Hints on Handling C.G.C. test

This test describes the original version of the AKC's Canine Good Citizen test and hints for handling it successfully. The test has since been changed a bit, mostly for the better, and I will indicate the changes.



by Pam Green, © 1990 & 2007

I wrote this article for the SCBDFC Bulletin in 1989 or 1990 when the CGC test was quite new. I had just taken my Chelsea and Bones through the very first test held in Sacramento, when Chelsea was fairly old and Bones still quite young. Chelsea tended to be calmly condescending to all strangers, and Bones tended to be eagerly friendly and attention seeking to strangers and puppyish playful to other dogs.
The test has changed a bit since then, and I will indicate the changes in indented inserts like this one. The current rules for the test are on the AKC site at <http://www.akc.org/events/cgc/training_testing.cfm> and are included in my article Canine Good Citizen with Extras course.

Can your dog (a) salute the flag ? (b) fill out and mail your census form ? (c) pay your income taxes ? (d) none of the above ?

If you checked (d), don't despair , he can still be a "Canine Good Citizen" if he merely refrains from urinating on the flagpole and biting the census-taker, and if you will pay his dog license tax. And if you will give him a basic education !!!

Any stable temperamented and well socialized dog should have little trouble passing this test if he has received a modest education in rock-bottom basic obedience.

The following suggestions assume the reader has read the test rules , published in the July '89 issue of the AKC Gazette. and reprinted in the Sept '90 SCBDFC Bulletin.


Although only a few of the test sections require you to use any commands, you are permitted throughout to use whatever commands you think might be helpful. I recommend use of "heel", "sit", "down", and "wait"/"stay" whenever appropriate to achieve the desired results. Know your dog's temperament and natural reactions well enough to anticipate when a command might be helpful.

Be sure that your dog is well trained in basic obedience (heel, sit, down, and stay) and has had plenty of practice in public situations, such as in the park or playground, in the presence of strange people and strange dogs.

Be sure to give your dog ample opportunity to defecate and urinate prior to his turn in the test. Eliminating during the test eliminates your dog from passing .


(1) Appearance and Grooming; rabies certificate & license.

Attach a photocopy of your dog's rabies certificate and local dog license certificate to your entry form and bring a second copy of each with you to the test. His license tag and rabies tag may be attached to his collar.

I suggest bringing your own brush or comb to the test, for any needed pre-test grooming and to offer to the Evaluator for use during section (1). There is no need to risk spread of skin parasites and ailments by using the same comb/brush that has been used on other dogs in the test on your dog.

Update note : the test rules have since changed to specify that each handler bring their own comb or brush, possibly for the reasons I have just discussed or possibly out of recognition that different coat types require different combs or brushes.
The rules also now require that before the start of the test the owner-handler must sign a "Responsible Dog Owners Pledge". in which the owner agrees to take care of their dog's health needs, safety, exercise, training and quality of life.
The rules no longer require that the handler-owner show proof of current Rabies vaccination nor proof of current local Dog License. That may well be a step backwards , but it does make it easier for me when I want to take a Rescue foster dog through (because while I do vaccinate foster dogs for Rabies at earliest oppertunity, I do not buy them local dog licenses because they are only living with me temporarily and will ultimately be licensed by their adopters in adopters' locality).

Although the rules do not expressly penalize any acts of exhuberant affection by the dog towards the Evaluator, you might do well to use a sit-stay or stand-stay to anchor him during the examination and grooming.

(2) Accepting a Stranger

As the rules forbid the dog to "break position or try to go to the Evaluator", if your dog tends to be outgoingly, demonstratively or exhuberantly friendly, you would do well to use the heel and/or sit-stay commands to place and keep him at your side. This requirement that the dog not go to the stranger reflects the needs of those strangers who dislike dogs, are afraid of dogs, or have difficulty in walking and standing securely.

(3) Walking on Loose Lead and (4) Walk Through a Crowd

Although the formal heeling position is not required, use of the heel command is the easiest and most foolproof way to perform these exercises.

(I would argue against AKC's insistence that the dog must be on the left side of the handler, however: some persons have good reason, such as handedness, handicap, or purse-carrying side preference, for choosing to position their dog on their right.)

Update note : the rules have changed to allow the handler to choose which side of the handler's body the dog should walk on.

(5) Sit for Exam (petting by stranger)

While the rules say nothing against the dog responding with a friendly display, if your dog tends to be immoderate in this regard, use of a sit-stay command would be appropriate. As the exercise calls for the dog to be sitting, you would presumably give a sit command in any case.

Update note : the rules now penalize the dog who is overly friendly.

(6) Sit and Down on Command and (7) Stay in Position (sit or down)

These are self explanatory . Remember that you may use more than one command or may use verbal command plus hand signal.

