Therapy Dog Journey Part 3: Canine Good Citizen Steps 6 & 7
A good comprehension of basic commands is the foundation for Therapy Dog training. You will use these commands the most during your dog’s career as a Therapy Dog.
Now, your dog may already know Sit, Down, Stay and Come, but this article is still for you. Because we aren’t going to talk about teaching the beginning stages of sit, down, come, and stay. Many dog training books are already written to teach owners how to train a puppy or beginner dog the basic commands.
We will refer you to some of our favorite books and videos at the end of this article if you still need beginning instructions on how to teach the basic commands.
In Therapy Dog Journey Part 3, we’re going to show you how to challenge your dog’s ability to accomplish his basic commands. For each step of the Canine Good Citizen test we look at here, we will provide steps you can take to proof your dog’s commands for use in the CGC test.
One of the most critical steps in teaching the basic commands for the CGC is phasing out lures and rewards.
The Importance of Phasing Out Treats
In the Canine Good Citizen test handlers are not allowed to use treats, toys, or other training tools to help their dogs pass the test. Your dog will need to exceed the level of training with treats to become a therapy dog.
Unfortunately, many training classes and books leave out this vital step. If you are training your dog as a therapy dog, be sure to check out our article on Phasing Out Lures and Rewards.
Proofing Your Dog’s Basic Commands
To proof a command means to make it reliable under high levels of distractions. When your dog obeys a command in a crowd of strangers, in a group of dogs at the park, and the open door of the car, that is a command that has been proofed.
Therapy Dogs need to have the training to proof their commands so that we can reasonably expect them to obey our cues in their workplaces. Think about it; your dog has never been taught to Sit outside of your home. How can you expect him to Sit when he is receiving attention from three or four strangers at once on a therapeutic visit in a nursing home?
Teaching Sit and Down for the Canine Good Citizen test Step 6
In Step Six of the Canine Good Citizen test, you will be asked to demonstrate that your dog will Sit on command. Your dog will be on a six-foot leash beside you and must use only a verbal command to ask for the sit and down.
No treats, leash corrections, training collars, toys, or physical manipulation can be used to motivate your dog for this test. This is why phasing out lures and rewards is essential for therapy dogs. It is acceptable to repeat your command once if necessary, but prompt obedience at the first command is preferable.
Use the exercises below to proof your dog’s sit and down, so he will be ready to pass this part of the CGC. We will again allow Nova, our demonstration puppy, to provide examples in the following training methods.
Proofing the Basic Commands
To proof these commands Nova’s owner will introduce her to all kinds of distractions at increasing levels. Nova will be introduced slowly to each new distraction so that she is always able to concentrate and obey. If a place makes Nova unable to focus and follow the basic commands, her owner will move Nova away from the distraction. Or the distraction can be moved to a distance until Nova can concentrate again.
These new level distractions can be visits to new places, having other people and dogs present, or having a food item left on the ground for her to ignore. Nova must practice her basic commands with these distractions present because each one represents obstacles in real-life scenarios in the life of a Therapy Dog.
To make a successful transition to training without rewards in distracting situations, Nova’s owner must praise Nova when she obeys. Praise and attention will become her life-rewards as a Therapy Dog.
Exercise One: Obedience = Good Things
Nova is now asked to Sit or Lay Down for the things she wants. When she wants her food or water bowl, she must sit to get it. When Nova wants outside, then the puppy must sit at the door first. If she wants a toy, she will sit or lay down before being handed the toy (or having the toy thrown, or playing tug, etc.). These practical daily exercises will teach Nova that good things come when she obeys the basic commands. Plus, those good things don’t have to be food treats.
Exercise Two: Practicing Basic Commands on Walks
Nova has already learned to obey the Sit and Down commands promptly in the house and outside. Now she needs to learn to follow in the area surrounding her home (that might be the sidewalk, street, an open field, a park, or another area around her house).
