Have you ever seen a guide dog helping someone across the street and wondered “How did that dog get trained?” It likely started in a home just like yours, with people donating time and love to get puppies ready for their life’s mission. There are several factors to consider if you are considering taking part in raising a service or guide dog puppy.
How Raising a Service Puppy Works
Each organization has specific rules and ways a service dog puppy is raised, but this is the overall progression from the first interest in raising a puppy to the dog ending up with its handler.
- Reach out to the service organization in your area you’d like to connect with. We have a list at the bottom of this article for consideration but check locally too.
- You’ll fill out an extensive form making sure you meet all the requirements.
- An in-home visit will be scheduled by the organization to make sure you have a safe and comfortable place to raise a puppy.
- The puppy comes home to you around 10 weeks of age.
- You raise the puppy for about another year under strict rules and guidelines to accommodate the service dog’s duties while exposing the puppy to a regular home life with bonding and love.
- The puppy goes back to training for 6 months or so to get formal service dog training.
- The puppy and handler are connected and begin work together.
- You get to meet the handler and see the dog one last time.
Read that last part again. You won’t see the puppy throughout his or her life. This is the hardest part for most puppy raisers. There is also a much more rewarding part that follows.
Decide if Raising a Service Puppy is Right for Your Family
There are so many factors to consider before you volunteer to raise a puppy. You need to always remember that it is not “your” dog, you are doing a public service to help someone in need.
It’s hard not to get attached to a puppy. You need to know you are just there for part of the puppy’s life and won’t have a long-term physical role in its life, but you will have long-term effects.
The Puppy Comes With Rules
You will have to follow certain training rules, commands, and attend events with other puppy raisers. For example, you might say “Good dog” for a job well done, while the organization insists you use the word “Nice.”
You will be required to feed the puppy certain food at certain times. You will not be able to let the puppy on furniture or outside of the crate for sleep, in many cases. Once cleared to do so, the puppy will go with you EVERYWHERE.
You’ll need permission to bring him or her to work with you. The puppy will go to the grocery store, doctor’s appointments, hair salons, school, etc. The puppy cannot just stay in the kennel all day as you would with a family pet. Socialization is critical for these dogs. People will talk to you. You’ll have to let them know the rules for approaching a service dog in training. It takes a lot of time.
Not only is having a puppy time-consuming, but this is a puppy with a busy schedule all its own. Make sure you have time, tenacity, and dedication to the task. Even going potty is different for a service dog. They have to have a controlled ability to “hold it” as much as needed and then be able to relieve themselves on any surface, as the grass isn’t always an option. So they need to learn to potty on concrete, dirt, grass, asphalt, and any other surface possible. It’s potty training at the expert level.
The Puppy Payoff
So that makes it seem incredibly hard, right? Here are the benefits of raising a service dog puppy:
- You get to have a puppy around (several times if you keep raising puppies!)
- You are the bonding experience a puppy needs in those first months of life in a normal home.
- You are doing something fun for a greater purpose.
- You will meet so many people who want to interact and learn about puppy and service dog training.
Stephanie Roberts, a local media celebrity in Tampa, Florida, raised a puppy through Southeastern Guide Dogs. She chronicled her journey through television segments. She has advice for anyone thinking of raising a service dog.
“You have to focus on the bigger picture and the greater good. You are creating a companion for someone who needs help more than you do. Along the way, you get amazing puppy hugs and kisses.”
– Stephanie Roberts, Southeastern Guide Dog Puppy Raiser
Another thing to note is, you probably won’t be naming the puppy. Many organizations use puppy naming as part of their fundraising. Some puppy raisers find this hard to swallow, but it also reinforces—this isn’t your dog. This is your mission to help someone who can’t get through life without the assistance of the puppy sitting in your lap.
Will I EVER See the Puppy Again?
Most organizations have a ceremony of some kind when puppy raisers bring the pups back to the center. The puppy-raising family says goodbye. The dog is then taken to intensive training, whether it’s to be a seeing-eye dog, medical-issue detecting dog, veteran service dog, or any of the many varieties of good work these dogs can do.
This moment is hard for puppy-raising families, and the organizations offer support (and maybe a new puppy-raising opportunity) to ease the transition.
Once the puppy goes through training, they’ll be paired with their handler for even more training and bonding work. There is generally a ceremony of some kind where the family can come back and see their dog in action with their handler and see just how much of an impact he or she is having.
“This is the moment you feel so incredibly overwhelmed by the good you have done. This is the moment it was worth saying goodbye.”
Usually, the family gets to meet the handler and see the dog again, for a brief moment in time. Then both sides go their separate ways. Each organization is different in how they allow contact between handlers and puppy-raising families moving forward.
Questions to Ask Before Getting a Service Dog Puppy
Every pet owner has different things they do and don’t allow of their family pets. None of those rules particularly matter when it comes to service dog puppies as it’s about training the puppies for their long-term goal. To make sure you can handle the rules, here are some great questions to ask.
- “Is it okay if I have family pets while raising a puppy?”
- “Can I take the puppy to the dog park?”
- “Is the puppy allowed on the furniture?”
- “Can my children help train the puppy?”
- “What commands do you use for basic puppy training?”
- “What if someone doesn’t want a service dog puppy in their store? How do I handle that?”
- “Can I let strangers pet the puppy?”
- “Can I take the puppy on vacation with me?”
- “What if my work won’t allow a service dog puppy?”
- “Can I leave the dog running loose in the backyard?”
There are so many factors to consider when being a puppy raiser, but there are so many heroic stories that have come from those who have.
Scott, who raised a puppy with his wife, Christine, says it best, “We know the dog has a greater purpose, a job to do, and that we’re part of something wonderful.”