Mar 202011

AKC’s Canine Good Citizen program is in many ways excellent: it invites people to begin training their dogs, to teach basic manners, to go to classes, and even to walk into the “ring” for the first time.  I have long supported this appealing program, have taught CGC classes, and have directed many novices to it as an appropriate beginning…

However, the CGC program, and state legislative resolutions endorsing this program, has some profoundly worrisome potential consequences for future dogs and their owners.  Please take a few minutes to carefully consider not only the details of the program, but also the way it might be used or manipulated in coming years. These questions may not immediately seem correct—they are contrary to how you have likely thought about the CGC program for years or decades—but they are well worth our careful contemplation.

First, let me recount a disturbing historical pattern: time after time leaders in the dog world have supported seemingly positive ideas that have been usurped by the Animal Rights movement to divide animal owners into little groups that could easily be conquered. Our own programs have repeatedly been distorted into weapons against dogs and the people who love them:

  1. We encouraged spaying and neutering for most casual owners for lots of seemingly good reasons and for years we told people it was the responsible thing to do. Animal Rights supporters took it over and legislated mandatory S/N.
  2. We encouraged people to revile pet stores, backyard breeders, puppymills, designer breeds. We said adoption was wonderful.  They took it a step further and said only adopt, and let’s make all those bad options illegal.
  3. We said vaccinate your dogs as appropriate.  They said keep all dogs ‘utd’ on all shots on our schedule, even if it is a bad schedule, or you are abusing your dog.
  4. We said that people should not get more dogs than they could handle as this would lead to inadequate care, they legislated that nobody can own more than X dogs.
  5. We preached that people not leave dogs in hot cars with the windows rolled up.  They tweaked that message to become never leave any dog in any car or you are an abuser.
  6. We encouraged people to provide better veterinary care for their animals, and now absurd veterinary choices like how often to clean teeth are being used to seize people’s dogs.

In essence, we have spent decades trying to share our views of the ideal, and how we can all nudge closer to perfection for our animals, and AR advocates have twisted our fundamentally good ideas to be horrific ideas by insisting that the loftiest of ideals ought to become the legal minimum.

I believe that the CGC is another initially positive program that will soon be used to divide dogs and owners. Just as in all the other cases above, the distance between the message that people should teach their dogs basic manners and the message that every dog must pass this test is a very short and slippery one.

Not only does the CGC set a very dangerous precedent, but also it contains some intrinsic problems:

  1. Dogs are NOT citizens.  People are.  People are responsible for ensuring that their dogs’ behavior is not disruptive to society.  The onus must always remain on owners to be responsible citizens, not dogs.  Otherwise we set ourselves up for ARs to start passing not only breed specific laws, but soon behavior specific laws.
  2. Dogs are not good or bad. They simply are what their nature and experiences make them, and “goodness” is not a relevant value judgment. Dogs that cannot pass this test are not bad.  Not even less good. Low drive, non-reactive, docile, agreeable dogs are not the only good dogs! There are many sorts of dogs (and other species) that may not be well suited to the CGC test but are fabulous pets.  People own different sorts of dogs for countless different reasons and in countless different ways. So long as they can keep those pets safely and humanely, that should be just fine.

The CGC program perpetuates the ever narrowing range of what is a “good” dog.  Prey drive, reactivity, fearfulness, over-confidence, exuberance, protectiveness, and playfulness are not bad. Whatever dog an individual wants to own is a good dog if its owner keeps it safely and does not allow it to impinge upon anyone else’s rights.  Nothing else should matter to society or our legislature.

People absolutely should be encouraged to teach their dogs basic manners, and much more, but as we support this process we must be extremely careful that we do not inadvertently support the notion that any dog that cannot pass a particular test must be a bad dog. If this is endorsed at the state level, what municipality would want to welcome dogs that are not good citizens?  What will happen to the millions of great dogs who are not suited to this test, or the millions of dogs whose owners are not willing or able to pursue the CGC?