Nova and her owner start taking walks together to introduce Nova to the world. During the walks, they will randomly practice the basic commands. These walks are the start of practicing basic commands in more distracting environments. Pure repetition is what will make this exercise effective for Nova and cause her obedience to come quicker even in the presence of distractions.
Exercise Three: Training in Quiet New Locations
Nova’s owner now takes her on a leash to quiet new locations to practice her basic commands. They will visit places like pet-friendly stores, restaurants with outdoor seating, and pet-friendly parks. Here she will practice her Sit and Down and at first be rewarded with treats, and gradually rewarded with praise or playtime. Nova’s owner chooses places and times to practice without many other dogs or crowds to cause Nova to be unable to focus on her training.
As they begin training in new locations, Nova’s owner keeps in mind the importance of giving Nova some grace to adjust. Nova is allowed to have treats as lures and rewards at the beginning while training in these new locations. Soon the treats are phased out for human interaction or greeting another dog – these are the life-rewards of a Therapy Dog.
Exercise Four: Training with Increased Distractions
Finally, Nova’s owner chooses places with more noise, people, and dogs to train in. Until now, Nova has practiced in quiet, less crowded places that her owner has chosen for training. Training in crowded, noisy places may require Nova’s owner to back up a few steps and reward Nova with treats to help her focus. However, Nova now only needs the help of the treats for a short time before she applies the habit of attentiveness to her owner in her new environments.
As Nova begins practicing all her manners in new places, her owner will honestly say that nothing helps the puppy to improve more than consistent repetition. Together, they train with increasing distractions at Nova’s pace, according to her ability to settle down and pay attention.
It is this exercise that may take Nova and her owner the longest to complete. Nothing short of plenty of practice will make Nova proficient in her basic commands and ready for the Canine Good Citizen.
Teaching “Stay” for the Canine Good Citizen test Step 6
For the Stay command in Step Six of the CGC, you will choose whether to leave your dog in a down-stay or a sit-stay. Then you walk to the end of a twenty-foot line which replaces your six-foot leash. The long-line can keep your dog safely under control. At the same time, it provides you enough distance from him to simulate a real-life scenario where you might ask your dog to stay.
From the Stay position, you may return to your dog to release him, or you can move on to Step Seven and call your dog to you.
Proofing the Command
When proofing the stay command, there are three positions to train in down-stay, sit-stay, and stand-stay. The stand-stay is by far the most difficult for most dogs to accomplish because they are in a movement-ready position. When starting proofing with a puppy’s stay, work on the down-stay and sit-stay positions. For puppies, an excellent introduction to the stand-stay is a simple wait, stop, or freeze command where they will quickly be released and allowed to move again.
There are also the three D’s of Stay. These are Distance, Duration, and Distraction. Distance refers to Nova’s ability to remain where she is put when her owner walks twenty feet away or even out of sight. Duration means the amount of time Nova will hold the stay. Distraction includes anything Nova might encounter in real-life therapeutic visits: crowds, other dogs, food, loud noises, traffic, cats, etc.
While proofing Nova’s stay, her owner will keep her on a leash and begin by using a few treats sparingly. She phases the treats out as soon as Nova is responding to each new level of difficulty consistently.
Beginning Exercises for Proofing “Stay”
- Turn your back to the puppy
- Walk a few steps further away with each practice
- Walk out of sight briefly, increasing the time with each exercise
- Step over Nova
- Walk around the puppy
- Bounce a ball in front and behind Nova
- Drop a treat on the ground in front of Nova (just out of her reach)
- Bump into her gently with a foot
Proofing Exercises with added Distractions
For some of these exercises, it is necessary for Nova’s owner to recruit the help of a friend or two. Some of these exercises will need to be practiced outside and in Nova’s new training locations.
