Canine Good Citizen Certification is the Gold Standard for Dog Behavior

By Kenneth Pilcher

The benefits of achieving the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Certification for your dog are numerous.  The process will establish a strong bond between you and your best friend.  As the owner, you will feel more confident that your dog can handle any situation without becoming upset or stressed.  You and your dog will be happier because he is well adjusted and more confident.

The AKC established the CGC program in 1989 to promote responsible dog ownership and to encourage the training of well-mannered dogs. The CGC test evaluates you and your dog’s skills at navigating possible scenarios that would come up in your every day life, such as moving through a crowd, meeting a new dog or person, and being separated for a short amount of time.

Any breed of dog may take the test. The only physical requirements are that the dog must be healthy and well-groomed to take the CGC test. Since its inception, the CGC has become the model for other programs around the world, and is a great starting point to move onto other forms of training such as Agility and Competitive Obedience.

Some insurance companies recommend the CGC training and there is an increase in number of apartments and condos that are requiring CGC certification for resident dogs. Police Departments and courts recognize the CGC certificate as evidence of responsible ownership. The CGC test is now recognized as an American Kennel Club (AKC) title and after passing the test your family friend will be eligible for a special tag which displays the title as part of his/her name.

Defining the Test
The test is not as strict as formal obedience – the test allows the owner to give two or more commands if needed. You are actually encouraged to talk and praise your dog. Even with the relaxed format there are still limitations such as no food incentives. The test is to determine whether your dog has learned the necessary skills and if the owner can handle the dog without bribing. The dog is also not allowed to wear any special equipment such as electric collars or pinch collars. Your dog needs to listen to you, not your training aids. In fact, a harsh correction during the test is grounds for immediate disqualification.

The Canine Good Citizen Test consists of an Evaluator requesting an owner to have their dog accomplish ten tasks.
1. Allowing a friendly stranger to approach
2. Sitting calmly and politely to be pet
3. Allowing handling for grooming and physical examination
4. Heeling politely on a loose lead
5. Walking calmly through crowded areas
6. Sit on command and down on command
7. Come when called
8. Greeting another well-behaved dog without aggression or excitement
9. Handling distractions and distracting environments
10. Behaving well when in the care of another and with the owner out of sight.

Preparing Your Dog
Attending a CGC prep class once a week will not guarantee success. Homework is crucial for both of you to build on to achieve your goals and pass the test. The first and easiest tip for success we can offer is, take time to work with your dog.

It is an old adage among trainers, “If you only put in five minutes of training, you will only get five minutes of good behavior.” It’s the same regardless of what skill you are trying to learn; the more you practice the better you will be.

It is also important to train in varied environments. The CGC test is unlikely to be given in your home so be sure to take time to practice in new public places. The more environments your dog expects you to request good behavior, the better he will be on test day.

Choosing the Right Reward
Getting your dog to focus on you around distractions is the key to many of the items on the test. Working around distractions can be very daunting to most owners, but can be conquered by knowing your dog. The best way to beat distractions is to know what motivates your dog. It’s not always as obvious or the same thing for every distraction.

If your treat doesn’t seem to be working, amp it up a little with a higher value treat. Perhaps treats aren’t your dog’s thing. They may prefer a squeaky toy or a good game of tug as their reward. If you seem stumped on what they are into, try anything and everything.

Finding the right reward is only the beginning. Since you will not be able to use those rewards during the test, you will need to praise your dog a great deal—all the time, every time they are doing something right so keep rewarding and don’t stop. They will associate their favorite reward with your praise and before long you will be their best reward!

Constant training is so important. Make it a part of your everyday routine and make it a game. Similar to environment, make sure you are practicing with various situations. Another important component is supervised separation for three minutes. You can start with practicing “wait” or “stay,” and then increase distance and duration. If you have practiced with distractions, the evaluator will just be one more distraction to overlook while waiting until you return. Have others assist by having your dog practice waiting with new people. As long as he is not barking, whining, panting, pacing, or pulling, praise him for doing well. Reinforcing the behavior desired will increase his performance.

Lastly, confidence will take you and your dog a long way on the test. If you are confident that your dog will perform the way you expect, he will. If your dog has a lot of confidence, he will not be stressed by strangers, crowds, or being brushed by the evaluator. An often unexpected way to build confidence is other forms of training such as agility. Anything that increases your interactions in a positive manner and strengthens your bond will improve confidence for both of you.

Taking a Canine Good Citizen class is a good start for multiple reasons. The instructor is sometimes your evaluator so there will be less surprise when the test comes around. You will receive firsthand knowledge of how to practice and what will be expected of you and your dog. The class setting will offer an additional opportunity to work on improving your dog’s focus around distractions while being able to receive feedback from the instructor. At Olde Towne Pet Resort, we will be offering Canine Good Citizen preparation classes this summer. Our trainer is a certified CGC evaluator and will be able to teach you the skills you need to pass the test and more importantly have a well-mannered friend.

Kenneth Pilcher is the Operations Director of the Olde Towne Pet Resort- Dulles. He is actively involved in the training program and can be seen with his dog, Tyrion, a Corgi. For additional information call 703-455-9000.

Find a Canine Good Citizen PREP CLASS
• Olde Towne Pet Resort—group lessons available
• Off-Leash K9 Training—private lessons available
• Always There Pet Care—private and group lessons available
• The Animals’ House—group lessons available. Classes provided every 7 to 8 weeks. Next class starts
August 4.
• Fur-Get-Me-Not—group lessons available. Fur-Get-Me-Not’s Level 4 classes will prepare pups for the AKC Canine Good Citizenship evaluation.
• KissAble Canine—private and group lessons available in September

Find a Canine Good Citizen TESTING SITE:
• Olde Towne Pet Resort—Offered at the end of training classes.
For additional information visit or call
• Off-Leash K9 Training—Ongoing training and testing available. Contact them for details at or
• Always There Pet Care —Classes offered include certification opportunities. Individuals who have completed training elsewhere can still be evaluated for AKC Canine Good Citizen certification. For more information email or visit
• The Animals’ House—Certification testing provided during the last week of training classes. Assessment opportunities outside the regular testing dates require an appointment. For more information email or visit
• Fur-Get-Me-Not—Test dates available this October. For more information email or visit
• KissAble Canine—Testing opportunities are offered at the end of the class. Private testing is available for those that need the certification for certain programs, access to hospitals or insurance needs. visit for more information.