Dog Certifications and Titles

Ever wonder about all the initials that precede or follow some dogs' names?


My friend has super fast dogs, and they compete in agility. I always imagined that the magnets on the back of her vehicle indicated just how fast they could run: MACH speeds! And C-ATCH: Catch me if you can! Obviously my Border Collie, Duncan, and I didn’t get far enough in our brief agility career to earn any titles (he preferred to make up his own courses). But when my curiosity got the better of me and I looked into what, exactly, those letters on my friend’s car actually meant, I quickly learned that there are countless titles and certifications that can be bestowed upon our canine companions.

dog show ribbons

Just like the acronyms associated with veterinary professionals (see “How to Decipher Veterinary Code,” WDJ October 2013), the titles bestowed upon dogs indicate that they have reached certain goals and standards and have thus earned acknowledgement and certification as set forth by the requirements of the granting organization. As these organizations all have different titles and requirements, there’s no way to cover them all here. Below are some of the more common ones you may come across.

Kennel Club Certifications

There are two very large organizations with the words “kennel club” in their names. Most dog owners have at least heard of the American Kennel Club (AKC), the largest registry of purebred dogs in the United States. The AKC also promotes and sanctions events for purebred dogs, and more recently, the AKC has added a number of events and titling opportunities for mixed-breed dogs, too.

The AKC offers titles in activity-based competitions: agility, obedience, rally, tracking, and field events (such as hunting, earthdog, herding, lure coursing, and retrieving). Dogs who earn titles (by earning enough points, which are awarded for wins) in competition in these events get letters added to the end of their names – at least, until they’ve earned a championship or grand championship. Then they get letters at the front of their names!

Then there is the other kennel club: the United Kennel Club (UKC), which calls itself the largest all-breed performance-dog registry in the world, registering dogs from all 50 states and 25 foreign countries. More than 60 percent of its nearly 16,000 annually licensed events are tests of hunting ability, training, and instinct.

Dog Conformation Titles

Conformation is the formal name for what most people think of as “dog shows.” Judges assess the dogs for how closely they conform to their breed’s “standard” – the word picture of what the breed should look and act like – including the size, coat, outline, and body proportions. Dogs are examined while standing and moving, with their gait and even temperament judged against the ideal for their breed.

Dogs who win the required 15 points under the minimum number of judges and point configurations (points earned at a show depend on geography and the number of dogs in competition) earn the title of Champion  and the designation “CH” now precedes the dog’s registered name. After more wins in the show ring, a dog may earn the title of Grand Champion (in the AKC, “GCH”; in the UKC, “GRCH”).

Compared to AKC shows, UKC conformation shows are much more casual affairs, with a relaxed dress code in the ring and no professional handlers permitted.

Canine Obedience Titles

The first obedience trial grew out of the efforts of trainers to popularize the profession and to demonstrate the usefulness of dogs in areas other than the conformation ring and the field. Today’s obedience competitions begin with exercises that attest to the dog’s good manners. At a trial, the dog and handler will perform various predefined obedience exercises, which will be evaluated and scored by a judge.

The AKC version of the sport is one of its oldest events and is now promoted and practiced by hundreds of obedience clubs, kennel clubs, and specialty clubs throughout the U.S.

All dogs who receive a passing or qualifying score earn a “leg” toward an obedience title. When a dog has accumulated the requisite number of legs for a given title, the governing organization issues a certificate recognizing the achievement. Testing exercises include variations of heeling, stays, retrieves, and jumps; utility titles (highest level of competition) add more advanced exercises including cueing via hand signals only and scent discrimination.

