July 29, 2014
The Roaring Fork Kennel Club's annual two-day AKC dog show this summer was a great success. It drew 650-plus dogs, their handlers, families and admirers to the Eagle County Fairgrounds Exhibition Hall, where they competed for points toward various titles. They also had the opportunity to sign up to take a test which, if passed, conferred an additional AKC title of CGC, or Canine Good Citizen. Six dogs were tested and five passed.
CGC is not new. It is a test of basic good manners, conducted in settings with ordinary activities creating a distracting environmental backdrop. A CGC dog can be relied upon to walk calmly on a loose leash among people and other dogs, to wait politely while the handler stops to chat with someone and leaves the dog for a few minutes, and a few other demonstrations of ordinary social competence.
Last year, the AKC created an advanced version of this test, in which the dog performs as required, not against a distracting environmental backdrop, but within it. Think of crowded downtown sidewalks or the farmers market. Dogs passing earn the title of Community Canine.
When you think about it, what is extraordinary about this is that this behavior is just what every dog-adopting family expects to be able to take for granted when they bring a puppy into their household — and yet, few are able to achieve this without considerable effort. Why is it so hard to manage, when all dogs love going for walks, getting attention from people, being able to "go with" their humans?
I think there are two chief obstacles to this. First, almost no one grasps the implications of how rapidly puppies develop. When you bring home a new human baby, you have 18 years of rearing ahead of you, through developmental stages that each last months or years. With a puppy, all that happens in 12 to 18 months. You have to teach the basics early, then practice them constantly, under every conceivable circumstance, so that when adolescence begins (at 5 months or so) and you get the resistance you expect from 13-year-old kids, you have a sound foundation in place.
When you bring home an 8-week-old pup, you have to hit the ground running and not stop. Putting off puppy training class until 4 months or later is like waiting until your child is 10 or 12 to start school. Older puppies and dogs need explicit teaching from Day One, too, and a well-conducted class can provide structure and guidance.
Compassionate people sometimes think an initial period of no demands facilitates bonding, but dogs' normal anxiety in a new environment heightens their attention to all cues and is relieved by learning what's expected and being rewarded for meeting expectations. Prolonged uncertainty creates confusion, increases anxiety and does nothing to enhance bonding.
Second, dogs must be able to go lots of different places and learn to behave confidently and appropriately in them. This is challenging because we have increasingly relegated dogs to private space, or, as with dog parks, places designated for dogs. When I was growing up, I could walk to town with my dog, stopping at the dime store, the post office and the library, and then take the bus home. Now, few of these places allow dogs at all.
This is where CGC comes in. The Roaring Fork Kennel Club is launching a project of encouraging local dogs to earn the title, and working to gain perks for those that do. Members will be providing information, demonstrations and links to local resources at the popular Dundee Benefit dog washes, held at High Tails the first Sunday of each month. Local trainers who are AKC- certified evaluators will offer "real-life" prep classes and frequent tests.
Meanwhile, the Club will be working to expand the number of public spaces in which dogs and puppies in training, and proud holders of the title, will be accepted. As we learn more about the amazing things dogs can do for and with us, rules governing their presence in public spaces remain restrictive. The Roaring Fork Kennel Club, and local dog trainers, are committed to reversing that trend, to the benefit of the whole community.
Learn more by calling 970-947-0014, and coming to the next Dundee event on Aug. 3.
Laurie Raymond has spent almost her entire life living, working and playing with animals of all kinds. For the last nine years she's been the owner of High Tails Dog & Cat Outfitters in Glenwood Springs.