E246: Heather Lawson - "Canine Good Citizens"

Heather joins me to talk about the AKC Canine Good Citizen program — including what it takes to go from the original CGC test to the newer, more advanced versions. 


Melissa Breau: This is Melissa Breau and you're listening to the Fenzi Dog Sports Podcast brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy, an online school dedicated to providing high-quality instruction for competitive dog sports using only the most current and progressive training methods.

Today I have Heather Lawson here with me to talk about the Canine Good Citizen program.

Hi Heather, welcome to the podcast!

Heather Lawsom: Hi Melissa, how are you today? Glad to be here.

Melissa Breau: Good. Excited to chat about this. I think it's a good topic. Before we jump in, do you want to help remind listeners a little about you, a little about your pets, what you're working on with them?

Heather Lawson: As you said, my name is Heather Lawson. I'm a certified professional dog trainer, as well as a Karen Pryor Certified Training Partner. I currently have Piper, who is a 6-year-old German Shepherd, and with her I'm doing obedience, rally, lots of concept training — she really quite enjoys the concept training — and nosework, when I get a chance to do it.

Mainly she's my demo dog for my pet dog classes, my in-person classes, so she gets a lot of this CGC type of exercises that we work on in pet dog manners classes. So she's a good candidate for that. And that's about it. Oh, except that yes, I am an instructor for Fenzi Dog Sports Academy.

Melissa Breau: I wanted to chat today because you're doing a two-part workshop series right now on the Canine Good Citizen program for FDSA, and I thought it would be a super-interesting topic to talk about in the podcast, because I don't think we have before. Do you want to just give a little bit of background, an overview on what the CGC program is, why folks might be interested in working on a CGC title?

Heather Lawson: The CGC program, as part of the American Kennel Club, was a program that was developed to encourage responsible dog ownership for the general public, and a way to help owners be responsible dog owners, train their dogs, build that bond, and have some fun. It's also part of the program that can steer you in another direction, if you want to do even more with your dog after doing some of the certificates for the program. It's not just one certificate in the program. There's a number of different certificates that you can take.

You can start them out as young as puppies with the Star program, the puppy Star program, and then you can go all the way up to therapy dog certificate test, you can do trick dog test, everything, and then even go into obedience or rally, should you choose to do that. So it's a great opener. But most of all it promotes good, responsible dog ownership.

Melissa Breau: What kind of things does the original CGC test include?

Heather Lawson: The original CGC test does include things like meeting and greeting strangers, it includes meeting and passing by other dogs, it's basic grooming, touch, acceptance of strangers, coming when called, reaction to distractions such as a crowd or a bicycle going by, or a stroller going by, how well does your dog deal with separation away from you. So it just covers pretty much basic things that every dog should have but don't always have.

One thing that I like that it includes is it includes a Responsible Dog Owner's Pledge, and that actually makes the owners aware sometimes of the deep responsibility that they have when they bring a dog into their life. For instance, some of the things on the Responsible Dog Ownership Pledge is will be responsible for my dog's health needs. It lists routine veterinary care, adequate nutrition, daily exercise, and regular grooming. I will be responsible for my dog's safety. In other words, providing fencing where appropriate, they have some form of identification so they get back to mom and dad if they happen to get lost for whatever reason.

The other one that really is important for me is I will not allow my dog to infringe on the rights of others. In other words, run loose in a neighborhood, be a nuisance to others while barking in the backyard or the hotel room. Lots of people are traveling and they want to take their dogs with them. You don't want your dog to be a problem in something like that, a public area like that, because it makes it hard for other people to come along. Pick up and properly dispose of their waste. Make sure that your dog is not interfering in … if you're out on the trails or anything like that, they're not hurting wildlife or doing anything like that.

