Companion dog certification generally means your dog has passed a series of basic obedience tests, allowing him to progress to a higher level. A companion dog isn't the same as a service dog. The latter is an animal specially trained to aid people with disabilities. A companion dog, as defined by the American Kennel Club, is one who has earned a basic title competing in an AKC-sanctioned obedience trial.
If you have a purebred dog registered with the American Kennel Club, you can participate in their obedience competition. If your dog appears purebred but you don't have his registration papers, you can list him under the "AKC Purebred Alternative Listing/Indefinite Listing Privilege." If your dog isn't purebred, you can still compete with him under the organization's Canine Partners program. Companion dog is the organization's initial title. Eligible dogs must be at least 6 months of age to compete in obedience trials.
Companion Dog Tests
To receive companion dog certification, your dog must receive a qualifying score after completing a series of exercises, done both on leash and off leash. These include completing a figure eight pattern with the dog heeling on leash, and heeling off the lead in another pattern, chosen by the judge. The dog must come when called, and stand for examination while you wait some distance away. The dog must successfully demonstrate a sit/stay for one minute, at which time you are on the other side of the ring. There's also the three-minute down/stay, again with you quite far away. While some of the tests are individual, groups of dogs perform the long sit and long down.
Under AKC regulations, you can add "CD" -- for companion dog -- to your dog's registered name while showing once he is certified by two separate judges for receiving appropriate scores in novice-level classes at three AKC-qualified obedience trials. If he's received appropriate scores at three AKC-qualified obedience trials in the open division -- again under at least two separate judges -- you can add CDX to his name. That stands for "Companion Dog Excellent."
Other groups might have their own qualifications for companion dog certification, and the animal doesn't necessarily have to be purebred. For example, volunteers working with their dogs in a trail safety patrol capacity in the San Francisco, California area East Bay Regional Park District receive companion dog certification based on various tests. These include accepting strangers, allowing petting, walking in a crowd, coming when called, reactions to other canines, interacting with park animals and reactions to emergency vehicles and other distractions.