Therapy Dog Journey Part 6: CGC Steps 8 & 9 Reaction to Dogs and Distractions
The next steps in the Canine Good Citizen are all about ensuring that a therapy dog’s reaction towards another dog is friendly and that he is comfortable around loud noises. Successful therapy dogs are well-versed in the canine language and are not easily startled. These dogs work confidently and happily with other therapy dog-handler teams and often experience loud noises in their workplaces.
In this part of the Therapy Dog Journey, we’ll see the impact of socialization on Nova’s reaction to new dogs. We’ll show you the methods her owner uses for introducing new dog-friends, and exercises that helped desensitize Nova to startling sounds she might experience on therapy visits.
Canine Good Citizen Test Step 8: Reaction to Another Dog
The purpose of this test is to ascertain that your dog can behave well and work comfortably around other dogs. Your dog doesn’t have to be best friends with every dog he sees or meets, but he should not be fearful or aggressive towards new dogs either.
During the test, your dog will need to be able to 1) focus on you with a group of new dogs around, 2) show no signs of fear or aggression. Your dog will also need to 3) refrain from pulling towards another dog while his handler greets another therapy team, and 4) walk through a crowd, including multiple dogs.
In general, a therapy dog must maintain behavior towards other dogs that is not only safe but also acceptable in public. You will need to prepare your dog to be able to exhibit only friendly and acceptable behaviors towards other people’s dogs as well.
Here is a video by the American Kennel Club showing Step 8: Reaction to Another Dog in the Canine Good Citizen Test. Note how all the dogs are calm, quiet, and walking nicely on their leashes. They show no special interest towards the other dog, and some are even asked to sit during greetings.
Positive Exposure As Puppies
If you have been following this series and read Therapy Dog Journey Part Two: Puppy Raising and CGC Steps 1 & 3, then you will be familiar with the importance of careful, positive exposure (or socialization) for puppies. If you have not read that article yet, then we encourage you to do so, even if you are training an adult dog. Your dog’s past experiences and exposures will heavily affect his current behaviors.
The sixth step in the Canine Good Citizen will be easy for the puppy who has had extensive, positive exposure to all kinds of dogs. Hopefully, during your puppy’s most crucial socialization period, he had the chance to meet lots of friendly dogs and develop friendships and confidence. This early exposure for Nova has helped her establish canine body language, which leads to beautiful dog-to-dog introductions without any undesirable disagreements.
What if your puppy missed out on having positive interactions with new dogs and making dog-friends during his critical socialization period? Unfortunately, this happens to so many dogs, partly because not all pet owners are taught about their puppies’ critical socialization period.
Maybe you have a rescue dog, and you might not know how he will react to another dog. Or you may have a puppy that you’ve raised without knowledge of his critical socialization period and now he reacts fearfully or defensively towards new dogs. The process for giving either dog new positive exposures will be the same as that for puppies. However, socialize your adult dog to new dogs with much more time and with safety measures to keep it safe and provide only positive experiences.
The key for your dog to have successful interactions with other dogs, to work successfully around other dogs, and to make new dog friends is management. If you are careful to manage introductions and training scenarios, your dog will have the opportunity to learn how to behave appropriately.
Note: If your dog exhibits aggression or intentionally hurts another dog or person, he should be wiped-out as a therapy candidate. His presence in public would not be therapeutic but dangerous. Please be responsible for evaluating the safety of your dog for other people and their dogs. Also, we would encourage you to seek out professional help so that your dog can gain the life skills he needs to live safely and happily. Consider training another dog for therapy work if your current dog is not suited to the task.
The Dog Walk Introduction
Not all dogs are entirely confident around other dogs. Many dogs have some form of fear when they see a dog approaching on a walk. Other dogs can’t contain their excitement to see a new dog – counting everyone as a new friend and playmate from the start.
Nova struggles to contain her excitement and desire to play whenever she sees another dog. For Nova to be a successful therapy dog, who can pass the Canine Good Citizen test, she’s going to have to become comfortable ignoring other dogs and focusing on her owner.
The Walking Introduction is excellent for dogs that need to learn to calm themselves before greeting a new dog and for dogs who need a confidence boost. If done well, with both owners participating responsibly, reading their dog’s body language, and taking enough time, the dogs will become friends. A dog who lacks confidence will gain much from growing a core group of friends and being introduced to them one-by-one in this way.
Nova’s owner will also employ another training measure, a game of sorts, that will help Nova learn to ignore dogs and focus on her job. We’ll describe this below because the method is useful for dogs that are distracted by other dogs or by environmental things.
Canine Good Citizen Test Step 9: Reaction to Distraction
Step Seven in the Canine Good Citizen tests how your dog will respond to a noise distraction. The evaluator will create a sudden loud noise by dropping a clipboard, dog bowl, or folding chair.
To pass the test, the dog’s reaction should not be fear and certainly not aggression. Reactions we don’t want to see include:
- hackles raised,
- running away,
- rolling over,
- or hiding.
Most dogs will be a little startled by the unexpected noise. A confident dog who startles will stand his ground, then choose to investigate the source of the sound and lose all fear of it, returning to his work with relaxed body language. If the loud noise were to happen again, the dog should react even less with each repetition. This confidence is what we want in therapy dogs.
