, you’ll then have to generalize this response to various people.
So practice with different friends.
Practice at your front door. Have a leash ready.
Do some set-ups with your friend to see how well Fido does.
Put Fido’s leash on and have him sit and stay as you greet your visitor.
Always praise and reward when your dog’s successful.
If at any time during your training, Fido can’t handle the exercise, go back to a point at which he was successful and proceed again.
Once Fido can handle even excited people approaching, take the show on the road.
Go to shopping centers and other places where you’ll encounter people.
The more successful he is at each approach, each successive greeting will get better and be easier.
Your dog has to understand that he must greet everyone in such a restrained manner.
If you see Fido doing automatic sit/stays when everyone approaches, you’ll know he generalized the behavior to other people.
Of course, the process takes a lot of patience and repetitions. But it’s worth it.
Your dog’s world will be expanded–and more exciting–because he can have more adventures with you.
Test #2: Sitting Politely for Petting
“This test demonstrates that the dog will allow a friendly stranger to touch it while it is out with its handler. With the dog sitting at the handler’s side, to begin the exercise, the evaluator pets the dog on the head and body. The handler may talk to his or her dog throughout the exercise. The dog may stand in place as it is petted. The dog must not show shyness or resentment.”
How To Train for This Test
Of course, you have to teach your pup to do a sit on cue first.
If your dog is used to being handled by you and by others, it will really help him succeed in taking this test.
Make handling a very positive experience. Have great, pea-sized treats ready.
Pet his head, ears, body. Use a gentle massaging motion. Handle his feet too.
Give a steady stream of the coveted treats.
Regular handling will have your pup associate it with positive things. It will also help you recognize any physical problems with your pup.
Many dogs don’t love being petted on the head, so it’s important that we teach him that wonderful praise and treats flow when he’s petted.
You want him to think that being touched is a great, positive experience.
I also add a training exercise where the dog remains in a sit while I gently pet his head a few times. I add the cue “petted” while doing so. And, of course, he’s given great treats while being petted.
So when someone pets him, I also use the cues sit/stay/petted so that he knows what to expect and associates being petted with great things happening.
This should be done calmly and never escalate to being too rough.
Also, get him used to you (and eventually others) approaching him from all angles–front, side, and back.
Of course, once he understands what sit/stay/petted means with you, have people he knows pet him in a sit/stay with the added cue “petted.”
After he’s comfortable with people he knows, have strangers pet him in a sit.
Remember to treat and praise each successful repetition.
And make sure that each person who pets does so gently. You don’t want your dog to have a bad experience.
I don’t recommend that others approach him from the rear to pet him, as this may startle any dog.
Test #3: Appearance and Grooming
“This practical test demonstrates that the dog will welcome being groomed and examined and will permit someone, such as a veterinarian, groomer or friend of the owner, to do so. It also demonstrates the owner’s care, concern and sense of responsibility. The evaluator inspects the dog to determine if it is clean and groomed. The dog must appear to be in healthy condition (i.e., proper weight, clean, healthy and alert). The handler should supply the comb or brush commonly used on the dog. The evaluator then softly combs or brushes the dog, and in a natural manner, lightly examines the ears and gently picks up each front foot. It is not necessary for the dog to hold a specific position during the examination, and the handler may talk to the dog, praise it and give encouragement throughout.”
How To Train for This Test
As you did in the handling exercise for test #2 above, get your dog used to gentle brushing and combing.
Do very short sessions. At most, do the session for a few minutes.
Have great treats flow while you gently brush or comb.
If this is totally new, just do a few brush strokes for the first few sessions.
Reward any positive response.
Always end on a successful note. Don’t overdo it. You always have the next session to practice.
Your dog may already be used to this.
It’s best to get a puppy used to handling and grooming.
But if you have an adult dog, still get him used to this. Just take it slowly.
The handling exercises you’ll have done will help him get used to having his ears and feet touched.
I like to add a cue for each portion of the training. I’ll say “feet” as I handle my dog’s feet and “ears” as I handle that body part. Doing so will let your dog know what’s happening.
