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Class makes canine citizens

Education: Certification lets unpopular breeds become insurable and is a vital step for therapy dogs

Posted: October 22, 2011 1:30 a.m.
Updated: October 22, 2011 1:30 a.m.

Kyle Harris, left, walks Kara among the other class-mates of the Canine Good Citizen in order to teach calmness around other dogs at Central Park in Saugus on Thursday.

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They move in unison, a tan pack of wagging tails and smiling faces.

“Forward. About turn. Left turn. Halt. Sit.”

The commands come quick, and the dogs respond appropriately, much to the delight of their owners, who gather in Central Park in Saugus each Thursday morning.

The four canine classmates — Jack, Norman, Kara and Red — are training for American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen certification.

Started in 1989, the Canine Good Citizen Program is a two-part program that stresses responsible pet ownership for owners and basic good manners for dogs. All dogs who pass the 10-step CGC test receive a certificate from the AKC.

Jeanette Beltrans, a CGC-certified dog trainer who has led group obedience and CGC classes in the Santa Clarita Valley for the last 15 years, runs the canines through their paces.

“I know these gals, and I knew they were going to bring their ‘bully breeds.’ I have a soft spot for bully breeds,” Beltrans said.

Bully breeds include pit bulls, boxers or bulldogs.

“One of the benefits of getting a CGC on one of the so-called ‘dangerous breeds’ is that there are a couple of insurance companies that are willing to insure pet owners if they have CGCs on their dogs. Before, they might not insure you at all,” Beltrans said.

Another benefit, Beltrans continued, is the ability to go further into therapy dog training. Most organizations that utilize therapy dogs require CGC certification.

Kyle Harris, of Canyon Country, plans to do just that with Kara, the only girl in the class. 

“We want to join the READ program, to go into libraries and schools, and help children learn to read,” Harris said. “Kara loves people and all the attention.”

That includes attention from the boys in class, yet Kara manages to maintain her composure as all the dogs are lined up for a slalom exercise. One by one, they move in and out of the canine gauntlet with nary a glance at one another.

Harris looked around proudly.

“It’s hard to believe all of these dogs were social rejects,” she said with a smile.

Kara was brought to a high-kill Los Angeles County animal shelter as a pregnant stray. Once all her puppies were adopted,

Kara was put on death row before Harris fostered her and eventually decided to adopt the dog.

Red, a red-nosed pit bull, was scheduled for euthanasia at a shelter before being rescued by Lynda Hill, of Castaic. Now in boarding, Hill is hoping the CGC assignation will help find Red a permanent home.

“Since he doesn’t get much socialization in boarding, I wanted to get him out and give him training,” Hill said. “He’s doing wonderful. I’m really happy with his progress.”

Jack, a tan Sharpei/pit mix, was adopted from a shelter by Yvonne Allbee, of Saugus, two months ago.

“He was a stray,” Allbee said, patting Jack’s wrinkled forehead. “Since Jack’s a pit-bull mix, I knew he’d be judged. This is just giving him the opportunity to show how smart and gentle he really is.”

Norman, a Chihuahua and pit-bull mix, or “chit” as owner Clare Storey likes to call him, was found at a Newhall gas station as a puppy. He’s now 4 years old, and despite being the smallest in class, more than holds his own.

“Training your dog, whatever the breed, naturally improves the relationship between dog and owner. You can take your dog anywhere and be proud,” said Storey, who resides in Castaic. “It works the dog’s mind, too. They can get bored.”

“It’s fun to see the all the personalities,” Beltrans said. “These are dogs that came from who-knows-what kind of background. It’s just one more plus to show how these bully breeds aren’t the enemies some people think they are.”

During the CGC-certification process, the dogs will be tested on the following categories: accepting a friendly stranger, sitting politely for petting, appearance and grooming, walking on a loose lead, walking through a crowd, sitting and down on command and staying in place, coming when called, reaction to another dog, reaction to distraction and supervised separation.

Beltrans has no worries that this group will pass.

“They’re doing fabulous so far with minimal training,” she said. “I’m thrilled with this class.”

For information on starting a group CGC or obedience training class, contact Jeanette Beltrans at dogs_ma04@yahoo.com.

For information on adopting Red, contact Lynda Hill at curlyhill@sbcglobal.net.

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