What Is the AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Program?

akc canine good citizen program

The American Kennel Club (AKC) is one of the most well known dog related organizations in the United States. Established in 1884, the AKC – alongside its parent breed clubs and other affiliated organizations – is responsible for developing breed characteristic standards, providing educational programs for the public, pioneering dog sport programs in the United States, and more. 

The AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program was developed to create a universal standard demonstrating responsible dog ownership and behavioral competency for dogs in the United States. If an owner-dog team passes their AKC CGC, they are certified and eligible to partake in a variety of other certification programs. 

The AKC CGC is a well-rounded program which tests a dog’s environmental stability, obedience training, social skills and more. When a dog passes their Canine Good Citizen test, an owner and the public can feel confident that the dog will exhibit safe behavior and self-control in a variety of social settings. The AKC CGC is a unique program in that it does not focus on directly improving a dog’s physical or psychological capabilities like many other types of dog training do, but instead focuses on increasing a dog’s self-control, improving sociability and environmental soundness.

dog walking outdoors

What exactly is the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen program?

The AKC’s CGC program is a nationally renowned program and certification which exemplifies that a dog is capable of behaving appropriately in a number of social situations, in addition to demonstrating calm behavior during handling and environmental stability. The AKC CGC also focuses on the other side of the leash, by having handlers sign a pledge of responsible dog ownership as well as allowing an evaluator to assess a dog’s physical state during the test. 

There are a number of AKC CGC programs available, for both adult dogs and puppies. In this article, we will focus on the foundational Canine Good Citizen program, which was developed for adult dogs.

The CGC test consists of 10 specific skills which each dog will be tested on. The skills are tested consecutively and in a very specific order. The ten skills involved in the AKC’s CGC are: 

  1. Accepting a friendly stranger: The dog is approached by the evaluator, who greets the dog’s handler while ignoring the dog. The evaluator will shake the handler’s hand and offer a brief conversational exchange.
  2. Sitting politely for petting: The dog will sit by their handler’s side before being briefly petted by the evaluator. The evaluator will pet the dog on their head and body.
  3. Appearance and grooming: The evaluator will examine the dog to assess if they appear clean, groomed and in good health. During this part of the test, the evaluator will use a brush provided by the handler and will gently brush the dog. After that, they will assess the dog’s ears and the underside of each paw.
  4. Out for a walk: This skill will assess a dog’s ability to walk on a loose leash. Typically either a simple course will be set up that the handler and dog will walk through, or the evaluator will instruct the team regarding where to go. The dog does not need to walk directly by their handler’s side, but the leash should stay loose and they should be obviously attentive of their owner.
  5. Walking through a crowd: The dog and handler will walk around several people who may be moving or stationary. This test will assess the dog’s ability to remain calm and focused on their handler around others.
  6. Sit and down on cue and stay in place: The handler cues the dog into a sit and down, and then chooses which position to leave them before asking for a “stay” cue. The handler will then walk 20ft away from their dog and back.
  7. Coming when called: A recall is performed with the handler standing 10ft from their dog.
  8. Reaction to another dog: Two dog-handler teams approach each other from 20ft away. The handlers exchange pleasantries and shake hands before moving on, while their dogs remain at their side. Dogs are not allowed to interact directly with each other during this section of the test.
  9. Reaction to distraction: This is a test related to environmental stability. The evaluator will present the dog with two distractions, such as a jogger, loud sound, or other obvious distraction.
  10. Supervised separation: This test demonstrates that a dog can be left with a trusted person without panicking. The handler leaves their dog with the evaluator and moves out of eyesight for three minutes. 

Both purebred and mixed breed dogs, of any age, are eligible to participate in AKC CGC tests where they can receive their certification if all ten skills are passed. If a dog has an AKC number, they can earn both the CGC certificate as well as the title. If a dog earns a CGC title, it will be added to the dog’s Title Record. The letters “CGC” can also be added after the dog’s name.

terrier dog walking on loose leash

What are the benefits of getting certified?

There are several benefits of attaining your dog’s AKC CGC certification. The Canine Good Citizen is meant to prepare a dog for challenges which they are likely to face in the real world, which in itself is highly beneficial for both the dog and their owner. For people who are working towards a therapy dog certification, or who are interested in pursuing therapy dog work, the AKC CGC is generally a prerequisite. 

For individuals who rent or reside in student accommodation, a CGC certification is a valuable tool for demonstrating that your dog is unlikely to be a liability or cause property damage. For individuals who get puppies which they intend to train for service dog work, the AKC CGC helps to prepare them for some of the environmental challenges they will face as adults. 

The CGC program can also be very useful for anyone intending to get their dog involved in sports. Teaching dogs skills such as interacting appropriately with humans, behaving in a dog neutral manner toward other dogs, and not startling at distractions are all very useful foundational skills for virtually all dog sports. 

There are other benefits to getting certified which are directly associated with a dog’s AKC record. AKC offers a variety of more advanced Canine Good Citizen certifications and titles for dogs who have already attained their CGC. These programs include the AKC Community Canine and AKC Urban CGC. Additionally, for those seeking to earn their Trick Dog title, having a CGC title will halve the number of tricks necessary to attain the TKN.

How can I get my AKC CGC?

If you are interested in getting your dog’s AKC CGC, you must first train in preparation for taking the test. The means through which you decide to do your training will depend on your individual preferences, and all can be very effective in preparing you for the CGC exam. 

  • You can do the training yourself. If you have some dog training experience and are dedicated, it is possible to prepare for the CGC test on your own. Although quite a bit of the training can be done at home, it will be necessary to train in a variety of public environments as well so your dog is able to generalize the behaviors.


  • Work one on one with a trainer. If you don’t feel comfortable doing the training on your own, you can get private lessons from a reputable trainer who will help prepare you and your dog for the CGC test. One benefit to working with a trainer is that it will allow you to work on other behaviors that you may want to teach in addition to the CGC test items.


  • Find a group class. Group obedience classes can be an excellent way to prepare for the CGC. Since the test is often done in a small group setting or in a public place, group settings help habituate dogs to focusing around other dogs and people. Our group classes cover all of the obedience skills that your dog will require to successfully complete their CGC evaluation. 

Attaining their AKC CGC is an exciting milestone for every dog-handler team. It is accessible to most all dogs and their owners, and has a number of practical benefits in real world settings as well. If you are interested in pursuing your dog’s AKC CGC, we can answer your questions and prepare you for taking – and passing – the test. Find a professional dog trainer in your area today!

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