Location, Location, Location: Choosing a Dog Trainer

When we did agility with our dog, we drove 2.5 hours one way to take lessons from a world-class trainer. I have a friend in Houston who starts a 2-hour drive across Houston in 5 o’clock traffic to get to the best training school she could find.

So when we surveyed 3500 dog owners and discovered that the majority selected their dog trainers based on location, imagination my surprise. And total disappointment.

Certification didn’t matter to many. Huge numbers of titles didn’t matter to many. Hands-on experience with tough dogs didn’t always matter. When mom works all day, comes home, fixes dinner, takes Bella to ballet and Jason to trumpet and then tries to fit in a dog training class, location wins.

I shouldn’t have been surprised. When choosing preschools and child care settings, a lot of parents make the choice based on location. If people are taking their babies down the street, they’re sure gonna take their puppy down the street.

dog trainer mapWhat can trainers do to educate the public? Here are a few tips.

1. Learn about marketing yourself. Make sure you have a great web page that explains the benefits of training with you. Describe some success stories with difficult dogs.

2. If you are 30 miles out of town because that is where you could find affordable land for agility, consider making your class schedule flexible. Drop-in classes allow students to come when they are able. This way, if someone has to miss the first class, you don’t lose them for 8 or 12 weeks.

3. Make yourself a part of the animal community so that your skills are spread by word-of-mouth. Get to know veterinarians and other animal professionals who will refer to you.

4. Build a whiz-bang curriculum and course offering that makes everyone want to come to your classes….no matter where they are located.

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Combat Veteran and CGCA Dog Give Back

Every now and then, a dog owner stays in touch with the CGC department to ask questions and get help regarding the next level of training. We hope that you enjoy this article from Kevin Gembarosky and his dog, Ranger, as much as we did.


Ranger was a gift to me from a disabled Army veteran. I am also a Combat Service disabled Army veteran and my friend thought that I needed this dog. My friend was right. Now Ranger and I are paying it forward and volunteering to help other service disabled veterans at the VA hospital in Pittsburgh, PA.

kevin and rangerOnce I knew that I wanted Ranger to become a therapy dog, as a team, we needed to get the proper training. I trained with CGC evaluator Mike Garrow. Then, I decided after Ranger had good success with the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) test, we should set a goal of also earning the CGCA title (CGCA is AKC Community Canine, which is advanced CGC).

Next, I researched the therapy dogs groups on AKC’s therapy dog web page (http://www.akc.org/dog-owners/training/akc-therapy-dog-program/) and decided that the best fit for me and Ranger was Therapy Dogs Incorporated. We now volunteer for TD Inc. and we are working on our first AKC Therapy Dog title.

Ranger and I now volunteer with the VA twice a month in the Mental Health section of the hospital.  In addition to working with veterans, we also do training on animal-assisted therapy for the staff.

I believe that Ranger’s training progress has a lot to do with the systematic curriculum AKC has in place for training—STAR to CGC to CGCA is a logical sequence that helped me be a successful trainer.

Ranger and I see a lot more training in our future and I am so honored that as a result of training my own dog, I can help others.

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Taking the CGC Test: One Dog’s Story

Gillian Scott is a writer for the Times Union (Albany, NY). We thought we’d share her story of taking the CGC test with Her dog, Rocky.

Here’s the link:  http://blog.northjersey.com/jerseydog/4070/canine-good-citizen-champs-guest-post/

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AKC Community Canine Test (Video of test at a Dog Show)

Happy New Year! If your dog has already passed the CGC test, consider earning the AKC Community Canine title in 2015. Here is another video of the CGCA–this one in a dog show setting (Meet the Breeds).

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Canine Good Citizen: 10 Essential Skills for Every Dog

This week we talked about AKC Community Canine, advanced CGC. For those readers who may not have seen the original Canine Good Citizen test, we’re posting the test items today.  CGC started in 1989 and since then, more than 700,000 dogs have participated in the program.