AKC Obedience Titles

BN: Beginner Novice

CD: Companion Dog

CDX: Companion Dog Excellent

GN: Graduate Novice

GO: Graduate Open

OM: Obedience Master

OGM: Obedience Grand Master

OTCH: Obedience Trial Champion

NOC: National Obedience Champion

PCDX: Pre-Open

PUTD: Pre-Utility

UD: Utility Dog

UDX: Utility Dog

UKC Obedience Titles

UCD: United Companion Dog

UCDX: United Companion Dog Excellent

UUD: United Utility Dog

UOCH: United Obedience Champion

GOCH: United Grand Obedience Champion

Rally Obedience Titles

Rally obedience (also known as rally or rally-O) is a dog sport based on obedience. Competitors proceed through a course of 10-20 stations that instruct the dog and handler team to perform a behavior. The major difference between rally and conventional obedience competitions is that in rally, handlers are allowed to encourage their dogs during the course.

There are several organizations in the U.S. that offer rally competitions including the AKC, UKC, the Association of Pet Dog Trainers (APDT), C-Wags, and Canines and Humans United (CHU). The exercises vary slightly from organization to organization, but generally follow similar guidelines.

AKC rally is open to AKC breeds and mixed breed dogs registered in the AKC Canine Partners program. After qualifying three times under at least two different judges, the dog earns a title, which appears after the dog’s registered name.

There are three levels in AKC rally: Novice (beginner’s class), successful completion results in the title RN (Rally Novice); Advanced (when completed, dogs receive the title RA); and the highest class, Excellent (RE). Additional titles are available: Rally Advanced Excellent (RAE), in which the team has to qualify in both Advanced and Excellent in 10 trials; and Rally National Champion (RNC).

UKC rally follows an approach similar to the AKC program; it is open to any dog and handler team. There are three levels of competition, three legs are required for a title, and there is an extended championship title.

UKC Rally Titles:

URO1: United Rally Obedience 1

URO2: United Rally Obedience 2

URO3: United Rally Obedience 3

UROC: United Rally Obedience Champion

UROG: United Rally Obedience Grand Champion

URX: United Rally Obedience Champion Excellent

Canine Good Citizen (CGC™) Program

The AKC CGC test consists of real-world skills considered needed by well-mannered dogs. Any dog, purebred or mixed-breed, can participate in the CGC program; more than 500,000 dogs have received the CGC certificate to date. CGC is often viewed as the standard of behavior for dogs in the community. Some insurance companies will provide coverage for dogs with a CGC certificate – dogs who may not otherwise have been covered. Some multi-dwelling housing units require the CGC certificate for dogs living on the premises.

dog show ribbons

The CGC test consists of 10 exercises: accepting a friendly stranger; sitting politely for petting; welcoming a physical inspection and grooming (with cleanliness being a requirement); walking on a loose lead; walking through a crowd; sit and down on command and staying in place; coming when called; polite reaction to another dog; showing interest and curiosity (rather than fear or aggression) to a distracting stimuli; and supervised separation. All exercises are performed on leash.

The AKC’s CGC became an official title only in January 2013, and as such it can now be listed after the dog’s name and appear on the title records of dogs registered or listed with AKC. (All dogs, including mixed breeds, can get a “Purebred Alternative Listing” (PAL) number from the AKC that is used to attach titles to the dog’s record.) Prior to this, CGC was considered an “award,” with a certificate presented to the owner.

Even more recently (October 2013) the AKC announced the creation of its Community Canine title, an advanced level of CGC that expands on CGC skills in a natural setting and lays the beginning foundation for obedience, rally, and therapy dog work. As with CGC, Community Canine requires a 10-step test that dogs must pass to earn the official title. The dog must also have a CGC certificate or CGC title on record at AKC, as well as an AKC number (AKC registration number, PAL number, or AKC Canine Partners number). Dogs passing the AKC Community Canine test will earn the “CGCA” (advanced CGC) title and “CGCA” may be listed after the dog’s name.

Lure-Coursing Ability Test

Lure-coursing trials are simulated rabbit hunts where the “bunny” is actually a white plastic bag run on a pulley system powered by a motor, and are open only to Sighthound breeds such as Salukis and Whippets. But in 2011, AKC debuted the “Coursing Ability Test,” or CAT, which is open to all breeds and mixes that are at least a year old and registered or listed with AKC. In the CAT test, an individual dog chases the lure along a modified course; in order to pass, dogs must show enthusiasm and finish the course without interruption within a given time frame. Once a dog completes three legs successfully, she earns the Coursing Ability, or CA, title. Ten passes are required for the Coursing Ability Advanced (CAA) title, and 25 for Coursing Ability Excellent (CAX).

