How to Pass your Canine Good Citizenship Exam

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How to Pass Your Canine Good Citizenship Exam

The American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizenship (CGC) exam is a ten-point exam that tests whether or not your dog meets the AKC's requirements to hold the title of Canine Good Citizen. The CGC test looks at several basic obedience skills and the temperament of your dog to determine whether your dog is worthy of this title. Any breed of dog, purebred or mixed, can take the exam by scheduling a testing date with an AKC CGC Evaluator or attending an event where an AKC CGC Evaluator is present and offering testing.

Why Test for the CGC?

While passing the CGC exam does not make your dog a therapy, emotional support or service dog as often rumored, it is a wonderful way to prove that your dog has a basic level of training and can pass an exam formulated by an unbiased party. Some training organizations might require your dog have a CGC or equivalent in training to take more advanced courses. Even some insurance companies will cover "banned breeds" if the dog has passed their CGC exam. And though rare, some apartment or rental agencies have been known to require a CGC title to rent with them. But our favorite part is the bragging rights!

CGC Requirement #1: Friendly Stranger Introduction

The first exercise on the exam tests the ability of your dog to accept a friendly stranger approaching and interacting with their owner. Usually, the friendly stranger will say, "Hello" and shake the owner's hand. Keep in mind, the order of the exam can be changed at will by the evaluator and not all exams will be in the same order. While this requirement might seem easy for most dogs, some dogs struggle with a stranger entering their personal bubble or the personal bubble of their owners.

If your dog is having issues with passing this part of the exam, you could try practicing with a person your dog knows at first. Your dog should be heavily rewarded when the friend comes into view and during the entire interaction with your friend. Once your friend leaves, the treats will stop. Your dog should start happily awaiting your friend's approach. Proper socialization as a puppy before 16 weeks of age is most helpful in making sure your dog is accepting of strangers however.

A dog should never be forced to tolerate a stranger in their personal space, so if your dog is having a major reaction to the stranger's approach like barking, lunging, growling, or running in fear, you should cut your exam short and consider seeking the advice of a veterinarian behaviorist or behavior-savvy dog trainer before doing further training.

CGC Requirement #2: Sitting Politely for Petting

This exam requirement and the leash walking requirement usually cause dog owners the most stress. Sitting politely for petting is actually fairly easy to teach, however many owners allow their dogs to sometimes jump on them and sometimes they do not. This can be confusing for the dog and the dog can begin to think if they just jump up a few more times, maybe they will be rewarded with attention.

One way to work on this behavior is to practice with friends who have been instructed to not pet your dog unless your dog is sitting. If the dog jumps up, ask the friend to remove their attention. As soon as the dog sits again, attention can be returned. However, most people find their dog goes crazy when guests enter the home and they can't even get a word in.

In that case, having your dog on leash during this practice and preventing them from jumping on the person might be needed to help your dog succeed. You want to reward with treats not only when they sit, but if they continue sitting on the ground. That is the most important piece to the puzzle that most owners leave out, which causes them to never get a prolonged Sit.

CGC Requirement #3: Healthy Condition and Grooming

This CGC requirement is usually the easiest of all. You will be required to have your dog in healthy condition and well-groomed the day of the exam. Your evaluator will need to lift up your dog's paws/ears and brush your dog. It would be best to have your dog groomed before your exam date and make sure they are good health the day of your exam.

It is important to practice rewarding your dog for acceptance of brushing and the lifting of paws and ears. Practicing this in baby steps and for short periods of time is best. Give your dog breaks while training this behavior - especially if they are uncomfortable. If your dog is growling, showing teeth, or biting during this training process, seek out a behavior savvy dog trainer or veterinarian behaviorist to assist you as a larger issue could be present.

CGC Requirement #4: Walking on a Loose Lead

Walking on a loose lead is a difficult behavior for many dogs, however many would agree that this is a skill that a "polite" dog should have. For the exam, your evaluator will instruct you to navigate a course with your dog on leash. The course will include at least one right turn, one left turn, and one about turn, with one stop in between and one stop at the end of the course. You are allowed to speak to your dog during this course, so use this to your advantage to keep your dog focused and on task. No training tools like treats or training collars can be used on the exam, so your dog will need to be able to walk in a regular harness or collar.

Loose lead walking is a difficult skill to teach that can take up to six weeks for many dogs with no training. Usually a good place to start is clicking and treating the dog for having a loose lead and starting in a familiar place like your living room or backyard. If you are really struggling with this skill, it may be best to hire a positive trainer to walk you through the training process.

CGC Requirement #5: Walk Through a Crowd

This CGC requirement requires you and your dog to walk through a crowd of people (at least three people) politely. The dog can show interest in the people, but shouldn't be shy or over excited. You may talk to your dog as you navigate the crowd and encourage them.

A "Watch Me" or "Look" cue is helpful for this part of the exam. How to teach this is covered under Requirement #8 on this page.

