What I Learned from Failing Our Canine Good Citizen Test

Knowing that I'm managing Doodle enthusiasm, I spent most of February and March focused on the Canine Good Citizen test tasks that I thought Bernie would have the most trouble with.

During the five weeks of preparatory classes, Bernie made huge strides.

Accepting a Friendly Stranger, Sitting Politely for Petting, and Appearance and Grooming

During the test, Bernie sat by my side while the friendly stranger approached me to say hello, he let her pet him, and he even seemed to enjoy the brushing that she gave him. He was fine with his ears being checked and his front paws being handled. Six weeks ago, he would not have been 100% reliable for these exercises.

Walking on a Loose Leash

Bernie loves his walks, and we chat all the time while we're out. Walking around cones to demonstrate a left turn, a right turn, a sit midway, several long strides in between, and a sit at the end are all activities that we practice regularly. He did well paying attention to my cues.

 Bernie McSquare practices his loose-leash walking skills during our Canine Good Citizen class. See that black dog on the right? That's Lola. She rocked not only her CGC test, but also her Community Canine (CGCA) test! Photo Courtesy of Crystal Blaker, Ruff House Dog Training & Behavior Modification.

Bernie McSquare practices his loose-leash walking skills during our Canine Good Citizen class. See that black dog on the right? That's Lola. She rocked not only her CGC test, but also her Community Canine (CGCA) test! Photo Courtesy of Crystal Blaker, Ruff House Dog Training & Behavior Modification.

Walking through a Crowd

As Bernie and I walked into the crowd of three people, he almost immediately pulled away from me to try to sniff and jump on one of the friendly strangers. I knew that we had failed this task, but I was hoping it might be the only one, which would mean we could get another shot at walking through a crowd.

Sit and Down on Command / Stay

We practice down-stays frequently. Before we went into the CGC test, we were practicing down-stays in the parking lot, so he listened when I gave him the down cue. For demonstrating stay, he's allowed to be in either position, so I placed him back into a sit. I place him in sit-stays when we're out on walks for pictures, so he's pretty solid with his sit-stay. I walked away from him, paused, and walked back to my guy.

Coming When Called

I moved Bernie to another location within the testing area and placed him in another sit-stay. I walked to the designated cone and recalled him. The two friendly strangers were sitting and watching at this point. When Bernie burst into a full-blown run toward me, I heard both women making "Awww!" sounds. Yep, my guy's recall is pretty adorable. You'd think we had been separated for years!

Reaction to Another Dog

One of the friendly strangers went to get her dog and Crystal, the CGC test administrator, verified that we had not met this pup before. We each walked toward one another to meet and greet. Bernie sat by my side while I shook the friendly stranger's hand. Just as I was ready to move on, he darted behind me, pulling on the leash, to try to meet the neutral dog. We had just failed the test, and my heart sank.

 Bernie McSquare practices ignoring the other dog during Canine Good Citizen Class. He's sitting so far away from me, he must think I have the Plague! Photo Courtesy of Crystal Blaker, Ruff House Dog Training & Behavior Modification.

Bernie McSquare practices ignoring the other dog during Canine Good Citizen Class. He's sitting so far away from me, he must think I have the Plague! Photo Courtesy of Crystal Blaker, Ruff House Dog Training & Behavior Modification.

Reaction to Distractions

One of the friendly strangers walked by Bernie with a walker. He sat and watched. The other friendly stranger dropped something. I don't know what the noise was, but it was loud and behind us. Bernie snapped his head to look, but he didn't move or even bark. I was confident that Bernie could handle both the moving and auditory distractions. We take him to so many places, he's used to strange noises and disruptions. While he'll initially startle, he recovers quickly.

Supervised Separation

Bernie sat with the friendly strangers for the required three minutes. A year ago, I would never have been able to leave him with a friendly stranger. I couldn't even leave him with Matthew. He would see me walk away and start whining and crying. With time, I think Bernie just trusts that both Matthew and I will always come back, so when we leave him now, he's much less stressed.

When I reflect on his abilities to follow cues from one year ago to now, I'm truly happy with how much progress he's made. He's a smart people pleaser with an incredible sense of empathy.

 Bernie McSquare sat with my friend Dawn for just over three minutes while I hid around the corner. When I walked toward Bernie, he sat calmly waiting for me.

Bernie McSquare sat with my friend Dawn for just over three minutes while I hid around the corner. When I walked toward Bernie, he sat calmly waiting for me.

So what went wrong?

I overestimated Bernie's ability to ignore people and pups that he wants to meet. And here I thought Doodle enthusiasm would be our downfall for Accepting a Friendly Stranger.

I've lost count of the number of times Matthew and I have shook hands over the past several weeks trying to help Bernie prepare for that CGC test item. And that effort paid off. When an actual friendly stranger approached me, Bernie remained in his sit-stay.

However, the lure of friendly strangers and another good looking pup while we were walking were just too much for Bernie McSquare and I didn't help him manage his enthusiasm within those moments. 

We need more practice! Practice makes practically perfect. With more practice, I know we can pass CGC.

What are your next steps?

First, I don't want to lose any of the skills that Bernie demonstrated on this CGC test.

  • Matthew and I need to continue to practice meeting one another with Bernie in a sit-stay at my side. I need to enlist the help of other friends as well to play the part of the friendly stranger in meet & greets.
  • We should continue to handle Bernie's paws, which he can get a little touchy about. He gnaws his paws when he's anxious, so I think he's extra-sensitive about having his paws touched and squeezed.
  • While I'm out on walks, I need to keep practicing sit-stays and down-stays. I should keep chatting away with Bernie and Lizzie since that helps both of them stay engaged with me.
  • I need to remember to carry the longer lead with me at least a few times a week on our walks, so we can practice recall in a variety of locations.

To help him learn to control his Doodle enthusiasm, I need to figure out more opportunities for us to practice around strangers and other dogs.

  • Bernie and I are going to continue attending Park Obedience Class. I tend to alternate dogs, so both Bernie and Lizzie have a chance to interact in a more structured obedience training atmosphere with Crystal. However, I may ask Crystal to give me a heads up on classes that may have more attendees. The more dogs Bernie can learn  to ignore, the better. 
  • I'll be hanging outside pet stores with Bernie practicing down-stays and sit-stays as other dogs walk by.
  • I'm going to ask around more to see if anyone I know has a dog who wouldn't mind practicing with Bernie every once in a while.
  • We can keep visiting dog-friendly locations like La Encantada Shopping Mall, Bookmans, and Lowe's & Home Depot to practice walking through crowds.
  • I need to hold firm on Bernie not meeting people when he pulls toward them. People frequently get within Bernie's reach when they're asking me if they can pet my dog. That's when Bernie will pull. I have noticed that if I verbally correct Bernie for this bad behavior, the stranger usually backs off realizing that they're not actually being helpful. 

How did Bernie take failing CGC?

In Doodle stride...

 Bernie McSquare sprawls out on the bed relaxing on his back, paws in the air. Doodle life is ruff!
 What I Learned from Failing our Canine Good Citizen Test