Adelante Arts & Animals celebrated the graduation of Duke this month, a big milestone for a service dog in training. Adelante participants have been working hard training Duke in the basic skills he needs to have to be a successful service dog candidate. Through Adelante’s program, dogs learn basic skills such as sit, stay, how to pick up items, and wear several bandanas to get comfortable with wearing a vest. The work takes months and includes lots of different people with disabilities and dogs in the process. The final goal is to graduate dogs to their next step in becoming a service dog, when they head to Santa Fe and to Assistance Dogs of the West for their final training specific to the service job they will take on. 

Adelante participants play several games with the dogs as part of the training process. For example, getting into two lines opposite the dog and taking turns calling the dog and placing a bandana around his neck. Each person places a bandana then moves to the back of the line so the next person gets to put another bandana on the dog. Dani Miller, the assistance dog training coach at Adelante explains, “This helps the dogs get used to the feeling of wearing a service vest.” Another game involves training dogs to press toy buttons with their paws, which helps them learn how to press accessible door buttons for people with disabilities.

A smiling woman on puts her hand down in a "stay" command. A black labrador wags his tail and lays down on the floor upon this command.
Adelante Arts and Animals participant Shivonne demonstrates “stay” with Duke.

Adelante takes in puppies for the training program and handles the basic skills. Arts & Animals works with the dogs in our locations that help trainers see how they react to wheelchairs, walkers and other adaptive equipment. The program also takes place out in the community such as stores, where Adelante clients help to teach the dog how to behave and handle busy retail environments with ease.

The puppies aren’t the only ones learning, of course. People with disabilities develop better communication skills by having to speak clearly and make eye contact with the dogs. They also build confidence and friendships with the dogs and with other people participating in the program, which includes dog training activities and learning and practicing a variety of art techniques.

A woman puts a red and white bandana around a black Labrador's head. He is wearing several other colorful bandanas.
Arts and Animals participant Jolene puts another bandana on Duke so he can get comfortable with the feeling of wearing a safety vest.

Recent dog graduates of the cooperative work between Adelante and Assistance Dogs of the West have become comfort dogs in the New Mexico court system, supporting and calming children and other victims who have to testify in court. Other dogs have gone on to be service dogs for a variety of people with disabilities helping them live more independently.

Adelante congratulates Duke and his trainers for their good work. If you would like to support this work, you can donate to Adelante on If you know a person with a disability who would like to take part in dog training or the art activities, contact us at