Meet Ember and Cleveland

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It takes more than just training to transform a puppy into a Canine Companions for Independence® assistance dog. We took some time to find out about the stars of “The Graduate,” our short video showing the amazing journey that a Canine Companions dog takes from puppy to service dog. Learn more about the stars of “The Graduate” and how Canine Companions is helping those in need, one dog at a time.

ember ember-laura

Meet Ember,
a clever 8-month-old yellow lab who lives with his puppy raiser, Laura. Laura’s experience as a puppy raiser gives her special insight into Ember’s journey as he learns the tips and tricks to becoming a Canine Companions assistance dog.

EUKANUBA: So, what made you decide to become a puppy raiser with Canine Companions for Independence? 

LAURA: I’ve been a puppy raiser for six and a half years. Before making the decision, there were several factors that influenced me to become a puppy raiser. 

My children were in high school and needed to select a senior service project. Based on knowledge we had from my daughter who had a classmate whose parents worked at Canine Companions for Independence, we thought it would be a great idea to raise a puppy and be a breeder/caretaker for Canine Companions for Independence. What helped propel our decision was the fact that our family had also lost our Golden Retriever that we had for 10 years. Finally, and probably the most influential, was the fact that my brother was in a motorcycle accident and became a quadriplegic. There was no doubt that it was time to turn in our application and get involved. 

Over the years, we helped raise three puppies, and when Canine Companions for Independence had the opportunity to raise a puppy from the Eukanuba™ E-Litter, we were excited to raise Ember as our fourth puppy. 

EUKANUBA: What was the first task Ember learned? And how has Ember learned and progressed throughout his training so far?

LAURA: Ember is such a fast learner. Any command you give him, he picks up extremely quickly. He was able to learn “sit” after the first day and was great at potty training, with almost no accidents in the house. He’s able to shake with both paws and knows the “lap” command to put both paws on your lap. He has learned the “back” command to walk backwards in a straight line. 

Ember also knows “down,” “roll,” “side” and “heel.” Right now, we are working through the jump command. He is really good on his leash and never fusses when he wears his Canine Companions for Independence cape. 

EUKANUBA: What qualities do you think will make him a great service dog?

LAURA: You want to raise service dogs that are comforting and able to obey their owners’ commands. Ember is such a quick learner, which is great when teaching him new commands. He is also very affectionate and loves to be in contact with both humans and animals. His demeanor is calm and comforting, which is perfect for providing warm companionship for a person in need.  

"Another trait I love about Ember is that he is amazing around young children."

 As a puppy raiser, you don’t know what your puppy’s next adventure will be, but if Ember were to be matched with a child in need of assistance, his sweet personality would be the perfect fit. When I introduced Ember to one of my nephews who was just learning how to walk, Ember was incredibly gentle and mellow. He sat down and didn’t get excited or hyper. Those are some of the exact qualities you look for in a service dog because they can be matched to help someone at any age.  

EUKANUBA: What is the most rewarding aspect of being a puppy raiser?

LAURA: As I mentioned, my brother was in an accident, and that’s one of the many reasons I decided to get involved with Canine Companions for Independence. Even though it is sad every time you give the dogs to their forever homes, it brings me happiness to know that they are going to make somebody’s life better. 

I’ve gone to Canine Companions for Independence graduation ceremonies and had the opportunity to speak with people who have been matched with the dogs, and it’s so heartwarming to hear their stories. The organization means so much to me, and that’s why I work with them because they truly do change lives.
Thanks, Laura! It takes an incredible person to raise such an extraordinary dog. We wish you well in your journey to help Ember become a Canine Companion!


Meet Cleveland,
a devoted two-year-old yellow lab who lives in southwestern Montana with his owner, Sally. We spent some time with Sally to learn more about the amazing dog who can open doors, retrieve T-shirts and even count to four.

EUKANUBA: Can you tell us a little bit about Cleveland?

SALLY: Cleveland is a big yellow ball of mellow dog! He’s steady and is always there when I need him. He’s also a great companion and helper. He’s unshakeable. 

I’m a little person—I only stand three-foot-tall, and I have brittle bones, so I don’t know what’s going to go wrong. It’s really great to have a companion like him who can pick up the slack. It’s like I was a jigsaw puzzle, and I had some stuff missing, and I didn’t realize how much was missing until I got him. He just fit right in there and filled the space that I didn’t know was so empty. 

EUKANUBA: When did you and Cleveland get matched together? 

SALLY: I was matched to Cleveland this past April. Cleveland received most of his training in a prison program right here in Montana. He then spent three months in California where he was further socialized before advanced training. 

"Cleveland is my actually my third dog, and it’s been the best match yet. My companions just get better every time."

EUKANUBA: How was Cleveland’s transition from the Canine Companions for Independence program to your home? 

SALLY: He came to me with some skills that he learned from the program, but when I took him home, I had to help transition him into the new environment. I had to coax him through it while he was getting to know my house, my door, my dresser—really everything. 

I’ve also taken him to stores like Lowe’s to practice commands in strange new places. We began by opening and closing drawers on floor model bathroom vanities. When we found the plywood stacks, I had him try an “up.” (“Up” puts his front paws on the stack.) Cleveland puts his whole self into pleasing his human and, in his eagerness, did a perfect “jump.” (A “jump” involves leaping to the top of the stack with all four paws ending up on top.) A few more tries, and with some well-placed blocking, he was doing perfect ups.

EUKANUBA: What does Cleveland do to help you with your daily tasks? 

SALLY: Oh gosh, there are all kinds of things! I drop items like you wouldn’t believe, and he can go even under my wheelchair and retrieve the item for me. He can tug a door open or push it closed, and he pulls my wheelchair, which is really helpful because I don’t have a lot of endurance when we’re out and about. The most amazing thing is that Cleveland can count to four! I have no idea how his humans taught such an amazing command. 

Cleveland is also an enthusiastic learner. I’m currently teaching him how to get my inhaler from above the TV set, and we’re working on getting him to open a drawer and get a shirt for me. 

For fun these days, we play hide the toy. Of course, I hide it as he watches, and he seems to love getting the toy from increasingly awkward places. 

Thank you for sharing your story about your Canine Companion match, Sally! You and Cleveland truly embody the word teamwork.