Puppy Raising FAQ

A yellow lab puppy stands on a vet exam table.


How long do you have the puppy as a volunteer puppy raiser?

The length of time volunteer puppy raisers have the puppy depends heavily on the organization they are raising for. However, most puppy raising opportunities are approximately a year commitment, sometimes lasting up to two years. Many programs give raisers the puppy around 8 - 16 weeks old and the puppy returns to the assistance dog organization around 15 - 20 months old.

Are puppy raisers always volunteers?

Not always, but most puppy raising programs are built for volunteers to raise the puppies from their youth through to early adulthood. Many nonprofit assistance dog organizations have volunteers raising the puppies to get others involved in their mission and provide assistance dogs to their clients at no cost.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected puppy raising?

Puppy raisers and assistance dog organizations were heavily affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some ways in which volunteers and organizations were affected include:

  • Many organizations had their operations and ability to train, raise, and place dogs with clients disrupted.
  • Some programs were not able to give out new puppies to raisers and/or were unable to take dogs back who were ready for the next step of training. This disrupted the lives of many puppy raisers and some struggled with the additional time and cost of having a puppy longer than expected.
  • Organizations’ fundraising efforts were impacted and some had to adjust programs and the support they provide puppy raisers to make ends meet.

Can I pet the service dogs in training?

In some cases, yes. However, please respect the dog and their raiser by asking before petting. If you pet the dog without asking you might be distracting the dog or be putting them, or their raiser, at risk. The raiser might tell you no especially if the dog is working on a skill, in the middle of a task, or otherwise cannot be pet at that time. If you see the dog in public they are likely working, just ask before petting!

Do service dogs in training have to wear a vest? What is the vest / cape for?

Many service dogs and service dogs in training wear working vests to indicate that they are a working dog and put them in the “working mindset”. Vests also give the general public a visual indication that this dog is a working dog and not a pet. The vests are like a work uniform and the dogs wear it so they can do their job best. Some vests also have pockets, handles, and other additions that are helpful for the dog, their handler, or their puppy raiser. In some cases you might see a service dog without a vest, if you do you shouldn’t treat the service dog any differently as they are still a working dog.

How could you ever give up the puppy? 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 peace of mind, 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. The pride a raiser feels when they get reports, pictures of their dog working, or hear their dog is graduating is a feeling that makes puppy raisers just come back again and again.

Do all puppies in training become working assistance dogs? What happens if they don’t make the cut?

  • Often puppies that are released from assistance dog programs either transfer “careers” or are released from the program as a normal pet dog. Career transfers typically happen if a dog wants to work but is not able to meet expectations or requirements for the specific program they are in. Sometimes dogs transfer careers and head to a different organization or program if they are still fit for and interested in working. Dogs that have specific health, behavior, or other issues may be unable or disqualified from working and will leave the program as a pet dog. In some programs, puppy raisers even have a chance to adopt the dog if they are released from the program as a pet!
  • All of these decisions are handled by the assistance dog organization and handling of career transfers or releasement from the program can vary widely.

Do the puppies in training ever get to play and be a “normal” dog? What about the adult working dogs?

The puppies and adult dogs aren’t always on duty and they get time to play and have fun too! Some puppy raising groups will organize play dates so the pups can hang out with their friends and burn off some energy. When the dogs are at home they are still expected to have exceptional manners, but they get to take their vest off and nap and play like a pet dog!

Are assistance dogs and puppies in training being forced to work?

In most cases no, the dogs that work do it because they love it! Most programs will release or transfer a dog if they do not show a desire to work, and some programs will even retire an adult assistance dog whenever the dog decides they do not want to work anymore.

Why are service dogs allowed in public spaces?

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 allows fully-trained service dogs access to public spaces under federal law.

Are service dogs in training covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Sadly, they are not. However, most states have laws that include service dogs in training and permit them in public spaces. You can see your state’s laws here.


Who owns the dogs that puppy raisers are raising?

The assistance dog organization that the volunteer is raising for retains ownership of the dog throughout their time with the puppy raiser. Most puppy raisers sign a contract before they get the puppy that stipulates that the raiser must return the puppy to the assistance dog organization upon request and/or at the completion of their time with the puppy raiser.

