Therapy Dog Journey Part 2: Puppy Training and CGC Steps 1 & 3

It’s time to teach your dog a few therapy skills! If you are raising a puppy, then this article is where to start. If you are beginning therapy training with an adult dog, then you are also in the right place.

You will have two training priorities with your “therapy dog in training” alongside the typical responsibilities of puppy-raising such as house-training. 

After learning about those two priorities, we will talk about training for Step one and Step Three of the Canine Good Citizen test. These steps are based on skills that should be taught to your dog first. Even puppies need to learn these skills early on, so these are the first tests to train for.

To help provide examples in training your new puppy, we are introducing Nova. A typically energetic, friendly, and bold young puppy, Nova’s name means new, and she will be the subject of our examples.

Training Priority #1: Bite Inhibition

Imagine this scenario: Your adult dog is lying down, intently chewing his favorite toy, when suddenly a child walking by trips and falls face-to-face with him! How is your dog going to react to having his space and favorite bone so startlingly threatened?

There is a difference between whether your dog is going to react by biting to harm the child or remaining calm. That difference is called bite inhibition.

Nova’s siblings and mother would have taught her bite inhibition naturally. Without them now, her owner must take over teaching this mouth control.

This mouth control can be challenging to teach an adult dog, so it is best to do this training when puppies are very young. If you have a dog that missed bite inhibition as a puppy and is still mouthy, the same training measures may be successful given more time.

Because this topic is so important, we wanted to dedicate an article to it so that you can have useful, in-depth information. To learn how to teach your puppy to have proper bite inhibition, please read our article, Teaching Your Puppy Bite Inhibition, linked in the image below.

Only dogs with safe mouths make good therapy dogs.


Training Priority #2: Positive Exposure

Most people would call this socialization, but it’s much more than just having a good time “socializing” with his puppy and people friends. Your pup will also need positive exposure to many sights, sounds, experiences, places, surfaces, and objects.

Nova’s critical socialization period ends at just sixteen weeks of age. It starts at about six weeks, and by eight weeks when Nova is introduced to her new life, her socialization period is already halfway gone.

Just by bringing Nova into a new home, she has the opportunity to be positively exposed to all kinds of sights, sounds, footings, and interactions with animals and people. However, any of these experiences could also be negative exposures. Nova needs to be carefully introduced to each new experience and allowed time to check things out and decide if she’s safe.

Here’s what Ian Dunbar says in his book After Getting Your Puppy about positive exposure (or socialization).

“Your Most Urgent Priority is to socialize your puppy to a wide variety of people, especially children, men, and strangers, before he is twelve weeks old. Well-socialized puppies grow up to be wonderful companions, whereas antisocial dogs are difficult, time-consuming, and potentially dangerous. As a rule of thumb, your puppy needs to meet at least one hundred people before he is three months old.”

“From the very first day you get your puppy, the clock is ticking. And time flies! By eight weeks of age, your puppy’s Critical Period of Socialization is already waning and within a month, his most impressionable learning period will start to close.”

To learn how to socialize a puppy for future therapy work we recommend reading Ian Dunbar’s book Before and After Getting Your Puppy and Fernando Camacho’s book The Happy Puppy Handbook.


Socializing Young Puppies Safely

Unfortunately, a puppy’s most critical socialization period comes before the typical schedule of puppy vaccinations is completed. Many people will tell you that your pup is in danger of contracting deadly diseases until he has had every recommended vaccine.

Puppies are indeed more susceptible to diseases like parvovirus until about four months of age. However, there are safe ways and places to socialize your puppy before he is four months old. And it is vitally important that you implement these safe ways to give your pup positive exposure.

Here are some steps you can take to keep your puppy healthy while exploring the world.