10 Essential Skills: CGC Test Items

Wyn-blur CGC certificate copy 2Before taking the Canine Good Citizen test, owners will sign the Responsible Dog Owners Pledge. We believe that responsible dog ownership is a key part of the CGC concept and by signing the pledge, owners agree to take care of their dog’s health needs, safety, exercise, training and quality of life. Owners also agree to show responsibility by doing things such as cleaning up after their dogs in public places and never letting dogs infringe on the rights of others.

After signing the Responsible Dog Owners Pledge, owners and their dogs are ready to take the CGC Test. The test is all done on leash. Items on the Canine Good Citizen Test include:

Test 1: Accepting a friendly stranger

This test demonstrates that the dog will allow a friendly stranger to approach it and speak to the handler in a natural, everyday situation. The evaluator walks up to the dog and handler and greets the handler in a friendly manner, ignoring the dog. The evaluator and handler shake hands and exchange pleasantries. The dog must show no sign of resentment or shyness.

Test 2: Sitting politely for petting

This test demonstrates that the dog will allow a friendly stranger to touch it while it is out with its handler. With the dog sitting at the handler’s side, to begin the exercise, the evaluator pets the dog on the head and body. The handler may talk to his or her dog throughout the exercise. The dog may stand in place as it is petted. The dog must not show shyness or resentment.

Test 3: Appearance and grooming

This practical test demonstrates that the dog will welcome being groomed and examined and will permit someone, such as a veterinarian, groomer or friend of the owner, to do so. It also demonstrates the owner’s care, concern and sense of responsibility. The evaluator inspects the dog to determine if it is clean and groomed. The dog must appear to be in healthy condition (i.e., proper weight, clean, healthy and alert). The handler should supply the comb or brush commonly used on the dog. The evaluator then softly combs or brushes the dog, and in a natural manner, lightly examines the ears and gently picks up each front foot. It is not necessary for the dog to hold a specific position during the examination, and the handler may talk to the dog, praise it and give encouragement throughout.

Test 4: Out for a walk (walking on a loose lead)

This test demonstrates that the handler is in control of the dog. The dog may be on either side of the handler. The dog’s position should leave no doubt that the dog is attentive to the handler and is responding to the handler’s movements and changes of direction. The dog need not be perfectly aligned with the handler and need not sit when the handler stops. The evaluator may use a pre-plotted course or may direct the handler/dog team by issuing instructions or commands. In either case, there should be a right turn, left turn, and an about turn with at least one stop in between and another at the end. The handler may talk to the dog along the way, praise the dog, or give commands in a normal tone of voice. The handler may sit the dog at the halts if desired.

Test 5: Walking through a crowd

This test demonstrates that the dog can move about politely in pedestrian traffic and is under control in public places. The dog and handler walk around and pass close to several people (at least three). The dog may show some interest in the strangers but should continue to walk with the handler, without evidence of over-exuberance, shyness or resentment. The handler may talk to the dog and encourage or praise the dog throughout the test. The dog should not jump on people in the crowd or strain on the leash.

Test 6: Sit and down on command and Staying in place

This test demonstrates that the dog has training, will respond to the handler’s commands to sit and down and will remain in the place commanded by the handler (sit or down position, whichever the handler prefers). The dog must do sit AND down on command, then the owner chooses the position for leaving the dog in the stay. Prior to this test, the dog’s leash is replaced with a line 20 feet long. The handler may take a reasonable amount of time and use more than one command to get the dog to sit and then down. The evaluator must determine if the dog has responded to the handler’s commands. The handler may not force the dog into position but may touch the dog to offer gentle guidance. When instructed by the evaluator, the handler tells the dog to stay and walks forward the length of the line, turns and returns to the dog at a natural pace. The dog must remain in the place in which it was left (it may change position) until the evaluator instructs the handler to release the dog. The dog may be released from the front or the side.

Test 7: Coming when called

This test demonstrates that the dog will come when called by the handler. The handler will walk 10 feet from the dog, turn to face the dog, and call the dog. The handler may use encouragement to get the dog to come. Handlers may choose to tell dogs to “stay” or “wait” or they may simply walk away, giving no instructions to the dog.

Test 8: Reaction to another dog

This test demonstrates that the dog can behave politely around other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs approach each other from a distance of about 20 feet, stop, shake hands and exchange pleasantries, and continue on for about 10 feet. The dogs should show no more than casual interest in each other. Neither dog should go to the other dog or its handler.

