For those of you that don’t know, the AKC Canine Good Citizen test is a 10-step test performed by an AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator and requires your dog to demonstrate confidence and control in specific situations to earn the CGC title after their name. These are the 10 skills that are tested.
- Accept a friendly stranger
- Sit politely for petting
- Appearance and grooming
- Walk on a loose leash
- Walk through a crowd politely
- Come when called
- React to another dog politely
- React to distractions with confidence
- Sit and down on command/staying in place
- Demonstrate confidence when separated from handler for three minutes
It’s a fairly basic obedience test, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. The whole test is completed without training collars or treats. Many training clubs offer CGC classes and with a test at the end. I know because Noelle and I enrolled in three classes and failed all three. Yes, my service dog in training was an obedience school drop out.
The Struggle is Real
There were three parts of the test Noelle had a hard time with. Asking Noelle to sit is no problem, and she was calm and fine when a stranger approaches and shakes my hand. So, test one was easy. The trouble started as soon as the person asked, “Can I pet your dog?”
I think, “Can I pet your dog?” works like the Power Rangers shouting, “It’s Morphin’ Time!” because the second someone asked, “Can I pet your dog?” Noelle transformed from a mild mannered service dog in training into a Super Ball. Boing, boing, boing, I’m so happy to meet you I just exploded! Boing! Noelle became a leaping, jumping, hopping, canine bad citizen.
At my first class, the trainer said, “She’s still got a lot of puppy in her.”
At my second class, the trainer said, “She’s still got a lot of puppy in her.”
At my third class, the trainer said, “She’s still got a lot of puppy in her.”
But, by the end of my third class, Noelle was well over a year and a half. Dogs younger than her remained calm. How come Noelle just lost it in a joyful celebration? My dog had a serious greeting disorder. Asking strangers to pet her didn’t help, because they often encouraged her crazy behavior, saying, “That’s all right, she’s just excited and she likes me.”
Finally, I started putting Noelle in a sit/stay. Then I got very excited and wildly flailed my arms while cooing loudly, and I’d pet her once. And reward her for staying. And yes, I looked like an idiot. I frequently look like an idiot when I’m training Noelle. Eventually she got the idea that she could be excited and still sit for a pat on the head.
Now, if you’re thinking everything was fine now, have a look at test number three.
Grooming and Zooming
If I thought training Noelle to hold still while someone gave her a pat on the noggin was tough, look out for test number three. The evaluator was going to look in both of her ears, touch both of her front feet, run a brush across her body, and check her body condition. It’s sort of a combination of what a vet might do and what a groomer might do all rolled into one nightmarish test.
If sit for petting turned Noelle into a Super Ball, the grooming exam took that Super Ball into a racket ball court and gave it a good hard whack. She bounced in joyful excitement. Picture an old movie of girls watching the Fab Four and you’re close to the level of excitement. Meeting the evaluator was Noelle’s dream come true. Now, in true dog trainer fashion, I’d love to offer you a tip for training this, but honestly, we struggled through this one during the CGC. Yes, the evaluator was able to do the test, but Noelle was very excited. If I had to do it again, I’d proof the stay a little more. Okay, who am I kidding, a lot more. My suggestion is to train a rock solid standing stay. Freeze the feet and don’t move an inch.
Mama, Don’t Leave!
The dreaded three minutes apart. You hand your leash over to a stranger and leave. The dog is not able to cry, whine, freak out or bark. They just have to remain calm while you’re gone. I knew Noelle would have a hard time with this. She gets upset if I go to the bathroom without her. And since I work at home, we’re pretty much never apart.
I practiced this test by leaving Noelle with people in my family. I’d hide behind a tree, come back and reward. We repeated this game over and over. At the CGC test, Noelle was fine. So, that’s one test where practice really does make perfect.
Welcome Gave Great Light CGC
All in all, it was worth the struggle and frustration to earn a CGC with Noelle. I look at training a service dog in three parts. Part one is training specific tasks to mitigate disability. In Noelle’s case, as a diabetic alert dog, she learned to scent low blood glucose, high blood glucose, and leaking insulin pump. She has performed these tasks for me while I’m awake or asleep. She’s performed these tasks both in private and in public. She even alerted while I was driving a car. So, the task training is solid.
The second part of service dog training is public access. Public manners for service dogs take a long time to train. We’ve been working on these skills since November. Noelle knows how to behave in public. She keeps her nose to herself and doesn’t sniff people or things. She’ll sit in a pile of scattered popcorn and won’t eat it. Noelle doesn’t try to make friends. She knows she’s there to do a job, and when that cape comes on she transforms into super dog. Not only do I trust her in public, I trust Noelle with my life, and that matters to me.
Earning a CGC for me is an essential part of our work together as a team. Obedience is the third part of training, and in the rush to train service dog tasks and public manners, simple obedience can be overlooked. I need my dog to be calm around strangers. I need Noelle to sit, lie down, stay, and come when called. If I drop the leash, can I get her back? Can we walk through a crowd and ignore people and dogs? If theres a sudden loud noise, is she going to become hysterical? the CGC title tested those skills and more. And after all the struggles and failures, I’m proud to say, my dog passed.