Canine Good Citizen with Extras course

by Pam Green, © 2007

Here are some ideas for running a course in 4 to 10 sessions that helps people to prepare themselves and their dogs for AKC's Canine Good Citizen test and that includes some supplementary exercises to carry the dog to a higher level than the test requirement and supplementary exercises to prepare for real life situations that are not in the test. All of these exercises are relevant to daily life as a house-dog and family companion and relevant to the dog's activities at the vet's and in public places and during recreational activities.

CGC with Extras course

The descriptions of AKC's Canine Good CitizenŽ (CGC) Program test items are take from the AKC site at <>

Depending on the prior training experience of the owner-handlers and the prior training of the dogs and on the number of teams enrolled, the course could be organized into a 4 or 5 session series with each session covering several test segments or it could be organized into more sessions, possibly each covering only a single test segment. It is advisable to be flexible and add sessions if the students need them. . Depending on class composition, the trainer may want to re-shuffle the order of the various components of the course and may want to post-pone or eliminate some of the more challenging supplementary exercises. Some students will easily master all the supplementary exercises and some will struggle with the basic ones. Encourage the latter to come through the course again at a later date Depending on local conditions, the trainer and students may well come up with additional supplementary exercises. Note also that it is not necessary that all sessions take place in the same location, and indeed varying the location can add to the value and variety of the lessons.

The goal of the course is that each dog become easier to live with and that each handler become more adept at manageing the dog's behavior under real life conditions. The various handling hints are also quite applicable to real world situations. While all handlers may have the goal of passing the CGC test, all should realize that should they discover some problem in their dog that will prevent passing, they will still have gained greatly by having knowledge of the problem and having learned some tools to manage the dog in some situations and having learned which situations they need to avoid or prevent.

I have heard that some Homeowners' Insurance companies that normally have breed restrictions on dogs are now willing to cover dogs of those breeds that have earned a CGC. We should be urging a lower insurance rate for dogs of all breeds who have earned a CGC.

I also think that legislators should be urged to offer lower license fees and other priviledges to dogs who have earned a CGC. A more universal knowledge of the CGC and its value as a proof of basic civility training could become an effective tool to combat the rising tide of anti-dog legislation, high license fees for intact dogs, and mandatory spay/neuter laws. That will happen only if the dog-training public can educate the legislators. A longer arguement for this is at the end of my article on CGC Handling Hints.

General concerns :

Liability Release and Acceptance of Responsibility ; liability insurance :
The trainer or sponsoring organization or sponsoring location will need to have an attorney draft a Release and Responsibility form that participants must sign. All participating owners and handlers must accept that this activity has risks of injury and must release the park, the city, the class sponsors , and the class instructors from any liability for any injuries to themselves or to their dogs. Owners and handlers must also explicitly accept full responsibility for any injuries to anyone or any dog that is done by themselves or their dog. It would also be desirable to require and prudent to verify that every participant has some form of liability insurance such as a homeowners or renters policy that covers them for injuries by their dog. Certainly such insurance should be demanded of any owner seeking to come into the course with a dog with any history of aggression or high degree of fearfulness. The owners of the site and / or the event sponsors should also have a liability insurance policy covering the event and with all instructors included as named insureds. If the instructor also has her own liability insurance, as any professional trainer ought to have, so much the better.

Equipment :
For training purposes (and for everyday life) the use of halter should be encouraged, but at some point the dog-handler teams should also be tested with the officially allowed buckle or slip collars. Most dogs respond very well to halters, but the occasional dog may respond better to a pinch collar and if so it should be used. Of course a few dogs will be just fine with a buckle collar or a slip collar right from the start.

The long line can be supplied by the trainer if only one dog will be doing long line work at a time. Otherwise handlers should be instructed at first session on how to make a long line and should bring it to subsequent sessions.

AKC regulations : Equipment
All tests must be performed on leash. Dogs should wear well-fitting buckle or slip collars made of leather, fabric, or chain. Special training collars such as pinch collars, head halters, etc. are not permitted in the CGC test. We recognize that special training collars may be very useful tools for beginning dog trainers, however, we feel that dogs are ready to take the CGC test at the point at which they are transitioned to regular collars.
The evaluator supplies a 20-foot lead for the test. The owner/handler should bring the dog's brush or comb to the test.

