By Nancy Carlson • Columnist • 

With a basset hound, you just have to laugh

Snuffleupagus is not going to pass his Canine Good Citizen evaluation this month. Yes, I know that probably sounds pessimistic, and it won’t be for want of trying. But if you happened to have been in Petco recently during the midday Saturday CGC class, you know I speak the truth.

You will have heard his thunderous bark, seen him careen down the aisle (they really shouldn’t leave the dog treats on the lower shelves) with me in tow, perhaps even witnessed my pleading with him to “stay.” He is a hilarious, good-natured, very friendly pooch. But a Canine Good Citizen he is not.

I have written about the Canine Good Citizen certificate several times in my column. It is the American Kennel Club’s laudable effort to be more inclusive, rather than just an organization that runs doggy beauty shows and talent contests. Unlike almost all other AKC activities, the Canine Good Citizenship certificate is opened to mixed-breed dogs and dogs that have been spayed or neutered.

It is, I think, a noble way to encourage the likes of you and me to take dog ownership seriously. Not only should we take responsibility for the welfare of the animal entrusted to us, we should also make sure our beloved pets are not a nuisance or annoyance to anyone else. If you and your dog pass the Canine Good Citizenship test, chances are good they won’t be.

And in truth, the evaluation is not rocket science for either the dog or his human. The owner has to sign a pledge to keep Fluffy current on her vaccinations and license and make sure she is healthy and well cared for. The dog has to show that she is under the control of her owner, and can behave politely in public.

Which is the crux of the problem I am having with Snuffleupagus. He is seldom under my control, and his behavior in public is, at the moment, something of a crapshoot. There are 10 parts to the evaluation, and unhappily for Snuffleupagus and me, the AKC does not grade on a curve. We have to pass all 10 to earn our certificate, and we are currently looking pretty bad.

For example, No. 4, “Out for a Walk,” requires that the dog walk through a course of turns and stops by his owner’s side and with a loose leash. The dog doesn’t have to do a formal heel; he just can’t go wherever he wants, dragging his owner in tow.

Snuffleupagus loves to go on walks with me, and I know he does not purposely set out to drive me crazy. But he is a very happy, very lively, very large young basset hound with the attention span of a gnat and a 70 pound body that wants to go wherever his nose leads him, rather than where I intend him to go.

If I have something in my hand that smells more interesting than just about anything else — a chunk of hot dog, for example — he is admirably attentive to me and will walk on a loose leash anywhere I say. To our chagrin, however, the AKC does not allow the use of food during the evaluation, and the absence of what apparently is his only motivator leaves us both at the mercy of his basset hound nose.

Another challenge to which Snuffleupagus is not going to rise is No. 8, “Reaction to Another Dog.” To pass this part of the evaluation, a future Canine Good Citizen needs to walk alongside his owner while another person walks past them with another dog on a leash. Your dog can show a mild interest in the other dog, but that’s about it.

Snuffleupagus is a lot of things, but mild is not one of them. He is either wildly enthusiastic or asleep. His normal reaction to another dog is to run up to them, tail wagging and mouth barking. The fact that I would prefer he not do that is a mere afterthought. If I look displeased, well, I’ll just have to get over it, won’t I?

But the most difficult roadblock between Snuffles and me and the CGC certificate is test No. 6: “The Long Stay.” Unless a nap is involved, Snuffles can find absolutely no point in “stay,” especially in the midst of Petco, which is a basset’s version of Disney World. Why “stay,” when it is so much more fun to “go”? There are people to pet him, dogs to play with and low-lying treats he can steal. Stay? No way!

The one part of the test that he’s going to be fine with is No. 10, the “Supervised Separation.” To pass this, I hand the leash to another person and disappear from the dog’s sight for three minutes. The dog is supposed to remain calm and not appear overly anxious about where his owner has disappeared to. Not a problem for the Snuff. He could care less who’s holding his leash as long as there is entertainment, such as the aforementioned people, other dogs and treats to shoplift. His tail just keeps wagging.

I like to think that sooner or later, he would notice I’m not there and possibly miss me, but three minutes away from his beloved owner is not even worth drooling over.

In my experience as a dog owner, which now spans a couple of decades, there are plenty of times dogs can be a source of pride for us. There are just as many occasions when a dog’s behavior can be a source of humiliation. I have a feeling Snuffleupagus and his CGC evaluation are going to be among the latter.

Oh, well. If I can’t laugh at myself, I have no business owning a basset hound.

Nancy Carlson can be reached at

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