The UKC has a similar lure coursing program and set of titles.

Dog Agility Titles

I confess. I get teary from an overwhelming sense of wonder when I watch agility. There is something magical about dog and handler teams racing exuberantly together through a timed obstacle course of jumps, teeter-totters, weave poles, dogwalks, A-frames, tunnels, and pause tables.

There are more than 50 agility titles in the AKC alone, so this is a shorthand version to gleaning a general understanding of what they represent.

There are several classes in AKC agility, consisting of Standard, Jumpers with Weaves, and Fifteen And Send Time (FAST). Each class is delineated by four levels: Novice (beginning basic level), Open (middle level), Excellent (advanced level), and Masters (achieved after advancing through the lower three classes with lifetime achievement levels of bronze, silver, gold, and century within this division). These are all performed in one of two classes of jump heights: “Regular” class (standard jump heights) or “Preferred” (modified standards of a lower jump height with more generous course times).

The “A” in the suffixes you see after dogs’ names with agility titles stands for Agility, F is for FAST, C is for Century, G is for Gold, J is for Jumpers with Weaves, M for is Master, N is for Novice, O is for Open, P is for Preferred, S is for Silver, TQ is for Triple Qualifying, and X is Excellent. So, as one example, the letters MJPB listed after a dog’s name would indicate that the dog has achieved the award Master Bronze Jumpers with Weaves Preferred. The highest title overrides lower titles, so not all the titles a dog has earned will be listed after her name.

If you’re still confused, you’re not alone. But just to add to that confusion, let’s look at the championship agility titles that get added as prefixes:

AKC Agility Championships

MACH: Masters Agility Champion

NAC: National Agility Champion

PACH: Preferred Agility Champion

PNAC: Preferred National Agility Champion

UKC Agility Championships

UGRACH: United Grand Agility Champion (UGRACH titles are issued with a numeral designation indicating the number of times the title has been earned, e.g., UGRACH1, UGRACH2, etc.)

UACHX: United Agility Champion Excellent

UACH: United Agility Champion

UAGII: United Agility II

UAGI: United Agility I

Still not confused? Then let’s just add in some additional agility titles offered by other organizations!

The United States Dog Agility Association, Inc. (USDAA) is the world’s largest independent organization for the sport of canine agility, with more than 25,000 registered competitors and more than 200 different breeds of dogs, including mixed breeds. Dogs running in USDAA competitions compete in three levels – Starters, Advanced, and Masters – in the classes of Standard Agility, Jumpers, Gamblers, Relay, and Snooker.

USDAA titles range from AD (Agility Dog) to VS (Veterans Snooker) with champion title of ADCh.

The North American Dog Agility Council (NADAC) was formed in 1993 to provide a fast, safe, and fun form of agility for dogs and their handlers in North America. The organization sanctions agility trials sponsored by affiliated clubs and awards titles in seven different agility classes: Regular Agility, Jumpers, Chances, Weavers, Touch N Go, Tunnelers, and Hoopers.

A dog can earn a title in each of these classes at three different levels: Novice, Open, and Elite. Beyond “Regular,” there are two advanced titles – Outstanding and Superior – available in every class and at every level. So if Rover were to have “O-EJS” listed after his name, he would have received the title Outstanding-Elite Jumpers Skilled.

NADAC also further delineates its competitions by three divisions: Standard, Veterans, or Junior Handler. The titles, however, do not indicate these divisions. Each dog’s points are pooled from all divisions for the purposes of determining eligibility for a title. Competitions are also divided into two categories: Proficient and Skilled. The acronym NATCh indicates the accomplishment of National Agility Trial Champion.

