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They're Puppies Now, But They're the Service Dogs of the Future

The school year starts at the Canine Cognition Center with a class photo

puppies at a class photo shoot at the Canine Cognition Center.
This is one of the three photos that you can vote on as THE class photo. Go to Duke University Instagram Stories to cast your vote.

The fall 2021 cohort at the Duke Canine Cognition Center’s Puppy Kindergarten sat -- and stood, and lay down -- for their class portrait Wednesday.

Fearless, Dunn, Ethel, Gilda and Gloria are part of a long-term study at the Duke Canine Cognition Center funded by the National Institutes of Health on the cognitive development of potential service dogs. 

The puppies come from Canine Companions in California, which raises puppies to be trained as service dogs for people who need help with mobility, hearing and other challenges.

“We take a puppy at 10 weeks old, run them through a series of service games and see which puppy is suited for which job,” said Vanessa Woods, director of the program.

Dozens of trained student volunteers support the program by helping care for the puppies during their time at Duke.

“There’s not much research on the best way to raise a dog, especially a dog who is going to have such an important job,” Woods said. “We know with children that if they get exposed to a lot of different people early on that they become more tolerant, and in some cases more cooperative. So we want to expose the puppies to all the love on Duke’s campus, with lots of different puppy-raisers, to see if that makes a difference in their success.”

Check the center’s website and Instagram feed for updates on the puppies’ development.