What dog breeds do assistance dog organizations commonly use?

Many assistance dog programs use labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, german shepherds, and even poodles! Each organization determines which breed(s) of dogs they raise, train, and place with clients. Breeds can have different benefits and can be better suited for different jobs and skill sets.

Why do many assistance dog organizations have breeding programs or use purebred dogs?

Breeding for assistance dogs can help increase the success rate of training and raising a future assistance dog. Breeding helps programs select for desirable temperaments, traits, and limit health conditions. This increases the success rate of a puppy becoming a working assistance dog and in the end can save a lot of time and money for the organization, as well as better client and dog outcomes.

Are all assistance dogs from breeding programs? How do assistance dog organizations that have breeding programs keep their breeding pools diverse?

Not all assistance dog organizations use dogs from breeding programs, but many do, especially large or national assistance dog organizations. Each organization makes their own decisions about the kind of dogs they use and where they are from. Many larger organizations, including some medium and smaller ones, have their own breeding programs to breed their own assistance dogs. Assistance dog organizations also talk to each other and often share or exchange dogs with other organizations and get dogs from reputable breeders to keep their breeding pools diverse. Some organizations also use rescue dogs.

Why don’t many assistance dog organizations use rescue / shelter dogs?

Often dogs that are rescued or are from shelters are harder to train and raise successfully. This can be for various reasons such as a lack of health history, less desirable temperaments, intellectual acuity, and overall predictability. However, this doesn’t mean that non-purposely bred dogs aren’t suitable for assistance dog work, they are just often more difficult for organizations to train and manage. Some assistance dog organizations use rescue / shelter dogs because they are more available, less expensive, and it helps limit the number of dogs without homes. These dogs can be just as successful as dogs from breeding programs, and each assistance dog organization handles how they obtain their dogs differently.


Does the puppy raiser teach the dog everything they need to know to be a working assistance dog?

Nope! Puppy raisers are most commonly responsible for teaching the puppy basic obedience and commands, general behavior, and basic skills like potty training. In most programs, puppy raisers return the puppy to the assistance dog organization as the puppy reaches adulthood. With the assistance dog organization the dog learns specific skills for their profession, and in most cases they are learning these complex skills from certified assistance dog trainers.

What do you teach the puppy as a puppy raiser?

Each program has different standards, expectations, and requirements for the training and raising of their puppies. Many organizations have puppy raisers teach the puppy basic obedience, such as responding to commands like “sit”, “down”, etc.

Are all commands and their cues the same across assistance dog organizations?

No, commands and their cues often vary between organizations and sometimes even locations. For example, some programs teach the verbal cue “heel” to mean the dog moves to a specific side of the handler - other programs may use the verbal cue “side” for the same action, and some may even have the verbal cue “heel” mean an entirely different action. Some assistance dog organizations also use physical cues such as hand gestures either in addition to or in place of verbal cues. There is no sweeping standardization for these commands and specific cues in the assistance dog community. However, many programs use similar commands and cues for the basics.

How long do puppy raisers train and raise the puppies?

Most programs give the puppies to raisers between the ages of 8 and 16 weeks old. The raiser has the puppy usually for at least a year until they return to the assistance dog organization at 15 - 20 months old. Each program operates a little differently and depending on the organization puppy raisers may have the puppy for a year or up to two plus years.

Do puppy raisers know exactly how long they will have the puppy?

This heavily depends on the program volunteers are puppy raising for. Some programs have a pre-determined date at which the puppy returns to the organization, others have a general window of time for the puppy’s return, and other programs may decide when the puppy reaches a certain age. Many times the date a puppy is returned to the assistance dog org is determined by various factors potentially including the skill and temperament of the dog, the dog’s age, client need, and the program’s ability to train or place the dog.

Puppy raising seems really cool but also exhausting. Do puppy raisers get support for when they are tired, go on vacation, or have something come up?

Yes, many programs have puppy sitters that watch the puppy in training for a short period of time as needed. Some programs have two puppy raisers raising and training a dog, often called co-raisers; this helps spread out the responsibility of the puppy and is fairly common among student puppy raisers.

Do you have any questions we haven’t answered here? Send your questions and any suggestions to info@pawsibleinc.org