Learn About Puppy Raising
Assistance Dog is a broad term for working dogs who provide a service for their paired human.
Some common types of assistance dogs, many of which puppy raisers often raise, include:
PTSD / Psychiatric Service Dogs
Seizure Response Dogs
Diabetic Alert Dogs
Autism Support Dogs
Allergy Detection Dogs
Mobility Assistance Dogs
CAN I GET A FREE PUPPY?
Sadly no, but that would be a sweet deal!
When you puppy raise you are responsible for the puppy as if it was your own, but it's not. The puppy is owned by the organization that you volunteer for, most likely a non-profit.
The organization you raise for, what we often call the parent organization, provides the puppy and typically organizes your and the puppy's training. They are also the one that ensures the puppy is properly bred, trained, and healthy to one day be an assistance dog!
Many parent organizations have local puppy raising groups or chapters through which volunteers gather and organize through. This is also how the volunteer puppy raisers are trained, the parent organization keeps tabs on the puppy's progress, and through which most puppy raising in the United States occurs.
Puppy Raisers are volunteers who raise and train puppies to be assistance dogs.
Puppy raising programs are organized by and operate through Assistance Dog Organizations who provide assistance dogs to individuals in need.
Volunteer puppy raising varies between organizations, local groups, and even by person! But when it comes down to it, these are the key elements of puppy raising:
One of the most defining qualities of puppy raising is being a volunteer. Puppy raisers pour their time, energy, and love into the puppies for the purpose of raising a future assistance dog who will go on to change someone's life!
Puppy raisers work with dogs, but more specifically, puppies! Raisers are responsible for the care, livelihood, training, and raising of the puppy. This is a big task as you're caring for a furry child with a big future ahead of them, and they need you to prepare them for it!
One of Puppy raising differs from many other volunteer opportunities in that it requires a long term commitment. Many programs have raisers caring for and training the puppy for over a year! Volunteers also have to be trained themselves and attend training classes throughout their time with the puppy.
As you can imagine, a lot goes into puppy raising and raising a puppy yourself!
It's a big commitment, but also a very rewarding one too.
The puppy kisses make it very worth it!
PUPPIES TO ASSISTANCE DOGS
Puppies can be very different than adult dogs, especially fully trained assistance dogs!
Puppies are Young
Dogs don't reach maturity until they're 1-2 years old and before then they're not mature enough to handle the big responsibilities of being a working assistance dog.
Training takes Time
If you have had a pet before or tried to learn anything yourself, you might have noticed it can take a while to learn something. Assistance dogs often know dozens of commands, have behavioral expectations, and have to be smart enough to make the cut as a working dog! All that knowledge and understanding can take a while to learn, with many in training for 1.5-2.5 years before graduating their respective programs as an official assistance dog.
Sometimes they Fail
Not every cute, fluffy future-assistance dog will make the cut as a service dog. Training is tough and some programs have failure rates of up to 70% with guide dog programs usually being the toughest of them all.
A lot goes into dogs that make the cut. Most are bred specifically for the program their in which can increase puppy-training success rates by selecting desirable traits and temperaments. Training programs are also rigorous and also help identify dogs that aren't suited for the working life.
Not Every Dog Wants to Work
Some dogs, even with the best breeding and training, just want to be couch potatoes or aren't interested in working. In the vast majority of puppy programs, if the dog isn't interested in working, they won't have to and will be transferred to the pet life.
Someone Needs to Care for & Train the Puppy
This is where puppy raisers come in! Many assistance dog nonprofits use volunteer puppy raisers to help raise, care for, and train the future assistance dog in basic commands and behaviors. Using volunteers for this saves the non-profit precious payroll money and gets people involved in their mission. Puppy raisers are a huge part in the making of assistance dogs and so many non-profits couldn't do it without them!
What does it take to become a puppy raiser? Let's take a look at what you'll need to become a puppy raiser!
To be a puppy raiser you're going to need time. A lot of effort into raising these future assistance dogs and it can be a time consuming adventure to take. A normal puppy takes time as well, but puppies-in-training require even more attention, love, care, and training than a typical pet dog.
