AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program: What Is It & What Does it Mean?


Last Updated: May 2, 2024 | 7 min read | Leave a Comment

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If you’re about to welcome a new puppy into your life, congratulations! You and your new best friend are about to embark together on a lifetime of fun and adventure.

But owning a dog is a big responsibility that should not be taken on lightly. Your puppy will rely on you for everything, including food, shelter, and of course love!

You’re also responsible for ensuring that your puppy grows up to be a well-behaved member of your community who’s welcome in your neighborhood. That’s where the American Kennel Club’s S.T.A.R. Puppy Program comes in.

What’s The AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program?

The AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program is designed to focus on everything that puppies and their owners need to give them both the best possible start on their journey together. The AKC believes that every dog deserves to be trained correctly and to have a responsible owner. And the AKC wants to reward responsible dog owners.

Brown and White Puppy on a Blue Leash
The AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program is intended to get you and your puppy off to the best possible start.

S.T.A.R. stands for Socialization, Training, Activity, and Responsibility. And that’s not just for puppies but for their owners, too.

Once you’ve signed up for the Program, you’ll be expected to attend training classes that will teach you all about how to communicate with your puppy. These organized training classes also allow your puppy to socialize with other dogs. You’ll learn how to deal with challenging puppy-raising issues, including housetraining, chewing, and basic obedience, such as coming when called.

As an owner, you’ll be trained and tested on the following behaviors:

  1. Maintaining your puppy’s health, including vaccines, examinations, and routine health checks.
  2. You’ll receive a Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge.
  3. Show that you can provide an adequate daily exercise and play plan for your puppy.
  4. Take your puppy to at least six approved AKC obedience classes.
  5. Proof of obtaining a form of ID for your puppy, such as a collar tag, microchip, etc.

Also, your puppy will need to show the following behaviors:

  1. Be friendly and non-aggressive towards people and other puppies throughout at least six weeks of classes.
  2. Tolerate wearing a harness or collar of your choice.
  3. Depending on the size of your puppy, he must allow you to hug or hold him.
  4. Your puppy will let you remove a treat or toy from him without objecting.

All the skills you and your puppy learn during the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy classes are designed to be functional and practical, too. So, by the end of the course, your puppy should be happy to tolerate being handled and groomed, and he should accept basic examinations of his mouth, ears, and feet. The result will be a well-mannered puppy that your vet will be happy to see.

How Does It Work?

Adorable Puppy on Leash
You don’t have to own a pedigree puppy to participate in the Program. Crossbreeds are welcome too.

To be eligible for enrollment in the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program, you’ll first need to complete a basic training class with your puppy. An AKC-Approved CGC Evaluator must teach the training class, and your dog must be under one year old. The training course lasts for a minimum of six weeks.

At the end of the course, you and your puppy will need to take the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy test. When you and your puppy have passed the test, you’ll receive an application to send to the AKC that will allow you to enroll in the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program. 

Once you and your puppy have completed the Program, your puppy will be awarded the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Medal. And both you and your puppy will have the honor of being listed in the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy records.

So you and your furry friend can continue learning, you’ll also receive the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy package that includes a:

  • Certificate for you to frame.
  • New Puppy Guide: the AKC’s digital resource about caring for your new puppy.
  • Monthly email newsletter, including all the most up-to-date information every dog owner should know.

To get started, find an AKC CGC Approved Evaluator and enroll your puppy in a training course that’s close to where you live. You can also find training courses through some AKC clubs. Check out this link to see if there’s one in your local area. Sometimes, you’ll find lists of CGC tests at AKC shows.

The AKC CGC Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge

A vital element of the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program is the responsible owner. When you enroll in the Program, you will make the Pledge as below:

I will be responsible for my dog’s health needs, including:

  • routine veterinary care, including vaccination and health checks
  • proper diet and adequate nutrition; fresh, clean water at all times
  • daily exercise, regular grooming, and bathing

I will be responsible for my dog’s safety.

  • I will control my dog by not letting my pet run off-leash in public and by providing
    fencing where appropriate
  • I will make sure that my dog has ID when appropriate. That may include tattoos, microchip, or collar tags, etc.
  • I will provide supervision when children and my dog are together.

I won’t allow my dog to infringe on the rights of people in my community.

  • I won’t allow my dog to run off-leash in my neighborhood.
  • I will not permit my dog to cause a nuisance to my neighbors by barking while he’s in the yard, in a hotel room, etc.
  • I will pick up and responsibly dispose of my dog’s feces in areas such as sidewalks, hotel grounds, dog parks, etc.
  • I will pick up and responsibly dispose of my dog’s feces in areas of wilderness, on hiking trails, in campgrounds, etc.

