Black cocker spaniel sitting in sun ready for trick dog titles

Canine Good Citizen Training At Home: How We Did It

When I decided to work with my dog on canine good citizen training, I looked into different offerings. You might have heard of the Canine Good Citizen test offered by the American Kennel Club (AKC). I’m here to explain what it is, how we trained at home, and how the title of CGC benefits you and your dog.

Spoiler Alert: It’s lots of fun, and your bond with your dog is further strengthened.

The AKC awarded my Cocker Spaniel, Dexter, Canine Good Citizen (CGC) status and it happened purely on a whim. He never took a class to train for it, we didn’t practice the specific elements of the test previously, and only on the prompting of family and friends did we decide to try it.

Though the status is awarded to the dog and honors the commitment of the owner to train the dog to be a “canine good citizen,” the series of elements involved are ones all dogs should know.

Whether or not you decide to have your dog tested and aim for the title, check out these test segments and determine whether your dog would pass. I also noted Dexter’s reaction to each and how he “learned” the behavior by ‘training’ with me at home.

Normally, there are no distractions in the vicinity when the dog is being tested. However, since the testing occurred at a very busy pet expo, there were a lot of distractions. Here’s what you need to know and why your dog should have the AKC’s CGC title.

What is Canine Good Citizen?

The American Kennel Club introduced the Canine Good Citizen test in 1989. The CGC test has become a benchmark for responsible pet ownership and a stepping stone for many dogs toward therapy work, service roles, or simply being model canine companions, which is why I tested with my Cocker Spaniel, Dexter.

The CGC test is a series of ten exercises that evaluate your dog’s behavior in everyday situations, ranging from meeting strangers to navigating through crowds with poise and confidence.

Going through the CGC test will expose your dog to basic obedience skills (walking on a leash, sitting, staying, coming when called, etc.) The relationship between me and my dog was strengthened throughout the test, and I already thought it was super strong. More about that later and what our tester said to me.

Ultimately, your dog becomes a better citizen in their community, but you gain so much more, which we will discuss further down.

The fee to test your dog for CGC went up five dollars from the $10 I paid years ago. It costs $15 to take the test. If you want the CGC title added to your dog’s official registration, it costs a total of $25.

An official AKC-approved evaluator watches your dog perform the tasks required. The AKC website has a tool to find approved evaluators in your area. You can also connect with local dog trainers in your area to inquire about testing and training, if desired. There is not a virtual option to test your dog for the CGC title.

Cocker Spaniel Dexter achieved his Canine Good Citizen training at home
Dexter, my sweet beloved boy.

Overview of CGC Ten Exercises

There are 10 elements to the Canine Good Citizen test. Your dog must pass each element successfully in order to be awarded the CGC title.

The goal of the 10 exercises is to assess you dog’s temperament, obedience, and ability to behave appropriately in various real-world situations, hence a ‘canine good citizen.’

In addition to each exercise, I’ll share how my dog learned that particular task at home. I had no idea I was ‘training’ him, but wow did it pay off!

Accepting a Friendly Stranger

The dog must exhibit confidence and show no signs of aggression or shyness when approached by a friendly stranger.

Dexter: He sat and stared lovingly as the tester talked to me.

How he learned: From the time he was a puppy, we exposed him to people, sitting in place, and letting people meet and greet him —from children to adults.

Sitting Politely for Petting

The dog should remain calm and sit politely while being petted by a stranger, demonstrating good manners and tolerance.

Dexter: He sat by my side as the tester asked if she may pet my dog. Dexter allowed petting on his head and body while the tester talked to him. No shyness or resentment displayed.

How he learned: We allowed people to pet him from the time he was a pup.

Appearance and Grooming

This exercise evaluates the dog’s reaction to being groomed and handled, including brushing, checking paws, and ears. The dog should show acceptance and not display fear or aggression.

Dexter: Allowed the handler to touch his paws, head, ears.

How he learned: I brushed his teeth, touched his paws, and brush him daily. He also allows the vet and groomer to handle him.

Out for a Walk (Loose Leash Walking)

The dog should walk politely on a loose leash, without pulling or straining, demonstrating good leash manners and control by the handler.

Dexter: We were instructed to walk and turn left, then right, and do an about turn with at least one stop in between. He did it perfectly.

How he learned: Frequent walks in different environments.

Walking Through a Crowd

The dog and handler navigate through a small crowd of people, demonstrating the dog’s ability to remain calm and under control in a public setting.

Dexter: While on the leash, Dexter walked by my side through people who were having a casual conversation. No jumping or pulling on the leash.

How he learned: He travels with us and is exposed to crowds and different situations.

Sit and Down on Command / Staying in Place

The dog should respond promptly to commands to sit and lie down, and stay in place for a specified duration, showing obedience and self-control.

Dexter: Did sit and down until the tester told me to instruct him to stay. I then was told to walk 10 to 15 feet away from Dexter. He nailed it.

How he learned: He actually learned this by accident at home. I wanted Dexter to know “stay,” so while in the house on cold and rainy days, I taught him.  I slowly increased the amount of space between Dexter sitting and my distance from him. Once I say “Dexter, come” command, Dex comes to me and receives his ball or treat as a reward.

