Therapy Dog Journey Part Seven: CGC Step Ten
The final step in the Canine Good Citizen is called Supervised Separation. The purpose of this step is to make sure that, in both regular-life and emergencies, you can leave your dog with a trusted person.
It would be quite a lousy representation of therapy dogs if your dog were to whine, bark, and pull on his leash until you returned – what a noisy disturbance that would be!
To prevent this, we will train our therapy dogs to remain calm while in the care of another person. We do this by conditioning them to our absence for short periods and teaching them to appreciate the company of other people.
What “Supervised Separation” Looks Like
When it comes time for Nova to test for Step Ten in the CGC, the evaluator will ask to hold Nova’s leash while her owner walks just out of sight for three minutes. If Nova chooses to whine, bark, pull on her leash, or show signs of serious distress, she will not pass the test. This step will test her compatibility as a therapy dog, while now under the supervision of a stranger. Does she happily give her attention to the evaluator? Does she represent therapy dogs and therapy training well with her calm behavior?
Please note that the Canine Good Citizen does not test for “separation anxiety.” Instead, the CGC tests dogs for separation distress. Separation distress deals with the dog’s training to remain calm in the company of a trusted person for a short time. This is not the same as separation anxiety, which is typically associated with dogs become destructive, noisy, and emotionally upset when left alone.
Since Nova’s owner has raised Nova intending to pass the CGC, she has spent plenty of time preparing Nova for this final step. Below we’ll talk about the exercises that are helping Nova become ready to pass her CGC with flying colors.
Preventing Separation Distress
There are a few things you can do in daily life that can help prevent separation distress in your puppy. These moments from everyday life will make an immense difference in your training for the Supervised Separation test in the CGC because your dog will have a history of reliable behavior.
While going about your day, find short periods to leave your dog in another room or behind a baby gate. Make the dog wait while you fix a snack, use the restroom, or do something else equally as quick. Be sure to return to your dog quickly, and allow him to join you again without any fuss or excitement. This will condition your dog to short periods of your absence.
While you practice these quick moments of separation, encourage a family member or friend to play with or pet your dog. This will teach your dog to appreciate the company of another person when you must be absent. Alternatively, if you do not have a helper, leave your dog with his favorite interactive toy to occupy him with a self-rewarding game.
When you rejoin your dog, don’t allow the greeting to be very exciting. Your goal is to prevent over-arousal. That way, the next time you walk away without the dog, he doesn’t react with hysterics.
If you are raising a puppy, utilize a crate and a puppy pen frequently. Crates and puppy pens will provide you with ample opportunity to practice short periods of separation without letting the puppy get into trouble. See the Revolving Door game (below) for a concept you can adapt to separation training with a crate or pen.
Exercises for Building Calmness during Supervised Separation
There are some principles you can live with as you raise your puppy or train your adult dog to help them be calm and confident during your absence. In addition to your lifestyle, it is helpful to have some training scenarios to teach these behaviors too.
Use the methods described here to help your dog gain confidence and prepare for the CGC. These exercises help improve calmness and confidence because they teach the dog that the owner will always return and that calm behavior earns rewards.
By increasing the distance in your dog’s stay, you can help him learn to retain his calm obedience, even if you are out of sight. Your dog or puppy should already have a reliable stay before you begin this exercise. Hopefully, you will already be able to walk several steps away from your dog, turn your back, walk around him in a circle, or even step over him while he maintains the stay.
Nova will be placed in her most comfortable position (some dogs prefer to sit or lay down due to their size, weight, or build) and told to Stay. From there, her owner will walk as many steps away as she can without Nova moving from her position. She then returns to Nova, releases her, and rewards. They repeat three-to-five times daily, with the owner walking a step or two further each time, pausing for a second or two, and then returning to Nova.
Nova’s owner will walk away and bend over to pick something up off the ground, put the item away or on a nearby surface, and then return to Nova. This added action requires her to take some of her attention off Nova. Nova could see the slip in her owner’s attention, or take her bending over as a cue, and break her stay. If she does this, her owner will take her back a step. She can go back to the first exercise, or she can move more slowly when bending over to pick up the item. Throughout the practice, her owner can say, “Good, stay.” If Nova looks like she might break her stay, she will be told “Don’t” to stop her while the movement is still a thought.
Finally, Nova’s owner will walk just out of sight after asking Nova to Stay. For Nova, this means that she watches her owner walk around the corner or through a door. To begin with, her owner always returns immediately, barely staying out of sight for a second or two. Gradually, she will remain out of sight for a few seconds more each time. Their goal: for Nova to maintain her calm stay with her owner out of sight for three minutes.
Revolving Door Game
The concept of this exercise is incredibly simple. While Nova is watching, her owner walks out the door, turns around, and comes back inside. She didn’t bother to say “goodbye,” or to greet Nova when she comes back in. In fact, she ignores Nova completely as she continues repeating the exercise. Walk out the door, turn around, and walk back in. By the fifth time, Nova has laid down to watch her owner repeat this odd behavior, concluding that this game is boring.