(8) Reaction to Another Dog

This really should have been called "lack of reaction", as the dogs may display only casual interest in each other or in the other dog's handler. Use heel and sit-stay or down-stay commands to counteract any natural inclination to behave playfully or aggressively. If you know that your dog has a serious tendency towards dog aggression, do not enter the test until you have trained him far far past the point where he would even think nasty thoughts while under your command. Be aware that you dog may be called upon to go through this section twice, ie once as the tested dog and once as the other dog, and that aggression either time would cause him to fail.

Note : at some tests the testers supply the other dog who is always a dog known to NOT be at all dog aggressive. However it's a 50 : 50 chance whether that dog will be of opposite sex to yours or same sex as yours and this can make a difference. Also it is possible that the other dog will be reproductively intact.

(9) Reaction to Distractions

Apparently it is permissible for a test to present distractions other than the 6 examples that are listed in the rules. The test in which I participated used a person rolling by in a wheelchair and a child walking or running by pulling a noisy , rattling child's metal toy wagon. These seem to me to be realistic distractions one might encounter on city or residential streets.

Use of the heel command may be advisable if the dog is likely to react beyond the "natural interest and curiosity" or mild startling allowable . Strongly playful reactions are likely to some of the distractions , and should be prevented by keeping the dog under heel command.

If your dog is in the early stages of protection training, you might want to test yourselves and , if necessary, practice 2 of the distractions listed in the rules: that of a jogger running and that of two people pushing and shoving or back-slapping each other while talking excitedly. These situations can resemble agitation to a dog in the early stages of protection work, who is not yet highly sophisticated and discriminating.

(10) Dog Left Alone (5 minutes)

If your dog has been taught to feel comfortable doing a handler-out-of-sight down-stay, then this exercise is easy. Merely use your down-stay command. At the test in which I participated, a number of male dogs failed this exercise simply because, not being on a stay, they felt free to move about on the 15 foot line and there was a bush within reach , prompting them to do what came naturally. Use of a stay command should also prevent vocalization and pacing, which are disapproved.

(I do not know whether AKC assumes that this test section would reflect the dog's behavior when left alone at home. In particular, the dog's ability to stay alone without unreasonable vocalizations is a quality essential to his being "welcome as a neighbor". However , I doubt very much that the dog's silence during this test is much of a guarantee of his silence at home.)

Update note : this test has been changed because AKC decided that it did not want people to think that tying your dog up and leaving him was responsible behavior. Certainly having a dog live on a tie out in the backyard instead of being a housedog is totally antithetical to the concept of the dog as a family companion, helper, etc that AKC claims to promote. AKC may also have realized that this test would not reveal the dog with Separation Anxiety unless it was a severe case.
I don't think that it is irresponsible to tie your totally sound temperamented and people friendly dog up briefly so you can dash into a food store or other place where a dog would not be allowed, but if so you want to be sure the ground is comfortable, that the dog has shade if the weather is even mildly hot, and you should take care to tie the dog "short and low" so that there is absolutely NO way the dog might get the leash hung up on something in a way that risks strangling your dog.
The current test rules have the dog's leash handed over to a "trustworthy stranger" who may talk to the dog or ignore it, while the handler leaves and goes out of sight. If the test is held outdoors for this one test segment it is not a failure if the dog urinates or defecates, though I suspect that urinating on the stranger's chair and getting some of it on the stranger would probably be strongly dissapproved. I'd advise that the dog be left on a Down-Stay about half a leash length away from the stranger, who is most likely sitting in a chair. That would keep the dog from being obnoxiously friendly, eg pawing or shovel-snouting or hopping up into the stranger's lap, and would inhibit getting up to pee or poop.


Oddly enough this test totally omits to test one quality that all persons desire their own dog and their neighbor's dog to have, one command that is utterly essential to every dog's education: the dog's response to the recall , "Come". "Come" and "down" are the two lifesaver commands and the two most essential to pleasant house-sharing between dog and owner. Of the 2, I believe that "Come" is the most essential. (Whenever I rescue a dog from the Pound, I find I invariably begin teaching "come" the very first day, but I may wait to begin working on "down' for as much as two or even three days.) "He won't come" and "he runs away from me" are the most frequent plaintive wails of the uneducated owner. The unrecallable dog wandering loose & unsupervised soon becomes the bane of the neighbors and creates endless trouble for himself and others.

The most logical place to insert a recall test into the CGC is probably as the culmination of section (7) : after the stay in position, instead of returning to the dog, the handler would recall the dog. Or the handler might return, unsnap the leash, then leave again, wait briefly and then recall the dog, re-snapping the leash upon arrival.

In any case, addition of a recall somewhere in the test would enhance the overall value of the test as a test of basic family dog behavior.