Meeting dog trainer Victoria Stillwell
Me and Dexter meeting dog trainer Victoria Stillwell

Coming When Called

The dog should come when called by the handler, demonstrating reliability and responsiveness to commands, even at a distance.

Dexter: Dex stayed in place as I walked away. When the tester said to call him, I said “Dexter come” and my little boy walked right to me.

How he learned: See above.

Reaction to Another Dog

The dog should demonstrate good manners and remain calm when approached by another dog, showing tolerance and appropriate social behavior.

Dexter: Two people and their dogs walked by us. As we passed them, we exchanged hellos and how are you’s and kept walking. Dex was fine.

How he learned: Walking by other dogs and their owners in different situations: on walks, on trips, in the neighborhood.

Reaction to Distractions

The dog should remain focused and composed in the presence of common distractions, such as loud noises or unexpected movements, showing confidence and resilience.

Dexter: I had my concerns on this one. I walked with Dexter and the tester and she dropped a set of keys and then a clipboard onto a concrete floor. Dex isn’t fond of fireworks so I was concerned a loud sound would bother him. Nope. He looked mildly at the clipboard and kept walking. In fact, it appeared my boy shot the tester a ‘well that was annoying’ Cocker-tude look.

How he learned: He has been exposed to different situations and different people in his short 2 years.

Supervised Separation

The dog should be able to stay calm and relaxed when left briefly with a trusted person, showing confidence and trust in the handler’s return.

Dexter: I figured he’d blow this one. He’s a mama’s boy and I am around him all the time, working from my home office, etc. I had to leave Dexter with the tester (I told him “sit, stay”) and then I was instructed to walk away. I had to stay out of sight for three minutes without Dexter barking or whining.

How he learned: When teaching Dexter “come” in my home, sometimes I would hide out of sight. He wasn’t allowed to “come” until he heard me say “okay Dexter, come” and he would get a treat as a reward. When he broke “stay,” before I gave the command, I would just take him back to the starting point and do it over.

He learned fast. So we applied the same principle to this task. I held my breath. Dex did break stay but didn’t lunge forward, whine or bark.  Not until right after the tester told me to come back from behind the curtain I was hiding did Dex whimper a bit for me.

After the CGC Test

He made me so proud, even though I knew he was very good boy even before this test.

Seeing him in action and display the really cool “games” we practiced at home thrilled me. Positive reinforcement is key. Never yell or scold the dog for not doing a command. Practice makes near perfect and eventual perfection.

Think like the dog and use treats and their favorite toys as rewards. When the dog does the command you’ve asked of them , throw a verbal party, i.e.: “Good boy, Dexter, way to go,” clap and act like they just won Westminster. This is their moment.

Do it times ten and you too can have your Canine Good Citizen moment as well. My favorite moment came when the tester told me that my dog loves me and we have a very special bond together. That was my reward and true accomplishment that I carry with me to this day.

Dog jumping an agility bar for exercise

What If My Dog Doesn’t Pass CGC

My friend and her dog were with us on the day of the test, and her pooch didn’t pass. Don’t be discouraged (easier said than done, I know.) Ironically, she and her dog trained at a professional training facility, but her dog didn’t pass. Eventually, he did. Things happen. Dogs have off days, too.

The evaluator will provide feedback that you can learn from. Talk to the evaluator if you want to retest the same day, which sometimes is allowed. You may want to work on the exercises your dog didn’t pass so you can conquer it next time around.

Remember that every dog is unique, and not passing the CGC test does not diminish your bond with your pup.

If your dog struggles with certain aspects of the CGC test, you may explore alternative certifications or titles that align better with your dog’s strengths and interests. There are various canine sports and activities where your dog can excel, such as agility, obedience trials, or rally obedience. Or just play with your dog and keep them mentally and physically active.

Even if you decide not to test or retest your dog for CGC, going through the exercises is incredibly rewarding and super helpful for your dog.

Opportunities Beyond CGC Certification

Puppy parents, rejoice. You can enroll in the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program, which is a 6-week program and a natural lead-up to the CGC test.

I’ve never tried the puppy program with my dogs, but I would recommend it if you can.

CGC certification opens doors to various opportunities, such as involvement in therapy dog programs, participation in dog sports, or even serving as a testament to a dog’s good behavior in rental housing or public spaces with breed-specific legislation.

Dog with AKC intermediate dog trick title ribbon
Alvin is proud of his titles

In addition to CGC, you may consider AKC trick dog titles for fun and to bond with your dog. My Cocker Spaniel, Alvin, is training for his CGC. In the meantime, however, we trained at home and passed both the AKC Trick Dog Novice title and AKC Trick Dog Intermediate Title in the meantime.

Get started on your AKC CGC journey, but whatever you decide, life is short so have fun with your dog!

How to train for the Canine Good Citizen test at home as a dog looks on


  1. Thank You so much for the information on what it take to have your dog passed the test for the AKC Canine Good Citizen test. I often thought about it for Schooner. It was very interesting!

  2. Reading throught what it takes, I am confident my Odie could do all but walking through a crowd. This we would need a lot of practice. He is so friendly he would attemp to greet everyone we passed. A very interesting read! Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.