Canine Performance Events (CPE) is another organization that offers a multitude of titles in the agility classes. CPE’s philosophy is for the dog and handler to have fun while competing. Both mixed-breed and purebred dogs are allowed to compete for titles. CPE also offers “fun runs,” which provide an easy introduction to trials. Its classes are divided into Standard, Colors, Wildcard, Snooker, Jackpot, Full House, and Jumpers, including divisions for junior handlers and older dogs too (with lower jump heights).

There are five levels of titles within CPE, from Beginners to Championship,  with the acronyms ranging from CL1-R (Completed Level 1 Standard) to C-ATE (CPE Agility Team Extraordinaire) and C-ATCH (CPE Agility Trial Champion).

A Few Other Notable Titling Organizations

There really is no end to the canine activity organizations that offer titles for dogs who are accomplished in certain tasks. There are titles for Freestyle, Nose Work/Scenting, Disc Dogs, Field Dogs, Flyball, Barn Hunt, Drafting/Carting, Tracking, Water Racing, Sled Dogs, Herding, Straight and Oval Track Racing, Hunting, Earthdogs, Police Dog, Protection Dog and Dog Scouts (DSA), to name just a few. Chances are that any organized canine activity for work or for fun will have titles associated with it.

dog show ribbons

Here are just a few we admire.

Canine – Work and Games 

(C-WAGS) is open to all dogs and awards titles in obedience, rally, scent, and games. In obedience, teams that have earned qualifying scores are awarded ACE titles at various levels. C-WAGS titles are easily identified as they begin with CW, for example:

CW-OAL1: C-WAGS Obedience Ace Level 1
CW-OAL2: C-WAGS Obedience Ace Level 2 (there are four levels of these titles, and then . . . )
CW-OCA: C-WAGS Obedience Champion Ace (Level 5)

Teams may collect additional Ace titles at each level and will be designated as CW-OAL1x2, CW-OAL1x3, etc.

Search and Rescue Titles

In September 2012, the AKC began awarding titles to Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) dogs who are certified by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). There are two levels of certification for these search and rescue canine/handler teams:

Basic Certification (Type 2): 

The search dog is required to perform to specific standards under the handler’s direct supervision and guidance.

Advanced Certification: 

(Type 1): The search dog is required to perform to specific standards outside the direct supervision and guidance of the handler and to successfully search more difficult rescue simulation courses.

Canine/handler team must pass rigorous national certification in urban search and rescue every two years in order to participate in operations. Handlers are certified by passing written and verbal tests regarding search and rescue strategies, briefing and debriefing skills and canine handling skills. Search and Rescue canines must show control, agility, and alert skills as well as a willingness to overcome innate fears of unusual environments.

The AKC grants the following search titles to purebred dogs registered with the AKC or mixed breeds enrolled in the Canine Partners program; the title appears on the dog’s record and title certificate as well as on AKC pedigrees.


Urban Search and Rescue. Dogs that are certified as FEMA or State Urban Search and Rescue (SUSAR) deployable are eligible; they are further designated by Type 1 (SAR-U1) and Type 2 (SAR-U2).


Wilderness Search And Rescue. Effective June 2013, dogs who have participated in a minimum of five actual wilderness SAR efforts and have been certified by an AKC-recognized SAR certification organization are eligible for the SAR-W title.

SAR dogs can be trained for specific types of searches such as rubble, water, and avalanche and these searches can be applied to disaster and wilderness environments. Additional acronyms that might be associated with SAR dogs include HRD (Human Remains Detection) and MAS (Missing Animal Search).

Therapy Dog Titles

By their very nature, dogs are natural born therapists. And while most every dog could be considered a therapy dog on some level, there are requirements for dogs who work in this very specialized field. The oldest registry of therapy dogs in the U.S. is Therapy Dogs International (TDI), established in 1976 to test, certify, insure, and register volunteer therapy dogs. TDI dogs must be at least one year of age and have a sound temperament, and all dogs and handlers are tested and evaluated by a Certified TDI Evaluator. TDI has extensive testing requirements including those required for the AKC’s CGC test (see above).