Test 9: Reaction to distraction

This test demonstrates that the dog is confident at all times when faced with common distracting situations. The evaluator will select and present two distractions. Examples of distractions include dropping a chair, rolling a crate dolly past the dog, having a jogger run in front of the dog, or dropping a crutch or cane. The dog may express natural interest and curiosity and/or may appear slightly startled but should not panic, try to run away, show aggressiveness, or bark. The handler may talk to the dog and encourage or praise it throughout the exercise.

Test 10: Supervised separation

This test demonstrates that a dog can be left with a trusted person, if necessary, and will maintain training and good manners. Evaluators are encouraged to say something like, “Would you like me to watch your dog?” and then take hold of the dog’s leash. The owner will go out of sight for three minutes. The dog does not have to stay in position but should not continually bark, whine, or pace unnecessarily, or show anything stronger than mild agitation or nervousness. Evaluators may talk to the dog but should not engage in excessive talking, petting, or management attempts (e.g, “there, there, it’s alright”).


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Training City Dogs: Meet Shelby Semel

This week we’re focusing on the AKC Community Canine test (advanced CGC) that was recently held in New York City’s Grand Central Terminal.


Shelby Semel

Shelby Semel, owner of Shelby’s Dog Training, attended the test along with two of her trainers, Corinne Fritzell and Susan Ward.  Shelby is a graduate of the Animal Behavior College and she completed a hands-on mentorship with Kate Perry.  Susan is a graduate of Jean Donaldson’s SF SPCA In-House Dog Trainer’s Academy and the Advanced Instructor’s Training Course at Rondout Valley Kennels, and Corrine is studying animal behavior through the Hunter College Master’s program in animal behavior.

Located at 411 East 57th Street, New York (Mid-town East, near 1st Avenue), Shelby’s Dog Training is a model program when it comes to offering training that teaches dogs and owners how to function in a busy, urban setting. The school’s curriculum has something to meet the needs of every dog and owner: Puppy socialization, Wallflower/adult shy dog class, Basic Obedience, Intermediate Obedience, Advanced Obedience, Control Unleashed, Difficult Dog class, and a Tricks class.

And speaking of tricks, this highly successful training school has found the trick to helping dogs and their owners…they use a scientifically sound training approach, realize that different dogs may do better with different techniques, and they offer a comprehensive curriculum designed to meet the needs of New York City’s dogs and their owners.

For more info, see:  http://www.shelbydogtraining.com/about/

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Training City Dogs: Meet the Instinct Dog Trainers

This week is all about the AKC Community Canine test in Grand Central. In addition to the dogs who went through the test, I was curious to meet the trainers who teach owners to navigate one of the world’s busiest cities with their dogs. New York City is no place for sissies, either humans or canines.


It was a delight to meet Sarah Fraser and Brian Burton at the Grand Central test. They are the owners of Instinct Dog Behavior and Training, LLC (Lexington Avenue between 111th and 112th streets).

Brian and Sarah’s focus is working with behavior problem dogs as well as advanced obedience and competition training. Brian and his rescue dog Sammy competed in the 2013 AKC Rally National Championship, finishing as the top ranked mixed breed.

But what the dog owners who attend Instinct’s classes have to say tells more about this extraordinary, comprehensive dog training program:   “…they are in a true sense of the word, lifesavers.”  And the words frequently used by dog owners to describe the Instinct trainers were: competent, ethical, and lasting results. And this, Ladies and Gentlemen, is what dog owners are looking for.

There are some unique aspects to the Instinct program…they have a flexible drop-in schedule and access to free lifetime brush-up classes for CGC grads. There are free puppy play groups on Thursday evenings–what a great way to introduce puppy owners to training.

So, Sarah, Brian, and all of the Instinct trainers, the dogs and owners you worked with who passed the CGCA in Grand Central thank you. The AKC CGC program thanks you, and the dogs of New York City thank you.

Watch this video of training at Instinct: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xg_hdRdrhzI

For more info, see:  http://www.instinctdogtraining.com/

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