  1. Choose clean places to visit. Avoid letting your puppy explore dog parks, veterinary offices, pet stores, and places where other dogs frequent.
  2. Carry your puppy. Instead of letting your puppy walk where there may be germs to pick up, carry him in your arms or a pet carrier. Consider using a pet stroller, wagon, or a shopping cart (after sanitizing it) to give larger puppies a ride.
  3. Clean his paws. Use antibacterial wipes after visiting new places where you let your puppy down to walk around. Or even better, go home and give him a nice warm bath.
  4. Bring your own water. Instead of letting your puppy go thirsty or drink from puddles, fountains, or other water sources in the community, bring your own water.
  5. Give him a healthy lifestyle. Allow your pup to get all the sleep he needs. Encourage exercise with frequent, short games of chase, fetch and tug. Bathe him regularly and keep his living spaces clean.
  6. Boost his immune system. Utilize immune-boosting supplements to protect him against infections. Colostrum, raw coconut oil, and homemade bone broth are three of our favorite immune-boosting and infection-fighting foods for puppies.


CGC Step #1: Accepting a Friendly Stranger

Now you know why socialization for Nova is essential. This CGC step will test her acceptance of a friendly stranger. Is she ready to allow a friendly stranger to approach her owner?

In the first test of the Canine Good Citizen, the Evaluator will approach the handler/owner, and they will exchange greetings. This is not the time that your dog should greet the Evaluator. The next step in the CGC is Sitting Politely for Petting which we will address in Part 6 of this series along with other people skills your dog will need.

Hopefully, as a puppy, Nova will be introduced to as many new people as possible by the time she is three or four months old. Nova needs strange people to say hello and handle her. Nova needs to be comfortable enough to allow anyone to pet, hug or hold her, and examine her (your vet will thank you for this one).

This step reminds us of an important safety measure for our dogs. If your dog doesn’t enjoy meeting new people, then he’s probably not going to enjoy the job of therapy work. If your dog has any tendency towards protective, reactive, or defensive aggression towards people or other dogs, then he is not the right candidate for a therapy dog. These dogs need careful training to make them comfortable living ordinary lives.


CGC Step #3: Appearance and Grooming

Teaching your dog to accept and even enjoy being handled, brushed, combed, clipped, and otherwise groomed should begin in puppyhood. When Nova is eight weeks old, her owner will have five-to-seven handling sessions a week with her. Her owner will do this until she is sixteen weeks old. Nova should be thoroughly comfortable being handled and groomed by four months of age.

For the CGC test, an Evaluator will need to be able to check Nova’s ears, pick up her front paws, look in her mouth, and brush her. Nova should not pull away, nip or mouth at the Evaluator’s hands or the brush, and should not shy away. Therapy dogs should always appear clean and groomed at therapy visits. It is unacceptable to have a dog in a hospital or nursing home that has not been freshly bathed, or that stinks.


Handling, Brushing, Combing, and Clipping Nails

An excellent time to get Nova accustomed to being touched all over, brushed, combed, and clipped is when she is napping. Because she is already relaxed, Nova will be unlikely to feel fear and shy away or to be in a playful mood and bite the brush.

When Nova takes a nap, her owner will sit beside her and start stroking her whole body. Gently, but firmly to avoid tickling her, her owner will rub her paws, including each toe and nail. Nova will get the pleasure of a full body massage, including her ears, tail, belly, and muzzle.

Next, Nova’s owner will gently use a soft bristle brush over her whole body, again including her tail, ears, belly, legs, and muzzle. Depending on your dog’s coat-type you may need to also accustom your puppy to a comb (such as a flea comb), metal shedding brush (for double-coated breeds), or stripping tool (for terriers).

Nova will have her nails clipped while dozing so that she will be completely relaxed and not jerk her feet away. A basic pair of dog nail clippers will be enough for this training. Young puppies need only slight trimming, so do not feel like you must take more than a shave off the nail.

For puppies with dark/black nails, because you cannot see where the blood vein ends and might cut it, cut off as little as possible off the nail between the ages of eight and sixteen weeks. Then feel free to ask your vet or groomer to help with this task or to teach you how far to cut the nail back regularly.


Grooming & Handling with Treats or Toys

If doing these sessions during your pup’s nap, time isn’t working for you, try using a toy or treats to teach your puppy to accept being groomed. If your puppy is an especially mouthy guy, trying redirecting his mouth from your hand or brush to an enticing bone or toy to chew instead. Repeat this enough, and your puppy will start to get the concept, “You pet and brush me, and I’ll chew my favorite toy!”