And be responsible for the dog's quality of life. That's a really important one for me, because lots of people get a dog and they do the basic training and then that's it. They think, "Okay, we've gone to puppy school and that's it. I don't have to do any more." But really, yeah, you do, because that actually keeps the dogs stimulated and well rounded, and it's beneficial for all dogs of all ages. I remember when I had my old boy, he would be wanting to be involved in the training with Piper. He'd be sitting on the sidelines and squiggling and squatting, and he wanted to be involved in it.

Give your dog the attention and playtime that they need. That keeps the energy lower so that you can actually invite them in and be part of the family. They're not segregated to the backyard.

And understanding that owning a dog is a commitment in time and caring. Lots of people sometimes don't realize the amount of effort that it takes to have an animal in your life. It's kind of like having a 5-year-old for ten, fifteen, sometimes even twenty years, and those animals rely on us to provide all those things that they need in their life. That's why I'm glad that the AKC has that Responsible Dog Owner Pledge, because it really makes people think about things

Melissa Breau: I like that. For the test items, how strict are the criteria here? What are we talking in terms of pass/fail?

Heather Lawson: In terms of pass/fail, the criteria is basically … say, for instance, you were doing the out for a walk, walking through a crowd, and your dog kept lunging and biting out at people, and kept running, was a little bit nervous and wouldn't go near that distraction, or all of a sudden started barking at that kid who was wheeling the bicycle through. That could constitute a fail. If they defecate in the ring while the test is being done, because the CGC is done in a ring setting, so if they were to defecate inside, that's a fail.

The people, the participants, you need to pass all ten exercises. You can't miss one exercise. It has to be a pass for each one of them. So as long as your dog is not lunging and biting at people, or doesn't show aggressive signs, that they are not showing excessive fear, then you're pretty good to go. The evaluator has their criteria, and luckily enough, there is a handbook for participants to read up on it and what is required. If you can meet that criteria about exercise, chances are you're going to pass. So there's no real negatives, there's no real downside to it, and you're training your dog in the process.

Melissa Breau: You mentioned some of the more advanced levels, the CGC tests. Do you want just go into those a little more, share a little more about them?

Heather Lawson: The Canine Good Citizen is probably the one that people refer to the most. That's the Canine Good Citizen. There is, as I mentioned, the AKC Star puppy program, and that's a test, but it's just a test you pass for training, and then you can go into the CGC and you get your certificates. But to move on from the regular CGC, you can either go into the Community Canine Citizen test, and that's basically the CGC advanced, and that, along with the Urban CGC, those are the next more advanced levels.

They are done not in a ring setting. They're done in a real-life setting. So there's a huge big leap sometimes for people in that situation because they're having to deal with everything that's going on around them as well. So if the dog was just barely skimping by, was having a little bit of difficulty in the CGC, you might want to do a little bit more training, a little bit more real-life work, before you attempt the other ones. Nothing to say that you couldn't pass them, but it might be a little bit more difficult because there is more in the way of distraction. From there, you can go into, as I said, the AKC trick dog, the therapy dog, and so forth.

Now the Urban CGC is classified as a public access type of test. That can be a little bit misleading in that public access test. It has nothing to do with service dog testing, it has nothing to do with therapy dog testing or access, it does not mean that you can take your dog anywhere under any circumstance. All it is is testing your dog's ability to maintain good behavior in the public buildings where dogs are allowed — cafes or restaurants and things like that, hotels. That's what they mean by public access.

If you pass the Community Canine Citizen, or the Urban, or the CGC, that does not give you the right to take your dog and insist that your dog can go anywhere. It is not an emotional support dog, it is not a therapy dog, it is not a service dog. So that's one key thing that people have to be aware of, because a lot of people may try to say, "I've got this certificate, it means I can go anywhere." And it certainly doesn't.

Melissa Breau: In your experience, Heather, which skills tend to be the hardest for most dog-handler teams?

