Virginia Tech graduates first puppies in service dog program

BLACKSBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) Virginia Tech celebrated three new graduates Thursday, even though Fall Graduation is still to come.

Thursday morning, Koda, Esme, and Tucker became the first puppies to graduate the new Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine’s Puppy University program.

The veterinary college teamed up with Saint Francis Service Dogs, a Roanoke-based nonprofit, to raise three puppies for service dog training.

Now they'll move on to advanced training.

The program involved several hours per day with undergrad students, and going home with vet students and faculty.

“We are raising them until they are about 14 months of age,” said Virginia Corrigan, an assistant professor in the veterinary school’s Small Animal Community Practice, who has raised Tucker with her husband Nick. “Then, Saint Francis takes them back and they do their full formal training, as well as more specific training for what they will actually be doing in their service dog work for a particular person.”

Sophomore Chemical Engineering Student Teagan Pugh explained, "It was a great way to give them a lot of socialization, a lot of training, in a short amount of time, they're only here for about a year, year and a half. They've all passed

their tests so they are continuing on to advanced training where they will work more with a specialized trainer one-on-one. "

The program is already scheduled to continue, with more puppies coming to Virginia Tech next semester.

The program not only supports puppies on their path to become professionally trained service dogs, but also offers veterinary students important lessons on the human-animal bond. Veterinary student participants in the puppy raiser program have the option of earning course credit during their fourth year by completing a presentation about their work. In addition, six undergraduate work-study students have been engaged in the care and training of the puppies.