Passing the Canine Good Citizen Test – Preparing Your Dog
Preparing your dog to pass the CGC Canine Good Citizen Test doesn’t have to break the bank or run your patience. Review all the Canine Good Citizen test items to be best prepared. The unique challenge of the CGC test is that it is taken on a flat collar with absolutely no treats. It consists of ten steps and successful completion of each one is required. Completion of the test is considered the gold standard of pet ownership. Successful completion indicates that your pet is under your control and recognizes you are the authority figure of your pack. Luckily, with a little bit of practice you can get your pet ready to pass. Training for this test can be frustrating and may be a long process depending on how much your pup needs to learn – you can do it! Don’t worry if your dog is having a bad day – you can retake the test as many times as you want! Note: you do not have to be AKC registered to be an AKC Canine Good Citizen – any dog of any breed can succeed and get CGC certified.
Why test basic obedience with the CGC test?
The AKC considers this test an indicator of a well behaved dog (see their page here). Everyone thinks they have the best dog, and they are right – all dogs are great but that does not mean they are able to adapt to new situations & consistently follow directions. This test is a very honest and objective evaluation of your dog’s behavior and is a great indication of what skills you can continue to work on. CGC certification is required for therapy dog programs but we strongly believe that it should be a requirement for all service and ESA work as well – does an ill behaved dog really provide a service to help its handler? (some may disagree but that is our take on the matter).
Can you retake the Canine Good Citizen Test?
Absolutely – in fact many dogs don’t pass the first time. Try not to be nervous since your dog can sense that and may not perform if it does.
How much does it cost to take the Canine Good Citizen Test?
This will depend on where you live. Our K9 Good Citizen Test cost $20 to take at the local SPCA.
How old does a dog have to be to take the CGC test?
A dog can be any age to get their CGC title.
How do you prepare your dog for the Canine Good Citizen Test?
We can’t take credit for most of the preparation. We called in professionals to help us get Calvin on the right track and he learned how to “dog” over months of work with certified trainers. Additionally, we completed a CGC prep class to familiarize ourselves with the process. Good citizen training can be done with trainers or at home. Look up “Canine Good Citizen Class” or “Canine Good Citizen Tests Near Me” or “CGC Dog Training” to find more information in your area. These resources are also great for therapy dog training.
What are the requirements for the Canine Good Citizen test? (CGC Test Items):
1. Accepting a friendly stranger
You will be approached by a stranger – the dog is expected to stay at your heel and not lunge towards them as you exchange pleasantries. This can be especially challenging for those extra friendly puppers.
2. Sitting politely for petting
Although it is preferred for the dog to remain seated for this, it is ok for the dog to stand up for petting as long as it doesn’t jump on the person or get into their personal space.
Practice: We practiced 1 & 2 together. If strangers on the street wanted to pet Calvin, we asked them to walk away from us and approach us. We explained that he was in training which led to chatting about what we were training him for. Then, I would tell the stranger that they could pet him. If he tried to get into their personal space, we walked away and tried again. Strangers were very willing to help us with this!
3. Appearance and Grooming
You will bring your own grooming tools and the evaluator will brush your dog. They will also look into his ears and lift up its paws. The goal of this section is to ensure that your dog does not have any sensitivities on this body that make it reactive or uncomfortable.
Practice: You are likely already brushing your dog a few times per week so they should be familiar with the brush. If not, introduce the brush with treats. For paws, it’s a good idea to teach your dog to shake so that the evaluator can easily touch their paws with a shake.
4. Out for a Walk Loose Leash
You will be evaluated as you walk with your dog on a flat collar and loose leash. Tension is ok at times but it must be clear that your dog is focusing on you and listening to commands. You will be asked to stop, speed up, slow down, u turn, turn left, and turn right. Your dog will be expected to stay focused on you. The evaluator will give you the directions as you are out for a walk and you must be quick to react to them.
5. Walking through a crowd
You’ll walk your dog through a “crowd” of 2 people while on a loose leash.
We practiced 4 & 5 together. Since your dog will be on a flat collar, this part is potentially difficult if you haven’t been working on walking this way. It took many weeks for Calvin to become 95% reliable on a loose leash. If your dog has difficulty on a flat collar, it will take time to re teach them out to walk on leash. Some helpful commands: heel – to keep your dog on your heel, here – if your dog falls behind you can call it back to catch up, touch – you can redirect your dog’s attention to your hand if they start getting distracted.
6. Sit, down, stay (20ft)
You’ll put your down in a sit, then down, and command him to stay. You’ll walk away with your back to him for 20ft, turn around, then release him.
Practice: If your dog has had basic obedience training it is likely already capable of these commands. The challenge is that there are no treats to get him to listen – the best way to practice is to go through these motions in multiple different scenarios – at the Park, in your hallway, on the street ect so that he is used to listening to these commands in different situations. Practice out of sight stays, and walking away with your back to him while in a stay.
You will put your dog on a long lead, get him into a sit-stay or down-stay and then walk 10 feet away and call him to you.
Practice: Our recall word is “here” but “come” works too. We started recall training with a long lead so that there was no chance we would fail while practicing. Always praise your dog when they come to you.
8. Reaction to distractions
The exact type of distraction will differ based on your evaluator but expect about 2 types of distractions – this could be an object falling, a loud noise, medical equipment or items with wheels. The dog can look at the object but should not panic or dart ahead. Their ability to recover is most important.
Practice: Calvin used to be skiddish around loud noises so we spent a lot of time desensitizing him. We got him used to skateboards, bikes, strollers, walkers, wheelchairs, dollies ect. The process took multiple weeks. We desensitized him by exposing him to the objects while on leash and ignoring him (dogs can tell if you are worried for them and if you comfort them you will confirm their fears). We would walk by the objects without looking down at Calvin to teach him that there is nothing to worry about. Over time, he looked to us for guidance instead of focusing on the scary object.
Our Distraction: This was the hardest part of the test for us. In our testing room, 3 people came in and started throwing folding chairs around. The chairs slammed onto the ground in our path and we were expected to keep our cool. Additionally, they called for Calvin, made hooting and kissing noises at him, and put their hands out to him. We were quite honestly shocked at his focus and successful completion of this step. The distraction section will be different for everyone, but that was ours!
9. Approaching other dogs
You will approach a dog and handler head on and are expected to stop when you reach them, exchange pleasantries, shake hands, and then keep going. The dogs can look at each other and show mild interest but cannot greet each other or pull to say hi. This is very difficult for those extra friendly doggos, but can also be tough for those with leash reactivity.
Practice: a reliable “leave it” command is required for this section. However, if your dog is used to greeting everyone in its path, you will have trouble here. We do not let Calvin greet dogs on the street (some are claimed to be “friendly” but aren’t actually, he gets very excited, he used to jump on them, ect). We say “leave it” as we approach dogs on the street and he walks right past them. This also helps us get to where we want to be without stopping to say hi to every dog along the way.
10. Supervised separation
You will leave your dog with the evaluator for 3 minutes and walk away, out of sight. Your dog is expected to remain calm and not show signs of nervousness or panic.
Practice: We never practiced this so unfortunately do not have any tips. It definitely helped that we frequently leave Calvin with friends, with his dog walkers, and at daycare so he is used to trusting others with his care. It’s a good idea to practice leaving your dog with people outside your household so that he has a better time adjusting to new situations without you.
Next Steps: You can take the CGC Urban Test and get evaluated to become a Community Canine (CGCA)!
You can do it!
-Your Pal Cal