Heather Lawson: A lot of it depends on the age of the dog and the experience that they've had out in the public. I would say probably, because it's always been under the guise of socialization, people often let their dogs meet and greet a lot of people, meet and greet a lot of dogs. That can sometimes be a hindrance when you're doing this, because your dog doesn't know how to be what I classify as a Neutral Nelly or Neutral Ned.

In other words, they see another person, they see another dog, their first inclination is to rush out to that person or rush over to that dog, and that's not allowed in these tests. They can show slight interest, they can look towards the dog, maybe stretch their nose to get a little sniff, but they're not to move towards the dog or the people.

They can show nice, easy, soft body movement and be accepting, no problem, but they should not be over-exuberant. Especially if the people walk away, the dog should not lunge out to go after the person, or to get that sniff on that butt as the dog's going by.

That, along with loose leash walking, believe it or not, is the bane of everybody's existence, I think. Even mine, occasionally. If it's being done in a ring, that's not so much of an issue because usually rings are fairly sanitized, they're clean, and there's not much to check out. But when you then go to your Community Canine, you're out on the streets, you're out in a public area, you're out in a store, there's all kinds of other things to be distracting, so you've got that aspect of it.

And there's much more in the way of sounds and stimulation for some dogs. If they're just the backyard family dog and they go to the odd soccer ball game, or they go out on the trail or something, they don't spend much time in the city and they haven't experienced doors that open at the supermarket and close all on their own. Those kinds of things can be quite traumatic for some dogs. So you have to make sure that if you're going on to something like those tests that you gradually introduce your dogs to the things that they haven't previously experienced.

So those would be my biggest things was the extra distraction, the loose leash walking, and the human and dog interaction.

Melissa Breau: Are there things that handlers tend to do — or not do, for that matter — during the test that can actually decrease their dog's chance of passing?

Heather Lawson: Evaluators are absolutely told to encourage people to talk to their dogs, to direct your dog, just because you're taking a test, and that that word "test" really freezes a lot of people up and, "I can't do anything, What am I supposed to do? I don't do anything," so they don't do anything. They don't help their dog through it.

You can certainly help your dog through it. You cannot grab the dog as a correction. You cannot jerk your leash as a correction. You cannot harshly command or reprimand your dog in any way. Those would be the things that would be like, "No, this isn't happening," and your evaluator would obviously speak up and mention that that wasn't allowed, and that would have been the reason why you failed.

As long as you're upbeat, you're praising your dog, you can talk to them, you can ask them to sit a couple of times. If there's a refusal, then there's a refusal, and then that might not be a pass for you. If you're, say, on a long line and you're doing the recall, if you have to turn around and reel your dog in with that line as you're going around in circles, and it's like a lunging horse, that's not going to fly either.

So you want to make sure that you're using your equipment properly, that the dogs are responding appropriately, and that you are being kind and gentle with your dog, and praising and helping them through it. Unless you're harsh, overly harsh, and your dog is not performing, then it's pretty … I'm not going to say the word "easy," but it's a pretty basic thing. You should be able to do it.

Melissa Breau: Are there any limits to who can actually test for the various CGC titles?

Heather Lawson: No, absolutely not. That's the bonus of the certificates and these titles is that there is no limits. It's pretty much all-inclusive. So whether you have what we call in Canada a "canhardly" — you can hardly tell what it is — you know, a mixed breed, or you have a purebred, or anything like that, any dog can participate, and any human can participate.

If you have a puppy, though, that is below 6 months and you are testing, if the test is being held under the sanctions of the American Kennel Club event, then those rules and regulations of the AKC supersede the CGC requirements. That means that, if I'm not mistaken, the dogs cannot be under 6 months of age in order to compete in obedience and rally and things like that. So your puppy, if they were, say, 4 months, and you wanted to come to that show and do that test, you wouldn't be able to, because the dog was too young and the AKC supersedes the rules.

If your dog is, say, perhaps a tripod, missing a limb, they can participate. If they're 14, 15, or older, they can participate. You can teach an old dog new tricks, so why not?

