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Preparing for Your Dog’s Citizenship Test

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To demonstrate that Buddy has achieved the training level that you want for him, you may want to consider taking the Canine Good Citizen test. Many dog organizations offer it, and your local kennel club will know the particulars. You can locate the kennel club in the phonebook, or you can ask your vet, a dog groomer, or any obedience school.

The Canine Good Citizen test uses a series of exercises that checks the dog’s ability to behave in an acceptable manner in public. Its purpose is to demonstrate that the dog, as a companion for all people, can be a respected community member and can be trained and conditioned to always behave in the home, in public places, and in the presence of other dogs in a manner that reflects credit on the dog.
The test is unique in that it is the only American Kennel Club–sponsored activity that includes mixed-breed dogs. The concept of a Canine Good Citizen is based on the premise that all dogs should be trained. It’s also an outreach program — to motivate dog owners and encourage them to go further in training their dogs.

This chapter shows you what you and your dog can do to prepare for the Canine Good Citizen test. The Canine Good Citizen is a window of opportunity to a variety of dog sports. When you and your dog earn a Canine Good Citizen Certificate, you have accomplished more than millions of other dog owners. Are you ready for the challenge?

Becoming a Canine Good Citizen

Ideally, every dog should be trained to become a Canine Good Citizen and the more that are, the better the chances of counteracting the growing antidog sentiment in many communities. Irresponsible dog ownership has been the cause for this sentiment and only responsible pet ownership can reverse it. To become a Canine Good Citizen your dog must demonstrate, by means of a short test, that he meets these requirements.

Exercise requirements of the Canine Good Citizen test

To become a Canine Good Citizen, a dog must pass a test that demonstrates his ability to behave in an acceptable manner in public. The test consists of the following ten exercises, all of which are scored on a pass/fail system:


These are practical exercises that determine the amount of control you have over your dog. During the test, you can repeat commands several times, encourage, and praise your dog. Repeating commands too often, however, demonstrates a lack of control and causes you to fail. You’re also not permitted to give food to your dog during the test. All tests are done on leash and dogs need to wear a well-fitting buckle or slip collar made of leather, fabric, or chain. Other collars, head halters, or harnesses aren’t permitted. The leash can be either fabric or leather.

We discuss each test briefly in the following sections, including what to expect during the test.

Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger

This test demonstrates that the dog allows a friendly stranger to approach and speak to the handler in a natural, everyday situation.
The evaluator approaches 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, aggression, or shyness. The dog may not break position, jump on the evaluator, or try to go to the evaluator. If the handler has to hold the dog to control it, the dog fails the exercise.

Test 2: Sitting politely for petting

This test demonstrates that the dog allows a friendly stranger to touch him while he is out with the owner/handler (see Figure 12-1). With the dog sitting at the handler’s side (either side is permissible) throughout the exercise, the evaluator pets the dog on the head and body only.
Figure 12-1: Sitting politely for petting.
The handler may talk to the dog throughout the exercise.
After petting, the evaluator then circles the dog and handler, completing the test. The dog mustn’t show shyness or resentment. The dog may stand while being petted, but must not struggle or pull away to avoid the petting, and shouldn’t lunge at or jump on the evaluator.

Test 3: Appearance and grooming

This test demonstrates that the dog welcomes being groomed and examined and permits a stranger, such as a vet, groomer, or friend of the owner, to do so. It also demonstrates the owner’s care, concern, and responsibility.


For the appearance and grooming test, make sure Buddy looks his best. If he needs a bath before the test, give him one.

The evaluator examines the dog to determine if he is clean and groomed. The dog must appear to be in healthy condition — proper weight, clean, healthy, and alert. Bring the comb or brush you commonly use on the dog. The evaluator easily combs or brushes the dog and, in a natural manner, lightly examines the ears and gently picks up each front foot.
The dog doesn’t need to hold a specific position during the examination, and the handler may talk to the dog, praise, and give encouragement throughout. A dog that requires restraining during this examination fails the test.

Test 4: Out for a walk — walking on a loose leash

The fourth test demonstrates that the handler is in control. The dog may be on either side of the handler, whichever the handler prefers. 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.


