AKC takeover of “PAT”

AKC, please don’t call the Urban CGC a PAT. That particular name change will cause unnecessary confusion and will harm service dog users, business owners, and pet parents.

A small, brown and white short-haired dog with floppily perked ears looks directly at the camera with earnest, wide eyes. Only the eye area is in focus and the highlights seem to glow. The dog wears a green bandana and a red harness.

July 27, 2018—The American Kennel Club (AKC) plans to unleash confusion by calling its Urban Canine Good Citizen test a public access test. That term is already in use by the service dog community and it misleadingly sounds like AKC’s test would give public access rights. AKC has other good name options and a fine-print disclaimer won’t stop the confusion.

Under the USAUSA banner, we have a petition on change.org so it’s easy for you to let AKC know how you feel about the misuse of disability community terms. If you want AKC to respect the community and not cause confusion, please take the easy step of signing!


We tried to warn AKC not to do this, but it seems they won’t be motivated unless they hear from you, too. Our attempt to convince AKC is below, including their single response and our reply. The PDF version of our initial letter is linked first, followed by its text, AKC’s response, and our (currently) unanswered reply.

PSDP Feedback on AKC PAT 062218

June 22, 2018

American Kennel Club
CGC Department
P.O. Box 900064
Raleigh, NC 27675-9064
(919) 816-3637
cgc@akc.org, Mary.Burch@akc.org

To Dr. Burch and Whomever Else It May Concern:

Psychiatric Service Dog Partners is a nonprofit organization focused on service dog education, advocacy, and support. Several of our trainers are CGC testers, and at our yearly conventions we offer the CGC, CGCA, and CGCU tests for teams in attendance, in addition to a public access test that is distinctly targeted to service dog use. These tests are all very popular, and we truly appreciate having them as guideposts in our longitudinal service dog training.

Respectfully, we are taken aback by the latest rebranding of the CGCU as a public access test (as described in the press release https://www.akc.org/press-releases/american-kennel-club-announces-urban-public-access-test/).We are writing to kindly request that you slightly alter your re-branding. We will explain why and suggest how.

“Public access test” is a widely recognized term of art in the service dog community. It is a test specifically intended to help signal whether the team is worthy of public access rights in no-pets places under laws such as Titles II and III of the Americans with Disabilities Act. There are multiple public access tests formulated within the community by those with years of expertise specific to service dogs—including people with disabilities and service dog users themselves. For example, our public access test can be accessed at the following link:


Repurposing of the name “public access test” by a non-disability-oriented corporation is likely to cause confusion and consternation. This muddies the waters and for a public that already often has misperceptions about service dogs.

Incidentally, it doesn’t seem like the change was necessary since the “Urban” name was clear enough (though we may be wrong). AKC’s Doug Ljungren said:

“The Urban CGC test can fill the desire of lodging, retail, and transportation businesses, and managers of public facilities for dog owners to provide evidence that a dog has been trained to behave in public settings”.

If AKC sees fit to re-brand the test for clarification and better marketing, we believe AKC could achieve its purpose by calling it a “Public Settings Test” without making it sound as if completing the test grants permission (“Access”) to enter no-pets places.

We recognize there is a disclaimer at the end in fine print, yet strongly caution that such a disclaimer is not nearly as likely to get through to a large portion of consumers. The simple titular solution we propose would avoid the confusion and consternation. We genuinely fear that if the test is called a “Public Access Test”, no disclaimer will be enough to dissuade consumers or business owners from wrongly assuming that completing the test grants people public access everywhere with their dogs.

We repeat our refrain that you please call the CGCU a public settings test instead of a public access test so that it is less easily confused with public access tests for service dogs. We welcome an elaboration of your perspective and a conversation about how best to proceed.

If you would like assistance avoiding faux pas related to the service dog community in the future, we cordially encourage you to contact us for input before taking actions that may directly impact our community.

Thank you,

Veronica Morris, PhD
President, on behalf of the
Board of Directors
Psychiatric Service Dog Partners

June 25, 2018

Hello Veronica,

Thank you for contacting us. AKC is collaborating with a number of agencies (including service dog organizations) to make public access testing readily available to those who need it. We are passionate about service dogs and non-service dogs being properly trained.

The Urban CGC Public Access Test is not designed to be a service dog test. It is not marketed as such, nor will it be. As we have continued to state, with all of the CGC tests, these tests do not certify or in anyway indicate that passing makes your dog a service dog. Our disclaimer clearly states that. Coupled with that is a strong position that pet dogs should not be misrepresented as service dogs.

We are looking forward to working with your organization in the future.


Mary Burch

Mary R. Burch, Ph.D.
Director, AKC Family Dog

July 9, 2018

Thank you for your reply, Mary.

Based on your response, our Board of Directors is afraid we may be talking past each other or having some other miscommunication. We are sending our message more broadly across AKC this time because this is a stealthily serious issue for the service dog community. We believe AKC needs to genuinely re-evaluate the negative impact its Urban CGC test rebranding will have on disabled service dog handlers.

We may not have been clear in our letter: our concern is with the proposed “Public Access Test” title—not the rest of the factors you mentioned, which are great. This title has both an existing meaning that is different from yours, and independently it sounds like it conveys ADA-like rights. Calling your test a “Public Access Test”, or PAT, will thus be misleading to our community and others.

If your disclaimer contradicts your title, which it appears to, that’s a good sign there is a problem with the title. There is power in a name that you cannot control with disclaimers, even if those disclaimers will be printed on the AKC PAT certificates people will flash to gain access in no-pets places. (To better understand the issues in play, see our 2016 letter to Active Dogs about the harm caused by ID cards, etc.) AKC cannot take away the power of the name in people’s minds by warning people that while “Public Access Test” has been used by many service dog groups for years to mean one thing, AKC has its own special meaning with the term and now expects others to roll over accordingly.

AKC could even call it “Not a Public Access Test”, similar to how Elon Musk recently released a flamethrower and called it “Not a Flamethrower”. Yet people will still think it is a service dog test, or one that *grants* public access, regardless of whether it was designed to be such a device.

If your concern is economic and the rebranding is intended to make more money (and not at all to disrupt our community), we have no issue with respectfully channeling that desire. Our only problem is with AKC co-opting our community’s term in a way that will be personally damaging to individuals.

This includes damage to many prospective owner-trainers of service dogs, as they search for the right way to mitigate their disabilities through service dog use and are standardly told to work toward competency on a public access test. There are tens of thousands of service dog owner-trainers, which is a population segment we are quite conversant with and most other (program-focused) service dog organizations are ill-equipped to advise about.

We have suggested “Public Settings Test” as a market-viable and more accurate alternative for your purpose. Using such a name would not disrespect our community or cause nearly the same confusion.

We have done our best to warn you that even AKC cannot sidestep the power and existing meaning of a term that has been in use for years in the service dog community. If AKC chooses to persist with appropriating our community’s term, we genuinely hope this cultural insensitivity will not cause too much grief for us, our community, or AKC.

We are not optimistic the fallout from an intentionally sustained faux pas will be insignificant, so we urge you to graciously and wisely make the lateral move and adjust the rebranding in a way that achieves your goals without harming others or yourself. Thank you for any willingness to learn and improve your operations.


Note: PSDP and USAUSA are not intending to express any opposition to AKC as an organization or to any agent of AKC individually. This advocacy action is only intended to express opposition to AKC’s Urban CGC rebranding plan. As with any advocacy action, we encourage any personal communication with AKC to be reasonably polite and duly respectful.