Can I have a drumroll, please? Can someone toss the confetti? My dog is official an AKC trick dog, achieving both the novice and intermediate titles! An AKC trick dog title helps instill confidence and so much more in dogs. I don’t plan to have my dog do television, commercials, or movies; my dog and I worked towards our AKC trick dog titles for other reasons.
Here’s the scoop, why we did it, and how your dog can train for his or her trick dog title.
Canine Good Citizen
The American Kennel Club launched the Canine Good Citizen Program in 1989. It’s designed to teach responsible dog ownership behaviors to pet parents, while dogs learn basic training and good manners. The core of the program is the 10-step testing process. Whether pedigree or mutt, spunky Sparky or golden oldie, dogs of all shapes, sizes, and ages are eligible.
Most basic obedience classes or formalized CGC training sessions cover the skills needed for a pooch to pass the test, but I taught my dog from the comfort of home. That was in 2011. Fast forward to 2017 and Dexter and I wanted more. After getting to know Certified Professional Dog Trainer and CGC Evaluator, Geralynn Cada, this dog mom caught the trick title bug and set her sights on success.
The CGC title qualifies a dog to have five of the ten required tricks needed for the title of AKC Trick Dog Beginner. With five tricks under our belt, I decided to work with Dex and reward him with behaviors he already knew. In other words, my dog has a job: he feels good doing these things, gets a reward for doing so, and the crème de la crème: Our bond as dog mom/dog is further strengthened. That last part is my personal favorite.
Live in Harmony With Our Pets
Cada believes we should live in harmony with our pets, and I share in that philosophy. The sheer number of euthanized animals in this country due to ‘behavioral problems’ is a sickening epidemic. Dogs who partake in an activity, such as trick training, are more inclined to have confidence, feel valued and a part of their family’s pack, and most of all, are happy. Imagine if all the throwaway dogs in shelters suddenly had positive reinforcement training and love. Ask any shelter worker what their dream is and you will likely be told an empty animal shelter because each pet has a loving home.
Trick Training: Why Do It?
My why is personal: I want to strengthen and enhance the bond I share with my dog. He is happy doing what the AKC dubs ‘tricks.’ In essence, these tricks are actually behaviors that most dogs should know anyway as part of being an overall good canine citizen. It’s 2017 and dogs are citizens, after all.
My dog loves to please. He gets so excited when we make a fuss over his antics, so we (my wife and I) decided long ago to harness his talents and channel them into confidence builders. In other words, my dog is a happy dog. We built a life for him with happy as an end result. His overall demeanor and wigglebutt wag of the tail are indicators of success.
A dog who performs a few tricks for you is likely to be a dog who won’t pull on a leash. Dogs who share that unspoken bond with their humans are more inclined to channel that bond outside of trick training and performing time. It’s a win-win for today’s modern dog parent.
One of my proudest moments in training with Dexter came after his CGC title. I held my breath as the tester looked at the two of us and said, “You have quite the bond with your dog,” and then proceeded to tell me we passed.
AKC Trick Dog Title: Novice
There are two trick dog titles and two ways to earn them. For us, I practiced 15 minutes a day with Dexter, always ending on a positive note, for a few months. My dog is 9 years young, and our practice sessions have ensued over the years. The 15-minute practice sessions were more of a reinforcement, so if you are just starting out, be happy, be joyful, be engaged, and never scold a dog for not ‘getting it right.’ Not every dog is meant to be a trick dog, but every dog can form a loving bond with their human if properly trained, loved upon, and given respect.
Each level of AKC Trick Dog has its own requirements, so you can read more about those trick dog requirements here.
Here’s a video of me and Dexter practicing the 5 tricks we did for novice level this summer, which we passed!!!
AKC Trick Dog: Intermediate
Heck, why stop at novice when your dog has the wherewithal to conquer the intermediate level of AKC Trick Dog title. In pursuing this bonding experience, my spouse and I decided to see if Dexter would perform the additional ‘tricks’ necessary to obtain his intermediate title.
The application process is the same, and we had everything ready to go. In most cases, I would not recommend you test the dog for multiple titles in one testing session, but Dexter was raring to go and ready for it. With only 5 elements needed for his Novice level, we decided to try it and see how he would do testing for Intermediate.
For the intermediate title, handlers are not permitted to use food or toy lures. We are, however, allowed to use food rewards/clickers, of which we used treat rewards. The treat should be a high value one for training.
Check out the Intermediate Checklist here.
Here’s our practice video, and after much practice, fun, and good vibes, we passed!
Is My Dog a Good Candidate for AKC Trick Dog Titles?
Yes, you can teach an old dog new tricks. Yes, you can start a puppy into training. The AKC has a test called AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy designed to get puppies off to a good start.
Get clearance from your dog’s veterinarian before starting any sort of training. Keep some basic tenets to training a dog in mind, whether you want to try for a title or just to have a generally well-behaved dog:
- Never spank nor hit a dog. In her book, It’s Me or the Dog famed positive reinforcement trainer and star of her own dog behavior show on Animal Planet, Victoria Stilwell, writes, “When you hit a dog, you teach him to fear you, break his trust, and you weaken his confidence. Insecure dogs are the one who are more likely to lash out in an aggressive display.” Dogs are bigger spirits than we as humans. Watch an abused dog as he or she is rescued from a kennel; I’ve lost count to the number of dogs I’ve seen wag. They trust us, believe in us, and give us second chances. Give them a break, don’t hit, don’t slap. Teach, strengthen the bond, and simply love. Putting your hand(s) on a dog as a form of punishment is not only wrong but as harmful to the relationship you want with your dog.
- Use positive reinforcement.
- Never force a dog to do something.
- Start slow.
- Work in short bursts- no more than 10 to 15 minutes and always end on a positive note.
- Don’t get frustrated or mad at the dog: Patience is key.
- Introduce your dogs to others at a young age. If your dog is older, consider talking to a positive reinforcement animal behaviorist.
- No matter your dog’s age, keep them mentally happy and engaged. One of the greatest joys of being a dog parent is bonding with your dog.
Do you believe your dog is capable of becoming a canine good citizen and potentially holding trick dog titles? Here are the elements the CGC tests for:
- Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger.
- Test 2: Sitting politely for petting.
- Test 3: Appearance and grooming.
- Test 4: Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead)
- Test 5: Walking through a crowd.
- Test 6: Sit and down on command and Staying in place.
- Test 7: Coming when called.
- Test 8: Reaction to another dog.
- Test 9: Reaction to distraction.
- Test 10: Supervised separation
Fidose friend, June Myers, recently passed the Therapy Dog test with her dog, Lucy, who went from homeless to hero of local nursing homes and various facilities. For each dog, there is a purpose. What’s your dog’s purpose? Bark at us in the comments below.
BONUS: Join us in Club Cocker: Wigglebutts Worldwide, a free and educational/fun Facebook group!
Here’s Dexter celebrating with his evaluator, Geralynn Cada: