Sit. Stay. Come. Teach Your Dog to be a Canine Good Citizen

In a not-so-perfect world, most parents know some things.  We know that babies can’t feed themselves and won’t be toilet-trained until they’re toddlers (unless things have changed drastically from when my son was quite young.)  We expect that parenting will last for at least 18 years … or longer.

We expect our young children to go to school.  Some kids start their academic careers with nursery school.  Some don’t.

But. Almost all children attend kindergarten.    And, for the majority of children, school is one of the mainstays of their lives for the next 12 years … or longer.

So, why is it that when it comes to our dogs, some of us, sadly, fail to see the similarities between food, house-breaking and going to school?

Actually,  food is the easy part.  Even puppies need very little prompting to eat what’s put in front of them.  And, for obvious reasons, there is never a struggle with learning how to use silverware.

House-breaking?  Ah.  A post for another time.

Let’s move on to going to school …  for your dog.

Imagine your dog so well-mannered that you and your pet are welcome everywhere you go.  Your dog is safe and reliable around kids, will hold a sit and calmly wait for you to return and isn’t skittish around unexpected noises. Better yet, your dog is calm around other dogs.

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right?

That’s the pay off when your dog goes to school.

But.  Here’s the kicker.  YOU have to go to dog school too.

What if I could give you the equivalent of “cheat sheets” so that you and your dog can learn to be the SUPER-DUPER-HANDLER-DOG TEAM in your neighborhood? 

For my money, the best cheat sheet on well-behaved dogs is the work that you and your dog put into earning a Canine Good Citizen certification. And, the best resource for finding out about this certification, including how to prepare for the actual Canine Good Citizen test (CGC) is the book written by Jack & Wendy Volhard, The Canine Good Citizen – Every Dog Can Be One.

The concept behind the test belongs to James Dearinger.  At the time the Volhard book was published, Dearinger was the American Kennel Club Vice President of Obedience.  He wanted a program open to all dogs – purebred and mix-breed – that promoted responsible dog ownership that would be relatively easy for both dog and owner.  Having a program for ALL dogs  would be a way to address the negativity of legislation pertaining to the uninformed public’s view of  “dangerous dogs.”

What I love about this book is the way the Volhards break down complex canine behaviors into clear, precise language easy enough for a 10 year old to understand.  After laying the foundation in the first eight chapters,  they tackle the next training level which includes how to train with distractions.

Chapter 10 provides insider tips for giving a passing performance on the test itself and chapter 11 describes all of the exercises included in the test.  There are ten.

1.   Accepting a Friendly Stranger

2.  Sitting Politely for Petting

3.  Appearance and Grooming

4.  Out for a Walk (walk on a loose leash)

5.  Walking Through a Crowd

6.  Sit and Down on Command/Staying in Place

7.  Coming when Called

8.  Reaction to Another Dog

9.  Reaction to Distractions

10  Supervised Separation

Over the years,  I have assisted Gail Furst as she has administered this test and three of my dogs have earned their Canine Good Citizen certifications.  What I’ve come to appreciate is that for the handlers and their dogs, the experience of training for and then taking this test is a wonderful testimony to the bond they have developed.   Although I don’t have the statistical information to back this up,  I’m willing to bet that the majority of handlers who pursue this recognition for themselves and their dogs have a high percentage of keeping their dogs … forever.

On a practical note, how can you best prepare to take this test?

Start with finding a dog trainer in your area whose dogs have earned their CGC certification.  Ask if you can observe one of their Level One obedience classes as taking a beginning training class is an excellent first step towards your Canine Good Citizen certification.

I can NOT stress enough how important it is to seek out a dog trainer who has done the things that you want to do with your dog.  Would you take driving lessons from someone who has never been behind the wheel of a car?

The test itself is offered in different locations throughout the country.  It’s easy enough to find out where you can sign up to take one by visiting the American Kennel Club web site.

In my not-so-perfect world,  I wish that every dog adopted out from a rescue organization and/or humane society and puppies and dogs placed by reliable, ethical breeders was sent home with a copy of this book – and that dog owners everywhere understood the value of working with their dogs to obtain this certification.

Perhaps it’s time to think about adding a monetary incentive to this equation. 

What if you received a 10% savings on the dog licensing fee your town requires when you register your dog when you submitted proof of your dog’s Canine Good Citizen certification?  And, what if that 10% savings went into a fund that could be used to benefit lower-income dog owners in your area needing some financial assistance with their pets?  Or, what if that savings went into a low-cost spay-neuter program for local families in need?

Sounds like a pretty good deal, right?









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