An occasional tight leash is permissible, but constant straining or pulling on the leash is unacceptable. Similarly, excessive sniffing of the floor or ground, indicating that the dog isn’t attentive to the handler, is also unacceptable.

During this test, you must make a left turn, a right 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 to praise or command him in a normal tone of voice. The handler may also sit the dog at the halt, if desired.

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 test is a great incentive to train Buddy around distractions.
The dog and handler walk around and closely pass several people (at least three). The dog may show some interest in the strangers but must continue to walk with the handler, without evidence of overexuberance, shyness, or resentment. The handler may talk to the dog and encourage or praise the dog throughout the test. The dog shouldn’t strain at the leash, jump on people in the crowd, or try to hide behind his handler.


Children may act as members of the crowd in this test, as well as in the reaction to distractions test, that we discuss later in this chapter. Another leashed, well-behaved dog may also be in the crowd.

Test 6: “Sit” and “Down” on command — staying in place

This test demonstrates that the dog responds to the handler’s commands to “Sit” and “Down,” and remains in the place commanded by the handler.
Prior to this test, the dog’s leash is replaced with a 20-foot line. The handler may take a reasonable amount of time and use more than one command to make the dog 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 either position but may touch the dog to offer gentle guidance.
When instructed by the evaluator, the handler tells the dog to “Stay” and, with the 20-foot line in hand, walks forward the length of the line, turns, and returns to the dog at a natural pace (the 20-foot line isn’t removed or dropped). The dog must remain in the place in which he was left (the dog may change position such as stand up), until the evaluator instructs the handler to release the dog. The dog may be released from the front or the side.

Test 7: Coming when called

This test demonstrates that the dog comes when the handler calls him. The dog remains on the 20-foot line that was used in the sixth test. The handler walks ten feet from the dog, turns to face the dog, and calls the dog. The handler may use body language and encouragement when calling the dog and may tell the dog to “Stay” or “Wait” or just walk away. The dog may be left in the Sit, Down, or Standing position. If the dog attempts to follow the handler, the evaluator may distract the dog (for example, by petting) until the handler is 10 feet away.
The point of the test is to determine whether the dog comes when called and whether he stays, and the exercise is completed when the dog comes to the handler and the handler attaches the dog’s own leash.

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 ten yards, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries, and continue on for about five yards.
The dogs should show no more than casual interest in each other. Neither dog should go to the other dog or its handler. See Figure 12-2.
Figure 12-2: Reaction to another dog.

Test 9: Reaction to distractions

This test demonstrates that the dog is confident at all times when faced with common distracting situations. The evaluator selects only two from the following list. (Note: Because some dogs are sensitive to sound and others to visual distractions, most tests involve one sound and one visual distraction.)
The handler may talk to the dog and praise him during this test. In a similar situation in real life, you probably would talk in an encouraging way to your dog.
The dog may express a natural interest and curiosity and may appear slightly startled but shouldn’t panic, try to run away, or show aggressiveness. An isolated bark (one) is acceptable, but continued barking causes the dog to fail. The handler may talk to the dog and encourage or praise her throughout the exercise.

Test 10: Supervised separation

This test demonstrates that the dog can be left with another person and maintain its training and good manners while the owner goes out of sight. Evaluators say something like, “Would you like me to watch your dog?”
The handler fastens the dog to a six-foot line, such as the dog’s leash, gives the end of the leash to an evaluator, and goes to a place out of sight of the dog for three minutes. The dog shouldn’t continually bark, whine, howl, pace unnecessarily, or show anything other than mild agitation or nervousness. This test isn’t a Stay exercise; dogs may stand, sit, lie down, and change positions during this test.
Dogs are tested individually, not as a group, and more than one dog can be tested at a time.

Getting ready to take the exam

If you have done the basic training, you’re already halfway to being ready for the Canine Good Citizen. The exercises you need to work on are those that add distractions. They are the following:
  • Accepting a friendly stranger
  • Sitting politely for petting
  • Appearance and grooming
  • Reaction to another dog
  • Reaction to distractions
  • Supervised separation
Because Buddy’s ability to Sit-Stay is so critical to success on many of the tests, make sure that he has this exercise down pat.