I will take responsibility for my dog’s quality of life.

  • I understand that it’s beneficial to give all dogs basic training.
  • I will provide my dog with playtime and attention.
  • I understand that dog ownership is a commitment in both caring and time.”

What happens after the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program? Once you and your puppy have completed the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program, you can move on to participate in the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Program.

AKC Canine Good Citizen Program

Puppy in Training
An increasing number of condos and apartments insist that dogs pass the CGC test before they can be welcomed as residents.

AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Program is promoted as the “gold standard of behavior for dogs in our communities.” The Program was launched in 1989, and since then millions of dogs, including mixed and pure breeds, have taken part.

The Canine Good Citizen Program (CGC) forms a part of the AKC Family Dog Program and is chosen by many dog owners as the very first step in their dog’s training. The Family Dog Program also makes an excellent foundation for those wanting to get started in dog sports such as agility, obedience, dock diving, and more.

Through participating in the CGC Program, you’ll enhance the bond you have with your dog, and the basic obedience training you will both undertake will make your dog a pleasure to have around, as your pet will be well-socialized and obedient.

Also, the CGC award comes with many benefits for the dog owner. For example, holding the award is a prerequisite of many therapy dog organizations, and some home insurance companies encourage CGC testing too.

Canine Good Citizen Test

What does the Canine Good Citizen Test involve? Before you and your dog can take the CGC test, you’ll be asked to sign the Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge. Once you’ve signed the Pledge, you’ll be asked to take your dog through the ten-step test that’s run by an AKC approved CGC Evaluator.

Here’s a summary of what’s involved in the CGC test:

  1. Accepting a friendly stranger

Your dog must allow a friendly stranger to approach and speak to you in an everyday scenario.

  1. Sit politely for petting

Your dog must permit a friendly stranger to pet your dog while your pup is with you.

  1. Appearance and grooming

Your dog must allow someone to examine his front feet and ears, just like your vet or dog groomer would do.

  1. Out for an on-leash walk

Your dog will be required to walk on a loose leash with you, following the evaluator’s commands.

  1. Walking through a crowd

Your dog will be required to walk through a small group of pedestrians, passing close to at least three people.

  1. “Sit,” “down,” and “stay” on command

Your dog must sit, lie down, and stay on command. (You will be allowed to choose the position for the stay.)

  1. Come when called

When on-leash and at least ten feet away from you, your dog must come to you when you call him.

  1. Reaction to another dog

Your dog will behave well around other dogs. Two handlers and their dogs will be asked to walk towards each other from a distance of around 20 feet. The handlers will stop, shake hands, and chat.

  1. Reactions to distractions

The evaluator will choose and present two distractions to your dog. For example, they may drop a chair, etc.

  1. Supervised separation

The supervised separation test is designed to show that your dog can be left with a trustworthy person. To demonstrate that, the evaluator will hold your dog on a leash for a few minutes while you are out of sight.

To see more about what’s expected during the CGC test, check out the videos for each test item at this link.

After Passing The CGC Test

When you’ve successfully passed the CGC test, you can choose to receive either of the following options:

  1. CGC as a TitleFor a fee of $20, you can choose to have the official AKC CGC title for your dog. You’ll get a certificate, and CGC will be added to your dog’s AKC title record.
  2. CGC CertificateIf you prefer, or if your dog isn’t AKC registered, you can choose to receive the CGC certificate only. The processing fee for the certificate is $10.

Who’s Eligible?

Dogs of any age can participate in the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen program. Although the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program is recommended, it’s not a prerequisite for CGC. There are a couple of exceptions in that if the CGC test is to be given at an AKC show, the age requirements applicable to that show also apply to CGC. Also, the test may be restricted to purebred dogs or those who are entered in the show.

Where To Start

A good starting place for those owners who are keen to participate in the CGC program is to purchase the office CGC book, Citizen Canine. Once you know more about what’s involved, you should find a CGC evaluator in your local area (check out this link for details.)

Canine Good Citizen training will provide you and your dog with a firm foundation for all your future training endeavors. Following CGC, you might want to get involved in more training programs, such as AKC Community Canine or Urban CGC.

Final Thoughts

The AKC’s S.T.A.R. Puppy Program is the gateway to further, more advanced training that will benefit you, your dog, and your whole community. Early training is vital for your puppy. Contact the AKC today to find out more about their S.T.A.R. Puppy Program and other training initiatives.

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