Use of food or toys :
For training purposes handlers should bring their own supply of dog's favored treats or toys to use for training sessions, but of course at some point they need to test the dogs without use of food. Trainer should give a handout on use of "Reward Mark" (meaning "yes, that is what I wanted") and explaining and emphasizing the importance of getting the dog onto a "variable reinforcement schedule" ("slot machine schedule") as soon as each new behavior is learned, because variable reward is more effective in building a durable and reliable response than is rewarding every correct response. Handout should also cover the use of the "No Reward Mark" (which means "sorry, wrong answer, try something else").

AKC regulations : Encouragementbr> Owners/handlers may use praise and encouragement throughout the test. The owner may pet the dog between exercises. Food and treats are not permitted during testing, nor is the use of toys, squeaky toys, etc. to get the dog to do something. We recognize that food and toys may provide valuable reinforcement or encouragement during the training process but these items should not be used during the test.

Dogs with problems of fearfulness or aggression :
If someone does want to enroll a dog in this series that has shown a high degree of fearfulness or any degree of overt aggression to other dogs or people, a trainer skilled in dealing with such problems might be willing to allow this if the dog were wearing a "basket" type muzzle every moment dog is not securely confined inside handler's car or a crate and if the owner provides proof of ample liability insurance of at least $100,000. The handler should expect that this dog will not be ready to do the test after just one completion of the course and that a great deal of extra work will need to be done. Some dogs will never be safe in public situations or in some specific situation (such as at the vet's office) without a muzzle. I'd suggest that before admitting such a dog the trainer or organizer should ask other class participants if they are willing to allow this problem dog to be in class and reminding them to be aware of need to give that dog more space and to be aware of that dog's body language. It may be wiser to invite the problem dog's owner to leave the dog home and attend a full course as a spectator, for which no fee would be charged. An attentive spectator can learn a lot.

If there is a "growls class" or a "re-socialization class" being run by someone very experienced in working with dogs with aggression problems that is available anywhere within reach of the owner, then the preferable solution is for the owner to be directed to enroll in that program rather than the CGC preparation course. Having made sufficient improvement through such a program the dog would then be ready to participate safely in a CGC preparatory course.

Urination and defecation during class :
Since the AKC rules specify that urination or defecation during the test, except on test 10 if held outdoors , is a flunk, handlers should be encouraged from the start to get in habit of potty breaking their dogs at home before class and again on arriving at the class site. Trainer can give handout on teaching dog a cue that means "potty now if you need to" by use of the method of giving the cue whenever handler sees from dog's body language that dog is about to eliminate. Handlers should also bring clean up equipment to class of course. Handlers should be told that if despite all precautions the dog should eliminate during a real test and thereby flunk, well just shrug and accept that this is bad luck and it does not reflect discreditably on dog or handler.

AKC regulations : Failures - Dismissals Any dog that eliminates during testing must be marked failed. The only exception to this rule is that elimination is allowable in test Item 10, but only when test Item 10 is held outdoors.
Any dog that growls, snaps, bites, attacks, or attempts to attack a person or another dog is not a good citizen and must be dismissed from the test.

FIRST SESSION : Pledge, tests 1, 2, & 3

Go over the Responsible Dog Owners Pledge or just hand out copies of it. then do tests 1 , 2 , and 3. Do normal test exercise or exercises first and then for those who have done OK on those , do the supplementary extra exercises. At end of session, hand out agenda for next session.

AKC regulations : Responsible Dog Owners Pledge
Before taking the Canine Good Citizen test, owners will sign the Responsible Dog Owners Pledge. We believe that responsible dog ownership is a key part of the CGC concept and by signing the pledge, owners agree to take care of their dog's health needs, safety, exercise, training and quality of life. Owners also agree to show responsibility by doing things such as cleaning up after their dogs in public places and never letting dogs infringe on the rights of others.
After signing the Responsible Dog Owners Pledge, owners and their dogs are ready to take the CGC Test.

Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger

AKC regulations : Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger
This test demonstrates that the dog will allow a friendly stranger to approach it and speak to the handler in a natural, everyday situation. The evaluator walks up to the dog and handler and greets the handler in a friendly manner, ignoring the dog. The evaluator and handler shake hands and exchange pleasantries. The dog must show no sign of resentment or shyness, and must not break position or try to go to the evaluator.

