From Abandoned to Overacheiver

September 21, 2011  

A pit bull puppy abandoned at a meth lab prevails as AKC Canine Good Citizen® and much more

By Penny Leigh, Program Manager, AKC Canine Partners

When Cleveland police responded to a tip about an abandoned methamphetamine lab, they found much more than the remnants of an illegal drug operation.

A female pit bull had been left behind to guard the lab and was showing extreme aggression towards the officers. After they called in a rescue volunteer to secure her, another discovery was made. The owners had locked a male pit bull puppy in their garage. The little guy, around 5 months old, had a leash tied around his right hind leg so he could hardly move.

“It was probably there to inhibit his ability to fight back by throwing him off balance, and it was so tight that it was cutting of his circulation to the foot,” said Rocky’s adopter Katie Lackey of Lodi, Ohio. “He also had lots of superficial bite marks on his face and legs. Rocky wasn’t going to die from the bite wounds, but he would have died from starvation since the lab was abandoned.”

Lucky for Rocky, his rescuer, dog trainer Chuck Stella, took him back to his house and got him healthy. A hairless impression around his leg and some scars on his face are all that remain from Rocky’s early ordeal. Rocky bears no grudges. He loves other dogs and people and now lives a busy life with dog trainer Katie Lackey and her two other dogs, plus visiting fosters and boarders.

Rocky was Katie’s first pit bull and one of the first things she did was start training him for the AKC Canine Good Citizen® (CGC) test. The American Kennel Club created the 10-step test of basic obedience and manners in 1989 to promote responsible dog ownership and encourage owners to train their dogs.

Being well behaved in public is especially important for pit bulls, Katie said, and it is helpful to have a certificate that declares Rocky is indeed a Canine Good Citizen.

“More so than other breeds, you need to make sure they have perfect manners and are obedience trained,” she said.
“Someone may not mind a Labrador retriever running at them to say hello, but if it was a pit bull, they would be calling animal control about a vicious dog.”

Following his basic obedience course, Rocky easily passed the CGC test. Components include walking on a loose leash, greeting a friendly stranger and reaction to a neutral dog walking by. Dogs also need to perform a sit and down on command, a 20-foot stay and a recall. CGC evaluators observe how dogs react to a distraction, such as a jogger running by or a person in a wheelchair and must spend three minutes with a stranger while their owners go out of sight to demonstrate they do not have separation anxiety.

Dogs that pass the test receive a frameable certificate from AKC with their name and guardians’ names printed on it.

The CGC is a great stepping stone to other dog activities as it prepares dogs to “perform” in a public setting and to focus on their handlers despite distractions. It is used as the prerequisite for many therapy dog programs and search and rescue organizations.

After receiving his CGC award, Rocky passed the therapy dog test and was certified by Therapy Dogs International.

“He is a very intelligent dog and is being trained in rally, agility and tracking. I plan to also train him in search and rescue,” Katie said.

The CGC program has always been open to any dog of any breed or mix, and AKC registration is not required to take the test. But AKC now has a program that allows all dogs, as long as they are spayed or neutered, to register and also compete in many of its other events. The AKC Canine Partners program is for all dogs, including pit bulls and bully breed mixes. Dogs enrolled in the program can compete in AKC Agility, Rally and Obedience trials, as well the new Coursing Ability Test, and are also eligible for the new AKC Therapy Dog title.

Katie registered Rocky in the Canine Partners program as Rocky the Strong Hearted, and he recently earned his first qualifying scores in the AKC Rally Novice class and also the new AKC Obedience class, Beginner Novice.

“My hope is to use him to fight the stereotypes that irresponsible owners help to create and educate the public about the wonderful pit bull breed,” Katie said.

Her greatest goal for Rocky is that he will one day help catch illegal drug offenders like the ones that left him to die as a puppy. He is training in narcotic scent work in hopes of becoming a drug detection dog. “He is not certified [yet] but can find cocaine, marijuana and meth. We are working on scent association to LSD.”

If that was not enough to keep your average canine busy, Rocky also helps Katie in her business: Katie’s Ark Animal Training and Rescue.

“I use him all the time to help rehabilitate dog-aggressive dogs,” she said. “Not bad for a past bait dog that was left to die in an old meth lab, right?”

Click here to find a CGC evaluator and class in your area.

Click here for more information on the AKC CGC program.

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