Having enough time is very important as your experience will be much more enjoyable and the puppy is more likely to be successful if you can dedicate the needed time to raising the puppy. If the time commitment is a concern for you, don't worry, there's different ways you can puppy raise and get involved in the community that require less time from you.
What does a puppy raiser's schedule look like? Your life as a puppy raiser can vary wildly depending on your age, lifestyle, puppy's needs, and the program you're raising for!
A potential Monday morning of a puppy raiser attending college and living on or near campus:
8:00 am - Wake up, take puppy out to do their 'business'
8:15 am - Puppy has breakfast, play to wake up
8:30 am - Human gets ready for the day and eats breakfast, while puppy quietly plays with toys in their crate
9:00 am - Human gets them and the puppy ready to get to class
9:10 am - They leave for class, post-breakfast potty break for puppy, and they get to class early to get a seat and settle before the lecture starts
9:30 am - Class begins, puppy naps or chews on toys quietly. If puppy is young, the raiser may need to provide active reinforcement for good behavior
11:00 am - Class ends and puppy gets another potty break. Human and puppy head off to another class!
A potential Monday morning of a puppy raiser working full time:
7:00 am - Wake up, take puppy out to do their 'business'
7:15 am - Puppy has breakfast, play to wake up
7:30 am - Human gets ready for the day and eats breakfast, while puppy quietly plays with toys in their crate
8:00 am - Human gets them and the puppy ready to go to work
8:10 am - They leave for work, post-breakfast potty
9:00 am - They arrive at work, post car ride potty break, puppy settles in
11:00 am - Potty and stretch break, practice some training to keep puppy from becoming restless
What factors into the time commitment of puppy raising:
The Puppy Life
Most puppy raisers will begin raising the puppy when they are around 8 weeks - 16 weeks of age. The younger the puppy, the crazier it can be (but also cuter) and for a couple months many raisers have their lives run by the little fur ball getting adjusted and learning about the world.
As a puppy raiser you'll be responsible for potty training, teaching the puppy their name and an increasingly long list of commands, and you'll have to keep an eye on them at all times to protect them and teach them proper behaviors. We don't want little Fido jumping up on the counter to get a snack!
Active Training Time
Over the year+ that you have the puppy you will need to dedicate time every week, and likely every day, to making sure the puppy is learning and on track in their assistance dog program. The amount of time you will spend training each week or every day will depend on the program you raise for and the kind of assistance dog your puppy is training to be!
And this is just at-home training time. The puppy needs to see the world and this means you will need to purposefully visit new places with the puppy especially if you typically only go to one or two different locations in a week. Due to this aspect, one of the best demographics of puppy raisers is college students due to them experiencing new locations and having a variety of experiences built into their lifestyle. If you spend most of your time at home or going between work and home, puppy raising is a great excuse to plan new outings and add some adventure in!
Attending Training Classes
Once you get your future assistance dog, you'll likely have attended at least a few introductory training classes with your local volunteer puppy raising group. During the time the puppy is with you, you'll likely be expected to attend regular training classes with the puppy at least once a month and as frequent as every week. At training class you'll practice behaviors and commands, and get a chance to chat with other puppy raisers and ask questions. Local groups have many variations between them and your experience and time commitment for attending training classes can vary between groups and parent organizations.
Puppy Care & Health
Just like pet dogs, your puppy-in-training also needs regular care, grooming, and to visit the vet once in a while. Care and grooming are on a regular to weekly basis, and you'll need to visit the vet a few times early in the puppy's life and again for checkups and if your program has the puppy spayed or neutered during your time with them. Like visiting the hooman doctor, you'll need to schedule vet appointments around your own schedule and make sure you can attend them with your pup.
Puppy raisers, especially the ones that raise many dogs, build the puppy into their life. An added benefit is that in most states, service dogs in training have the same or similar access rights to fully trained assistance dogs and can go with you to most places.
Usually the puppy will go to work and/or class with you. You'll also go to the grocery store, park, restaurants, and many other places together! Sometimes, if the place you're going isn't suitable for dogs or doesn't allow them, you might leave the puppy at home in their crate for a short period of time.