And, through your training, he’ll associate having these touched with a positive experience.
Once he’s used to you doing this, have other people he trusts gently touch his ears and feet. And gently brush him a few strokes.
Of course, give him high-value treats while he’s being handled.
Test #4: Out For a Walk (Walking on a Loose Leash)
“This test demonstrates that the handler is in control of the dog. The dog may be on either side of the handler. The dog’s position should leave no doubt that the dog is attentive to the handler and is responding to the handler’s movements and changes of direction. The dog need not be perfectly aligned with the handler and need not sit when the handler stops. The evaluator may use a pre-plotted course or may direct the handler/dog team by issuing instructions or commands. In either case, there should be a right turn, left turn, and an about turn with at least one stop in between and another at the end. The handler may talk to the dog along the way, praise the dog, or give commands in a normal tone of voice. The handler may sit the dog at the halts if desired.”
How To Train for This Test
Some dogs just love to pull. It’s fun for them. They want to go on their next adventure.
But it’s not fun for us–and you’ll fail the test if your dog’s not walking on a loose leash.
So you can use treats while training. And, unlike the test, you can also use a training harnesses like the Easy Walk.
Of course, once they learn to walk well on a loose leash, make sure they don’t need an anti-pull training harness.
You can use a treat to lure your dog into the correct position next to you so he doesn’t pull. Immediately praise and treat and when he’s not pulling. Take a few more steps and praise and reward when he’s not pulling. Keep adding some distance over your training sessions.
You can add some aids if your pup starts to pull.
Freeze in place and “be a tree” when he starts to pull. Start to walk again when he stops pulling and is next to you.
Repeat the process a few times until your dog gets the idea.
Another way to stop pulling is to make about turns, going in the opposite direction when your dog pulls. Praise and reward when he’s not pulling.
Your dog doesn’t have to be in perfect heel position to pass the CGC test.
He just has to walk on a loose leash
But if he knows how to heel, he’ll pass the test too!
Test #5: Walking Through a Crowd
“This test demonstrates that the dog can move about politely in pedestrian traffic and is under control in public places. The dog and handler walk around and pass close to several people (at least three). The dog may show some interest in the strangers but should continue to walk with the handler, without evidence of over-exuberance, shyness or resentment. The handler may talk to the dog and encourage or praise the dog throughout the test. The dog should not jump on people in the crowd or strain on the leash.”
How To Train for This Test
This is very difficult for some dogs–especially ultra friendly dogs like most labs and goldens.
Once your dog can walk on a loose leash without distractions at home, you can start taking your training on the road.
Have him walk on a loose leash everywhere he goes. He need not be in perfect heel position but should walk next to you.
Of course you can teach your dog to heel right next to you.
Once he’s great on his regular walks in your neighborhood, take him other new places where people are.
Go to shopping centers and other places where there are people. And practice.
Your dog can show an interest in the people but can’t jump or bark.
Test #6: Sit and Down on Command and Staying in Place
“This test demonstrates that the dog has training, will respond to the handler’s commands to sit and down and will remain in the place commanded by the handler (sit or down position, whichever the handler prefers). The dog must do sit AND down on command, then the owner chooses the position for leaving the dog in the stay. Prior to this test, the dog’s leash is replaced with a line 20 feet long. The handler may take a reasonable amount of time and use more than one command to get the dog to sit and then down. The evaluator must determine if the dog has responded to the handler’s commands. The handler may not force the dog into position but may touch the dog to offer gentle guidance. When instructed by the evaluator, the handler tells the dog to stay and walks forward the length of the line, turns and returns to the dog at a natural pace. The dog must remain in the place in which it was left (it may change position) until the evaluator instructs the handler to release the dog. The dog may be released from the front or the side.”
How To Train for This Test
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already trained your dog to sit. If you haven’t, you can use a treat to slowly lure him into a sit.
Hold the treat just above his nose when he’s standing and lure him into a sit by slowly moving the treat towards the back of his head. Immediately praise and treat when he sits. After doing this a few times, add the cue “sit” as he sits.
Once he knows how to sit on cue, you can teach him to lie down on cue.