It didn't used to be a title. You used to only get a certificate, but now it's actually a title that you can attach to your dog's name and registration, so that's the fun part of it as well.

So it's all-inclusive for basically everybody. If your dog can do those exercises, good on you, go for it.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Can you talk a bit more about what the training looks like to go from that original CGC test and the skills you need for that, to the more advanced levels, and maybe how to approach it?

Heather Lawson: As I mentioned earlier, the CGC takes place in a very specific area, a very non-real-life situation, so it's usually in a ring or some setup that they have for it. It can be done outdoors, but generally they're done in a ring format.

Whereas when you get to the more advanced levels, they are done outside, so you need to be taking a look at whether or not you've actually done your training outdoors. If you've only done all of your training indoors or in a specific area, and you haven't exposed your dog to some of these exercises, then you're going to have a difficult time in doing it.

Say, for instance, if we take a look at the Urban, the Urban requires that your dog be able to cross the street and stay with you as you're crossing the street. I don't know about you, but I've seen lots of people — a dog sits nicely at the side of the corner, waiting for that light to change, the light changes, the human steps off the corner, and boom, the dog is out in front of them, racing to get to the other side. That's generally because they're a little concerned with all the traffic going by. It's a little bit scary for them.

So that type of training that you want to do with your dog, you have to focus on, number one, your loose leash walking. Number two, getting your dog used to being in traffic and crossing those open spaces, and making sure that when you are crossing that your dog is towards the stopped vehicles versus the ones that are whizzing past, because that's generally the whizzing past that bothers the dogs and makes them want to go. So there's that situation.

Again with the Urban, you're going into public access, into buildings. Providing the building is dog-friendly, maybe your dog hasn't been on some of those nice, shiny, marble floors. You go through the door and you get off of that doorway carpet, and all sudden your dog freezes and all four go out and they're not going to move. You're not going to do a pass on that one. When you get out of the car, lots of people will get to wherever they're going, and generally, if you're going on a hike or something with your dog, you open the crate door, boom, the dog is out and running and sniffing all over the place while you get your stuff. That's not going to work either. Your dogs have to be able to enter and exit the vehicle and wait to be invited out of the vehicle. They have to be under control once they leave the vehicle. So there's those types of exercises to do.

There's also stairs. For instance, I've been in the hotel myself and my dog has gone up the stairs ahead of me, mainly because I told her to, because I needed her to pull me up the stairs. But generally we want the dogs to be walking with you up the stairs. You never know what's coming around the corner, and if your dog can't go up or down the stairs, that's going to be a hazard to people either coming up or down the stairs, in addition to yourself as well. So you want to make sure that your dogs can go up and down stairs. At home, I've taught my dog Piper to stop on the landing, and now, even to this day, I go down and she stops on the landing. I go down to the bottom of the stairs, I turn around and say, "Okay," and she comes down. She learned that, she's kept that, and I appreciate that, because if I've got things in my hands, I've got to be able to go up and down stairs.

Elevators — lots of dogs never get the chance to go on elevators. I travel a lot, so my dogs have to be able to go in an elevator. Lots of times, people don't know how to do that. They get in the elevator, and the first thing they do is they go down. Well, if you go down, what happens with that elevator is that elevator drops out from under the dog, they feel like they're dropping out, and that's what freaks the dogs out and they go belly on the floor. Whereas different types of training techniques, you want to make sure that the dog is able to go in and to ride up and down easily, and that they're not afraid when the doors open and close, that they're not charging out the doors. Just the other day on the news, there was a lady that went through the elevator, she had her dog on an extended leash, she wasn't paying attention, she went through, and this little … it looked like a Maltese or something … anyway, thank God the building superintendent was there, because that dog was going up in the air and he got the dog off. Otherwise that dog would have been killed because the dog didn't go through the door right away and she didn't notice.

So there's all these different types of things. That's why this Urban test is really good, because it keeps you and makes you aware of things.