Puppy raising is volunteer work and inherently requires not just love for puppies, but also for the mission of the organization you puppy raise for.
Puppy raising is one large piece to truly making an impact in the life of someone in need. These puppies will grow up to be companions, serve their paired human, and will become an irreplaceable aspect of that person's life and family. These dogs improve the quality of life for those they help and can also save lives.
When puppy raising, you pour a lot, and we mean A LOT, into the furry child but raisers also get that love right back. Many raisers develop a strong bond with the puppies, which can make it an emotional experience giving up the puppy when it's time for them to leave. Yet puppy raisers know that the puppy won't be with them forever and have to be prepared for the heartache that comes with sending the puppy off.
Depending on the program, the puppy will head off to finish their formal training around 12 -20 months, with many programs having the dog leave around their 15th month birthday. The puppy completes their formal training with a certified trainer, likely at the headquarters of the parent organization you raise for. There the puppy, who is not really a puppy anymore, and many raisers aliken sending their puppy off to formal training as sending the puppy off to 'college'.
But don't worry, the puppies don't leave without a goodbye! Their formal training with certified trainers can take anywhere from 2 months to a year depending on the program and after completion of the rigorous training they will be paired with the human they will assist, graduating the program and becoming a fully licensed working assistance dog! Many organizations host graduations to celebrate the paired humans and working dogs, often called teams, and to celebrate the contributions of the puppy raisers and other volunteers / employees of the organization. If the organization you raise for hosts graduations, you might get a chance to meet your former puppy-in-training as a working dog and see the team in action!
HOW DO YOU GIVE THEM UP? I COULD NEVER!
This is a very common question of puppy raisers, and each raiser has a different answer to this.
But the core of it is that as a puppy raiser, you've signed up for this experience, which does include giving up the puppy that you have trained and cared for. It's all in the name of a bigger purpose, to truly change the life of someone and give them a furry companion who can give them protection, freedom, and independence.
Raisers pour a lot of love into the puppy, but give even more love when they give up the puppy so they can go on to do bigger things. Coming to the end of your time together is a heart wrenching experience that is also so very humbling. It may be hard but it is infinitely worth it, especially if you have the opportunity to see the puppy as a fully grown working dog.
This is one of the less talked about aspects of puppy raising and can be a significant barrier to this amazing volunteer opportunity.
Puppy raising isn't often free. As you might know, caring for and raising a pet puppy can be costly; future assistance dogs require additional expenses for training, breeding, and costs of running assistance dog programs.
Some organizations estimate the cost that goes into each working dog that graduates their program. For example, the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind says one of their guide dogs requires $50,000 worth of time, money, and resources to make it through their program. Assistance dogs are expensive!
Many organizations, but not all, raise and train the assistance dogs at no cost to the human they are paired with. This model lowers the barrier of accessibility for these dogs and typically it is the non-profit assistance dog organizations that do this. Some organizations charge thousands, or even tens of thousands, for their assistance dogs. If you need an assistance dog and cannot afford the upfront cost of one, organizations that provide them for free can change a life without charging for the dog.
This is where volunteer puppy raisers can make a huge impact in an organization's, usually a non-profit's, mission to provide the assistance dogs for free by limiting payroll and labor costs associated with training and caring for the dog. Depending on the organization, puppy raisers may be responsible for some or all costs of care, food, training, and/or vet bills during the time they have the dog. This can make puppy raising somewhat expensive depending on the organization you raise for and your means.
Pawsible has put together a break down of potential puppy raising expenses listed below. Please note that these are estimations and prices and requirements can vary drastically between parent organization and/or local program.
$50 - $200
Basic Supplies the you may need to buy could include:
Large Dog Crate
Food & Water Bowl
Leash, collar, specific training leashes
Brush, shampoo, nail clippers
A Bag of Puppy Food:
$10-$80 depending on bag size and brand. Some programs require that you use a specific brand of food or one from an approved list.
$20 - $50
A few toys:
Toys are important for mental enrichment and to prevent the puppy from chewing or playing with household items
Some organizations help with these beginning costs and may provide a loaned or gifted set of items like a crate, bowls, leashes, grooming supplies, a toy or two, and even a starter bag of puppy food.