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Posted on Mon, Dec 28, 2009 : 3:58 p.m.

Socialization - the first step to being a canine good citizen

By Bruce and Tracy Willoughby

Dogs aren't born conditioned to everything in our world. It is our job to teach them to be good citizens. Socialization is the beginning step to this process.

We give the American Kennel Club's (AKC) Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test every quarter at the Ann Arbor Dog Training Club, using a group of people that are very skilled CGC trainers and testers. We provide a practice session a week before the test to give everyone a chance to see a demonstration of the test and to have a run-through.

A prelude to this test is the AKC's Socialization-Training-Activity-Responsibility (S.T.A.R.) Puppy Program, which we incorporate into our 5 to 12 Month Puppy Class, also taught at the Ann Arbor Dog Training Club. The S.T.A.R. Puppy program has some pre-CGC test behaviors that are taught. There are some classes that start with puppies as young as 10 weeks (Puppy Kindergarten and Puppy Orientation), so puppies can start learning and practicing behaviors at a very early age, behaviors that they will be tested on in the CGC test. We do find some dogs who qualify to take the test without having taken formal classes, but the owners of these dogs diligently socialize and train their own dogs. You do not need classes to pass the CGC, but it helps.

Dogs talking the CGC practice and test will see many other dogs and their owners. Many puppy classes start off with other class attendees going up to puppies and saying, "Hello." You can take your dog to a strip mall and people will ask to pet your dog. Ah, just what you wanted. We had a brindle French Bulldog, named Maverick, in one of our classes, and he was the happiest dog in the world. In his exuberance he jumped up on every one he met! It's great that he wants to meet people; it's not great that he jumps up on them. The AKC says the number one complaint non-dog owners have about dog owners and their dogs is that the dogs jump up on them. We train dogs in our classes not to jump up on people. Our little French Bulldog's owner took his dog to the University of Michigan Diag and put up a sign saying, "Please come and pet my dog." Who could refuse this cutie? The owner also had a bowl of treats for people to give his dog. The owner was stepping on the leash while the coeds treated his dog. In our class we encourage all owners to pet and play with the entire group of dogs. The puppies are getting a lot of human contact and are learning that people are a good thing. So when these dogs come into a CGC test or practice, they are well behaved since they have been exposed to a lot of people and their dogs.

Dogs that jump up on people do not pass the CGC test. Thus, we have puppies start meeting and greeting people using a step on the leash technique. With your dog at your left side, lure your dog into a sit (we'll talk about this later) and then place your foot on the leash giving only enough room for your dog to stay in the sitting position. He or she should be comfortable but not able to change position. As strangers approach and your dog continues to sit, reward that good behavior with treats. If the puppy fights to jump up, ignore the behavior and no treats. Then, when he or she settles again, treat.

What if your puppy is jumping up on you? We'll give you some tips next week to deal with that.

At a CGC test and practice dogs are there too! So it is now time to turn to puppy-on-puppy socialization. This is so much fun in the classroom. When we teach a class of puppies that are all about the same age, we have a puppy playtime. We turn to each person one at a time and say, "OK, unleash your puppy." People sometimes hesitate as if to say, "Are you sure?" Yes! All the puppies are running around chasing each other, jumping, tumbling, and hiding—Yes hiding! Some puppies like to case out the action before they participate—and the owners are laughing at the mayhem. The dogs often watch and come out slowly, and sometimes at the next class you'll find that the one that was hiding is now the leader of the pack. Some puppies find a best friend and are with that dog again and again. There are Doggie Day Care places to take your dog to get some socialization. You can make a play date for your dog with another neighborhood dog or classmate.

Dog-on-dog socialization is one of the most important things you can do for your dog. You should go to class and keep your dog in a group setting. Then take another class. Dogs are not allowed to growl or fight with other dogs. When your dog is well socialized with both people and other dogs, he or she is then ready to enter the CGC test and practice without "making a scene and being excused."

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