You know your pup is the Best Dog Ever — so how would you like to have a fancy blue ribbon to prove it?! The Canine Good Citizen Test (CGC) is one of the best ways to demonstrate that your pup is a respectable member of society.
What is the Canine Good Citizen Test?
The Canine Good Citizen Test is designed to be the benchmark for determining if you have a “well-behaved” dog, one who is unlikely to put themselves or others at risk through disruptive behavior in common, everyday situations.
When you pass, you receive a certificate from the American Kennel Club (AKC) certifying that Fido has demonstrated the key behaviors of a well-mannered, well-trained dog in the presence of an official AKC evaluator.
So, why do people take the Canine Good Citizen Test? What are the advantages of passing it? Meg Marrs from K9 of Mine believes passing the CGC gives you both bragging rights and practical benefits:
“After your dog has passed the Canine Good Citizen test, you will receive a certificate showing that your dog has passed! Your dog also gains the official AKC CGC title. In fact, dogs with CGC title can have the suffix “CGC” after their names (how very fancy)!
Additionally, the CGC award is often a prerequisite for dogs who want to go on to become therapy dogs for issues such as anxiety or PTSD. Some homeowner’s insurance offers discounts if your dog is a CGC, and increasingly more apartments and condos require a dog to be CGC certified.”
CGC certification can be especially helpful if your dog is a breed that’s often unfairly discriminated against, such as an American Pit Bull Terrier or Rottweiler. The official acknowledgement that your pup is a friendly and well-trained dog can help put people’s minds at ease, and also push back against hurtful breed stereotypes.
In short, passing the CGC is not an easy accomplishment, and it’s one you have every right to be proud of. In fact, if you want to pull out Fido’s CGC certificate and brag about your pup to every visitor to your home, that’s completely understandable!
The 10 Stages of the Canine Good Citizen Test
In order for you and your best furiend to pass the CGC, an official AKC evaluator must test how your pup behaves during 10 stages. These stages are designed to simulate common everyday scenarios when your dog would need to be calm and obedient, as well as demonstrate mastery of key skills.
Sadly, while toys and high-value treats are fantastic training tools, you’re not allowed to use them during the test. Many dogs’ behavior miraculously improves once they smell their favorite treat — but the point of the CGC is to demonstrate that your dog is reliable regardless! (You can, however, use your voice to keep Fido’s focus.)
The 10 stages of the Canine Good Citizen Test as defined by the AKC are:
1. Accepting a Friendly Stranger
“The evaluator approaches the dog and handler and greets the handler in a friendly manner, ignoring the dog. The evaluator and handler do a pretend handshake (hands not touching) and exchange pleasantries. The dog must show no sign of resentment or shyness.”
2. Sitting Politely for Petting
“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.”
3. Appearance and Grooming
“The evaluator examines 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.”
4. Out for a Walk
“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.”
5. Walking Through a Crowd
“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.”
6. Sit and Down on Cue/Staying in Place
“The dog must Sit and Down when cued by the handler, 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 cue to get the dog to sit and then down. The evaluator must determine if the dog has responded to the handler’s cues. 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.”
7. Coming When Called
“With the dog still on the 20 ft. line from Test #6, 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.”
8. Reaction to Another Dog
“Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, pretend to shake hands (hands do not touch) 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.”
9. Reaction to Distractions
“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.”
10. Supervised Separation
“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”).”
Does my dog have to be purebred to take the Canine Good Citizen Test?
It’s a common misconception that your dog must be a purebred to take the AKC Canine Good Citizen Test, but that is not the case. Dogs of all breeds, ages and backgrounds are welcome!
Do you need to take a class for the Canine Good Citizen Test?
Nope! Obedience classes may help you and your dog prepare for the Canine Good Citizen Test, but you are not required to take one.
Many independent dog trainers offer training through both group classes and private sessions that are geared specifically towards mastering the 10 skills of the CGC. The AKC also has a partnership with the pet store chain Petco, with almost all branches offering CGC classes.
However, if you have the experience and the confidence, it’s completely possible to train your pup to pass the CGC on your own. There are a wide variety of instructional videos and resources available to help pet parents establish strong training foundations, work through challenges, and prepare for the big day.
