The AKC Canine Good Citizen Program September 23, 2011

American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen

The AKC CGC logo.

Tomorrow is Responsible Dog Ownership Day, so I would like to discuss the AKC Canine Good Citizen program, because it rewards responsible dog owners across the country. As an approved AKC Canine Good Citizen evaluator, I am often asked about the requirements for passing the test. What does it take to become a Canine Good Citizen?


First, the CGC test is open to dogs of any breed or mix of breeds. One of the most common misconceptions is that dogs must be purebred, since the test was created by the American Kennel Club, but that’s not the case. (Did you know that mixed-breed dogs can now compete in AKC performance events like agility, rally, and obedience, too? It’s true!)

There is no age limit for the CGC test, but AKC now has a separate program just for puppies called S.T.A.R. Puppy. Puppies are eligible for S.T.A.R. until they reach 1 year of age.

Test Overview

The Canine Good Citizen test has ten exercises, and the dog must pass all ten to earn its certificate. The exercises include the following:

  • Accepting a friendly stranger. During this test item, the dog allows a stranger to approach its handler, and remains neutral while the handler and stranger exchange pleasantries.
  • Sitting politely for petting. The dog sits and allows a stranger to approach and pet its head and body. The dog can stand up, but may not show “shyness or resentment” (or jump up and give the stranger kisses, which is far more common!).
  • Appearance and grooming. The dog must appear healthy and well-groomed to pass the test. The evaluator will visually assess the dog, then use a brush provided by the handler to gently groom the dog, check both ears, and pick up both front feet. The dog doesn’t need to hold a specific position during this test item, but does need to cooperate with the evaluation.
  • Out for a walk. The evaluator observes the dog and handler demonstrate loose-leash walking, with at least one left turn, right turn, about turn, and stop. The dog does not need to be perfectly aligned with its handler, but it must be apparent that the dog is attentive to the handler’s’ cues.
  • Walking through a crowd. This is similar to the prior test item. The dog and handler must demonstrate loose-leash walking through a group of pedestrian traffic (a group of 3+ people). The dog is allowed to show some interest in the strangers but needs to stay attentive to its owner, without straining at the leash or jumping up.
  • Sit & down on command and staying in place. To demonstrate the dog’s training, the handler cues the dog to sit and down. The owner then cues the dog to stay in place (either in a sit or a down — handler’s choice) then walks to the end of a 20′ leash, turns around, and comes back. The dog must stay in place until released by the handler, though it does not need to hold the sit/down. Multiple cues are allowed.
  • Come when called. In this test, the handler leaves the dog and walks 10′ away, then calls it. The handler can encourage the dog towards to come by using verbal cues, crouching down, patting their legs, etc.
  • Reaction to another dog. This is one of the hardest tests for students to master! Here’s the exact description from the AKC website: “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.”
  • Reaction to distraction. The evaluator will pick a couple of random distractions and observe the dog’s reaction. Distractions can be anything the evaluator deems appropriate, such as dropping a book, knocking over a chair, a jogger running past the dog, or opening an umbrella. The dog may show interest in the distraction but should not bark, panic, or try to escape the situation.
  • Supervised separation. The evaluator takes the dog’s leash, and the owner goes out-of-sight for three minutes. This is another challenging test element. The dog does not have to hold a specific position, but may not panic, bark or whine continuously, or show excessive nervousness. The evaluator is allowed to speak to the dog but cannot pet the dog or excessively comfort it.
Loose Leash Walking Sheltie

Loose leash walking is one of the most important skills to master before taking the CGC test, because it is a part of several test items.

The handler is allowed to talk to the dog during all of the test exercises, except for supervised separation as the handler is not present. Food or treats, clickers, toys, and corrective collars are not allowed to be used during the test. A dog that growls, snaps, or bites (directed towards another dog or a human) at any time will be dismissed from the test.

Preparing for the Test

The CGC test is designed to reward well-mannered dogs and their owners. The first step towards a well-mannered pet is training. What people consider “polite behavior” does not come naturally to dogs. Sitting politely for greeting, walking on a loose leash, and coming when called are skills that need to be trained step-by-step. A basic obedience class should build the foundation for many of the skills necessary to pass the test.

Some trainers offer group classes specifically geared towards the Canine Good Citizen test. (We now offer a Canine Good Citizen Preparation class, because the CGC is a great goal to work towards!) These classes are excellent, because they are typically taught by CGC evaluators who will be able to find the weaknesses in your dog’s training and help you overcome them. Practicing the test items each week will also increase your familiarity with the rules, making test day as stress-free as possible.

It’s not impossible to train your dog by yourself to pass the CGC class. If you decide to go that route, study the test items carefully and be sure to practice in public places, such as dog-friendly parks and pet stores, so your dog gets used to performing around the distractions that will be present during the test.

Test Day

To find out about upcoming Canine Good Citizen tests, visit the AKC’s test search page. Alternatively, you can contact a CGC evaluator in your area and inquire about testing.

On the day of the test, make sure your dog is feeling well and appears clean and well-groomed. Bring a leash and a collar or harness for your dog to wear. Don’t forget the brush that you usually use to groom your dog, too! If the test is outdoors, bring along a bowl and some water for your dog as there may not be any available. Give your dog ample opportunities to relieve himself, as you cannot pass the test if your dog eliminates during an exercise.

Be sure to relax and act naturally. Smile at your dog and take a deep breath before starting. Remember, it’s just a test — and if your dog doesn’t pass, there’s always another opportunity to take it.

When your dog passes the CGC test, you will get a copy of the test results from the evaluator. You can send this in to the AKC to receive a certificate to display. The AKC also has collar tags and embroidered patches available to celebrate your dog’s Canine Good Citizen status.

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