Speaking of elevators, I remember the first time I was down in Portland with one of my dogs. She was an old pro at going up and down the elevator, not a problem at all. She never bothered anybody coming in or out. Now, all of a sudden, we had a glass elevator. Well, she just looked out, totally different story. She looked at me and then looked out, and then she sat. She was like, "I'm not too sure about this."

But after going up and down a couple of times, I watched her, and we went up and down and up and down. and then she was fine. She just went to the edge and she watched the people go up and down on the floor. But I know that at some of the other conferences I've been to where they do have those dogs that are elevator shy, all of a sudden they're putting on the brakes, "I'm not going in," because they don't feel safe.

So there's different things like that. Things like bikes and skateboards, and lots of times we have generations where they're using walkers and things like that. If you don't have somebody in your family that's got that, or you haven't been exposed to strollers or anything like that, that can be daunting for some dogs as well.

Even a bicycle. Case in point: When I got my e-bike — got myself an e-bike and I got myself a dog trailer — I had to do all the specific training with Piper so that she would be used to the bike being around, that she would then be able to be used to the bike moving and her being beside me, and then also being in the dog cart and me walking the bike and her not just sitting there with her head out, watching it, and then us going on a bike ride.

So we went through all those stages of training, and because she had all of the CGC-type things behind her, it was a fairly easy fold-up into being able to go on these bike rides with her in the trailer, because she was already used to all of those things. So it just means that I can now take her more places. The more your dogs have in the way of basics in life skills, the more you can do with them.

Melissa Breau: I want to talk specifically about the workshops for a second here. Is there anything else you want to share about the workshops themselves? Information on what you're going to cover, who should take the workshop, that might be helpful for folks to know?

Heather Lawson: Anybody who's interested in doing more with your dog should be taking them. It's just another fun thing to do. Because sometimes we make big, huge assumptions about what our dogs are capable of doing, and we just go ahead and do it, and then we wonder why we've got problems. So these workshops give you an idea of the step-by-step things that you should be looking at to help your dog learn how to be a good community member without feeling insecure and perhaps reactive in the situation.

The workshops that I'm doing are a bit of a hybrid between a webinar and a workshop, simply because it is a testing format. It's not just, "Here, we're going to teach you this," how to do a pivot, or how to how to use a platform. It's got so many different exercises, ten out of each of the categories, that what I've done is I've run through, outlined what each of the different certificates are, and the testing is, all the exercises are there, and then we briefly take a look at maybe some of the ones that are the hardest.

Now I do make assumptions within the workshops that there is some loose leash walking, because I can't possibly, in that timeframe, address loose leash walking issues right from the start. But I can certainly direct people to the right classes or the direction they should go.

For instance, in Part Two, I did a little excerpt on elevators, and then on how to get your dogs used to strange things. I remember when I had Piper as a puppy — she was born in the summertime, a really hot summer, we didn't have any rain. Of course, I live in almost like a rain forest, we get a lot of rain in the fall, so I might have problems with the umbrellas. I had to introduce her to an umbrella opening and closing and moving around.

The example that I've got in the workshop actually shows her reacting to the umbrella because I moved it a little bit too much and she barked, barked, barked, and back into it again. After we worked through it, she had no problems with the umbrellas. But I had to do that to make sure that she understood that there's going to be strange people with strange things.

Our dogs sometimes, if they're born in certain times of the year, they don't recognize the fact that we humans can morph into these things with sunglasses, with hats on, with big boots on, big coats on. You're bundled all the way up to kingdom come, and then you've got umbrellas going and all these different kinds of things, and then you wonder why the dog is barking at you or being strange with you, and why they're being strange all of a sudden with people out in the general public.

I get that question quite a lot: "All of a sudden my dog's barking at all these people, and the guy's just there with a hat on and he's walking by." Maybe he hasn't seen a hat before. It's possible. Some dogs lead sheltered lives.

