In 1975, Bonnie Bergin originated the concept of “service dogs,” dogs trained to help
people with mobility limitations. She founded Canine Companions for Independence (CCI)
in Santa Rosa, California, to be the provider of such dogs, expanding CCI to centers in New
York, Ohio, Florida, and southern California.
Her research into dog personalities provided an objective, reliable method of placing
service dogs with clients. She also identified key concepts in service dog selection: low
arousal, low predation, and low initiative among other traits, and coined the term “unobtrusive
Believing that all assistance dog organizations in America and around the world, guide,
hearing, service and social/therapy should talk to and share ideas with one another, she argued
for the creation of and became the founding President of Assistance Dogs International.
Additionally she was asked by the U.S. Justice Department to help develop the Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA) regulations regarding assistance dogs and was invited to the Rose
Garden for President George H.W. Bush’s signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In 1991, she left CCI to found the Assistance Dog Institute to educate others on how to
train service dogs and to develop service dog programs thereby reducing the horrendous 5-10
year wait. The Institute expanded into the world’s first university awarding Associate, Bachelor
and Master Degrees in dog studies.
In 1992, Bonnie responded to the Delta Society’s request for help to start what has
become their very successful People Pet Partner’s program. The National Disaster Search
Foundation also asked for her help in development of their search dog program.
Despite a Master’s and a Doctoral degree, Bonnie believed that working with dogs had
taught her the most about life, so she began a program whereby teens at-risk trained animal
shelter dogs and later service dogs for people with disabilities. For that she received Oprah’s
“Use Your Life” award in 2001.
Believing that individuals with disabilities needed representation in the assistance
dog world, she invited a group together to create an organization provisionally named the
Assistance Dog User Council (ADUC). This group has morphed into the International
Association of Assistance Dog Partners (IAADP) currently offering many benefits to their
Simultaneously Bonnie created the Assistance Dog United Campaign (ADUC), a
program that provides vouchers to low-income individuals with disabilities to take to the
program of their choice to get an assistance dog. Like IAADP, this organization is about
empowering the dog user, in this case financially, to ensure their voice will be heard when
applying for a dog. ADUC has granted hundreds of vouchers and program development grants.
Her research into early puppy training moved well beyond the norm such that pups at Bergin
University now begins their training at 3-3.5 weeks of age. This early learning not only teaches
a pup how to learn but it makes lasting behavioral impressions in the mind of the adult dog.
In October 2000, with the help of ANECAH of the Netherlands, Bonnie gathered a group
of European programs together to share in the results of her research, while simultaneously
seeding the beginning of a Euro-Assistance Dog organization to hopefully become a part of
Assistance Dogs International. This dream is now reality with both the European organization
in place and its membership in Assistance Dog International secured.
Bonnie has spoken or taught worldwide. She has educated people in Canada, Europe
and Japan, in addition to the U.S. Unfortunately, her flight to Buenos Aries was cancelled on
9/11/01 – an historic date known around the world simply as “911.”
Reading increases problem-solving skills in humans. Teaching dogs to read visual
symbols in the form of word commands to build their service dog problem-solving skills
became another of her goals. With a Stanford University study supporting her work, tests show
that the dog has sufficient cognition to respond to doggie stick figure postures with no prior
training beyond the initial word reading exercises.
Bonnie also employed University dogs to sniff out the presence of the female vine mealy
bug’s pheromone in local vineyards thereby locating the pest before it spread through the entire
In appreciation of her work and in recognition of its expanded academic stature, the
Institute was renamed the Bergin University of Canine Studies by the Board of Trustees in
2008. The Assistance Dog Institute name remains in use as a college of the university.
Dr. Bergin has made a contribution to the lives of both disabled individuals and dogs by
expanding the capabilities and role each is able to assume in society.
- Author: Teach Your Dog To Read. Broadway Books, 2006.
- Author: The SMARTEST DOG: The Selection, Training and Placement of Service Dogs.
Assistance Dog Institute, 1998.
- Author: Bonnie Bergin’s Guide to Bringing Out the Best in Your Dog. Little Brown and
- 1994 You and Your Great Dog. - KQED TV Dr. Bergin hosts series
Awards and Recognition:
- 2001 Angel Productions “Use Your Life Award” [Oprah]
- 2000 Daily Point of Light – George Bush’s Presidential Points of Light Award
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