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Insider Tips to Help Your Dog Pass the Canine Good Citizen Test

Kristin is a dog agility instructor and competitor with 20 years in the sport.

A rough collie obviously ready for his graduation day!

A rough collie obviously ready for his graduation day!

A Good Canine Citizen

You stroll through the aisles of the pet superstore with your black and tan mixed breed dog padding easily by your side. As you stop to check out a Kong toy, your dog sits next to you looking eagerly up at you for his next command. You replace the toy on the shelf and move ahead. Upon your movement, your dog again moves forward, walking at your side, his leash slack.

A puppy on a Flexi-lead rushes around the corner and straight at your dog. As the Flexi-lead is not locked, the owner is many feet away, still not visible from behind the aisle's corner shelves, but you can hear her calling uselessly to her over-rambunctious puppy. You wisely order your dog to sit and stay as the puppy jumps up to your dog in eager greeting.

A second later, a woman, obviously disheveled and overwhelmed, rushes around the corner to find her puppy performing "play bows" to your seated dog. After several seconds, the woman finally corrals her excited puppy into her arms. Your dog, however, is still happily seated in a "stay" at your side.

"How on Earth do you get your dog to behave like that?" the puppy's owner asks. "He must be a very laid back dog. My puppy could never do that."

"Actually, he was as excitable as your puppy only a year ago," you say. "We went to a positive reinforcement obedience class, and we trained hard to pass our 'Canine Good Citizen' test. Being calm when greeting another dog was one of the requirements of the test."

You are rather proud of your dog and the hard training done to prepare for the test. You realize how important that training was. Now, you can see that if the dog running around the corner hadn't been a happy, eager puppy but instead a reactive, older dog, losing control of your dog could have spelled great danger for everyone.

"Where do we sign up for the test?" the lady asks. "I'd sure like my dog to behave like yours!"

Eagerly, you share where you trained your dog, explaining the value of the trainer that helped you prepare for the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test. The lady memorizes the information and leaves, with the puppy still squirming in her arms. You continue shopping with your dog happily walking at your side.

A CGC Dog Competes in Rally Obedience

What Is the Canine Good Citizen Title?

The Canine Good Citizen (CGC) certification program is a dog training test administered by the American Kennel Club (AKC) to reward dogs that have proven good manners. This certification shows a dog has been trained to be a "good citizen" at home and out in the community. The CGC test also helps promote responsible dog ownership, and it gives owners a great dog training goal.

Many owners view the CGC as a first step in their training goals. This is a great stepping-off point into other canine sports such as obedience, agility or Rally obedience. Also, the CGC can be a stand-alone goal for an owner who wants a well-trained canine companion.

What the CGC Involves

To pass the CGC, a dog must pass each of 10 various "tests." Each of these tests examines a different skill a well-mannered dog should possess. A dog passes the CGC only if all 10 of the "tests" are passed, and the skills are proven. If a dog fails one of the 10 skills, he will not be given his CGC. However, if a dog fails the CGC test, he can be retested at a later date. Below you will find the 10 skill tests the dog must pass.

The 10 Tests to Passing the Canine Good Citizen

A dog must show itself proficient in 10 different skills in order to pass the CGC. Below are a list of these skills from the AKC's brochure on the CGC.

  • Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger. The dog will allow a friendly stranger to approach it and speak to the handler in a natural, everyday situation.
  • Test 2: Sitting politely for petting. The dog will allow a friendly stranger to pet it while it is out with its handler.
  • Test 3: Appearance and grooming. 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.
  • Test 4: Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead). The handler/dog team will take a short “walk” to show that the dog is in control while walking on a leash.
  • Test 5: Walking through a crowd. The dog and handler walk around and pass close to several people (at least three) to demonstrate that the dog can move about politely in pedestrian traffic and is under control in public places.
  • Test 6: Sit and down on command and staying in place. The dog will respond to the handler’s commands to 1. sit, 2. down and will 3. remain in the place commanded by the handler (sit or down position, whichever the handler prefers).
  • Test 7: Coming when called. 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.
  • Test 8: Reaction to another dog. To demonstrate 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.
  • Test 9: Reaction to distraction. To demonstrate the dog is confident 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.
  • 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.
AKC's Canine Good Citizen logo.

AKC's Canine Good Citizen logo.

The CGC History and New Title Information

The Canine Good Citizen Certification was started in 1989 and has been met with huge success. The AKC's CGC program has been copied in many other countries and many states have Canine Good Citizen resolutions.

The CGC started as a certification, but it was not considered a true "title" after a dog's registered name. A "title" is represented by initials after a dog's name, and a title is earned when a dog passes a set "test" in canine sports such as obedience or agility. For instance, to earn a Novice Agility title (NA), a dog must pass the requirements of a novice (beginning) agility course three times. Then the dog can have the NA initials listed after their name. So if my dog's name is Rover, after earning the Novice Agility title, he would be Rover NA.

