The Golden Retriever may be America’s third most popular dog breed, but Tammy Tomlinson is not your average Golden owner. From her Ligonier, Pennsylvania-based Hillock Goldens kennel, Tomlinson has bred, owned, and handled the adored Sporting Group breed for over 40 years, and produced scores of conformation champions and dog sport athletes across the spectrum.
In February 2020, Tomlinson’s 6-year-old dog, GCHP CH Hillock’s Jack Daniel’s RA JH CA RATN CGC, known as “Daniel”, skyrocketed to stardom after winning the Sporting Group at the 144th Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. Daniel nearly became the first Golden Retriever to ever capture the venerated event’s coveted Best In Show crown, but that honor ultimately went to a stunning Standard Poodle named Siba. However, Daniel certainly stole a lot of hearts, as Americans stood in awe of the stellar specimen representing one of the country’s most beloved breeds. Evidence of that admiration included rafter-raising chants of “DANIEL!” erupting across Madison Square Garden as the Best In Show judge deliberated his decision.
While some exhibitors competing at such high levels justifiably focus solely on conformation, Daniel is just as comfortable in all manner of environments as he is in the show ring. The gallant Golden eagerly adapts to challenges and boasts titles in Barn Hunt, AKC Rally, coursing ability, and hunting tests.
“Daniel was very slow at maturing so that is why I started doing many other venues with him until I thought he was ready to enter the ring,” says Tomlinson. “He’s not just a pretty face, so we constantly are thinking of new ways to keep his mind and body in tip-top shape. His skills are very versatile.”
Among the important building blocks which helped shaped Daniel’s sustained success is that ultimate acronym affixed to his name — CGC. While the seven group winners each wowed Westminster crowds in their own right at MSG that February night, Daniel was, incidentally, the only one to have earned an AKC Canine Good Citizen title.
How CGC Helped Daniel
While her name has now become synonymous with the Golden Retriever breed, it was another Sporting Group breed with which Tomlinson first got her start in the dog world in the 1970s.
“My first dog was an Irish Setter which I started with in 4-H,” she affirms. “I did some research on different breeds and felt that Goldens were a good fit for me. I love the fact that Goldens are very versatile. They’re willing to do whatever you want them to do, and I love how friendly they are with everyone.”
The Golden Retriever breed standard describes a “friendly, reliable, and trustworthy” dog, while “unwarranted timidity or nervousness is not in keeping with Golden Retriever character.” By the time Daniel was born, Tomlinson had already been producing conformation champions for decades. With an eye on showing Daniel at the highest levels of competition, she determined the Canine Good Citizen to be a useful training tool en route to a successful show career.
“I thought that putting a CGC title on Daniel would help build his confidence,” says Tomlinson. “I knew that he would be around plenty of strangers, loud crowds, and other dogs. CGC worked with and improved the skills he’d need to make it as a top show dog.”
Canine Good Citizen, first began in 1989, is a two-part program representing the AKC’s gold standard for good manners and obedience in dogs. First, humans must take the Responsible Dog Ownership Pledge, vowing to maintain their dogs’ safety, manners towards others, health, and quality of life. The next step is the ten-skill CGC test, to be completed by canines. Test items include such skills as dealing with distractions, accepting friendly strangers, and behaving politely around other dogs – all essential skills required of a successful show dog.
Tomlinson admits that the ultra-friendly Daniel, who works with professional handler Karen Mammano in the show ring, struggled at first with some portions of the CGC, but ultimately earned his title with flying colors.
“Since consistency is key, he could have been confused about whether he should sit politely or come towards people to greet them,” she recalls. “It’s very hard to ignore a crowd of people when normally you get loved up by all!”
America’s Golden Boy
While CGC is not a prerequisite for dogs competing in conformation, Tomlinson feels the foundation training gained from the Canine Good Citizen program has been vital towards Daniel’s development as a well-rounded canine competitor in all sorts of dog sports.
“CGC’s role in Daniels success isn’t always obvious to other people, but I credit it as the building blocks towards his ability to be rock solid in the face of any new challenge I ask of him,” she says.
Over the years, Daniel began to earn points and ribbons at dog shows across the country, ultimately earning his Grand Championship in 2017. Along the way, he added a handful of performance sports titles, showcasing his versatility as an accomplished all-around dog. While he and Tomlinson had already made names for himself among the fancy, Daniel shot to national stardom in 2019 after winning the Sporting Group at the National Dog Show, broadcast on NBC across the country to viewers on Thanksgiving Day.
Following up on his strong showing in Philadelphia, Daniel competed at the AKC National Championship presented by Royal Canin in Orlando in December. Another Golden Retriever, GCHG CH Paradigm’s Field Of Leongolden, wound up claiming the Sporting Group there, but Daniel still had one show to go – the iconic Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show in New York City.
After defeating 47 other Goldens to win Best in Breed, Daniel strutted his stuff during Sporting Group judging. Upon winning the group, the gregarious Daniel lept up to “hug” his handler Karen and trotted off proudly with his ribbon in his mouth in true Retriever fashion. Just hours later, the two were back in the ring to vie for Best in Show. While Siba went on to claim the crown, Daniel made an indelible impact on fans and reminded Tomlinson what a special dog she had produced.
“It was like an out-of-body experience,” she recalls. “I sat in the nosebleed section and heard everyone chanting Daniel’s name. Tears came to my eyes, and it was the best feeling that a 40-year dog breeder could have. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience with a once-in-a-lifetime dog.”
Following Westminster, Tomlinson decided to semi-retire Daniel from conformation, affirming that the resplendent Retriever has nothing left to prove. For now, she plans to pursue further hunting titles, which promises to be no challenge at all to the Canine Good Citizen, Grand Champion, athlete, and all-around good dog Daniel.
Earning Your CGC
If Daniel and Tomlinson have inspired you to try to take the Canine Good Citizen test, you can get started right away by finding a CGC class and evaluator. The Canine Good Citizen program is open to all dogs. If you have a special CGC story to share, be sure to tag any photos posted with #ThisisAKC and #CGC on Instagram.
The AKC Canine Good Citizen (CGC) program has been the gold standard of dog behavior since 1989. Thirty years later, more than 1 million dogs have passed their CGC test. In honor of over a million Canine Good Citizens, we’ve launched a monthly “CGC & Me” series, highlighting the amazing stories of AKC CGC dogs and their owners.