Train your dog to be a good citizen

October 3, 2010


During the past few weeks, I’ve interacted with or seen stories about several therapy dogs whose job it is to visit hospitals, nursing homes and other health-care facilities and do what dogs do best: make people feel good.

The pictures and videos show the undeniable boost a dog can provide someone whose spirits need a lift. We all know that even people who aren’t in assisted living or health-care facilities feel better after visiting with friendly dogs, and who among us dog-owners hasn’t just burst with pride when someone has told us what a sweetie our furry pup was?

So I started poking around into programs that help make dogs good visitors, and I discovered one that is available for any dog of any breed or mixture. It isn’t a therapy dog certification program that will make your dog eligible to visit health facilities, but it’s one that many therapy dogs complete prior to official training, and that, really, dogs and owners everywhere should participate in.

It’s the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Program.

The AKC has a long tradition of wanting not only dogs to be well-behaved members of society, but their owners to be responsible citizens as well. The Kennel Club decided that one good way to accomplish this was to create a training program to teach both people and pets to do their best for each other.

The CGC Program, which began in 1989, is a 10-step program that not only helps dog and owner bond, but as the AKC website states,

“Dogs who have a solid obedience education are a joy to live with — they respond well to household routines, have good manners in the presence of people and other dogs, and they fully enjoy the company of the owner who took the time to provide training, intellectual stimulation and a high-quality life.”

This the attitude that all of us as pet owners should have with the lives entrusted to us.

Dogs of all ages are welcome to participate in the CGC Program, although the AKC suggests that because temperaments can change after puppies leave their goofy puppyhoods, those who were certified as puppies should repeat the training in their adult years.

The program’s website lists the 10 steps that dogs and owners need to learn:

Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger. This means your dog should not break position when someone approaches you and wants to shake hands or talk.

Test 2: Sitting politely for petting. To pass this test, your dog must be willing to be petted by a friendly stranger on the head or body without being timid or aggressive.

Test 3: Appearance and grooming. Our mothers warned us about this — appearances are important. You and your dog will pass this test if your dog is the “proper weight, clean, healthy and alert,” and the evaluator can groom your dog gently and handle his feet and ears.

Test 4: Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead). In this test, the owner is in control and the dog knows it. It calls for right and left turns, a turn-around and a stop or two. The dog can’t fight the lead or take off running.

Test 5: Walking through a crowd. This tests movement in pedestrian traffic and shows your dogs will not run into people, trip them or show shyness or aggressiveness. Jumping is also off limits.

Test 6: Sit and down on command and staying in place. This takes place on a 20-foot lead, and the owner may touch the dog to encourage positioning but not force the animal into position. The dog must stay in position until the release is given.

Test 7: Coming when called. This will happen from 10 feet away, and the owner may use encouragement, but it must be clear that the dog understands the command.

Test 8: Reaction to another dog. In this test, two owners approach each other with their dogs and should be able to stop and chat, with their pets showing “no more than casual interest in each other.” I’m guessing the friendly butt-sniff greeting is appropriate.

Test 9: Reaction to distraction. In this portion, a jogger, a dropped item or a wheeled cart should elicit neither panicked nor aggressive reactions from the dog. Mild interest is fine.

Test 10: Supervised separation. This test requires the dog to be held on its leash by a friendly stranger with the owner out of sight for three minutes. The dog may move, but not cry, bark or try to follow the owner.

Throughout these trials, the dog cannot show any aggression, cannot snap at or bite any person or dog, cannot be coaxed with food treats or toys, and, perhaps most difficult for some, cannot “eliminate” during the testing.

Is your dog a “good citizen”?

Sue Novak volunteers with the Lawrence Humane Society.


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