Animal Tails: GC terrier becomes good citizen


 Messenger photos by Andrea Cordle
 From bad to good. This once fiesty Grove City dog, Spirit, has completed an American Kennel Club program that makes good citizens out of canines. Here Spirit "talks" to his owner Elizabeth Branson as she commands.

 Elizabeth Branson and her West Highland Terrier, Spirit, enjoy a sunny autumn day in front of their Grove City home. Sitting calmly with Spirit is something Branson had to work hard to do.

Who says turning your life around is just for humans? Dogs can do it too.

Spirit, a 2-year-old West Highland terrier from Grove City, is officially a good citizen. He successfully completed the ten-step American Kennel Club (AKC) Canine Good Citizen program. There was a time when his owner, Elizabeth Branson, thought that would never be possible.

Branson got Spirit when he was just over 8 weeks old. She noticed the dog chewing and tearing up whatever he could but he also had problems with aggression. Spirit began biting Branson and even sent her to the emergency room once.

"Every book I read told me to have the dog euthanized," Branson said. "There was a time when I almost gave up on him."

Branson said that she grew up on a farm and has always been very fond of animals. She has a gift for training them.

"I decided not to give up on Spirit," she recalled. "I though he deserved a chance in life."

West Highland terriers are known to be strong willed. Branson said when given a command, they ask themselves "what’s in it for me?" They are also known to be well mannered.

"Spirit was the extreme other way," she said.

Branson decided to put her gift of animal training to use. For a year and a half she worked extensively with Spirit, teaching him obedience and socialization. The training paid off and Spirit has the certificate to prove it.

On Oct. 13, Spirit completed the AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program at a Westie Walk in Gahanna. Started in 1989, CGC is a certification program that is designed to reward dogs who have good manners at home and in the community. According to the AKC Web site, the program stresses responsible pet ownership for owners and basic good manners for dogs. All dogs who pass the ten-step test may receive an embroidered patch and certificate from AKC.

The CGC program is one of the most rapidly growing programs in the AKC. Many therapy dog groups use the CGC as a screening tool. It lays the foundation for other activities such as obedience, agility, tracking and performance events.

To be a good citizen, the canine must pass all ten steps. This includes accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, appearance and grooming, walking on a loose leash, walking through a crowd, sit and down commands, coming when called, reaction to another dog, reactions to distractions and supervised separation.

"I though Spirit would fail the out-of-sight separation part but he did very well," said Branson. "I am so proud of him because of what I’ve been through with him."

Now on his best behavior, Spirit goes just about everywhere with Branson. He goes to the pet store, Fryer Park and Gantz Park. He also goes to nursing homes with Branson.

"He is just so special to me," she said. "We’ve got such a great bond. My pets are my children."

A number of specialty (one breed) clubs give the CGC test at their annual national dog show. Some veterinary hospitals also offer the program. For more information on how your dog can become a canine good citizen, log onto

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