Handling tips for Test 1 :

Supplementary exercises for Test 1 :

Test 2: Sitting politely for petting

AKC regulations : Test 2: Sitting politely for petting
This test demonstrates that the dog will allow a friendly stranger to touch it while it is out with its handler. With the dog sitting at the handler's side, to begin the exercise, the evaluator pets the dog on the head and body. The handler may talk to his or her dog throughout the exercise. The dog may stand in place as it is petted. The dog must not show shyness or resentment.

Handling tips for Test 2 : same as for Test 1.

Supplementary exercises for Test 2 : same as for Test 1 plus the following :

Test 3: Appearance and grooming

AKC regulations : Test 3: Appearance and grooming
This practical test demonstrates that 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. It also demonstrates the owner's care, concern and sense of responsibility. The evaluator inspects the dog to determine if it is clean and groomed. The dog must appear to be in healthy condition (i.e., proper weight, clean, healthy and alert). The handler should supply the comb or brush commonly used on the dog. The evaluator then softly combs or brushes the dog, and in a natural manner, lightly examines the ears and gently picks up each front foot. It is not necessary for the dog to hold a specific position during the examination, and the handler may talk to the dog, praise it and give encouragement throughout.

Handling tips for test 3 :

Supplementary exercises : all should be done by handler before being done by the trainer and then by another class member. Until the dog is totally accepting of handling by its owner-handler, it may be unsafe for anyone but the trainer to attempt these exercises.

SESSION TWO : tests 4 and 5.

Help those whose dogs do not walk on loose leash to get better response. Teach handlers to hold leash so that it will hang about half-way to ground when dog is walking at handler's side, thus not so long that it drags on ground and is stepped upon by dog or that dog gets a leg over leash and also not so short that the handler is guiding or pulling on the dog. Handler's biggest error is to actually pull on the dog, causing dog to pull against handler and out-pull handler. Teach simple methods of dealing with pulling such as "red light , green light" in which handler stops dead the instant dog takes slack out of leash and continues forward only when dog relaxes tension. Handler instantly turning 180 degrees and going other direction is another correction for dog taking slack out of leash.

Test 4: Out for a walk

AKC regulations :Test 4: Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead) :
This test demonstrates that the handler is in control of the dog. The dog may be on either side of the handler. The dog's position should leave no doubt that the dog is attentive to the handler and is responding to the handler's movements and changes of direction. The dog need not be perfectly aligned with the handler and need not sit when the handler stops. The evaluator may use a pre-plotted course or may direct the handler/dog team by issuing instructions or commands. In either case, there should be a right turn, left turn, and an about turn with at least one stop in between and another at the end. The handler may talk to the dog along the way, praise the dog, or give commands in a normal tone of voice. The handler may sit the dog at the halts if desired.

Handling tips :

Supplementary :

  • Teach dog to walk on either side as asked by handler and to switch sides. (Note : this is standard obedience test item in the Netherlands, as is moving on either side of handler on a bicycle and switching on cue.) This excercise is very practical as there may be times when you need the dog to be on the other side, perhaps because one of your hands or arms is injured or is holding some baggage or package. For dogs with one blind eye, the dog may feel a lot more secure if the blind side is towards the handler and the sighted side towards the outside and thus towards passing traffic.
  • After dogs have learned walking on right side of handler, they could learn moving on right side of a bicycle ridden by handler with dog close to bike and approximately even with handler's position and on loose leash. Even in towns where thre are bicycle lanes , to bike safely the dog should be on the side away from traffic, ie the right side in USA and other countries where cars are on right side.
  • For bicycling, if owner has a cargo cart for the bike, the dog can be taught to ride in it (preferably securely tied in , eg by a harness). For small dogs, old dogs, dogs with cardiac or pulmonory disorders, and on hot days when sidewalk is hot and dog's exercise tolorance is compromised, being able to do part of the journey on foot and part in the cart is a blessing.
  • Test 5: Walking through a crowd

    AKC regulations :Test 5: Walking through a crowd
    This test demonstrates that the dog can move about politely in pedestrian traffic and is under control in public places. The dog and handler walk around and pass close to several people (at least three). The dog may show some interest in the strangers but should continue to walk with the handler, without evidence of over-exuberance, shyness or resentment. The handler may talk to the dog and encourage or praise the dog throughout the test. The dog should not jump on people in the crowd or strain on the leash.