The language and attitude of the CGC program plays perfectly into the hands of the AR movement. I have little doubt that the AKC believes it is a defense against such attacks—that by demonstrating how well-mannered these dogs are we prevent bad laws, but I believe this is exactly the same as the other examples I cited in that it will have the opposite effect over time—it will create a line that will eventually be used to criminalize everyone who is on the wrong side.  It may temporarily save the handful of dogs that have CGCs, but it will do so by sacrificing the vast majority of dogs and owners. Admittedly the CGC program becoming mandatory would be a huge financial victory for the AKC, and a huge practical victory for the AR movement, but it would be a huge loss for dogs everywhere.

40 states and the US Senate have already passed resolutions “endorsing the CGC test and supporting its effort to promote responsible dog ownership.”  Insurance companies have already offered discounts for dogs with CGCs. These are the first steps on a short path to making dogs without CGCs uninsurable and ultimately illegal. This test will simply become one more excuse to eliminate millions of pet homes and pets.

Some readers will perceive this post as being overly paranoid, others will feel that the benefits of the CGC program outweigh these risks, others stopped reading long ago! These are all fine responses, you must decide for yourself how you feel, I merely wanted to lay out some issues in hopes you will give some serious thought to future consequences.  It is no longer sufficient for us to innocently create programs that under ideal circumstances might be a good idea.  We must ask ourselves: How will this tool be used by those who seek to eliminate animal ownership?

 March 20, 2011  Posted by at 6:15 pm

  14 Responses to “Examining the Canine Good Citizen Program”

  1. This is a really thoughtful post and I’m glad you wrote it. We always need to think of the unintended consequences of actions that may appear purely positive on the surface.

    I think one protection that can keep CGC requirements from being too draconian is the common sense of the testers. If testers use the CGC as guidelines to demonstrate a person and his dog are working appropriately together in a public setting instead of a litmus test of good or bad dogs, it remains useful.

    For myself, I’m working toward the CGC because it gives me a training benchmark to shoot for.

    But I have had other dogs that would not have passed and were still great dogs.

    Also, I loved your emphasis on putting the responsibility on people, instead of on the dogs. Dogs are only required to be dogs. People are the ones who need to be responsible to each other.

  2. This is a fabulous article! May it be reposted with proper attribution?

  3. I love this CGC article, because I raise giant dogs in New York City, two conditions that do
    not lend themselves to much of the CGC requirements. Yet my dogs are well-mannered, well
    socialized, and have marvelous dispositions. I have taken them everywhere for the past
    30-plus years, and wherever they go, they make everyone who meets them laugh, surely
    a worthy raison d’etre for any dog.

    So, no, I don’t want to be hemmed-in by the rigidity of CGC as usually administered or any other
    so-called training program.

    May I have X-post permission for this article with proper attribution, of course.. I’d like to X-post it
    to a few breed and animal-law lists, and to Facebook if I can figure out how to get in on FB.


  4. Geneva,

    Certainly! Glad you found it interesting…

  5. Roland, does your permission to Geneva to X-post include anyone else? I, too, requested
    X-post permission for your and Lauren’s excellent essay on CGC. Thanks.

  6. WOW… and wow again, most thought provoking, and i hope that your voice will be heard.
    thank you.

  7. As I wrote this post, I worried about the future, about bills and laws that we would see a few years from now. Little did I imagine that only a few weeks later we would see a Bill proposed in NY that exemplifies the very issues I was discussing. Fortunately, this particular Bill (S61-2011) was defeated, but it is nonetheless powerfully alarming as an indicator of what we are likely to see in the future:

    Obedience training; required.

    1. The commissioner shall by rule or regulation establish requirements for basic obedience courses for dogs and their owners which must be successfully completed pursuant to this section. Such requirements shall include instruction for the owner on the principles of dog training, and instruction on and practice of obedience training by both the dog and its owner. Furthermore, the commissioner shall establish minimum requirements for the successful completion of such basic obedience courses.

    2. The commissioner shall establish requirements for dog obedience schools which are authorized to provide the basic dog obedience courses for dogs and their owners as required by this section.

