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How to Train for Canine Good Citizen Certification—and Why You Should

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More than busy work

As humans, we find fulfillment in our lives through our relationships, hobbies, and employment. Our canine companions need to find fulfillment and purpose in their lives, too. Providing a job for a dog is the responsibility of the dog owner. Owners who fail to provide their dogs with something to keep them mentally and physically stimulated soon learn that our canine friends open their own small businesses when left to their own devices.

good canine citizen

I have heard of many canines that, instead of being involved in obedience training, were left to find suitable "work" around the house. Much to the chagrin of their owners, some of these entrepreneurial pooches established themselves in occupations from interior design to landscape architecture. Owners who have witnessed the results of these industrious canines at work should not blame the dog!

Provided the correct training, our canine companions can serve us in a multitude of ways. Consider the many wonderful jobs that our dogs have been taught to perform; there are drug detection dogs, seeing-eye dogs, seizure alert dogs, mobility dogs, and many others. The list of ways in which man's best friend can be trained to help us lead more productive and safe lives just keeps growing.

Canine Good Citizen certification and clicker training

Providing a job for a dog is the responsibility of the dog owner.

Not all dog owners have the time, inclination, or experience to train a dog to perform specific functions like those listed above. However, for conscientious dog owners who want a dog that will behave at home as well as in public (and who want to become the envy of their dog-owning friends) there is the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) designation.

The American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizenship Program started in 1989 as a certification program designed to encourage dog owners to teach their four-legged friends proper canine etiquette in the home as well as in public. Participants completing the program successfully earn a certificate from the AKC.

For some, working through the CGC process serves as a foundation, and spurs them on to other canine activities like agility or obedience. Many other dog owners possess a strong desire to serve others with their dogs. Earning the CGC designation is the first step in preparing to use a dog in a therapeutic capacity. Therapy dogs visit nursing homes, hospitals, and assisted living facilities. Leading therapy dog organizations such as Therapy Dogs International, Inc. (www.tdi-dog.org) use the AKC's Canine Good Citizenship test as a key component of their assessment for certification.

The CGC program consists of ten tests focusing on responsible pet ownership and good manners. Test challenges include accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, appearance, and grooming, walking on a loose lead, walking through a crowd, sit and down on command, as well as stay in place, coming when called, reaction to another dog, reaction to a distraction, and supervised separation. Details for each of the tests can be found at www.akc.org/events/cgc/training_testing.cfm.

If you make the commitment to earn the Canine Good Citizenship certificate, the first step should be to find a local trainer to assist you in preparing for the test. Be sure to look for a trainer who uses positive techniques. I use clicker training with my obedience clients; clicker training allows you to communicate with your dog without using words.

Be sure to look for a trainer who uses positive techniques.

With clicker training, when your dog performs a behavior that you desire, you "click" or mark the desirable behavior. Repeating this process several times teaches the dog that performing a certain behavior leads to a reward. I have found that dogs who are clicker trained get much more excited about the training process than do dogs trained with other methods.

Get some help

An abundance of information about clicker training, including articles, books, message board forums, and sources of training equipment, can be found here at www.clickertraining.com . To find professional trainers in your area who use clicker training, and who can help you earn the Canine Good Citizenship designation, visit the Find-a-Trainer page at the Karen Pryor Academy website. Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partners have completed an extensive educational program, and have scored high marks on a detailed assessment of their technical knowledge and hands-on skill.

Working toward earning the CGC designation enhances your relationship with your dog, teaches your dog good manners, and, through therapy dog programs, can involve you and your dog in a project to benefit society. As a responsible dog owner, what could be more worthy of your time and dedication?


About the author
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Charlie Petrizzo, President and Founder of Circle of Life Professional Canine Services, is a former financial services executive and popular speaker. He received a diploma in canine training from the Animal Behavior College, and earned an advanced diploma with distinction in canine fitness and nutrition from the Companion Animal Sciences Institute. With more than 25 years experience working with dogs and horses, Charlie has been featured in several newspapers and on WBTV-Charlotte. Charlie can be contacted at ak9nose [at] earthlink [dot] net.

There is a documentary produced by Charlotte, NC based film production company Episode XI Studios about Charlie Petrizzo's called Charlie's Scars. For more information on seeing it, go to http://www.charliesscars.com. It's a very touching story.

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