Written by Alice Munley
originally posted April 12, 2016
Requirements to raise a puppy may differ from one organization to another, but raising any puppy has certain generic requirements, even if it’s to be your personal pet. The guidelines most organizations work under are meant to prepare the puppy to work in public with good manners, accepting all the different scenarios of life as well as learning excellent home behaviors.
For my family and me it was always fairly simple. We loved dogs, and we were prepared for the commitment to raising a service dog who would ultimately provide assistance to a fellow human being. We didn’t know any service dog handlers at the time, but we did know of the many skills that dogs possess and the increasing need for specially trained service dogs.
“Each new puppy comes with new challenges, differing personalities, and new lessons for us. Each one helps us to improve our raising and training skills.”
It was many years ago that my family had our first opportunity to raise a puppy for someone with limited or no vision.
And so began our tenure of raising Guide Dogs for the Blind. We accepted the responsibility with great enthusiasm. There are few words to fully describe the awesome experience it provided to our entire family. We gained many new friends over the years, as well as the wonderful puppies we were privileged to foster in our home and proudly pass on to a life with a new partner. Lives were changed forever.
New opportunities in a new direction seem to be just around the corner for all of us, if we just take a moment to seek them out.
Recently we discovered a small, personable and very caring organization raising puppies for placement as assistance dogs. Our interest grew and we inquired about raising a puppy for them. We qualified and accepted this new challenge and direction. And so we begin another amazing opportunity and journey!
You might ask how we continue to raise puppy after puppy. The simple answer is that it has become a part of our lifestyle. Each new puppy comes with new challenges, differing personalities, and new lessons for us. Each one helps us to improve our raising and training skills. Raising service dogs has become our way, as volunteers, to give back to our community. Now we are blessed once again as we prepare to welcome our next service dog puppy into our life and home.
If this is a commitment that you may wish to consider for yourself or your family, I would like to encourage you along this rewarding path. How do you decide if this is a commitment you really want to pursue for 12-18 months?
My first suggestion would be to learn all you can about a few different organizations, their requirements for puppy raisers, and what training and support they provide. Talk with current and past puppy raisers. It’s okay to be selective. Perhaps you have a greater feeling for a dog raised to be a guide dog for the blind, or for one that will assist a person in a wheelchair. Maybe you’ll be drawn to dogs who help people with invisible disabilities. There will be an application, interview, and possibly a home visit to finalize your application to raise a puppy.
There are many organizations throughout our country and in other countries that have puppy-raising programs. Look first to one not too distant from your home, if possible. If they are somewhat close, it may mean better and closer communication regarding the puppy.
Consider the cost of transportation to receive the puppy and return the grown dog for advanced training.
What costs are you, the puppy raiser, responsible for paying? Size of the organization should not be the determining factor. Small or large, all reputable organizations that raise puppies for special jobs need good and committed puppy raisers. Attend a few of the organization’s meetings or puppy training classes. Get to know other puppy raisers, as well as those in charge. Learn the protocol for raising a puppy for each organization and offer to puppy-sit several times, before you decide to make this type of a commitment. It’s a serious commitment, but well worth it. The rewards are numerous and the goal for the dog’s final placement is nothing short of awesome. Lives changed forever.
Always remember: it is a puppy you are raising. There will be wonderful days and challenging days. You start from day one with house training, teaching good house behavior, how to walk on a leash, basic obedience, etc. Be certain that the organization you work with can provide you with a puppy raising manual and a list of acceptable and unacceptable puppy behaviors.
You might think that my family has faced every possible scenario in raising multiple puppies of various breeds, but that’s not correct. Yes, we have learned a great deal of puppy handling skills and had hundreds if not thousands of experiences with all these pups. Without a doubt, I can say that each new puppy was an individual and we learned more than just one new training tip with each of them as they transformed into a mature dog. We look forward with great anticipation and excitement to the welcoming of our next puppy and expect to learn even more.
The biggest draw for the puppy raisers I know was a chance to volunteer for a project to help a fellow member of their community, be it for a guide dog or other type of assistance dog. Those who are dog lovers are easily drawn to this volunteer project. What’s more wonderful than the warm snuggle from that furry little pup in your arms on delivery day? Those sweet licks as he nuzzles up close to your face win you over completely.
As sweet as those first moments with your new pup are, reality sets in very quickly as you realize that this puppy may need to relieve that very minute. He has no idea yet as to what it means to be potty trained. In those next few weeks, you will teach him where to relieve and to learn to relieve on command. As a working service dog, he must be able to relieve on command for his new handler—his life partner.
While I always want to encourage others to explore the possibility and rewards of raising a service dog puppy, there are a few questions you might want to ask yourself as you explore this great commitment.
“If, for whatever reason, you are not able to raise a puppy but would like to support a service dog organization, there are many other ways you can offer your time and support.”
- Have you considered or are you now considering raising a puppy for a service dog organization?
- Do you wonder what or if there are requirements for raising a service dog?
- Do all organization have the same requirements?
- Is your biggest concern centered on giving the puppy up after 12-18 months or more?
- Do you have other pets at home?
- Are you willing to sacrifice some of your personal time in order to give extra attention to this special pup and raise it and train it per the guidelines of the organization?
- Do you love animals, specifically dogs?
- Do you understand that the puppy will have good days and bad days? Some puppies learn slower than others, all have different personalities, and some may have health issues to work through at times.
- Do you understand that raising a puppy is a 24/7 job? Do you have a family member or friend that will support you in times of need? Most organizations that you raise a puppy for will have a backup list of approved puppy-sitters that you can call on to help.
- Are you willing and able to attend puppy class as required per the individual organizations guidelines? Are you willing to travel some distance to the puppy training classes?
- Are you willing to follow the guidelines and rules of raising the puppy without fail?
- Can you accept the knowledge that the puppy is not your puppy but one in your care, much like a foster child?
- Are you prepared to give the puppy back to the organization after 12-18 months, or even earlier if circumstances warrant such a decision?
- Are you willing to accept some of the expense in raising the puppy? Not all organizations have a wealth of financial supporters and so may depend on the puppy raiser to pay for some of the veterinary expenses, food, toys etc. and perhaps even provide transportation for the puppy between the organization’s training facilities and the puppy raiser’s home.
If, for whatever reason, you are not able to raise a puppy but would like to support a service dog organization, there are many other ways you can offer your time and support. Smaller organizations are profoundly grateful for monetary donations. In addition, you can volunteer your time, which can include puppy sitting, an experience that allows you to have puppy contact and enjoy some of the benefits that come with raising a service dog.
I hope that if you’re able, you will seriously consider making the choice to raise a service dog or offer other volunteer work for a service dog organization. If you make that choice, I wish you the success and joy of a job well done throughout this awesome journey. Lives changed for the good, forever, and for all involved.