Companion Dogs for Veterans: Enhancing Lives through the CGC Program


Companion dogs have become invaluable assets in improving the lives of veterans, providing emotional support, and enhancing mental health. For veterans who may be dealing with the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, or depression, the companionship and unconditional love of a well-trained dog can make a remarkable difference. The American Kennel Club Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program offers a structured training framework that equips dogs with essential skills to be well-mannered and reliable companions. In this article, we will explore the benefits of companion dogs for veterans and delve into the ten essential skills every well-mannered dog should know according to the CGC program. 

1. Selecting the Right Breed and Personality:

Finding the perfect companion dog begins with selecting a breed and personality that aligns with the specific needs of the veteran. Some breeds are naturally inclined towards being calm, patient, and highly trainable, making them ideal for veterans seeking emotional support. Working closely with reputable shelters and rescue organizations, or service dog programs can help veterans find the perfect match.

2. The CGC Program and Its Ten Essential Skills:

The American Kennel Club's CGC program sets a standard for canine behavior and manners. It focuses on training dogs to be well-behaved in various environments and situations. The ten essential skills covered by the CGC program include:

- Accepting a friendly stranger: The dog should remain calm and well-mannered when approached by a friendly stranger.

- Sitting politely for petting: The dog should allow a friendly stranger to pet them without jumping or displaying excessive excitement.

- Appearance and grooming: The dog should tolerate basic grooming procedures, such as being brushed and examined.

- Out for a walk: The dog should walk on a loose leash beside their handler without pulling or reacting to distractions.

- Walking through a crowd: The dog should maintain composure while walking through a crowd, without pulling or becoming anxious.

- Sit and down on command and staying in place: The dog should respond promptly to sit and down commands and remain in place until given a release command.

- Coming when called: The dog should come when called, even when distractions are present.

- Reaction to another dog: The dog should display appropriate behavior when encountering another dog, such as remaining calm and friendly.

- Reaction to distractions: The dog should remain focused and well-behaved in the presence of distractions, such as noises or joggers.

- Supervised separation: The dog should demonstrate calmness and confidence when separated from their handler for a brief period.

3. Importance of Socialization and Training:

Socialization and training are vital for the success of a companion dog in a veteran's life. Early socialization exposes dogs to various environments, people, and animals, ensuring they grow up to be well-adjusted and confident. Consistent training using positive reinforcement techniques builds a strong bond between the veteran and the dog while reinforcing desirable behaviors.

4. Getting Involved with Local Organizations and Programs:

Veterans seeking a companion dog can benefit from reaching out to local organizations and programs that specialize in matching dogs with veterans. Organizations like K9s For Warriors, Paws for Purple Hearts, and The Battle Buddy Foundation provide trained companion dogs to veterans in need. By leveraging these resources, veterans can find support, guidance, and even financial assistance in obtaining and training their companion dogs.

Case Studies:

- John, an Army veteran diagnosed with PTSD, found solace and companionship in his Golden Retriever, Max. Through the CGC program, Max learned to provide John with emotional support during anxiety-inducing situations, allowing him to regain his independence and confidence.

- Sarah, a Marine veteran, struggled with depression and isolation. Her Labrador Retriever, Bella, trained in the CGC program, motivated Sarah to establish a daily routine, exercise regularly, and engage with others at the local dog park. Bella's presence brought joy and purpose back into Sarah's life.

Practical Tips for Training and Integration:

- Consistency is key: Establish a regular training schedule and reinforce desired behaviors consistently.

- Positive reinforcement: Use treats, praise, and rewards to motivate and reward your companion dog for good behavior.

- Gradual exposure: Introduce your dog to different environments, people, and situations gradually, allowing them to adapt and remain calm.

- Exercise and mental stimulation: Regular exercise and mental stimulation are crucial for a dog's overall well-being. Incorporate daily walks, play sessions, and puzzle toys into their routine.

- Veterinarian care: Ensure your companion dog receives regular veterinary check-ups, vaccinations, and proper nutrition to maintain good health.

Considerations and Challenges:

- Cost: Training, veterinary care, and ongoing maintenance can incur expenses. Veterans should explore financial assistance options available through organizations and programs.

- Continued training and maintenance: Training is an ongoing process, and periodic refresher courses or advanced training may be necessary to maintain the dog's skills and behavior.

- Lifestyle adjustments: Veterans should be prepared to adjust their routines, provide consistent care, and dedicate time to their companion dog's needs.


Companion dogs trained through the American Kennel Club's CGC program offer veterans unwavering support, emotional healing, and improved mental health. By selecting the right breed, engaging in thorough training, and participating in local programs, veterans can find a loyal and loving companion that enhances their daily lives. The CGC program's ten essential skills provide a framework for a well-behaved dog, reinforcing the bond between veteran and dog and promoting a harmonious partnership. The journey of training and caring for a companion dog is undoubtedly transformative, offering veterans a renewed sense of purpose, unconditional love, and a steadfast ally on their path to healing and recovery.

For more information, please visit:

- American Kennel Club

- Chester McKay VFW Post 7987

Also, check out our other article: 

Author Bio: Robert is a dedicated member of Chester McKay VFW Post 7987 and a passionate advocate for the well-being of veterans. With a deep understanding of the positive impact companion dogs can have on veterans' lives, Robert has witnessed firsthand the transformative power of the Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program. Through his involvement in local organizations supporting veterans and their canine companions, Robert is committed to spreading awareness and providing valuable information on the benefits, training, and integration of companion dogs for veterans. His experiences and insights aim to empower veterans with the knowledge they need to find comfort, support, and renewed hope through the companionship of a well-trained dog.

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