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Robbie Thompson – Canine Companion Dog Trainer

By Admin | February 27, 2008

Robbie Thompson is a senior at the Shipley School in suburban Philadelphia. He spends a large part of his non-school hours raising and training a yellow laborador retriever named Jerry for the Canine Companion Independence organization. We recently had a chance to sit down with Robbie and Jerry and talk about their life together.


How old was Jerry when you got him?

He was ten weeks and actually his birthday was yesterday so he is one.

How long will you have him for?

I was first scheduled to have him until May but the group of puppies he that came down here with is kinda behind schedule. So they moved his turn in date to August. So, I will have him for a few more months.

Why is he behind schedule?

I think development-wise maybe they are behind. I think he is on schedule but they do it all together, they graduate in groups. So, maybe a couple of the dogs aren’t ready to be turned in now.

I guess that shows that the schedule is not that tight, they can move things around.

What specific things are you teaching Jerry?

There are thirty commands that are the basic things. Then in advanced training they will build on those. He will become more specialized for a specific person.

There is a command called side where he has to go around and sit on my left hand side. Then there is heel which is the same thing on the right hand side. Up, where he has to jump up on the counter and put his front paws on the counter. Sit down.

Does Jerry go to school with you?


Does he go everywhere else with you? Do you take him to restaurants?

Yeah, he has been to restaurants and movie theatres, to Borders.

Have you had any problems with him out?

A couple times. What the organization wants you to do is ask for the business card of the manager and then they will send that person a letter.

Technically, they can turn the dogs away because they are still being raised, they are not licensed service dogs yet. But, the organizations relies on the goodwill of business owners. Most places let him in.

How many dogs have you trained?

Jerry is my first dog.

What type of training do you have to go through to be a dog trainer?

It is a two hour interview on the phone. That was a lot. Then we met with the lady who runs the organization around here. After I was slotted to get him for awhile, I met with her.

They gave me a lot of stuff to read, books to read on training. We go to puppy classes every Wednesday. You kinda ask questions, say what things are going right and what things are going wrong.

Do you get expenses for raising the dog?

For the most part you have to foot all the expenses. We got lucky in that our vet treats all of his service dogs for free. We went in it thinking that we were going to have to pay for all his medical expenses.

But, our vet says that if it is a service dog then you don’t have to pay for it.

Did you request what type of dog you wanted?

No. CCI only gives out golden retrievers and labs and then golden lab mixes. So, it is those three.

What happens to the dogs after you are finished with your phase?

After the puppy raising period, which is a year and a half, maybe a little less, they go into a bootcamp sorta. They get temperament tested, they are tested on their commands – basic behavior and etiquette in public places.

That is for several months and then they get paired up with somebody who they are going to be with. They go through training with that person and they learn specific commands to help that particular person.

What happens to the dogs if they fail?

He goes up for adoption and we get first chance.


Do you think it will be hard to give him up?

Oh yeah, I went into the whole program knowing it will be difficult. That was one of the questions they asked me in the interview. I know it will be hard. I got involved knowing I would have to give him up.

Why are you doing this? Most 18 year old guys heading off to college in the fall are not raising companion dogs.

It’s not like a seeing eyedog type thing where it requires 24 hours of attention. I mean I would never be able do that. But, it’s just a lot of fun. I can just bring him wherever I go. He is not making a scene or anything.

When I was in lower school they brought a seeing eye dog group come in. I thought it was really cool. I tried to do it then but I was way too young. But, now that I am eighteen I am eligible to do it. I always wanted to do it.

Would you do it again?

Yeah, it’s fun.

What does your mom think about all of this?

She wants him to fail. She has fallen in love with him. He’s great.

Do you feel bad that Jerry has to work for living instead of just being a pet?

No. I think he enjoys it. I have bacon treats that he loves. He will do anything for those. It is not stressful for him and I think he comes to understand that’s his job.

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