By Shelly Leary, Guest Author

Most of us know that dogs and people are a natural match. Not all people like dogs, and not all dogs like people, but for the most part they are drawn to one another. Both species attempt to learn the language of the other and connect on a deeper level. The more they learn to communicate with one another, the deeper the bond, and the more fulfilling the relationship becomes.

bernese1Some people have trouble knowing how to work within a structured environment, yet that is what a society is — structured. Whether it is our natural inclination or not, structure is something we must achieve to be part of a productive and healthy community. Working with dogs helps those who are trying to achieve this goal in a fun and positive manner.

Youth from the Riverbend Youth Transitional Facility in Eastern Oregon have the opportunity to work each week with Bernese Mountain Dogs ranging from young puppies to senior dogs. The majority of the dogs are young and learning a large variety of skills for the first time. But their age doesn’t matter. What is important is that social relationships are being made.

The youth must establish a trust relationship with the dog they choose and work on basic obedience. When this is accomplished, they are allowed to test within the CGC format. Not titling the dog, but earning a handler certificate. This is highly significant because the youth have to discipline themselves to learn what is required of a title, plus discipline themselves in patience and consistency.

bernese2The dogs all train with their owner, but this does not transfer over to the youth. The youth must develop their own connection and “language” with each dog. Working with the older and previously trained dogs presents a greater challenge. The youth truly must work hard to gain respect and attention from the dog.

When a youth first receives a dog to work with, we frequently see that the dog will not make eye contact. This is the first obstacle to overcome. The second is time dedicated to building a relationship through play, grooming or general companionship. We see youth who are hesitant, even fearful, about working with large dogs transform into confident young men who are proud and eager to show off their accomplishments. We also see youth who are overly confident thinking they can accomplish these tasks quickly. The dogs teach them to slow down and work through the steps. These are all valuable skills that will transfer to everyday life in their community.

Preparing for the CGC evaluation requires the youth to be confident in themselves and inspire confidence in the dog. They work on basic social skills and dealing with self control, which translates directly to their dogs. By the time they are ready to be evaluated, we see the youth willing to make eye contact with the evaluator, speak confidently about their accomplishments and even educate the public about the dog they have trained. However, the youth are still incredibly fragile. The feeling of potential failure is there. This is also a life skill. We all fail! How we handle it makes all the difference in how we see ourselves and how others see us. CGC allows a reasonable “retry” offer, but if the cut isn’t made, the youth knows that more time and work will be required.

This article is more about the benefit to our youth, but the CGC benefits our dogs as well. A confident, well-mannered dog is a pleasure to be around. Owners will want to include their pet in family activities if they can trust their companion to behave. Because of this, the animals have a greater chance of remaining in their forever home and not being a nuisance to society.

Thank you AKC for making a program that works to make a better society for all of us. Thank you to Gail Hesscock, CGC evaluator, for helping make this experience a positive one that will make a difference in lives for both people and dogs.


Riverbend Volunteers,

Shelly Leary

Marti House

& The Swiss Silhouette Bernese Mountain Dogs:

Ollie, Liesl, Bindi, Freja, Coda, Sera, Terra, & Niquita


About Canine Good Citizen

AKC Canine Good Citizen Director, Author of the AKC's official CGC book, "CITIZEN CANINE"
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