By addressing those types of things in the workshop, and showing the different ways of how to have good elevator etiquette, and I even show … one of the videos has me and my scarecrows. I had these scarecrows from Walmart from the fall display thing, and I thought, "I don't have any people around right now. How can I make a grouping with strange things on a strange thing?" I stood them in a couple of cones, and a bonus was I had a group of people, I had strange-looking people, and I had the wind that was going that actually made things move, so if there was going to be any concern, it was going to show up right away in that natural home setting.

So there's lots of things that we're going through, but I'm picking the exercises that are maybe the most difficult for people in that respect and showing them how they can go about working through them.

And I'm being extra generous in that I'm giving, rather than the usual ninety-second videos for workshops that are submitted, I allow up to three minutes and three exercises. So if you're having difficulty with three particular exercises, you have three one-minute videos that you can submit, or one three-minute video with one exercise. It's handler's choice, so you don't have to follow exactly what it is. You read through the exercises and say, "I've tried these, and this is where my problem is. This is what I'm doing. How can I make it easier for my dog?" That's the difference between … it's a hybrid workshop-webinar.

Melissa Breau: Fair enough. To round out our conversation today, I've got one last question for you, which is, if we were to drill down all the stuff we've been talking about into one key takeaway, or one key piece of information you really want listeners to understand or walk away from this with, what would that be?

Heather Lawson: It would be to cherish what your animals can bring to your life, and take responsibility for their mental wellbeing, as well as their physical wellbeing, get them trained, do your job as an individual, and help your dog succeed and be good community canines so that you can take your dog more places, if it's a pleasure, if your dog is well trained to the best of your ability.

And if you don't have the ability to do it, seek it out by all means. Seek out trainers that can help you. Or if you go onto the American Kennel Club, they have a list of evaluators and clubs and so forth that offer the types of training that would get you through.

By training your animal, you're giving them that security to navigate the human world. If they're comfortable, you're going to be comfortable, and it's going to be a pleasure to take them with you wherever you go. For me, that's what I want to do. Because lots of us have dogs, and we might do a lot of sports with them, and we're training and training and training all these different things that we want them to do, but then we miss that actual life skill background area, that training that we need, and then our dogs become a little bit difficult to live with. And frustrating.

We want them to be able to settle and to be comfortable in their home when they're retired. By giving them that previous training, they've got that to fall back on, and then their old age is more comfortable and they're more secure. So it's basic responsible ownership, building that bond through training, and making sure they have a great life.

Melissa Breau: That they have those skills to fall back on.

Heather Lawson: Yeah, because navigating through the human world is hard enough even for humans, let alone our dogs. If you can imagine, even now, with everything that's going on in the last few years in the world, our dogs have been pretty good, because they not only read our body language better than we read our own kinds of body language, but they're also having to deal with masks and different types of things, going away from you on your vet visit, being separated in situations like that. So if your dog has all those skills and they're able to fall back and use them, it makes their life so much better in cases of emergency or situations where things aren't normal right now.

Melissa Breau: Awesome. Thank you so much for coming on the podcast, Heather.

Heather Lawson: It was fun. I enjoyed it. Sorry for the bark in the back. My dog just got home from the dog walker's.

Melissa Breau: No worries. She just wanted to say hi before we got off. That's all.

Heather Lawson: Yeah, that's it.

Melissa Breau: And thank you to all of our listeners for tuning in. We will be back next week with Jake Schneider to talk about bitey dog things.

If you haven't already, subscribe to the podcast in iTunes or the podcast app of your choice to have our next episode automatically downloaded to your phone as soon as it becomes available.


Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in — and happy training!


 Today's show is brought to you by the Fenzi Dog Sports Academy. Special thanks to Denise Fenzi for supporting this podcast. Music provided royalty-free by BenSound.com; the track featured here is called "Buddy." Audio editing provided by Chris Lang.

Thanks again for tuning in -- and happy training! 

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