DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — These four-legged kindergarteners are headed ‘bark’ to school.

A class of four puppies has enrolled in the Duke Puppy Kindergarten, which works with national nonprofit Canine Companions to test the cognitive abilities of pups that could grow up to become service dogs.

Duke says its program has tested more than 70 puppies who were between eight and 20 weeks old, during their last stage of brain development.

“The goal of the Duke Puppy Kindergarten is to increase the supply of service dogs and to see more dogs graduate and serve more people,” program director Vanessa Woods said.

“We are so happy to welcome the Fall Class of 2022 to Duke,” she added. “But if we had at Duke as well in the local community, to be volunteer puppy raisers, we could have more puppies off campus that could be part of our research.”

Canine Companions says it created the concept of service dogs nearly 50 years ago.

The goal of the program’s research is to understand which things puppies need to do early in their lives in order to become successful service dogs. The researchers measure how the dogs perform in cognitive tests.

“A service dog is specially trained to perform tasks to help a person with a disability to live with greater independence,” said Dr. Brenda Kennedy, the national director of canine health and research for Canine Companions.

“We are honored to work with the Duke Puppy Kindergarten,” she added. “The information we learn from collaborations like this allow us to focus on making adjustments in our program that will help more puppies achieve their fullest potential, which translates to serving more people with disabilities.”

Volunteer puppy-raisers can live anywhere in North Carolina as long as they can bring the dogs to Duke for those tests, and keep raising them until the pups are ready to begin professional training when they reach 18 months old.

To learn more about becoming a volunteer puppy raiser please visit canine.org/raise.