Training for accepting a friendly stranger and sitting politely for petting

We suggest that you start by teaching your dog the Sit for Examination and build from there. You need a helper for these exercises.
If you have scored your dog for fight or flight (see Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Mind), you remember that this score determines his response to the helper. For example, if the helper is a stranger and your dog is high in fight, he may show signs of protectiveness. On the other hand, if he is low in fight and high in flight behaviors, Buddy may try to hide behind you or show signs of shyness when the helper approaches. Because the Sit for Examination is the cornerstone for all the distraction tests, you need to condition your dog to perform this exercise correctly before you continue.
With Buddy in Heel position, begin as you do for the Sit-Stay. Say and signal “Stay” and have your helper approach your dog from six feet at a 45-degree angle to your left. Have the helper approach in a friendly and nonthreatening manner, without hovering over the dog. Have the helper show your dog the palm of a hand and continue to walk by. If Buddy stays, praise and release. If your dog wants to get up, check straight up with your left hand with “Stay” and immediately try again.


Buddy’s response determines how close the helper gets in the beginning. If he becomes apprehensive about the helper’s approach and tries to move, we suggest that he or she walk past the dog at a distance of two feet without making eye contact or looking at the dog, which Buddy may perceive as threatening. As the dog gets used to that maneuver, have the helper offer a treat to the dog, placed on the open palm, as he or she walks by, still without making eye contact with the dog. It doesn’t matter whether the dog takes the treat or not — it’s the gesture that counts. When your dog accepts the helper walking past and offering a treat, stop for this session.

At your next session, have the helper first offer a treat and then pet the dog on the head, still without making eye contact, as he or she continues past the dog. Next, the helper can attempt to look at the dog as he or she touches the dog and goes past. For this particular test, the eye contact in connection with the examination is the hard part of the exercise, and it may require several sessions before the dog is steady.
The aim of this exercise is for the dog to allow the approach of a stranger who also then pets the dog. For the majority of dogs, this exercise isn’t particularly difficult, but it does require a little practice.

Training for appearance and grooming

Appearance and grooming is a similar test that you can introduce as soon as your dog accepts petting by a stranger. Have your helper lightly comb or brush Buddy with you at his side or directly in front. The helper examines the ears and picks up each front foot. If your dog finds this difficult, have the helper give the dog a treat as he or she touches a foot. Condition the dog with praise and treats to accept having the feet handled.


The appearance and grooming test is one of the most frequently failed tests, and mainly because the dog won’t permit the evaluator to handle his feet. If you make a point of handling your dog’s feet when he is a puppy (and have your friends do it too), he won’t be upset by this action as an adult.

Training for reaction to another dog

Your dog may stand or sit for this test. He is less likely, however, to try to initiate contact with the other dog from a Sit. Practice this exercise with someone else who also has a well-trained dog. With your dogs at Heel position, approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet and stop close enough to each other so you can just shake hands. As you stop, tell Buddy to “Sit” and “Stay.”
Should he want to say hello to the other dog, reinforce the “Stay” command. Be sure you instruct your training partner not to let his or her dog come to say hello to Buddy.

Training for reaction to distractions

Take another look at the list of distractions in the section, “Reaction to distractions,” earlier in this chapter. If you think that your dog may be unduly startled by any one of them, you need to practice and condition him to ignore that distraction.


Because your dog’s Personality Profile (see Chapter Understanding Your Dog’s Mind) determines how he reacts to a particular distraction, expose him to different distractions to see how he deals with them. Some dogs take it all in stride and others require several exposures to become accustomed to the distraction. The best foundation is a solid Sit-Stay.