    Handling tips : same as for test 4.

    Supplementary exercises:

    SESSION 3 : tests 6 , 7 , & 8.

    Tests 6 & 7 are plain old basic obedience that the teams should already know, but some people may need help. Test 8 is partly a test of social comfort with other dogs, ie resulting from temperament and socialization, and partly a test of handler control gained by obedience training. It may be preferable to break this session into two, one being tests 6 and 7, the other being test 8. Or test 8 could be moved to be part of Session 4.

    In conjunction with test 7 , handlers should also receive information (handout) on wisdom of interrupting dog park play from time to time with Recall-Reward-Release, ie dog is called or handler goes to dog and takes collar in hand, then dog is rewarded, then dog is released to "Go Play !" again. This is an Ian Dunbar "life rewards" sequence that improves recall and also lets owner interrupt situations that might be getting into trouble. Note that since dog play tends to contain energetic sequences that the dogs themselves interrupt with calmer interludes, the calmer interludes are the times it is easier to get a dog to recall. Dogs should be rewarded any time they come up to their owners of their own volition, ie thus encouraging the dog to "check in" with the owner.

    Tests 6 and 7 : Sit, Down, brief Stay then Recall

    AKC regulations :Test 6: Sit and down on command and Staying in place
    This test demonstrates that the dog has training, will respond to the handler's commands to sit and down and will remain in the place commanded by the handler (sit or down position, whichever the handler prefers). The dog must do sit AND down on command, then the owner chooses the position for leaving the dog in the stay. Prior to this test, the dog's leash is replaced with a line 20 feet long. The handler may take a reasonable amount of time and use more than one command to get the dog to sit and then down. The evaluator must determine if the dog has responded to the handler's commands. The handler may not force the dog into position but may touch the dog to offer gentle guidance. When instructed by the evaluator, the handler tells the dog to stay and walks forward the length of the line, turns and returns to the dog at a natural pace. The dog must remain in the place in which it was left (it may change position) until the evaluator instructs the handler to release the dog. The dog may be released from the front or the side.

    handling tip :

    supplementary : see below under test 7, as most excercises are relevant to both tests.

    AKC regulations : Test 7: Coming when called
    This test demonstrates that 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. The handler may use encouragement to get the dog to come. Handlers may choose to tell dogs to "stay" or "wait" or they may simply walk away, giving no instructions to the dog.

    supplementary :

    AKC regulations : Test 8: Reaction to another dog
    This test demonstrates 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. The dogs should show no more than casual interest in each other. Neither dog should go to the other dog or its handler.

    handling tips :

    supplementary excercises :

    SESSION 4 : tests 9 & 10.

    In test 9 , distraction, joggers, cyclist, skater or skate-boarder, crutch , walker etc reappear, as do the other supplementary crowd exercises. A cat safely inside a wire crate is another possible distraction.

    Test 9: Reaction to distraction

    AKC regulations :Test 9: Reaction to distraction
    This test demonstrates that the dog is confident at all times 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. The dog may express natural interest and curiosity and/or may appear slightly startled but should not panic, try to run away, show aggressiveness, or bark. The handler may talk to the dog and encourage or praise it throughout the exercise.

    Handling tips : same as for the crowd and dog to dog meetings.

    Supplementary exercises : same as for crowd exercise, but now these distractions are at a greater distance and can be more intense. Additional exercises could include :

    Test 10: Supervised separation

    AKC regulations :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. The dog does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness. Evaluators may talk to the dog but should not engage in excessive talking, petting, or management attempts (e.g, "there, there, it's alright").

    handling tips :


    still more supplementary exercises, not related to test segments :

    SESSION FIVE : the whole test

    Dry run of the entire test with AKC allowable equipment, but with corrections and repetitions allowed. This lets the owners know what they still might need to work on. Traier will probably need to recruit some added people without dogs to perform various test roles. Alternatively some handlers would have to bring crates to crate their dogs in the shade while participating as test personel.

    Or if a licensed tester is available and the trainer is fairly sure most dog-handler teams are ready to pass cleanly and proudly, then a real test could be scheduled as the final session.


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    site author Pam Green copyright 2003
    created 6/11/07 revised 6/12/07
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