The CGC has previously been considered an award but not a title. Therefore, dogs weren't officially allowed to have the CGC initials after their names. As of January, 2013, this has changed. The CGC is an official AKC title. Dogs may now have the CGC initials after their name. So if Rover passes the CGC test, his name would be Rover CGC. If Rover passed the CGC test and also passed the Novice agility course three times, his name would be Rover NA, CGC.

Allowing the CGC to become a title is an exciting development as it increases the importance of the already fun-to-earn certification.

Mixed breeds of all shapes and sizes can earn the CGC too!! In fact, mixed breeds can compete in any performance events like obedience, agility, Rally, etc. All dogs are welcome to test or compete!

Mixed breeds of all shapes and sizes can earn the CGC too!! In fact, mixed breeds can compete in any performance events like obedience, agility, Rally, etc. All dogs are welcome to test or compete!

Finding a Good CGC Class

The Canine Good Citizen test covers many common training areas, but for dogs that are shy or the opposite - over rambunctious - the test can be more difficult than expected. Fearful dogs may struggle with being handled by a friendly stranger or being left alone with a stranger for three minutes. They also may not like being walked up to another dog. The rambunctious dog may have troubles staying on a sit or down while being petted or may want to play when greeting another dog.

The 10 steps necessary to pass the test are hard as it is. Add in a fearful or overly excitable dog, and the challenge definitely increases. Yet these 10 steps are all needed to prove a dog is a well-mannered member of the community, which is Canine Good Citizen's goal.

While a dog can be trained to pass the CGC without an instructor or class, a good class is a huge help. A good instructor will have seen the CGC test given many times and will know what to expect. The trainer can prepare his/her students by exactly mimicking in class what will be done during the test. Then, the students are prepared for what to expect and how each test will be administered.

Most training schools offer classes to prepare dogs for the CGC test, and as said before, many people view the CGC as the starting point for the rest of their training in other canine sports. To find a school that offers CGC classes, you can call around to trainers in your area.

Four Good Canine Citizens

All four of the author's dogs have the CGC title.

All four of the author's dogs have the CGC title.

Insider Tips to Passing the CGC

Here are a few great tips from a former CGC evaluator to help you prepare your dog to pass the CGC on the first try.

  1. One is to know exactly what the evaluator is looking for. The AKC has an evaluator's guide. This guide will be invaluable to your understanding of exactly what will be expected of you and your dog. It will allow you to fine tune your training, so you are ultra prepared for the big test.
  2. Being a part of a Canine Good Citizen class is exceedingly helpful. Immediately, the "crowd" in test five will be at hand. The dog to greet in test eight will be present and ready to work. The "friendly stranger" in tests one, two, three and 10 will be ready and eager to help. An instructor can easily mimic different distractions in test 9. Plus the instructor should already have all of the needed "equipment" on hand, including the 20 foot leash needed for tests 6 and 7. In addition, just training in a class environment with other dogs and distractions will make your team stronger and more prepared not only for the test but for whatever the dog will face out and about in the world as well.
  3. Don't train for the test "in a bubble." If you only train in your house or back yard for the test, your dog will most likely become overwhelmed with the interesting distractions and smells in the new environment where the real test will be held. Be sure to "proof" your dog for distractions. Proofing means you slowly introduce your dog to more and more distractions, so that he is comfortable working regardless of what is going on around him. Dogs who work in the same environment may be fantastic at home but unable to do a simple sit when they are overwhelmed by the new sights, sounds and smells where the test is administered.
  4. There is a famous saying among dog trainers: Train like you trial and trial like you train. In other words, how you practice is just like how you will act when you take your CGC test, and you will act at your CGC test just like you do when you train at home. If you get to the CGC test, get nervous, and use a very low-pitched voice because of the nerves, this may stress your dog and cause him to perform poorly. So remember to act at the test just like you do when training at home. Don't let nerves make you behave differently, or your dog won't know who he has at the end of his leash!
  5. Along those lines, keep the training, and therefore the test itself, light and happy. Training is about fun, play and games. It's not about dominance, so keep the atmosphere light and happy.

We're Ready to Rock This Test

When all of the training is behind you and you are ready for your test, your instructor can either set up a CGC evaluation for the class, or you can find one locally. The AKC has a list of CGC evaluators that you can contact to set up a test, or you can find CGC tests being given at various places like local AKC dog shows, responsible pet ownership days, local dog events or through area trainers. By making a few phone calls, you should be able to locate an upcoming CGC test in your region.

This "High in Trial" winner earned his CGC before starting to compete in obedience trials.

This "High in Trial" winner earned his CGC before starting to compete in obedience trials.

Your Dog Has Manners!

