Congratulations on your new puppy! Part of the fun is definitely training your new dog–and that training can start right away. I started training our puppy Isla as soon as we adopted her, and soon I was looking for puppy classes. I chose one that offered the AKC STAR Puppy Test — is it worth it and should you consider it for your puppy?
I’ll walk you through our experience with the classes and the test and you can decide if this might be a good fit for your new little best friend!
What Is STAR Puppy?
AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy is an American Kennel Club® (AKC) training program geared towards puppies and their people. “S.T.A.R.” stands for Socialization, Training, Activity and a Responsible owner.
Key components of the program include:
- Socialization: Introducing the puppy to various environments, situations, and people to ensure they grow up to be well-adjusted, confident adults.
- Training: Basic commands like sit, down, and come, and also beginning good behaviors like not jumping on people.
- Activity: Encouraging play and exercise which are vital for a puppy’s physical and mental development.
- Responsibility: Teaching owners about the responsibilities of dog ownership, from proper nutrition and veterinary care to ensuring their pet is a well-behaved member of the community.
Overall, the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy program is a proactive approach to ensure that puppies grow up to be well-behaved, sociable, and happy members of their families and communities.
You can enroll your dog in a Star Puppy class any time before their first birthday (although some training facilities cut it off at the six-month mark). The AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy award can be given to dogs as long as they are under one year old.
All breeds and mixes (like our Isla, a mix of mixes) are eligible for S.T.A.R. Puppy.
Unlike the Canine Good Citizen test for which you can train your dog yourself, to take the S.T.A.R. Puppy Test and receive the award, you’ll need to enroll in a six-week training class taught by an AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) Approved Evaluators. You can search for “AKC Star Puppy training near me” as well to find a puppy class taught by an approved evaluator.
I took Isla to puppy class at Petco because all the Petco trainers are AKC approved evaluators.
Why I Decided to Do S.T.A.R. Puppy
I did not do S.T.A.R. Puppy training with Barli since he was six months old when we adopted him. (The same holds true for our earlier dogs Tiki and Irie, both at the six month mark when they joined our family.) Barli went right into adult training classes so we didn’t get to do puppy training with him.
Isla, however, was just two months old when we adopted her so I thought it would be fun to take her through the program. I love training our dogs and am always looking for more ways to socialize them and get them out in the world, even at an early age. And, since we live in the country, I’m always looking for more ways to get her exposed to more people and more dogs.
AKC STAR Puppy Test Items: What Does My Pup Need to Know?
AKC poster for S.T.A.R. Puppy
You’ll take the Star Puppy test after you complete the six weeks of puppy classes, and those classes will teach you and your dog the behaviors that will be checked on the test.
The test consists of 10 owner behaviors and 20 puppy behaviors. While this seems like a lot for test day, don’t worry–your instructor will be marking off many of the behaviors as you complete the class so the list is much more manageable on test day.
Here’s a look at the owner behaviors your evaluator will be looking for:
- Maintains puppy’s health (vaccines, exams, appears healthy) — You’ll be showing your dog’s vaccine records on the first day of class at most training facilities so you’ll have this one checked off right away.
- Owner receives Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge — The Responsible Dog Owner’s Pledge says that you’ll be responsible for the health, quality of life and safety of your dog and that you won’t allow your dog to infringe on the rights of others.
- Owner describes adequate daily play and exercise plan — You’ll talk with your trainer about your dog’s play and dog walking activities.
- Owner and puppy attend at least 6 classes by an AKC Approved CGC Evaluator — If you miss a class, be sure to schedule a makeup class.
- Owner brings bags to classes for cleaning up after puppy
- Owner has obtained some form of ID for puppy-collar tag, etc.
And here’s a look at the puppy behaviors your trainer will be looking for during the class sessions:
- Free of aggression toward people during at least 6 weeks of class
- Free of aggression toward other puppies in class
- Tolerates collar or body harness of owner’s choice
- Owner can hug or hold puppy (depending on size)
- Puppy allows owner to take away a treat or toy
Pre-Canine Good Citizen Behaviors
On the day of your Star Puppy test, the evaluator will be looking at these items:
- Allows (in any position) petting by a person other than the owner
- Grooming – You’ll show that you can handle your dog and give a brief mock exam of your dog’s ears and feet.
- Walks on a Leash – You’ll show that your dog can follow you on leash in a straight line, walking 15 steps.
- Walks by other people – You’ll demonstrated that you can walk your dog on past other people from a distance of five feet away.
- Sits on command – You’ll put your dog in a sit. (You can use a food lure on this test, unlike the Canine Good Citizen test.)
- Down on command – You’ll show you can put your dog in a down position (again, you may use a food lure if you like.)
- Comes to owner from 5 feet away when your dog’s name is called.
- Reaction to Distractions – The trainer will present distractions from 15 feet away. Your dog can react and show interest but not become upset.
- Stay on leash with another person — You’ll hand over the leash and walk away for 10 steps. Your dog can watch you and show interest but not become too upset.
You’ll learn each of these behaviors in puppy class (and AKC also has a book called AKC STAR Puppy: A Positive Behavioral Approach to Puppy Training if you are looking for more tips.)
Did Isla Pass the Test?
After completing her puppy classes, we went in for a private session with the Petco trainer for Isla’s test. The test took place in the store. There were a couple of items–showing that your dog accepts hugging and taking away of a toy–we hadn’t done in class so we did those at the start of the test in the training area.
After that, we went out onto the store floor with Isla on leash to demonstrate the other behaviors. There was a woman shopping in one section of the store so I walked Isla by the woman (who was unaware there was a test in progress)–and Isla did great. That was the main behavior I was concerned about since Isla likes to go up and see people!
Isla breezed through all the other behaviors and passed! The trainer signed off on her papers to AKC, giving me a multi-part form to send one copy to AKC and one to keep.
You don’t have to send in the form to AKC but, if you do, you’ll send it in with a check for $10. This will enroll you and your puppy in the AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy Program and you will receive an AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy package which includes a frameable certificate and an AKC S.T.A.R. Puppy medal.
I sent in Isla’s form and a check; a little over a month later we received her packet!
I’m proud of our achievement as a team and really loved doing the puppy classes with Isla–and taking the STAR Puppy Test. I’d definitely say it is worth it to help get your puppy off on the right paw and to start learning together!
Is STAR Puppy an AKC Title?
STAR Puppy is considered an award, not a title. It’s the first step toward a lifetime of training to earn titles.
When you send in your STAR Puppy test results, you can also go ahead and create an AKC record for your dog if (like Isla) you do not have an AKC record. Once you’ve created that, you’ll can start adding titles as your dog earns them.
After the STAR Puppy Test
What’s next after the STAR Puppy award?
Next you can move on and start your dog’s adult classes (usually two sets of six-week classes) then sign up for a Canine Good Citizen preparatory class.
These classes will walk you through the test items to practice behaviors that are on the CGC test, ones much like the STAR Puppy test items but with more difficulty (and without treat lures!) At the end of the class, you can take the CGC test to earn your dog’s first title!
You can also opt to train your dog yourself for the Canine Good Citizen test, later signing up for a CGC test. Training locations like Petco and PetSmart allow you to sign up for a test with an AKC evaluator for about $20; you’ll also see the test offered at some pet expos and shows.