Passing the therapy dog test does not earn a title; the titles are awarded to actively working therapy dogs, based on how many documented therapy visits they have. The titles range from TDIA (TDI Active, completion of 50 documented therapy visits) through TDIG (TDI Gold, completion of 500 documentedtherapy visits). There are also two more notable titles:


Tail Waggin’ Tutors, earned after completion of 100 documented visits for TDI’s reading program for children.

DSRD: Disaster Stress Relief 

Dogs are therapy dogs who comfort victims and rescue workers after an emergency or disaster. The requirements are stringent and only the most capable teams are certified.

In 2011, the AKC began awarding the title ThD (Therapy Dog) to dogs who are certified or registered with an AKC-recognized therapy dog organization and have performed a minimum of 50 documented visits. The dogs must also be an AKC Dog recognized through AKC registration, PAL listing, or AKC Canine Partners enrollment.

What’s in a Name?

Obviously, titles don’t mean anything to our dogs; they exist to offer recognition and affirmation to the dogs’ owners and handlers for the time and effort they’ve put into developing a dog with extra-special accomplishments. Goodness knows, these things don’t happen without serious commitments of time and money. What does mean something to our dogs, however, is the treasured relationship that develops from working as a team with their human companions throughout the hundreds and thousands of hours of fun and training and dedication.

In the next installment, we’ll look at the titles earned and used by dog trainers and behaviorists.

Barbara Dobbins, a former dog trainer, writes about dogs and studies canine ethology. She lives in the Bay Area with her Border Collie, BDE (Best Dog Ever) Duncan.

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Barbara Dobbins has been writing for WDJ since 2011 with a focus on veterinary and canine health topics. Her lifelong fascination with dogs has led her in many directions. As a youngster she would round up her dogs and horse for a day of adventure exploring and searching for buried treasure in the California hills. Inspired by Margaret Mead with a nod to Indiana Jones, she went on to study anthropology, archaeology, and museum studies and obtained a masters degree in art history. Then two new puppies bounced into her life, and Barbara launched into studying animal behavior and training and spent hundreds of hours volunteering in the behavior department at her local shelter. When her beloved Border Collie Daisy was diagnosed with a rare cancer, she dug deep to research all she could about the disease, and has written extensively about all sorts of canine cancer for Whole Dog Journal. Liaising between pet owners and veterinary practice, science, and research, she synthesizes these complex and data-driven subjects into accessible information. She continues to take inspiration from her two research assistants, mixed-breed Tico and Border Collie Parker.


  1. When I was 10 I had a dog named “S-T-A-H” pronounced STAY. I was very fast and quick and my football coach (also my uncle) was in to training dogs for agility. He invited me over to his farm to allow STAH to play with other dogs and noticed his speed along with how easy it was for him to out maneuver the cattle that sometimes would chase him when he was enticing them to chase and play with him. My uncle thought STAH would make a great agility dog. In no time STAH started earning awards, titles and high scores and became a Champion in less than 27 months. We got invited to the Nationals to compete amongst some of the BEST and was held on my 14th birthday. STAH did outstanding and had perfect scores heading into final event. He had an accident and fouled after completing the course and on the way to exit. The crowd roared with laughter while I broke down and cried. My dad had to come into the ring to console me. We worked so hard, his times were unbeatable as were his scores. We were D/Q and we never returned to the things again. Several months later I received a very nice letter along with a small certificate that was signed by the then AKC President. The letter said the committee was so heartbroken to see the pain in my eyes and they had received several thousands of letter fro fans all across the world saying we deserved an award since we crossed the finish line (it was when I put his leash on to exit the ring after the judge told us “exercise finished” that STAH had the accident… The committee chose to create a certificate in his honor. It is known as the PEDNQ…. Stands for “Paid Event Did Not Qualify”

  2. Great story, making me in tears.I have a golden retriever who loves playing sports, i wish i could give him more training, not for competing, just for him to have fun.


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