When he’s in a sit, place a treat just in front of his nose. Slowly move the treat towards the floor.
After he lies down, calmly praise and reward.
After a few repetitions, add the cue “down’ when you do it.
You can add the “stay” command to sit or down.
There are three variables when teaching a dog to stay: distance, duration, distraction. Only change one variable at a time when training.
I advise first adding duration–make your dog stay for a few seconds at first before releasing him.
Add time as he’s able to handle it. Then, for him to become reliable, add time and also do some shorter stays.
To get him up at first, add a release cue. I say “break” to let my dogs know they can get up from the stay.
After he can stay for at least 30 seconds, start adding motion, where you take a step back, then return to him. Wait at least a few seconds before releasing him.
Eventually take more steps away from him, then return to him.
After he’s reliable with staying, make sure that you practice with his 20-foot longline on.
Some dogs get up and break the stay when they feel the longline on them. So they have to be used to wearing it while staying because they’ll have to do so during the CGC test.
Once he can stay without distractions, add distractions.
Use easy ones at first, like a sound or someone walking into the room.
Then, add more distractions, eventually doing the stays on your walks and in new training settings. Caveat: don’t do this exercise where any dogs are loose or where someone can rush your dog.
If he gets up too often, you may be proceeding too fast. Go back to the last step at which he was successful and continue.
Test #7: Coming When Called
“This test demonstrates that the dog will come when called by the handler. The handler will walk 10 feet from the dog, turn to face the dog, and call the dog. The handler may use encouragement to get the dog to come. Handlers may choose to tell dogs to “stay” or “wait” or they may simply walk away, giving no instructions to the dog.”
How To Train for This Test
Coming to you always has to be positive. Don’t ever punish him or do something he dislikes such as clipping his nails after he comes.
First practice this without distractions inside.
Call your dog to you (“Fido come!”). Use a happy voice. Make him want to come to you.
As he turns to look at you, you can even take a few steps backward. This makes him want to go to you and to come faster.
Entice him to come: pat your leg, look happy–smile.
When he reaches you, make it a party. “Yes! Good dog!”
Give a jackpot of treats–about seven in a row not all at once–as you praise him and tell him how great he did.
This helps him stay there and not run off. It also makes him want to go to you the next time.
Practice this on a leash too. First use his regular six-foot leash.
Once he’s reliable, go to a 20-foot longline.
Practice at least three sessions per day. Just do a few repetitions during each session.
What if you’ve called your dog in the past and he doesn’t come? It may be that you poisoned the come cue.
So just use a different word like “here” and make it a very positive experience when he comes.
Once he’s really reliable, add a sit after he comes. But praise and reward first for coming to you.
Add distractions as he’s able to handle them. Start outside in your yard. Then take him to other safe places where dogs aren’t loose to practice.
Make sure that his collar or harness is secure so that he can’t get loose.
You should never practice this off a leash unless his recall is solid.
Test #8: Reaction to Another Dog
“This test demonstrates that the dog can behave politely around other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries, and continue on for about 10 feet. The dogs should show no more than casual interest in each other. Neither dog should go to the other dog or its handler.”
How To Train for This Test
Work on your dog’s attention to you.
First have your dog in a sit/stay. Practice with other dogs at a distance.
If you have a friend who has a well-trained, calm, dog-friendly, dog, practice with them walking at a distance.
As long as your dog remains in a sit, have your friend and their dog approach.
Both dogs should be on leash.
Make sure that neither of you have a tight leash, which can convey that something’s wrong.
Neither dog should reach the other. And your dog can’t try to approach the other handler either.
Have them remain in a sit about three feet from each other.
It might take some sessions to have a dog come this close. At first, have them stop 15 feet away and then closer and closer over training sessions as your dog progresses.
Eventually, practice with other calm, friendly dogs and handlers. You want your dog to sit and be calm at each encounter.
I don’t recommend in your practices trying to have your dog greet another dog who is overly excited. And, of course, don’t approach any dog who is unfriendly.
You want to get to the point that your dog shows only mild interest in the other canine.