As you and your dog leave the pet superstore, you think back to when you decided to attempt to train your dog for the Canine Good Citizen title. Back then, it had seemed such a daunting task. How could your bundle of hyper fur ever be calm enough to greet a person without jumping on them or greet a dog without turning himself inside out with excitement? But after many months of work, you both had achieved the seemingly impossible.

As you reminisce on the training you and your dog undertook to meet that goal, you smile. It hadn't really been "work." It had instead been more fun than you ever could have expected. And now, the bond you have with your dog is so much deeper than before all of that training.

As you load your dog into his crate in the car, you give him a kiss on his soft, furry head. He really is a spectacular dog, and you treasure each day you both worked to train for the CGC title. In the end, you were left with a truly good canine citizen.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.


Jason on June 21, 2016:

I live in HUD subsidized senior citizen / persons with disabilities housing that is pet friendly. NONE of the dogs are obedience trained. Two are aggressive. ALL are irresponsible dog owners. ALL use retractable leashes and keep the button pushed--that is, let the dog do what he or she wants to do--and that includes wandering onto the sidewalk with the leash trailing behind. MOST routinely violate the Pet Policy. Landlord REFUSES to enforce the pet policy, despite numerous, substantiated complaints.

My neighbors think I 'hate' dogs. No, I don't hate dogs. I was once a dog owner. I had a poorly bred, poorly socialized German Shepherd, that, through hard work, by the dog trainer, my dog and me, we learned good manners and obedience work. My trainer was pleasantly surprised that this dog got a CD. I was a responsible dog owner. As my trainer would say, 'A well trained and socialized dog is a pleasure to own, and a pleasure to be around."

I think that tenants should be given a reasonable time (ex: two years from the adoption of the policy or age 3 if the dog is under 1 year old) to earn the Canine Good Citizenship award. Only dog / owner combinations who have this award would be allowed to loiter outside (but not in high traffic areas, such as sidewalks, halls, elevators, stairwells, mailboxes, seating area by main entrance). No CGC, no loitering with your dog. If, after 2 years (for puppies, 3rd birthday) the dog / handler team has not earned the CGC, the dog will be evicted unless the handler can convince landlord otherwise. Also, if you violate the Pet Policy 3 times in 2 years, the dog will be evicted unless the handler can convince the landlord otherwise.

DoItForHer on September 14, 2012:

I tried the CGC/apartment thing and it meant nothing. When I broke up with my gf, I had to look for months before I finally found a place that would let us in. Waffy even has some smoke detector training, which could potentially be an enormous asset, but for some reason stuff like that has little value.

Even when we were in the Animal Enhanced Therapy Program at the hospital, that did little. And this was a job that truly should have allowed us in many more places as the training those dogs need can be accomplished only in places that are normally off-limits to dogs. But people are hard-wired to hold you down instead of support and encourage you.

Man, I have to quit being a grumpy-guss about that. But it is so frustrating.

Kristin Kaldahl (author) on September 14, 2012:

I know that more and more dog parks are requiring CGC's on the dogs that attend. I think it's an excellent idea. I've heard of hotels requiring CGCs on dogs that stay there, which isn't a bad idea either. I've never run into it in my neck of the woods, though I have used my dogs' CGCs to get into hotels that limit dogs or to get reduced dog fee rates at hotels. :) I've also used the CGC to get into rental housing I wanted.

I think when the AKC makes the CGC a true title, it might give it more weight. That would be ideal.

I don't know of another group that tests for manners certification actually. You think there would be another one out there, but I haven't heard of one. I know some of my true life dog friends might read this, and if so, if you guys know of any groups that also test for manners, please post as a guest. :)

DoItForHer on September 14, 2012:

Different areas value the CGC and doggy manners differently. Where I live (in a big city) it takes months of waiting to get enough people to warrant doing the test. Then the certification means almost nothing as no one recognizes it as having any value if they even know what it is. It opens no doors nor allows the dog with the CGC certification to live a fuller life; a well-behaved dog gets the same treatment and same privileges as an ill-mannered one. That sucks. I quit going to the pet store here because of how I've been degraded and jerked around. Those are strong words, but I'm angry about it.

However, in Missoula, another large city, the attitude is way different. There are way more people with their dogs, too. When I go there, I'm not constantly harassed about how amazing my dog is or admonished for having her wait outside by herself or some such thing. People there treat me like another normal person- it feels good. If you want to get your CGC, you walk into the pet store, ask for it, and you are tested. Testing is done in the store and is a true test of a dog's manners. Some places water down the test by removing all distractions possible while providing enough of a test to certify- barely. I don't know if the CGC has any real value there; I hope so.

Allowing only dogs who have their CGC in the dog park would be a good use of the certification. Or having a section for them. I quit going to the park because I got tired of Waffles being beat up and me having to get into physical confrontations to protect her. It's happened about 3 times, and that is more than enough fighting for me! A CGC entry requirement would greatly reduce aggressive conflict.

Does any one else test for manners for certification besides AKC?