How to Train Your Dog for the Canine Good Citizen Test

Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified
By Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified on Dec. 21, 2023
therapy dog sitting on office floor licking woman's face

The Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test was introduced by the American Kennel Club (AKC) in 1989 to promote responsible pet ownership and help dogs become upstanding members of their communities. It’s widely accepted as a badge of honor and a foundation for other dog-related pursuits. In 2019, the 1-millionth dog passed their CGC test.

The certificate serves as a prerequisite for therapy work, a foundation for dog sports, and a way to overcome behavior challenges. Insurance companies recommend it for coverage under homeowner policies, and property owners can request it for renting.

Although the Canine Good Citizen test doesn’t guarantee rights of access to public spaces not allowing dogs, it has become a program known for helping develop strong bonds between people and animals and building the confidence needed for public outings.  

What Is the Canine Good Citizen Test?

The Canine Good Ctizen test is open to all dogs of any age. If your dog is under 12 months old, consider the STAR Puppy program. Neither has formal qualifications, but all participants must be free of aggression. Growling, snapping, snarling, or biting will result in a dismissal.  

Training can be extensive, depending on your experience. Many training programs offer prep classes and administer the test once the class is complete. You can train on your own and find a certified evaluator through the AKC.

The evaluator’s role is to objectively administer and score items according to the guidelines. Professionals who train dogs for the test are permitted to score them, except for the part where your dog has to greet a friendly stranger. Someone unknown to the dog volunteers for this key role.

Some requirements apply to all test items:

  • The dog cannot ignore the owner—this could be a sign of insufficient training or stress.

  • They cannot pull, jump, lunge, bark, growl, snarl, snap, or bite at any point.

  • If the evaluator is feeling uncomfortable, they will consider everyone’s safety and stop the test.

  • Training collars and head halters are prohibited.

Training Your Pup for the Canine Good Citizen Test

A certified trainer can help train the necessary skills with positive reinforcement. Any form of overhandling, punishment, or harsh correction is not allowed.

The CGC program is known for helping develop strong bonds between people and animals and building the confidence needed for public outings.  

There are 10 core skills and you need to pass all of them. If the dog fails but does not display any aggressive behaviors, they are welcome to retest. Below are the general behaviors that, if reliable, will help your dog pass his canine good citizenship testing.

Practice Interacting with Strangers 

Canine Good Citizens should have no signs of fear, anxiety, stress, or reactivity when they are out in public. If your dog is friendly (they approach strangers, request to be petted, and don’t jump), they’re already a rock star.

If they are overly excited, you will need to work on calm approaches and keeping four paws on the ground. This will also affect the leash skills necessary to pass.

Avoidance behaviors, those signs of fear, stress, and anxiety can be subtle. If your dog turns his head away when approached, avoids eye contact, turns his body, or simply does not walk forward, they are saying “No thank you,” to the greeting.

Practice Interacting with Other Dogs

The Canine Good Citizen test for dogs does not allow contact between dogs but insists on calm, relaxed behavior where the dog is responding to the handler. They should not be afraid of the other dog, exhibit any reactivity, or pull toward them to greet.

The best approach to training this is to work on leash skills, sitting, and staying in the presence of other dogs. A well-designed CGC preparation class will focus on teaching the foundations and learning how to work with the other dogs in class.

Once your dog has these skills, it’s time to practice in public. A big-box pet store or a field next to a dog park should work.

Practice Separation From Your Pup

This requires that the dog be separated from their pet parent for three minutes, and this can pose a challenge. The human must be out of sight and the dog is permitted to stay with the evaluator.

If your dog is free of separation anxiety or isolation distress at home, practice by leaving your dog for a few moments and building up the time. You can leave them with someone new and work up to three minutes. To ensure that your dog can breeze through a three-minute separation, train them to handle five. 

Practice Patience When Groomed and Examined

Your dog will need to be comfortable with handling by others. If your dog is groomed regularly and relaxed at the vet, there may not be much to train.

To pass the canine good citizen test, your dog must remain near the examiner without trying to avoid the interaction. And of course, they must be free of any unsafe reactions.

If your dog tolerates grooming but is stressed, then using a process called desensitization and counterconditioning could help them feel differently about the experience. A certified trainer or behavior consultant can help.

Behavior tip: If your dog is anxious about handling, they may not be a candidate right now. They may have a history with handling or other sensitivities that would make this difficult. Contacting a certified dog behavior consultant could help you.

Practice Basic Obedience Skills

Basic obedience skills required for the canine good citizen certificate for dogs are sit, down, stay, and come. These are covered in most obedience classes. What might not be covered is teaching your dog how to handle higher levels of distraction.

Many therapy dog organizations will require a CGC certificate as a qualifier for dogs.

Practice these skills at home until your dog can do three sets of 10 repetitions with 90–100% accuracy. Then change your environment to include slightly more distractions and practice the skills. If your dog can sit, lay down, stay, and come in a pet-friendly store or a field outside of a dog park, they are likely ready to ace this.

Pro Tip: When working on any distance skills in public, use a long training line to keep your dog safe.

Practice Your Pup’s Walking Skills

Loose-leash walking skills involve greeting a stranger, approaching a person with a dog, walking through a course, and walking through a crowd.

If you are new to this skill, you can get started with some leash training basics. Then it’s time to advance the skill. Yes, those pet-friendly stores are perfect once you are ready. Use better treats when upping the challenge.


Can you use treats during the canine good citizen test?

Food is only allowed during training. It is prohibited during the actual test. A good CGC Prep class should teach you how to phase out the treats without hurting your dog’s performance.

Is the canine good citizen test worth it for my dog?

Yes! It helps take your basic training to the next level and build a confident relationship with your dog. Many therapy dog organizations will require a CGC certificate as a qualifier, and the skills learned could be quite helpful if you plan on them doing any dog sports.

Featured Image: Drazen Zigic/iStock/Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified


Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified

Professional Trainer

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