If your puppy is especially food motivated, try this method. Ask him to sit and pay attention to a treat, keeping his head straightforward. Meanwhile, you can run the brush down his back or pick up his front paw. Build up your expectations from a single swipe down his back to brushing his whole body, and from picking up a front paw to clipping his nails on a back paw before he gets the treat. A good end goal for this type of training is to accomplish all your handling, to brush, and do any necessary clipping and then get your dog a single, delicious treat. He will know it is coming and behave himself to earn it.

While teaching your puppy all about Step One and Step Three of the CGC, there are other goals to work on right alongside these first two steps. Scroll down to find out what your next steps will be.



Puppy Training Basics

The primary puppy-training goals include house-training, crate-training, collar and leash desensitization, and food manners. We’ll explain all of these goals in this article, Puppy Training Basics.

For anyone who has adopted an older puppy or adult dog that still needs these necessary home-pet skills, that article will also be helpful.

Do not neglect these basic training needs in the more exciting challenges of obedience, trick, or therapy training. You must first be able to live with your dog before he is ready to share with other people in public places.


Puppy Nutrition

With their growing and energy needs and small stomachs, puppies can be a challenge to feed correctly. Puppies need three or four small meals a day. When your puppy reaches six months old, his stomach will probably be big enough to handle two or three larger meals per day.

Be careful with how much you feed your puppy, whether he is a large breed or a small breed. Large breed puppies can be prone to bloat and gastric torsion, a painful and potentially fatal experience. Small breed puppies have very tiny stomachs and are more sensitive to low blood sugar. They should receive frequent, small meals to avoid low glucose.

Wouldn’t it be easier to free feed your puppy so he can eat what he is comfortable with? Unfortunately, this is a definite no. Dogs are notorious for eating unhealthy amounts of food with no self-control. You will risk your puppy overeating or that another dog will steal his food. It is also always best to know how much your puppy is eating so you can adjust according to whether he needs to gain or lose weight.

To read our Top 8 Tips for Feeding and Top 8 Supplements for puppies, read our article, “Healthy Nutrition for Puppies.”


Puppy Raising and Training Resources

All the useful information on raising and training puppies cannot be expressed in a blog. Thankfully, there are many excellent books and even video resources from professionals to help us out.

Click the image below to see our complete list of recommended resources for puppy raising and training!


The Next Steps

Each continuing part of this series will take you through teaching your dog the necessary commands and skills for the next two steps in the Canine Good Citizen test.

It’s here! In Therapy Dog Journey Part 3: CGC Steps 6 & 7 and Basic Commandswe will address teaching the basic commands Sit, Down, Stay and Come. It is essential that your dog master these commands to pass steps 6 & 7 in the Canine Good Citizen test. 


– Cassy Kay & Caliber



See our list of recommended puppy-raising and training books and videos
to learn more about each of the topics we’ve just talked about!

Puppy Raising & Training Resources

American Kennel Club. “Canine Good Citizen” Web. Accessed Aug. 31, 2019.

American Kennel Club. “An Owner’s Manual for 10 Essential Skills: CGC Test Items” Web PDF. Accessed Aug. 31, 2019.

International Association of Canine Professionals. “Therapy Dog Training” Web. Accessed Aug. 31, 2019.

AKC Staff. “Therapy Dog Training & Certification” Oct. 5, 2015. Web. Accessed Aug. 31, 2019.

Dunbar, Ian. Before and After Getting Your Puppy. Novato, CA.New World Library. 2004. Print.

Camacho, Fernando. The Happy Puppy Handbook. 2018. Print.

The Monks of New Skete. The Art of Raising a Puppy. 1991. Print.

Canines for Christ. “Steps to Serve” Web. Accessed Aug. 31, 2019. Temperament Testing.

Zak George’s Dog Training Revolution. “What’s the Difference Between a Service Dog, Therapy Dog, and an Emotional Support Dog?” Dec 30, 2017. Web. Accessed Aug. 31, 2019.


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