How to Pass the Canine Good Citizen Test

Canine Good Citizen EvaluatorThe canine good citizen test is used to assess a dog’s ability to respond to their owner’s commands and to evaluate the dog’s overall temperament. The CGC test will also aid in your preparation if you want your dog to be therapy or service dog.

I have been a Canine Good Citizen evaluator for the American Kennel Club for 10 years and I thought I would give you some tips on how to prepare your dog for the CGC test. 

I pulled the test items and descriptions straight from the American Kennel Club website and then offer you specific tips for each exercise.

Canine Good Citizen Test Items with Tips Below:

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.

Training Tips:

  • If your dog is friendly toward strangers, they will have no trouble with this exercise.
  • If your dog exhibits shy behavior around strangers, you need to start taking them out to public places where they will be able to observe people at a distance to help desensitize them to being around unknown people.
  • As your dog becomes comfortable at a distance, you should begin taking treats with you and ask people to feed your dog by dropping the treats on the ground.

 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.

Training Tips:

  • This exercise is very similar to test item 1 except the dog has to sit while someone approaches the dog.
  • Ask your dog to sit before your dog greets people that come over to your home and when out in public.

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.

Training Tips:

  • If your dog accepts being brushed and having their feet touched by you and other people they will have no problem with this exercise.
  • If your dog becomes shy and nervous during handling and grooming exercises, you should start incorporating food treats as you practice picking up feet, touching ears, and brushing.
  • You will also want other people to practice handling your dog’s feet to prepare for the test.
  • See Nail Trimming Video Tutorial to get ideas how to train your dog to accept being handled and groomed.

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.

Training Tips:

  • If your dog walks well on leash without the need for special training collars, you will be able to pass this part of the test.
  • If your dog has the tendency to pull on the leash, Refer to Leash Walking Tutorial in the Member’s Area.

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.

Training Tips:

  • This part of the test is similar to test Item 4 except the dog has to walk through a crowd of people. As long as your dog does not have the tendency to lunge and jump on strangers and they do not display shy or skittish behavior, you will be fine on this test item.
  • Practice taking your dog out in public places and inside stores such as Lowes to teach them appropriate manners around people in public.
  • Keep your dog under control by your side as you walk through areas with a lot of pedestrian traffic.

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.

Training Tips:

  • This part of the test is used to see how the dog responds to basic obedience commands.
  • Practice your obedience commands in lots of different places so your dog becomes dependable in different environments. Remember, you will not be taking the test inside your home.
  • If you need help learning how to teach your dog obedience training commands, you can refer to my Video Training Tutorials in the Member’s Area.

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.

Training Tips:

  • This is another obedience training exercise to ensure your dog will come back to you when you call them. As with all obedience training exercises, practice is key to ensuring your dog will respond during the test.
  • If you need help with training your dog to respond to this command, you can refer to the Video Training Tutorials in the Member’s Area.

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.

Training Tips:

Often dogs fail this portion of the test for two reasons:

  1. They lunge toward the other dog in attempt to make physical contact. If your dog has the tendency to want to greet every dog they see, you should practice having your dog perform Sit and Stays while out in public places. On your walks, have your dog sit and stay anytime they see another dog. Make your dog maintain the stay until the other dog passes by you.
  2. They immediately start barking at the sight of the other dog. Often dogs will feel frustrated or nervous around the test dog and begin barking. Your dog may need more socialization if they have a tendency to bark at other dogs. You should also practice sit and stays while out on your walks, but use lots of food treats initially to ensure your dog pays attention to you. You can slowly fade the food rewards out as your dog becomes more comfortable around other dogs and learns to pay attention to you.

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.

Training Tips:

  • This exercise tests for skittish behavior toward noises and objects that may look or sound strange to your dog. If your dog becomes skittish around noises and moving objects, you will want to increase their exposure to these types of objects.
  • You should also work on creating positive associations to various sights and sounds that cause a shy or evasive response from your dog. You can do this by pairing food treats with the various objects.

 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").

Training Tips:

  • This test item sounds so simple, but can be one of the more difficult to pass. Many dogs dislike being apart from their owner especially in an unknown location. Also, certain breeds are more prone to becoming emotionally upset when they are separated from their owner. For example, German Shepherds are notorious for have difficulty with this test item.
  • You should begin practicing this exercise by tethering your dog inside your home and walking out your front door. Stay outside for just a few seconds at first and slowly work up to 3 minutes. You should have someone observe the dog while tethered in case the dogs becomes tangled in the leash.
  • You should also practice this exercise out in public places such as a local park with the help of a friend or family member. With practice, your dog will understand that you always come back to them.

Passing the Canine Good Citizen test is all about preparation and practice. You should run your dog through the test exercises multiple times in different locations before taking the actual test. Remember that well trained dogs can have off days and if you fail, you can always take the test again. Failing the CGC test does not mean you have a bad dog, it just means you need more practice.

If you would like direction on how to train your dog to respond to training commands, you can view my video tutorials in the member’s area.

If you have any questions about the Canine Good Citizen Program, you can contact me.

Link to the American Kennel Club’s CGC program:
Below you will find additional information regarding preparing your dog for the test:
All tests must be performed on leash. For collars, dogs should wear well-fitting buckle or slip collars made of leather, fabric, or chain. Special training collars such as pinch collars, head halters, and electronic collars are not permitted in the CGC test.

As of November 4, 2010, body harnesses may be used in the CGC test. The evaluator should check to make sure the harness is not of a type that completely restricts the dog's movement such that it could not pull or jump up if it tried.

We recognize that special training collars such as head collars and no-jump harnesses 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 equipment that allows the evaluator to see that the dog has been trained.

The evaluator supplies a 20-foot lead for the test. The owner/handler should bring the dog's brush or comb to the test.

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.

 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.

Published on July 23, 2017

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