As she practices this exercise each day, Nova’s owner adds elements like picking up her keys and bag, walking down the driveway, walking around the corner of the house, or doing a short outdoor chore before returning to the home. The monotonous repetition of this exercise soon elicits no reaction from Nova, and she neither fusses when her owner leaves nor when she returns. Because Nova has learned to remain calm and quiet, her owner now pets and talks casually to Nova when she returns.
Supervised Separation Training Game
Now it’s time to teach Nova to generalize her calm behavior when her owner walks out of sight in new places. Nova also needs to learn to appreciate the company of another person for the Supervised Separation test. To do this, her owner acquires a helper and takes the exercises on the road.
Once Nova has learned to be comfortable performing a Distance Stay and remaining calm with the Revolving Door Game, her owner and helper will start a new game. Here’s how the Supervised Separation Game works.
Stage One – Supervised Separation Game
1. Nova’s owner stands next to Nova and her helper and hands her leash to the helper.
2. The helper holds the leash and shows Nova some high-value treats.
3. While the helper engages with Nova, her owner will take a step away, and then step right back. There is no need for the owner to engage with Nova at this time. Nova needs to learn to focus on the person holding her leash for this game.
4. Next, Nova’s owner will take two steps away and again return right away. The helper may reward Nova for remaining calm, focused, or for offering acceptable behaviors (sitting, laying down, making eye contact, performing basic tricks).
5. Nova’s owner takes three steps away this time, but still returns immediately. She continues to repeat this pattern, adding a step or two at a time. Nova first appears uncomfortable with the increased distance at twelve steps, so her owner takes only eight steps next time. They practice extra times at just eight steps to give Nova a foundation of confidence.
6. Now Nova’s owner can take ten-to-twelve steps away before returning. She continues to add steps until she reaches a doorway.
Stage Two – Supervised Separation Game
7. For the next step, Nova’s owner adds a verbal command, “Wait.” She first says “wait” and then walks away and returns.
8. In this step, Nova’s owner will walk out the door and return right away. From here, she will gradually build the time she remains outside the door (out of sight), starting with just seconds and working towards minutes. Again, their goal is for Nova to maintain calm behavior for three minutes while her owner is out of sight. They must practice this both at home and in many new places to teach Nova to generalize the behavior; otherwise, she will not be able to pass the final step when testing for the CGC.
9. The final step in this game will be phasing out the treats. There are a few ways they can do this. 1) Place the treats in a bowl a few steps away, instead of having them in-hand. 2) Treat randomly, but not for every acceptable behavior or repetition. 3) Reward alternately with training rewards (treats, toys), and life rewards (praise, permission to be excited, taking a short jog, etc.).
Taking the Test
That’s it! Supervised Separation was the last step to training your dog for the Canine Good Citizen test. If your dog is cut out for the job of being a therapy dog, and if you have put time and effort into training for the CGC – then you should be ready to take the test!
Now you find an AKC CGC Evaluator in your area and schedule a time to take the test. Or you can get plugged in with a therapy organization right away and follow their procedures for certification including taking the Canine Good Citizen test.
You may find a local therapy dog organization to participate in, or you may choose to join an international organization. Before choosing, do a bit of research on your choices to learn about the individual certification processes, standards upheld within the groups,
Remember the requirements for taking the Canine Good Citizen. Is your dog ready to work for you without treats? Does your dog walk nicely without training tools? Is your dog fully house-trained? Did you have any trouble grooming your dog for the big day? Have you examined your dog’s ability to pass each step of the test?
When it’s time to take the Canine Good Citizen test with your dog be prepared before you get there. Have a happy, exercised and well-groomed dog. Be sure your dog is wearing an acceptable collar and leash. Take along your dog’s brush for the grooming test. Make sure he gets a potty-break before beginning and carry plastic bags to clean up after your dog.
In short, prepare yourself to be professional and bring a dog that looks loved to the fullest.
Not quite sure if your dog is ready to pass the Canine Good Citizen?
Check out the AKC’s example videos showing how well-trained dogs successfully pass the test (each step has a separate video that you can play in sequence).
Be honest in your assessment. If your dog is not ready, just keep working on it and let time lend a hand. An untrained therapy dog is not only less enjoyable to other people but earns a poor reputation for all therapy dogs.
This series has been by no means a “complete and exhaustive” work. Instead, it has been an effort to give pet owners topic-specific training guidance for training therapy dogs. And not just more therapy dogs, but more excellent therapy dogs who will represent the work of all therapy dogs well and bring happiness and healing to God’s people.
We hope that every interested pet owner who reads this series will find helpful guidance and will go on to take God’s love to people in need with the help of their dog.
Thank you for reading!
– Cassy Kay & Caliber
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