CGC Requirement #6: Sit and Down on command, Stay

To pass this part of the exam, your dog will need to know Sit, Down, and Stay. Surprisingly, we see many dogs fail the Down part of this exercise because the owner has to repeat the verbal cue several times.

When training Down or Sit, make sure you say your cue just a single time and then help your dog out with a lure if they seem confused. Dogs don't understand the words we are saying until we teach them and "DownDownDown" sounds like a completely different word than "Down". You can mistakenly train your dog just to respond to "DownDownDown", which will land you in hot water come exam time. This same advice applies to the Sit cue.

As for the Stay cue, you also want to just say this cue once and then release your dog at the end of the exercise. Since you must turn around to walk away from your dog, if you have only taught a stop sign hand signal, you may find your dog keeps breaking the Stay when you turn around and they can no longer see your hand. It would be easier to just teach a verbal cue that means, "Stay there until I tell you to get up."

This can be done by saying "Stay", rolling back into your heel, and coming back to reward your dog with a treat. Many dogs struggle with learning that the treat doesn't end the trick at first, so keep practicing until you can walk further from your dog over time. You should always return to the dog to give them the treat and not call them towards you because then you are just rewarding a recall, not the Stay behavior.

CGC Requirement #7: Come when Called

For this CGC requirement, your dog will need to come when called from 10 feet away. You can use encouragement to get your dog to come to you. We recommend practicing your recall until it is reliable. Practicing in a fenced in area or on a long line for safety is a good idea.

Call your dog while sounding excited and treat once they arrive at your feet. Do not ask for a Sit or Down upon arrival and then give the dog a treat because this will only reward the Sit or Down cue. You want to focus on rewarding the dog for coming towards you when you  cue them. If the dog will not move towards you, try calling your dog and then playfully running in the opposite direction of your dog. This can activate the dog's desire to chase and get them moving towards you. Make sure you reward the dog with a treat each time for coming towards you. Praise is often not enough to compete with the distractions in the environment.

CGC Requirement #8: Reaction to Another Dog

This CGC requirement tests your dog's reaction to a strange dog. Two handlers will walk past each other from a distance of 20 feet, stop, and then shake hands and then continue on. Many people testing fail this part of the exam because people usually don't have access to unknown dogs to practice around. If you don't have a real dog to practice around, try practicing around a realistic stuffed dog. From a distance, this can fool many dogs and it is better than not practicing around anything dog-like at all. 

Training a "Watch Me" or "Look" cue could be helpful for this part of the exam. To teach a "Watch Me" or "Look", you can begin by clicking and treating for the dog looking at your eyes. Once your dog seems to have the idea, add your cue word like "Look" and click and treat only when the dog looks at your eyes when you give the cue. This can be helpful for interrupting the playful dog who starts to get distracted by another dog. This should be practiced in the park around other dogs at a distance or with the realistic stuffed dog present.

CGC Requirement #9: Reaction to Distraction

The reaction to distraction part of the exam includes the evaluator setting up several distractions, usually of the sound variety to test the dog's reaction. Your dog shouldn't spook, run away, or react fearful or aggressively towards the distractions. A common distraction is a dropped metal dog bowl, so practicing with something similar is recommended. 

Start by dropping the bowl from a short distance onto a blanket covered hard surface. Pair the sound of the bowl hitting the ground with a treat. Rinse and repeat. Then you can uncover the surface for a louder sound or increase the distance between the bowl and the floor. Your dog should show no fear at any point during this exercise. If they do, you have moved too quickly and should lower your criteria to where your dog is comfortable and not reacting.

If your dog is extremely reactive to a metal bowl, switch to a plastic bowl or something that makes less noise until you find something within your dog's comfort level.

CGC Requirement #10: Supervised Separation

This final part of the exam is to test whether or not your dog is distressed when separated from you. Your dog shouldn't whine, bark, or act stressed upon you leaving them alone with the evaluator for three minutes. Most people place their dog in a Stay, hand the leash to the evaluator, and walk away hoping for the best.

When training dogs to handle separation gracefully, a good method is to start with your dog on the opposite side of a barrier, like a fence, an exercise pen, a crate, or a pet gate. Place a bowl or bag of treats which your dog knows contains treats on a nearby table or surface. You want this to be within the dog's view at first. You will walk calmly to the bowl, grab a single treat, and return to feed your dog this treat. Repeat this many times until your dog has settled enough that you feel confident you can move the treats further away. Build up to long periods alone, further distances, and behind walls over time until you have reached your three minute goal without distress.

If your dog is struggling with this part of the exam and you can't seem to get far with training, speak with your veterinarian to make sure your dog isn't suffering from an anxiety-related disorder.

Where Can I Take the CGC Exam?

When you are ready to take your AKC CGC exam, you can get in contact with a CGC evaluator via the American Kennel Club website. If you are local to Jackson, MS, you can contact us here at Faithfully Yours Dog Training to learn about our next exam day. If you need help getting ready for the exam, feel free to contact us for advice on what training program would be best for you and your dog to reach this goal. Good luck on your exam!