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Is Your Pooch a Good Citizen?

Is your pooch a good citizen?

The question is not just how they act at home. How do they interact with the world around them when you go for a walk?

You take your dog for walks because it is great exercise for both your dog and you. You take doggie doo bags every time you leave the house with your four-legged friend, and thus you are a good citizen and neighbor by picking up after your dog.

What about your dog? Do they pull you down the sidewalk, or are they always getting under your feet? When greeting another person or dog, do they rush to greet and bark aggressively, or do they cower behind you or try to run away? When someone asks to pet your dog, do you get nervous or simply refuse out of concern that your dog may bite the well intended person?

All these questions speak to the dog’s temperament, training, and environment. Did you know there are very simple tests you can use to determine your dog’s temperament and your dog’s training? These tests are the subject of the rest of this article. The reference to environment is not so simple. This is referring to the situations we either put our dogs, or the situations they find themselves. For example, if they are nervous in situations, recognize these situations and either avoid the situation when you are with your dog, or take control of the situation to limit the threats your dog is reacting to. Examples are keeping a short lead on the leash when near strangers, and take your walks on less busy streets. If they show aggression towards people or dogs you meet, assert yourself as the leader and discourage the aggressive behavior. All these situations or environments are what we as responsible dog owners have to watch for, anticipate, and avoid or control. Remember, we are supposed to be the one’s in control, not our dogs.

All good breeders conduct temperament testing on puppies when they are about 6 to 7 weeks old. This allows the breeder to match the puppies with potential owners so that both are happy with the new relationship.

Socialization of the puppy should be a top priority for every breeder and newly adopted families. The American Kennel Club (AKC) offers two excellent programs to help socialize and train your dog, and they offer testing to determine where more training may be needed. Below is a brief introduction to each. The AKC website has extensive information about each and how to participate.

The program designed for puppies and younger dogs is called the AKC S.T.A.R Puppy program. S.T.A.R. stands for Socialization, Training, Activity, and Responsibility. There are twenty (20) observations conducted in the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy test. Six observations are of the owner, five (5) are general puppy behaviors, and eight (8) are specific exercises of sociability. The objective is to observe the puppy’s acceptance or stress and reaction in different situations. This includes basic grooming, simple commands, and interaction with strangers.

The next step is the AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program. This program is designed for older dogs, starting around one (1) year old. All dogs mature at difference paces. Dogs with a developed attention span tend to do well in several of the CGC testing exercises. There are ten (10) exercises in the CGC evaluation.

  • Accepting a friendly stranger
  • Sitting politely for petting
  • Appearance and grooming
  • Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead)
  • Walking through a crowd
  • Sit and down on command and Staying in place
  • Coming when called
  • Reaction to another dog
  • Reaction to distraction
  • Supervised separation

Many dog trainers offer training based on the CGC program. The training is an opportunity to further bond with your dog and to know that the effort will pay off with a lot more fun for many years to come.

If you and your dog had an absolute blast with the CGC program, there is more. The ten exercises are the basis for dogs to be certified to participate in reading programs at schools and libraries and/or to visit retirement homes and hospitals. There are several organizations that provide such testing and certification.

There is always something you can do with your dog. Why not invest in a great canine citizen?

By Mike Simpson, Chair, Animal Shelter Advisory Board

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