First group of puppies graduate puppy kindergarten at Duke University


Durham, NC (WNCN) – A lab at Duke University is filled with lab puppies for the next ten semesters so researchers can better understand what they need to have a better chance at becoming service dogs.

According to the puppy lab coordinator, Maggie Bunzey, it’s not an easy task and only about 50% of Labrador Retrievers pass the assistance test.

“They have to be able to ignore their dog instincts because they have to be working all the time,” said Bunzey.

The ten-semester long study kicked off in the Fall of 2019. Seven puppies from non-profit Canine Companion for Independence, the leading assistance dog non-profit in the U.S., graduated in November. The next group comes in February.

Bunzey said think of the Duke Canine Cognition Center like kindergarten for toddlers. Researchers’ goal is to see if a little help early on will increase their chances of success.

During the study, the dogs will be trained to perform a number of tasks such as opening doors, picking up objects, interacting with strangers and alerting their human partners to important sounds.

The Duke Canine Cognition Center lab coordinator said the puppies come to them at 8 weeks and stay until 20 weeks old. This is the time during brain rapid development.

The puppies were a hit around Duke’s campus in the fall. The group even surprised the men’s basketball team in a video posted on online by Mike Digeorge, the team’s sports information director.

“This is just the beginning. We are going to have 7 to 10 of these little guys every semester for the next 5 years,” said Bunzey.

The Canine Cognition Center is calling for volunteers to raise Canine Companions puppies in their homes and bring them into Duke every other week.

“We’ll host the on-campus puppies, but we need lots of volunteers in the community to host off-campus puppies.” If you are interested in becoming a Canine Companions puppy raiser, please contact 1-800-572-BARK or go to

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