- Walking around Nova
- Petting the pup
- Jumping up and down
- Jogging around the dog
- Opening a door nearby
- Sitting on the floor with food
- Walking another dog past
- Carrying a cat through the room
- Dropping something loud
- Pushing a cart past the puppy
- Practicing near traffic (always on a short leash)
Given enough time to adjust to each new distraction, and with enough practice, Nova learns to maintain a solid stay. This command will help her to pass the Canine Good Citizen test, as well as help her be well-behaved and safe.
Teaching “Come” for the Canine Good Citizen test Step 7
The Come command is undoubtedly the most desirable behavior pet owners want to see in their dogs. In Step Seven of the CGC, your dog will be tested for this desirable behavior.
You can test for the come command in two ways for the CGC. Previously in Step Six, you had your dog in a stay from the required twenty-foot distance also necessary for the recall. You can call your dog directly from that stay if this is what you want to do. You may prefer not to call your dog out of a stay so that the dog always expects you to return to him before releasing him.
The second option is to allow your dog to wander to the end of the twenty-foot line and then call him to you. You could also leave your dog being pet by a helper, held by the helper, or in a new stay position.
The only requirements are that your dog wears the twenty-foot long line, remains under control, and comes happily and reliably when called.
Proofing the Command
Proofing the come starts early for puppies. Check out our article, Puppy Practice for Come with Distractions, to learn one great way to start practicing come with distractions with your puppy at a young age.
The practice outlined for puppies in the article linked above is also feasible for adult dogs who are well socialized already.
You will begin proofing your dog’s come after he already knows what “Come” means and responds to it a good bit. The proofing steps are intended to refine the come command and make it reliable in the face of distractions.
Here are some tips for proofing your dog’s Come for the Canine Good Citizen.
Call When You Expect Good Results
The word “come” can be so easily over-used. Repeatedly calling “Come!” when your dog only responds half the time, mainly teaches him that he doesn’t have to respond at all!
To achieve reliability, you need to choose moments to call your dog when he is most likely to listen and respond correctly. The more you practice come in easy situations, and with low distractions, the more he will develop the habit of coming when called and learn to enjoy it.
When your dog has made it a habit to comply with your call in easy situations, start calling for him in more distracting scenarios. Increase your rewards to match the level of distraction. Just don’t forget to phase out those treats before your dog becomes food-reliable.
Come Only Equals Good Things
Be careful that every time you call your dog, and he comes, you only reward him positively. There are two kinds of rewards you could give: positive and negative. A negative reward, or adverse consequence, would make your dog not want to respond correctly the next time you call him. Whereas a positive reward will make him bound over to you and wag his whole body. When he runs off again to play, he will long for you to call him back because he enjoys it.
Calling your dog over for punishment will only make him avoid coming to you. To correct your dog for inappropriate behavior, try to walk up to him and calmly correct him. This will help you to have an excellent recall with your dog.
Long Line Practice
A long line is a very long leash, usually fifteen, twenty, or thirty feet long. The line will replace your leash on your dog’s collar during training. To practice come using a long line, allow your dog to wander and explore to the length of the line. When he is not paying attention to you, for example facing the opposite direction or sniffing something interesting, say his name and call him. If you are practicing at the right level of distraction and your dog already understands the command, he will come running to you. As he does, reel in as much of the line as possible so you maintain control over him as he gets closer. Praise excitedly when the dog reaches you. High-value rewards are excellent motivation to use at the beginning of these practices. Soon you will want to phase the treats out for life-rewards such as returning to playing or interaction with people.
Watch a video by dog trainer Tenille with Dog Matters on how to Improve Your Dog’s Recall here: Coming When Called: How to Improve Your Dog’s Recall
After the Basic Commands
In the next part of this series, we will talk about Steps 4 & 5 in the Canine Good Citizen test. People will enjoy the sight of a therapy dog walking calmly beside his handler in a way that the leash between them hangs loose with the slack. Not only does this pleasant walk convey how much training the dog has received, but it also reflects the bond between the dog and handler.
So for Therapy Dog Journey Part 4 we’ll explain the steps in teaching a dog to walk on a loose leash and through crowds.
– Cassy Kay & Caliber
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