Here is another example video from the AKC.
If your dog’s current reaction to loud noises is undesirable, you can help him become more comfortable and confident with counter-conditioning and desensitization. To learn more about this head over to Whole Dog Journal.
Positive Exposure As Puppies
For puppies, we must carefully introduce them to loud noises and give them exposure often enough that they can become confident. Young puppies should be introduced to increasingly louder sounds as they grow. This is how a dog can grow up exhibiting an emotionally-stable reaction to all kinds of noisy distractions.
Loud noises that puppies can be introduced to in your home include a hair-dryer, vacuum cleaner, blender, ice crusher, dropped items, slamming doors, knocking on doors, and even the doorbell. Start with the puppy in another room so that the noise is muffled. Allow the puppy to be off-leash and not in a crate, so if he startles, he can move further away. This prevents the pup from developing reactivity in defense or aggression, especially on-leash (most reactive dogs are worse on-leash because they feel trapped).
You can also download an app that is programmed to play a wide variety of sounds for your puppy. This is an excellent way to control the volume of the sound and introduce things like thunder and fireworks in a low-key way that lets the pup acclimate to the distraction before he encounters the sound in a real-life scenario.
The Easily Distracted Dog
Is your puppy is the kind that goes instantly into play-mode when he sees another dog? Some dogs, especially puppies, can’t contain their excitement at the chance to play with any dog!
Other dogs react to different stimuli in their environment, such as loud noises, cats, squirrels, cars, and excited people – especially children. Dogs respond to these high-level distractions by pulling on their leash, barking, whining, jumping, and spinning in circles – none of which are desirable behaviors.
While these dogs may struggle to remember how to walk on a loose leash or how to calm themselves, there is a way to train them to ignore the distraction of other dogs and focus on you.
Mark, Move & Treat
The idea with this concept is to prevent undesirable behaviors from happening when your dog is distracted by something like another dog. This could mean barking, pulling, lunging, fixating, hiding, or any behavior you don’t want to happen.
So when Nova and her owner visit the pet store, Nova is allowed to get a glimpse of another dog down an aisle. Her owner will mark (say “Yes”), move in another direction for a few steps, and give Nova a treat. Since Nova’s marker-word is “Yes” she knows when she hears it that she has done well and will be rewarded.
Each time she hears “Yes,” she swings around to receive her treat. Thus, she takes her attention off the other dog and focuses it on her owner. Nova and her owner repeat this exercise two or three times around another dog. Her owner marks before Nova pulls or barks.
Then Nova’s owner repeats the process, walking Nova to where she can see another dog, but increases the criteria this time. Now Nova must make it her responsibility to look away from the other dog after noticing it and focus her attention on her owner. When she does, her owner will mark, move a few steps, and treat Nova.
Proofing Mark, Move & Treat
To proof Nova’s new skill, her owner increases the criteria for two more steps. For the next level, she removes the “move” step, and after marking, stands still and treats Nova for her attention. For the final step, Nova’s owner will mark and reward Nova for ignoring other dogs and continuing to focus.
The more Nova practices this technique, the faster and more reliable her reaction is. She notices distractions and merely looks back to her owner for feedback. The focused behavior that this teaches keeps Nova out of a lot of trouble. She avoids the unpleasant habits of reactivity and learns to respond calmly to the presence of other dogs.
What These Steps Look Like
These two steps in the CGC don’t take much time to test as long as all the dogs are successful. However, training well for these steps will take a considerable amount of time. The test will look like this.
There is a small crowd of people, and their dogs gathered for a testing day at their local therapy group’s meeting. The majority of the dogs are doing well and are testing for the final steps. Dog-handler teams will be paired in two’s and asked to stand twenty feet apart. They face each other with their dogs at their sides.
Then they are asked to approach each other, greet the other person, and walk on past the other team. The dogs should be walking on loose leashes as their handlers approach each other and should either stand or sit at their side while they exchange greetings. Neither dogs’ reaction should be to try to reach the other. Your dog should be focused enough to walk forward with you after the greeting.
(The dogs are usually welcome to interact with each other before and after the test. Please always ask before allowing your dog to interact with someone else’s dog. This keeps everyone safe and shows respect to the other handler and his/her dog.)
The dogs are now being tested individually again for their reaction to a distraction, usually a loud noise. The owner may be asked to walk the dog in a direction so the evaluator can drop something behind the dog. Or the handler may be allowed to stand with the dog standing beside him or in a sit-stay.
The loud sound startles some dogs while others pay it no attention. All the dogs remain confident, neither running, hiding, or becoming reactive (acting in fear and defense). The dogs are all able to refocus quickly on their handlers after looking at the source of the loud noise. They continue to finish the test with no signs of stress.
Just one step left. One final behavior for your dog to master. Then you and your dog will be ready for the Canine Good Citizen test.
In the final article in the Therapy Journey series, we’ll talk about training your dog for Step 10: Supervised Separation. What would your dog’s reaction be if he watched you walk away and couldn’t follow?
If your dog struggles with separation anxiety, then this article will be for you. With Nova providing examples of the typical puppy mistakes and anxieties, we’ll introduce several exercises for building confidence and security.
– Cassy Kay & Caliber
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.