After you’ve been working on all 10 challenges with your pup in a variety of situations and can see that your dog obeys reliably both with and without treats, you’re finally ready to test!
How do you take the Canine Good Citizen Test?
When you feel you and Fido are ready, it’s time to contact an AKC evaluator in your area. Evaluators are widely available across the US, so the odds are good that you have one nearby.
You may go to the evaluator’s home for the test, or they may come to your home, or you may meet them in a controlled neutral location. The evaluator will walk you and your dog through all 10 stages in a process that typically takes about 15 minutes. (In fact, filling out the AKC paperwork will likely take longer than the test itself!).
How much does it cost to take the Canine Good Citizen Test?
The CGC test has no set fee, but most evaluators will charge a small amount for their time and to recoup the costs of paying for their own evaluator certification courses. The cost is usually around $20, but may be more depending on location.
Remember that your dog doesn’t need to be purebred to take the Canine Good Citizen Test, but they do need to be registered with the AKC. (Yes, the AKC has a program for registering mixed-breed dogs). Therefore you will also need to take into account the registration fee, although the AKC offers a slight discount when you register your dog and apply for the CGC award at the same time.
What do you do after you pass the Canine Good Citizen Test?
Anything you want! Once you and your best furiend have made the grade, congrats! The world is your squeaky toy!
The options for what to do next with your dog after your CGC certification is under your belt are endless. If you have a particularly people-loving and mild-mannered pup, one common next step is to get Fido certified as a therapy dog. That will enable you to take your dog’s slobbery mug into nursing homes, schools and hospitals to cheer up people in need.
Another option, especially now that you have AKC registration, is to dip your toe into the world of AKC competitive events. A CGC certification can easily lead to competing in obedience trials or rally obedience, or you may decide showing or canine sports interest you more.
On the other hand, if you don’t necessarily enjoy the stress of competition but you do want to add to Fido’s wall of certificates, you’ll be able to pursue other AKC certifications like Community Canine, Urban CGC, Family Dog and more.
Of course, you can always just frame your certificate, buy your pup a big bag of their favorite treats and pat yourself on the back for officially being the proud pet parent of a certified Good Boy™ or Good Girl™.
What happens if you fail the Canine Good Citizen Test?
Don’t worry — the Canine Good Citizen Police won’t drag you away, or send you home with your tail between your legs in shame! Almost every dog has at least one stage of the CGC that pushes them to the limit of their self-discipline and obedience.
And let’s face it: our pups are animals, not machines. Fido may have sailed through all 10 stages multiple times the day before, only to behave quite differently with the evaluator present! The truth is, our dogs are so attuned to us that they can tell if we are more tense or nervous than usual — and even this tiny change can be enough to throw a pup off his groove.
If this happens to you, don’t beat yourself up. Dog trainer Amy Bender emphasizes using the experience as an opportunity to learn and to not give up on Fido:
“It’s a challenging program for energetic puppies, but a dog that has failed the AKC test can retake it at a later date. Ideally, if your dog fails the test once, you should work on proofing the behaviors it struggled with. This means training the dog in a particular skill or behavior in a variety of scenarios.
For instance, if your dog can handle “sit” when it’s in your living room, but gets too distracted at the dog park to complete the behavior, work on this in different environments. Practice outside, in the park, on walks, and at the vet’s office, and offer treats when your dog sits on command. Continue to practice until your dog can sit whenever it hears the command (with or without a treat as a reward).”
Even if your dog never does pass the CGC test, don’t feel all your efforts were in vain or that you’re a failure of a dog parent. Sometimes, due to either past experiences or strong natural tendencies, a dog may never truly master one of the 10 stages.
Still, all that time you’ve spent training has undoubtedly improved your communication with your pup and your understanding of each other. You’ve had successes that you’re proud of, and your dog is bound to be better behaved now in many ways. So as long as you know your own dog and know where their behavioral “blind spots” are, you can still enjoy a happy, safe life together.
(Besides, we know that ALL dogs are good at heart — whether it’s official on paper or not!)