Update note : the test has been changed to include a recall. The recall is added just after the brief Sit-Stay or Down-Stay (handler's choice of position, and I'd recommend Down as the more stable one). Before the handler leaves, a 20 foot long line is snapped to the dog's collar and the regular leash is unsnapped. The handler gives the position command and the Stay or Wait command, then goes 10 feet away and waits briefly until the judge indicates handler to call the dog to Come. This is a really minimum duration Wait and a very short Recall, but the use of the long line ensures safety even if the test is held in an unfenced area.


A stable temperamented, well socialized dog with a mediocre obedience education and a handler with some sense and leadership qualities should have no problem passing this test. In such case, the process of preparing for the CGC will have made an inherently good dog still better and more pleasant to live with, while introducing his owner to the value of simple basic training. This is surely a result which is desirable for the dog, his owner, and for society as a whole.

A dog with a mild to serious tendency towards dog-aggressiveness would need far better training and a more authoritative and alert handler in order to pass. A mildly unstable dog would need good quality training and good reliance upon his handler's leadership in order to pass. In such cases, the process of preparing for the CGC will have made a potentially troublesome dog more manageable , less unpleasant to live with , and less dangerous to society. Again , this result is surely desirable for the dog, his owner, and society.

If ever AKC were to become genuinely committed to the concept that the dog ought to be the pleasurable companion and useful helpmeet of mankind, and thus as corollary were to become genuinely committed to preventing the most temperamentally unfit dogs from being bred and the most irresponsible persons from engaging in breeding dogs, then it would be a very useful first small step in that direction to prohibit dogs from being bred until they have passed the C.G.C. and to refuse to register any litter unless both parents have passed the C.G.C. This would not, of course, by itself bring us to a Utopia of profoundly knowledgeable trainer-breeders carefully preserving and improving lines of dogs of rock-solid stable temperament, robust health and sound construction, well endowed with working drives appropriate to the stated purpose of their breed, and readily receptive to education from a thoughtful and diligent owner. No indeed ! Much more would be required to bring us to such a Utopia. But a universal CGC pre-requisite for breeding would at least give us all some assurance that the puppies so engendered would have the potential to respond properly to basic socialization and education and thus to become satisfactory family pets and that the breeders have made a modest beginning towards the knowledge of temerament and training that they need to advise their puppy buyers on the rearing and eductaion of their puppies to become reqarding and civilized companions.

I urge all breeders to put the CGC on all their breeding stock and to encourage their puppy buyers to do likewise. I urge all serious dog-trainers to add the CGC to their dog's resumé of titles and to encourage others to do likewise. All should urge AKC to make CGC a breeding pre-requisite for all breeds


CGC is only one small step , but it is one small step in the right direction.

Update comments :
I would urge AKC to make the CGC a requirement for a dog (male or female) to be entered in any Conformation event or to be entered in any Performance event. (For the Performance dogs, regardless of their specialty, this should be quite easy, "a walk in the park", except for the Lure Coursers and the Earthdogs which do not have to be under much handler control.) I would urge AKC to establish a Level 2 and Level 3 CGC , then require passage of Level 2 before a dog could be confirmed as a conformation Ch and require passage of Level 3 before a dog was allowed to be bred or its offspring registered. For Level 2, all exercises would be done with the dog on a 20 foot "drag-line" (also called "long line" or "check cord" or "safety line"), ie a lightweight cord left dragging on the ground, or possibly with the very end of the line in hander's hand if test is in an unfenced area. If the handler actually has to step on the line or use the line to correct the dog or cause it to complete an exercise, that exercise is failed. For Level 3, which must be held inside a fenced area, preferably a very large one, the dog is completely off-leash. Perhaps a short "tab" that is no longer than hanging to the front point of the dog's sternum could be allowed. If handler actually has to grab the tab to complete an exercise , that exercise is failed. These added levels would be in accord with the way the majority of dog owners would be advised to work towards safe off-leash obedience. If every dog had to pass Level 2 before being shown in conformation, we would no longer see the high incidence of poorly behaved conformation dogs and we'd have fewer incidents of aggression at shows. If every dog had to pass Level 3 before being bred, we would see a substantial increase in knowledge and appreciation of temperament and trainability on the part of breeders and we would see a substantial increase in the temperaments and trainability of those breeds that remained within AKC . The phrase "AKC registered" and "ALC Champion" would actually have some real meaning to the public as an assurance of mental quality in a dog. (The issues of physical health qualities would remain unaddressed by the CGC requirement, though they could be easily addressed if each national parent breed club were allowed and required to specify the two or three most important inheritable health problems in their breed for which test were currently available and if AKC required these tests to be done to prove normality of the dog before allowing a dog to be bred or a conformation Ch to be confirmed.)
If these requirements were in place it is possible that some breed clubs would reject the idea of requiring their dogs to be trainable and would leave AKC. Likewise if the majority of breeders in that breed were to leave AKC the effects would be similar. Some other breeds currently not within AKC might be either more eager or totally unwilling to enter into the AKC ecosystem.

