After the puppy raiser returns the dog to Canine Companions at approximately 14-16 months of age, the dog attends a six-nine month training course with professional instructors at a Regional Training Center. The first two weeks, dogs are screened, undergoing x-rays and medical tests as well as tests to evaluate their temperaments. Some dogs are released at this point due to medical or temperament problems. The others continue into training.
The first semester, which lasts three months, reviews and builds upon the basic obedience commands the dogs learned as puppies. It is during this semester that the dogs begin to work around the wheelchair and learn the retrieve command. Those that pass the first semester continue into their second semester of training.
The second three-month semester finishes the commands the dogs will need to know such as pull, and light-switch. They learn over 40 commands and practice working in different environments. During training, the dogs are screened to see if they truly have what it takes to become a Canine Companions assistance dog. Those that do prepare for Team Training, where the dogs are paired with a recipient and both human and dog are trained to work together.
This two-week session teaches the recipients proper care and handling of the Canine Companion. After the training session and public access testing, they attend a graduation ceremony in which the puppy raiser passes the leash to the Graduate and the Graduate officially receives the Canine Companions assistance dog.
Canine Companions has a comprehensive follow-up program to ensure the ongoing success of its working teams.
Approximately six weeks after the conclusion of the two-week Team Training class, graduates return to Canine Companions for final testing, certification and fine tuning if needed. Throughout the working life of the dogs, graduates periodically return to campus with their dogs for workshops, seminars and reunions.
In addition, Canine Companions instructors remain in close touch with graduates on an on-going basis through correspondence, reports and by providing advice via telephone and email. Instructors also travel into the field to conduct workshops and to resolve specific training or behavioral problems in the graduate's home and/or workplace environment.