Canine Companions puppy participating in cognitive testing

A landmark collaborative study by industry leaders Duke University, University of Arizona and Canine Companions, is helping shed light on the cognitive and communicative abilities of 8-to 10-week-old service dog puppies. The findings were recently published in Animal Behaviour and may also be used to determine the best future working role for Canine Companions puppies.

At Canine Companions’ national headquarters in California, 168 Labrador, Golden Retriever and Lab/Golden cross puppies from 65 Canine Companions litters were assessed in more than a dozen cognitive and temperament activities at around 9 weeks of age.

Specifically, some tasks required the puppies to use communicative cues, such as human pointing, to locate a hidden treat. Based on the puppies’ success levels during these games, results confirm the early emergence of sensitivity to human communication in dogs.

“We are in a unique position at Canine Companions that allows us to have ongoing follow up with every puppy born within our exemplary breeding program,” says Dr. Brenda Kennedy, director of canine health and research at Canine Companions.

“Finding these early indicators of cooperative-communicative gestures between our puppies and humans may inform the process in which Canine Companions dogs are trained or evaluated for working roles in the future – ultimately helping us place more expertly trained service dogs with more individuals with disabilities.”

Canine Companions, the first and largest provider of service dogs for people with physical disabilities, has held the top spot in canine cognitive and behavioral research within the service dog industry for over a decade.

Want to know how to keep a puppy entertained? Read this.

Additional studies with the Duke Canine Cognition Center, the Arizona Canine Cognition Center, DARPA and more, have provided valuable insight into the canine brain and cognition.

With more than 6,500 service dog placements since its founding in 1975, Canine Companions is dedicated to ensuring happy, healthy puppies with a purpose are placed in the best roles for the dogs’ temperament and skillset. Each service dog and a lifetime of follow up is a $50,000 investment by the organization; however, Canine Companions service dogs are provided entirely free of charge to clients.

Read more about the study in Animal Behaviour here. Learn more about research at Canine Companions by visiting

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