Test #9: Reaction to Distraction
“This test demonstrates that the dog is confident at all times when faced with common distracting situations. The evaluator will select and present two distractions. Examples of distractions include dropping a chair, rolling a crate dolly past the dog, having a jogger run in front of the dog, or dropping a crutch or cane. The dog may express natural interest and curiosity and/or may appear slightly startled but should not panic, try to run away, show aggressiveness, or bark. The handler may talk to the dog and encourage or praise it throughout the exercise.”
How To Train for This Test
You need to get your dog used to sound and sight distractions to pass this test.
If your dog is sensitive to noises or reactive to motion, you’ll have to start slowly.
Praise and reward all calm behavior.
You can have someone drop a metal dish at a distance. Or a heavy book.
Praise and reward simultaneously with the noise.
As your dog becomes more confident, have him get closer to the object being dropped.
You may start out with him 30 feet away (depending on his response) and, over many training sessions, move closer and closer.
When he seems unafraid and even may display interest in the object, keep praising and rewarding with high-value treats.
Don’t over-do it each session. Just drop the object a few times, then end the training session.
Because the test involves motion and noise distractions, get him used to motion distractions too.
Have a friend jog by at a distance. Have a bike go by at a distance. You get the idea.
Praise and reward calm behavior.
If your dog is overly stimulated, add distance between you and the moving object.
It may take many sessions to reach the point where your dog is calm with these distractions.
Working with attention to you and the “leave it” command can also help perform this exercise.
Test #10: Supervised Separation
“This test demonstrates that a dog can be left with a trusted person, if necessary, and will maintain training and good manners. Evaluators are encouraged to say something like, “Would you like me to watch your dog?” and then take hold of the dog’s leash. The owner will go out of sight for three minutes. The dog does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness. Evaluators may talk to the dog but should not engage in excessive talking, petting, or management attempts (e.g. “there, there, it’s alright”).”
How To Train for This Test
You and your dog have a bond. If you’re training for the CGC test, you really care about your pup and want to further that relationship.
This test is sometimes the most difficult for some dogs to pass. It’s especially hard for dogs with any separation anxiety.
You have to go out-of-sight for three minutes.
Of course, you don’t start with that amount of time.
In practice, you can put your dog in a sit or down stay and just go out of sight for a few seconds. Don’t forget to give both the sit (or down) and stay cues before you leave.
When you re-enter the room, don’t make a fuss. Just calmly return to your dog. If you get him overly excited, he may break his stay.
Calmly praise and reward him for staying.
Add time and distance as he’s able to handle it. As he becomes more reliable with you leaving, you can add a cue like “I’ll be back” after you tell him to stay.
I use this cue for my dogs whenever I leave them. They know what’s expected and that I’ll return.
When practicing, you can put your dog on a longline at least 20 feet long to see if he gets up.
If you can, have a friend hold onto your dog wearing a six-foot leash while practicing the exercise. This mimics how the actual CGC test will be.
Where To Take the Test
Many places such as some dog clubs and training centers offer the test. Sometimes you need to be a member in order to take the test.
The test itself takes 20 minutes to one-half hour at most, depending on where it’s held.
Certain actions will disqualify your dog from passing the test.
Dogs who defecate or urinate during the exam automatically fail. This is based on the premise that Canine Good Citizens don’t go to the bathroom inside the house.
One exception to this rule is that, during the supervised separation in test #10, potty breaks are permitted if the test is held outside.
My note: in certain households, some dogs go to the bathroom on potty pads and are still great companions. But pottying inside isn’t permitted during the CGC test.
Any dog showing aggression by barking, lunging, growling, or attempting to attack a person or dog–or who bites–is deemed to not be a canine good citizen and is to be dismissed from the test.
Passing the Canine Good Citizen test is an accomplishment to be proud of.
It takes a lot of training and socialization to be successful.. But it’s worth it.
You’ll demonstrate to your community that you’re a great, responsible pet owner. And your dog will be welcomed wherever you go.
Have you ever trained a dog to take the Canine Good Citizen test?
Or are you thinking of having your dog take the test?
Please tell us about it in the comment section below.
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