    3. The owner of any dog reaching the age of one year shall, on or before the date such dog reaches one year of age or within one hundred eighty days of receiving ownership of such dog, whichever shall be later, successfully complete, with his or her dog, a basic obedience course.

    4. Upon successful completion of a basic obedience course for dogs and their owners, the dog obedience school shall issue a certificate to the owner that he or she and his or her dog have completed such course. Upon presentation of such a certificate to a licensing clerk by the owner of a dog, such clerk shall issue, free of charge, to the dog owner a yellow metal tag which shall be affixed to a collar on the dog at all times. Such yellow metal tags shall be issued to licensing clerks by the department.

  8. Here at home I have six AKC champions. I think they would all fail a CGC, and this really is no reflection on the dogs or their training– some breeds are just not suited for the test. My male Chesapeake Bay Retriever probably has the best likelihood of passing . . . except he is extremely protective of me. This is a breed characteristic and it is bred in the bone. Some CBRs have made fantastic TDI dogs, so I know they’re not all like that. But for years, Ransom and I traveled alone together in strange cities all over the country. He has a rock-solid temperament, and I want him to be protective, and not particularly accepting of strangers. That’s his “job.”

    My other dogs are all American Foxhounds and they never sit. Seriously. The oldest is 11, and I haven’t seen any of them sit as adult dogs. (Obviously with conformation dogs, we don’t train to sit for treats.) Lie down, sure– stand up, of course. Sit? What? Are they excellent canine “citizens”? Absolutely, and wonderful mentors for the breed.

    Like every other dog “thing” one size does not fit all. It is indeed frightening that the AR zealots could twist this aspiration into a requirement. Excellent piece, thanks for writing it. I am going to post the link to it on our kennel club’s Facebook page.

  9. Roland, that New York State Senate bill mandating universal obedience training was not only defeated, it
    never got out of committee, and it never had a co-sponsors or, more importantly, a corresponding
    bill in the State Assembly. It was introduced by one state senator, who has previously introduced
    the same bill with just as much lack of interest, and the State Senate Agricultural Committee simply
    dismissed it. I don’t suppose the requirement that dogs who complete obedience training wear a
    YELLOW tag on their collars went over too well in New York City, reminiscent as a yellow tag would
    be of yellow armbands that Jews were required to wear during the Holocaust.

  10. Another thought you might like to add……we said that permanent ID for dogs was a good idea, and now mandatory microchipping for all is being proposed.
    Tattooing…..NOT an option, according to Social Compassion in Legislation, and naturally tattooing is dissed by the microchip manufacturers who stand to gain so much from the use of the chips. Never mind that these chips can cause death by infection or hemorrhage, can migrate or fail, can have obsolete info or NO info if not registered, or that reliance on their use will cause people to stop using visible forms of ID like tattoos and collars with tags. Visible ID prevents entry into shelters as dogs can be RTO by the first person who finds the. Can’t have that now, can we?
    SB 702…….up for a vote of the state senate. Please contact your state senator to voice your opposition.


  11. I have four very wonderful dogs. Three rescues, one from a breeder. Not a single one of them could pass the CGC test. Yet my oldest dog is well over half way to two Agility Championship titles. Not bad for a girl who came out of a shelter so reactive that she would strangle herself on the end of the leash if she saw another dog two blocks away!

  12. I don’t think you are being paranoid at all. I have seen too much the past 40 years, as the AR movement went from ‘let’s be better to other species’ to ‘all humans are evil and must be separated from all other animal species’. I have had no other pets but rescues my entire life (I’m 49). Not a one of my current 4 dogs, would pass all of the CGC testing, yet each is a wonderful companion and completely trustworthy both with humans and other species. I love that they are NOT identical in temperament and reaction, and would no more expect them to be the ‘same’ than I would humans. There is no “one size fits all.”

  13. This is an amazing post. I being a schutzhund enthusiast strongly feel for it. If my dog has schh1,2,3 then that itself is way overqualified than CGC.

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