Nora Pavone of Brooklyn, N.Y., felt from the start that Fiona, her Bernese Mountain Dog, was one in a million.
“She was everything I was hoping for when I researched the breed,” Pavone said. “Every single positive attribute that I would read about and hope to get is what I got with her.”
Much to her surprise, Pavone learned in early July that Fiona was the millionth dog to pass the American Kennel Club’s Canine Good Citizen Test, which she took on June 15.
“A million CGC dogs is an amazing milestone,” said Doug Ljungren, executive vice president of AKC Sports & Events. “The program has done so much good, from helping dog owners teach their pet good manners to rehabilitating dogs that have had behavioral issues. CGC instructors can be justifiably proud of the great work they have done for dogs and their owners.”
Pavone acquired Fiona in early 2018 at nine weeks old, and she says training for the AKC test lasted about a year. Courses on puppy fundamentals and basic manners were followed by Fiona attending one-on-one CGC classes with certified dog trainer Kate Naito at the Doggie Academy in Brooklyn.
“When I first met Fiona, she was a very big puppy with great ‘raw materials,’” said Naito. “Fiona was the perfect dog for CGC because she had a naturally friendly and easygoing personality around people and animals. On top of that, Nora’s training decisions set Fiona up for success. They practiced for several months, and by taking a slow-and-steady approach, Nora and Fiona were able to pass the test and have fun in the process.”
The AKC Canine Good Citizen Test, which began in 1989, stresses responsible pet ownership for owners and good manners for dogs. The 10-step test consists of such basic commands and actions as sitting, staying, coming when called, walking through a crowd and behaving politely around other dogs. All dogs who pass the test may receive a certificate from the AKC.
Having Fiona train for and take the Canine Good Citizen Test was always part of a bigger plan, says Pavone, who is the funeral director at Brooklyn’s Marine Park Funeral Home.
“We brought Fiona on because we did see in funeral director magazines that dogs are starting to make an appearance at funeral homes,” Pavone explained. “It’s the same kind of concept when a dog visits a hospice, hospital, nursing home or school — the same type of therapy they give there, just in a funeral home setting. We really wanted to incorporate that into the setting at our funeral home, so we started doing research on breeds that would be appropriate for that type of work, and I’ve always loved Bernese Mountain Dogs.”
When she’s not sleeping under Pavone’s desk at the funeral home, the nearly 100-pound Fiona can be found meeting a family as arrangements are being planned, walking through the lobby during services or, if requested by family members, making an appearance in the visitation room.
“Kids love when they see her in the lobby,” Pavone says. “They’re so blown away to see a dog in that setting. I’ve seen kids from 3 years old to grown men laying on the floor with her. She definitely lightens the mood.”
As the millionth dog to pass the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen Test, Fiona was presented with a plaque, which Pavone says sits on a desk in the lobby of her funeral home.
“We’re very proud, so we want everyone to know she was the millionth,” Pavone said. “She worked very hard to reach the Canine Good Citizen title.”