Well-behaved dog is key to responsible ownership

(Published October. 30, 2006, 11:38 a.m.)

By Norm Starks/Contributor

Nothing can be more frustrating for a dog owner than having your favorite pet greet guests to your home by jumping up on them with muddy paws. Or nothing can cause more liability than a dog that bites the hand of a friendly passerby while you're out walking him.

Solution? Enroll your dog in the AKC Canine Good Citizen Program sponsored by K9 Advantix. Begun in 1989, the program is designed to teach dogs basic good manners as well as teach their owners how to be responsible pet owners.

Ruth Campshure, owner of the Canine Company, 4157 Industrial Court in Delavan, (262) 728-0199, has been handling and training dogs for 50 years, the last 15 here in Delavan. She is a certified trainer and evaluator for the CGC program, and she says a trained, mannerly dog is essential to responsible ownership.

"The key question is: Could a groomer or vet examine the dog?" she said. "Dogs that are not trained are hard to handle, even by these professionals."

She gives her customers a choice of training programs, but encourages a basic first-step training program before starting the CGC. Training sessions are held once a week for one-half hour. During the initial training, Campshure says she teaches dogs the basic commands of heel, sit, down, stay and to come when called.

"That last one is so important," she said. "A dog's favorite game is 'Catch me if you can!'"

Once completing this basic training, she then teaches the CGC training which teaches 10 good-manner items, including accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, welcoming grooming, walking on a loose leash, walking through a crowd, sit and down on command/staying in place, coming when called, reaction to another dog, reactions to distractions and supervised separation, again through four weeks of one half-hour session per week. Both training session series cost $100 each at Canine Company.

Once the CGC program is completed, the dog is tested by an AKC-certified evaluator who sends the results into the AKC. If approved, the owner will then receive a certificate by mail.

Campshure emphasizes that additional training and work is required of the owner besides just the weekly sessions.

"The owner's work at home is essential," she said. "I recommend spending a half hour every day for at least five days a week. Otherwise, the dogs will forget what they've learned. They're just like kids; you have to keep reinforcing what you teach them.

Campshure said any kind of dog can learn and practice the training.

"Most dogs take to it very fast," she said. "It's like they're saying 'Good, I get to use my brain!' Poodles and border collies are probably the easiest to train, but most any breed has the capacity to learn, even mixed-breed dogs."

Very rarely she has come across a dog that refuses to be trained.

"Any breed can have a mean streak in one or two pups," she said. "It's not always the environment or handling that causes meanness."

Dogs can begin to CGC program training as young as three months old, with some exceptions for AKC competitors that may have to be older.

"The main requirement is they have to be old enough to have received all their shots," Campshure said.

The end result is a polite dog you can be proud of and one that is less of a liability and more of an asset. And service providers such as your groomer or veterinarian will be thrilled as well.

"Trying to groom an untrained dog is a hassle," she said. "I've done a lot of training on the table."

The American Kennel Club is a strong backer of the program.

"The Canine Good Citizen Program lays the foundation for other AKC activities such as obedience, agility, tracking and performance events," the club says on its Web site. "As you work with your dog to teach the CGC skills, you'll discover the many benefits and joys of training your dog. Dogs who have a solid obedience education are a joy to live with."

Campshure said she and her ex-husband, Arley Hussin have made a life-long work of training and handling dogs.

"I started in Green Bay training our own dogs," she said. "Over time, my husband and I became professional handlers and trainers."

She offers private training sessions at Canine Company in a large room in her business. She's currently exploring the possibility of adding another kind of training to her repertoire by working with Okada Guide Dogs: training all kinds of guide dogs for blind, hearing-impaired, autistic children's companions and medical alert dogs.

So what do you need to do to enroll your dog in the Canine Good Citizenship Program? Campshure says to call her for an appointment, then make sure you bring your dog's shot certificates with you to that first session.

"My goal is to inform the public about the value of living with a trained dog and how welcomed a trained dog is when you travel," she said. "With a CGC certificate, you may even be able to take your dog into a motel that doesn't ordinarily welcome them."

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