Training for supervised separation

Although this test doesn’t directly deal with distractions, it does evaluate a dog’s response to the unforeseen, and so resembles the other tests. It shows that the dog can be left with someone else, which demonstrates training and good manners. You hand your leash to an evaluator who watches your dog, and in some cases, other dogs may be in the vicinity that are also doing this test or just being walked. The dog shouldn’t bark, whine, howl, or pace unnecessarily, or register anything other than mild agitation or nervousness.
You can leave your dog in either the Sit or the Down position; he doesn’t need to hold that position until you return, only that he doesn’t vocalize or pace unnecessarily. Still, by having Buddy focus on staying in place, you reduce the likelihood that he will bark or howl, or become overly agitated. You can develop this skill as a simple Down-Stay exercise, which is what we recommend.

Passing the Test

Organizations offering the Canine Good Citizen test have considerable leeway in making up the order in which to give the tests. The most common order is the one in which we list them in “Exercise requirements of the Canine Good Citizen test” earlier in this chapter. The supervised separation test may take place in the presence of other dogs that are also doing this test.
Usually three evaluators conduct the test. The first evaluator conducts tests one through three, the second one tests four through nine, and the third one test ten. The test is scored on a pass/fail basis and in order to qualify for a Canine Good Citizen certificate, the dog must pass each of the ten tests.


An automatic failure results when a dog eliminates (poops or pees) during testing, except during test ten, provided it’s held outdoors. Any dog that growls, snaps, bites, attacks, or attempts to attack a person or another dog isn’t a good citizen and must be dismissed from the test.

Do’s and Don’ts of Taking the Test

The following few hints can help you prepare for and participate in the Canine Good Citizen test.


Your attitude and state of mind are the most important influence on the test’s outcome. If you’re excessively nervous, your dog will become nervous, too. Handlers under stress sometimes behave in ways they would never dream of doing any other time. If you do act differently, your dog will notice and be confused to the point where she might fail. Maintain a positive outlook and rely on your training.


– Practice the entire test with a helper and friends before you actually enter a test. Doing so is more for your benefit than Buddy’s. As you become familiar with the test, you’ll lose some of your nervousness. It also can identify Buddy’s weak areas and give you additional time to work on them.

– Give your dog a bath and thoroughly groom him before the test.

– Use the correct equipment for the test — a well-fitting buckle or slip collar of leather, fabric, or chain, and a leather or fabric leash (see Chapter Equipping for Training Success for more on leashes).

– Exercise Buddy before you take the test. If your dog eliminates at any time during testing, he fails.

– Warm up your dog before taking the test so that both of you are as relaxed as possible under the circumstances.

– Use a second command for any exercise, if necessary.

– Talk to your dog during an exercise to keep attention on you, if necessary.

– Ask the evaluator for an explanation if you don’t understand a procedure or an instruction.


– Maintain a loose leash throughout the entire test, even between exercises, to the extent possible. Although an occasional tightening of the leash generally isn’t considered a failure, it does become a judgment call for the evaluator in assessing your control over your dog. Don’t put yourself or the evaluator in that position.

– Understand that your attitude and state of mind are the most important influences on the test’s outcome. If you’re excessively nervous, your dog will become nervous, too. Maintain a positive outlook and rely on your training.

– Conduct yourself in a sportsmanlike manner at all times.

– Keep in mind the purpose of the Canine Good Citizen and become an ambassador of goodwill and good manners for all dogs.

Of course, if you take the time to participate in the Canine Good Citizen test, you obviously want Buddy to pass. Even if he doesn’t, you can still feel good about yourself and Buddy. You’re making an effort to train your dog to be a model member of the community. In that small way, you’re doing a service to all dogs and their owners.


– Lose your temper or attitude if your dog fails an exercise. If you berate your dog, you sour him on the entire experience. You may feel a certain amount of disappointment and frustration, but you need to control those feelings. The more you work with your dog, the more attuned he is to your feelings. He’ll associate them with the circumstances and not the failure of an exercise.

– Change your attitude toward your dog after he has failed an exercise. Your remedy isn’t to make the dog feel anxious, but to review your training, work on the difficult exercise, and try again. If you undermine your dog’s confidence, training will take longer and become a less rewarding experience than if you realize that your job is to support and encourage your dog at every step of the way.

by Jack and Wendy Volhard 

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