Is Your Dog A "Canine Good Citizen"?

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The AKC’s mission for the program encompasses two areas: (1) responsible pet ownership; and (2) acknowledging dogs that have good manners.

If you think good citizenship is just for people, you should know about the Canine Good Citizen® (CGC) Program from the American Kennel Club (AKC). This program began in 1989, so you may have heard about it. The AKC’s mission for the program encompasses two areas: (1) responsible pet ownership; and (2) acknowledging dogs that have good manners.

The qualifications and rewards of being a Canine Good Citizen

The CGC Program is open to all dogs, not just purebreds, so don’t think that well-behaved mixed breeds are ineligible to participate. After all, good behavior is a desirable trait in all dogs and transcends breed. A few things to keep in mind if you want to see if your dog can qualify as a Canine Good Citizen: Dogs must be old enough to have received necessary immunizations, owners must sign the Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge which states that the dog is under the care of a veterinarian who will work with the owner to determine an appropriate plan and schedule for vaccines and other health care procedures. And note, there is no age limit for the CGC test, which means senior dogs are certainly welcome to participate in the program.

So how does a dog become a Canine Good Citizen? They must pass a specific 10-step test prepared by the AKC and administered by an AKC-approved evaluator. All dogs that pass the test may receive a certificate from the AKC that proudly announces that the dog has passed the test.

The 10-step CGC certification test

Here’s a brief look at the 10 tests a dog must pass to be certified.

Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger. A friendly stranger—the AKC-approved test evaluator—will approach the dog and handler and speak to the handler in a natural, everyday situation. The dog must not show any overreaction to the stranger and accept him.

Test 2: Sitting politely for petting. After the evaluator is accepted by the dog as a friendly stranger, the evaluator will touch the dog while it is out with its handler. With the dog sitting at the handler's side, the evaluator pets the dog on the head and body. The handler may talk to his or her dog throughout the exercise. The dog must not show shyness or resentment.

Test 3: Appearance and grooming. This practical test demonstrates that the dog welcomes being groomed and examined. It also demonstrates the owner's care, concern, and sense of responsibility.

Test 4: Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead). Is the handler in control of the dog? The dog's position in this test should leave no doubt that the dog is attentive to the handler and is responding to the handler's movements and changes of direction.

Test 5: Walking through a crowd. A Canine Good Citizen must move about politely in pedestrian traffic and be able to control himself in public places. The dog and handler will 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.

Test 6: "Sit" and "down" on command (and staying in place). This test demonstrates that the dog has training, will respond to the handler's "sit" and "down" commands, and will remain in the place commanded by the handler.

Test 7: Coming when called. Does the dog come when called by the handler? 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.

Test 8: Reaction to another dog. This test is designed to show 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.

Test 9: Reaction to distraction. The dog must show that he is confident at all times when faced with common distracting situations. The evaluator will select and present two distractions, such as dropping a chair, rolling a crate dolly past the dog, having a jogger run in front of the dog, or dropping a crutch. 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.

Test 10: Supervised separation. Can the dog can be left with a trusted person, if necessary, and maintain his good manners? 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.

Ready to try for certification?

For more information about the CGC tests and to find AKC-approved evaluators near you, contact your American Kennel Club chapter. You can also learn more at To reach the CGC program directly, call (919) 816-3637 or e-mail

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