They seem to be everywhere, now that the ice has melted and the sun is shining again: dog and human twosomes strolling around town and jogging into the hills, their sparkling eyes and springy steps expressing joy at how good life is, just being out together.
Unfortunately, for every happy pair enjoying the wide world together, there are 10 dogs who have to be left at home. They’re the ones who, for a host of reasons, can’t be taken out in public. They forget their manners when they see a (fill in the blank); they are afraid of (fill in the blank); they are aggressive, or too exuberant for their person to handle confidently. This is a great loss for both the dogs and their people, but also for the whole community by shrinking and diminishing the social commons.
Our local Roaring Fork Kennel Club plans to do something about this sad state of affairs. Last year, the American Kennel Club designed a new title, available to all dogs, including mixed breeds: Community Canine. In the 1960s, the AKC developed the Canine Good Citizen program, to test and certify dogs mastering basic good manners around people and other dogs.
AKC-certified evaluators administer the test, in which a leashed dog must walk calmly among people, pass another dog, sit quietly while owner converses, wait while owner is out of sight, and several other tests of self-control and confidence. This more advanced title requires that the sextiped team pass a more rigorous test “in a natural setting,” whereas the Canine Good Citizen test often was given in a ring or training room.
The Roaring Fork Kennel Club will present information, including AKC rules for Canine Good Citizen and Community Canine tests and demonstrating the skills to be evaluated in the tests, at the June 1 Dundee Dog Wash fundraiser at High Tails in west Glenwood, from noon til 4. There will also be information about ways to prepare for the certification tests, and they will be recruiting interested folks to join them in developing appropriate rewards.
After all, good manners are effectively instilled by positive reinforcement — no matter the species. We hope to convince various entities (towns, businesses, insurance companies, transit systems, etc.) to reward Community Canines with real-world perks: being welcome in public places, exemptions from breed-restrictions, off-leash privileges, and other benefits. Through the year, the club will be conducting the tests at various venues and celebrating the sextiped teams earning the title.
A basic manners class like AKC’s S.T.A.R. Program is a good starting place for little puppies, with their short attention spans. But for those who adopt our dogs, well beyond puppyhood and bearing the scars of early traumas, a new concept in training is taking off around the country.
Often called “real-life” classes, they teach basic obedience in community settings, incorporating controlled exposure to challenges, ensuring that each exposure has a good outcome for the dog. Trainer Krys Moquin, at High Tails, has begun with her free, every other Sunday “walkabouts,” where dogs and people go on strolls through town, giving support and coaching on how to meet challenges and increase confidence and enjoyment. She will be starting a “real life” class in May, offering teaching that prepares a dog to become a real “Good Citizen” in four structured sessions.
Another training trend that promises to help dogs become good citizens is known as the “yellow dog project.” This encourages people with young, or nervous, or under-socialized dogs — like that bewildered adolescent just adopted from the shelter — to display a yellow ribbon prominently on their dog’s leash when going about in public. The message is simply: This dog needs space. Kids, and even many adults, rush up to dogs without asking — assuming every dog will recognize and respond to their friendly intent. Not so! The yellow ribbon stops us and nudges us to ask for a proper introduction.
These developments are promising, practical steps toward reversing the trends of the last 50 years that restrict dogs to isolation in private spaces. It may turn out to be as revolutionary as the conversion of dog training from punishment-based to reward motivation. May it be so! As important as our dogs are to our personal well-being, they can also restore many benefits to our communities with their enlivening canine gifts.