More recently (2007) there is a growing trend for cities, counties, and states to be contemplating legislation that restricts dog breeding, or requires breeder licenses or litter licenses, or that imposes substantially high dog license fees on reproductively intact dogs (and sometimes cats), or that mandates that every dog (and sometimes cat) must be spayed or neutered by a certain age unless it qualifies for an exemption on one or more specified grounds. The stated purpose of such laws is to reduce the unconsionably high levels of shelter intakes and shelter killings of normal healthy pets by preventing the surplus popultion of dogs (and cats) from being created in the first place. The average voter supports the idea of reducing the number of dogs and cats killed in shelters.
Neither the voters nor the lawmakers are sufficiently aware that TRAINING is just as important at SPAY/NEUTER in reducing the risk that a dog will be discarded into the shelter system by its owner or that a dog will become any kind of public nuisance or danger. For the risk of shelter relinquishment there are good studies showing that the dog who is NOT ALTERED has 2 to 3 times the risk of relinquishment that the altered dog has and that the dog who has NOT HAD ANY FORMAL TRAINING also has 2 to 3 times the risk of relinquishment that the dog who has had some training has. The reasons why a dog with some training is less at risk of discard are pretty obvious : firstly the dog will be better behaved at home and the owners will have learned how to use the dog's learned behaviors to prevent or combat many objectionable behaviors, and secondly the owner will have made a personal effort during training that creates a bond of affection for the dog and pride in the dog. There probably are not any good statistics on risk that a dog will become a nuisance or a danger, but is it not obvious that if dog and owner attend a basic training class they will both learn enough to reduce these risks ?
Generally the serious and responsible breeders have been outraged by such proposals, as they see their right to continue breeding dogs threatened and they feel that they are not creating the problem. However the usual response is to loudly scream "no regulations at all" rather than to propose a regulation that would make sense, one that would merely require breeders to do what a responsible one does anyway but that would be more than the backyard commercial breeders, casual " just one litter so my friends and family can have puppies (kittens)", and the accidental breeders of "oops" litters would find so difficult or "too much effort" to do and so would be put out of business. Needless to say any good law must impose the same requirments on pet stores and large scale commercial breeders.
I think that the CGC in it's current (Level 1) form could be the answer that we all could endorse and advocate. Let's all urge our local legislators and state legislators to put in a three tiered license scheme for dogs, as follows :

If you think that passing the test just once is not a proof that the dog will remain well trained and responsive for the rest of its life, you are correct. But even once is a big step in the direction of dog and handler remaining well behaved in private and public. I think it could be perfectly approprate for the law to provide that the test has to be passed again every two or three years, ie passed within the 30 months or 40 months prior to the due date for this year's license. If so, I think after the third pass, the dog should be considered as sufficently proven to get the lower fee for the rest of its life.

I think it would also be absolutely appropriate to require all dogs to be micro-chipped or tattooed for permanent identification and to require that identification to be verified by the CGC testers and to be stated on the CGC certificate. This eliminates the most obvious oppertunities for cheating by letting one dog impersonate another ; after all many owners have several dogs of the same breed who look much alike.

(For those who ask "and what about cats ?", yes of course cats MUST be licensed and required to be kept vaccinated for Rabies : cats contribute at least half of Animal Control costs and more than half of the shelter intakes and killings, and cats are just as much a Rabies risk as dogs are. Because there is no CGC equivalent for cats, I'd suggest that same maximum fee for all cats who are NOT ALTERED and that intact cats be absolutely required to be exclusively indoors or in an escape-proof roofed outdoor run, that an intermediate fee be charged for ALTERED cats who are NOT EXCLUSIVELY INDOOR (or escape-proof run) cats, and the rock bottom minimumfee for cats who are ALTERED AND EXCLUSIVELY INDOORS (or escape-proof run) cats. Yes , it becomes difficult to certify or prove that a cat is kept exclusively indoors/escape-proof run. Perhaps the answer would have to be an enormous fine if the indoor cat were picked up outdoors ? Certainly there needs to be an enormous fine if an intact cat is picked up outdoors and perhaps mandatory alteration would be done before the owner could reposess the cat, just as it would be done if the cat were not reclaimed and were then adopted out from the shelter. And the problem remains of appropriate measures for the horde of unowned feral cats and the need to encourage or require anyone providing food for ferals to also make serious effort to trap them for local Trap-Alter-Release programs. Cats, like dogs , should also be required to be micro-chipped or tattooed for permanent identification , and that would certainly make it easy to identify if an unaltered cat or a cat licensed as "indoor only" were picked up as an outdoor stray. )


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 6/12/07 revised 6/14/07
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