First, I’d like to thank everyone for the amazing blog post ideas. There were so many that it was hard to settle on one to start writing about. I have been busy the past two weeks doing research and reading about things from pit bull history to breed identification. But I thought I would take the court requirement that many of the Vicktory Dogs must pass their Canine Good Citizen test before adoption as my subject this time.
When Best Friends took in the 22 most challenging of the Michael Vick fighting dogs,the court set some conditions for their care going forward. Two of the dogs were ordered to remain at the sanctuary for their whole lives: Lucas, who was MIchael Vick’s grand-champion, and Meryl, who had acted out during her initial evaluation. About half of the dogs were deemed Tier One and could be adopted out when staff felt they were ready. The adopters had to jump through several hoops, including visiting the sanctuary and interacting with the dogs, they had to pass a Federal Background Check, and provide a safely fenced environment. Best Friends helped the adopters find a positive reinforcement trainer in their area, with the goal of having the dogs pass the AKC Canine Good Citizen test (CGC) after they were home.
The Tier Two dogs (like Ray) had to pass the CGC test before they could be adopted. The CGC test is not an easy test for any dog. For dogs with fear issues, it is even more challenging. The test consists of 10 separate items, all of which must be passed in order to receive the CGC endorsement. In order to give you an idea of what these dogs had to learn, I thought I would explain each test item.
Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger. In the first test, a stranger has to walk up the handler, shake hands and have a conversation. The dog is ignored, but he can’t show any shyness, fear or impatience. He is suppose to stay quietly at the side of his handler.
Test 2: Sitting Politely for Petting. The dog is put in a sit by the handler’s side. A friendly stranger approaches and asks to pet the dog. The dog doesn’t have to stay sitting, but he does have to allow the stranger to pet him on the head and body without showing fear or resentment.
Test 3: Appearance and Grooming. This test is to demonstrate that a dog can be safely examined or groomed by a vet, groomer, or anyone else. The evaluator inspects the dog to determine if he is clean and groomed. He/she softly combs or brushes the dog, lifts and exams the ears and lifts/examines each front paw. Once again the dog cannot display fear, resentment of aggression.
Test 4: Out for a Walk (walking on a loose lead). Handler and dog walk together, performing left turns, right turns, about turn with stops in between and a stop at the end. The handler can talk to the dog during the exercise, but the dog must be attentive to commands, At no time should the leash go tight, or the dog not pay attention to what the handler is doing.
Test 5: Walking through a crowd. This test is designed to mimic walking your dog through pedestrian traffic in public places. The handler and dog have to pass close to several different people (at least 3) who are not familiar to the dog. He can show interest in the people but needs to stay with his handler, without becoming over-excited, shy or resentful. He cannot jump on people or pull at the leash.
Test 6: Sit, Down and Stay on Command. The dog must sit and down at the command of his handler. Then the handler chooses what position to put the dog in and he must stay while the handler walks 20 feet away and then returns to the dog. The dog must remain in position until the handler releases him.
Test 7: Coming When Called. The handler walks 10 feet away from the dog, and then calls him to come. The dog must come to the handler.
Test 8: Reaction to Another Dog. The handler walks the dog towards another handler and an unknown dog. They approach from about 20 feet, stop, shake hands, exchanges pleasantries. and then continue on for another 10 feet. The dogs must not show more than casual interest in each other.
Test 9: Reaction to Distraction. For this exercise the handler once again walks the dog near different unfamiliar people. Only this time, they are also providing distractions, using a wheelchair, dropping something heavy, jogging by or making loud noises. The dog can startle, but should not panic, try to run away or bark. The handler is able to talk to and reassure the dog throughout the test item.
Test 10: Supervised Separation. This test is to see if a dog can be left with a different person and still maintain good behavior. The evaluator will ask the handler if he/she can watch the dog. The handler gives her the leash and then goes out of sight for three minutes. The dog doesn’t have to hold any particular position, but cannot bark, whine, or strain at the leash. Evaluator can talk to the dog, but not be excessive in their attentions.
I don’t know about your dogs, but I think this test would be a challenge for most canine companions. For dogs who have suffered severe trauma, the test can be a huge mountain to climb. Each one of the Vicktory Dogs that Kevin and I worked with had a different test item that was difficult for them. Oscar absolutely hated to “down”. And he was prone to become overwhelmed and just “go away” mentally. It took a lot of daily practice to get him to the point of testing.
Layla was extremely dog reactive. We spent a lot of time helping her get used to other dogs so that she could pass the dog portion of the test. Kevin and his friend Michelle would take her and another dog for parallel walks every day to get her comfortable being that close to another dog. She also hated Tara’s Run, the enclosed area in dogs where the test is usually administered. We ended up doing her test in the parking lot at Parrot Garden where she was happy and comfortable. The day before Layla’s test it suddenly occurred to me that we had worked so hard on her problem areas that I had forgotten to teach her “stay” at all. We did about 15 five-minute training sessions in the next 6 hours! When it came to the “stay” portion of the test, she rocked it like a pro.
Then there was Ray. It is so hard to describe just how animated and goofy this little brown dog can be. He would get so excited when someone would go to his run, he would grab at their clothes, or snatch the leash and run away. Trying to take him for a walk and teach him not to pull was an exercise in futility. When you are trying to teach a dog not to pull, stopping as soon as the leash goes tight is an easy way of helping them figure things out. Ray’s caregiver McKenzy once counted 77 stops on one of their walks. So, the loose leash portion of the test was going to be a challenge. Check….need to work on that.
Ray can be dog reactive. Especially if he feels a dog is showing interest in him. How in the world were we going to get past the dog meet portion of the test? Lots and lots and lots of parallel walks with non-reactive dogs. We are lucky to work at the sanctuary where there are a few hundred dogs to choose from! We also taught Ray to concentrate on my face when a dog walked by. Every time he did he got lots of yummy food rewards.
And Ray’s final challenge that he had to master the “come” portion of the test. He was prone to do a “run by”. I would put him in a sit, walk the necessary distance away, and then call him. He would run towards me, and then veer off at the last possible second. It had become a game. It finally took chicken to convince him to come to me when we were training.
Ray and I would work with one of the Dogtown trainers at least once a week. But we trained together every single day. Kevin would walk him with another caregiver and dog, and I would take him to Tara’s Run and go through the entire test…again and again.
We started out treating him for every single thing he did right. Then slowly we started changing things up, so he was never sure when he would get a treat. Finally we got to the point he got a “jackpot” treat at the end of the training session. The reason we had to do this was because you are unable to use treats during the actual CGC test. Ray had to learn to wait for his reward.
On the final day of the test we were all a bundle of nerves. But Ray had obviously stayed up all night studying, because he moved through each portion of the test like an absolute pro. His trainer Cheri said we could have filmed it and used it as a demo for people who wanted to see how the test worked.
When a dog passes his CGC at the sanctuary, the evaluator gets on the two-way radio and announces the result. “Attention Dogtown, Ray has just passed his CGC”. About two seconds later one of the caregivers in Dogtown replied with an incredulous “Ray? Ray passed his CGC?”. The day we were afraid would never come – had. Ray could now come home with us.