Most of us are familiar with the importance of the roles that service dogs play in assisting their handlers who have disabilities. Service dogs offer independence to those with disabilities and help them with everyday activities. The dogs are trained to fill individual needs and help with specific tasks.
This training usually starts once the dog is a year old, so the puppy must be raised to that age by someone with knowledge of the proper practices to socialize the dog and prepare them for formal training later. These service dog puppy raisers are volunteers who offer their considerable time to raise a puppy, and then must make the difficult emotional step of separating themselves from the pup with whom they have bonded when formal training begins.
So how do you become a service dog puppy raiser?
If you want to become a service dog puppy raiser, a good place to start is to research online the different organizations and find one that suits your interests. Each organization will have different requirements, but all will require a significant level of commitment.
You will need the time and patience to dedicate to raising your service dog puppy.
Let’s look at what is involved in becoming a service dog puppy raiser, including eligibility, the application process, and the requirements of actually raising the puppy.
Reasons to Become a Service Dog Puppy Raiser
People become service dog puppy raisers for a variety of reasons. Of course, the love of dogs and the desire to volunteer and help others are the primary motivators. But a big factor is the level of commitment.
Taking on a dog for its life is a huge commitment, and not one that all of us can take at any given time. So some people get their “dog fix” by pet sitting for friends, or volunteering at a local animal shelter. These are both noble endeavors, and don’t require a long-term time commitment.
Others choose to foster dogs who are up for adoption. This requires a more concentrated time commitment, as you are responsible for taking care of the dog until it gets adopted, which could be days to weeks to months. Of course, the organization you volunteer for can help you if you need to leave town, etc., but you basically have a pet of your own for this period of time.
Service dog puppy raisers make a commitment of usually at least a year of full-time care of a puppy, and as much as two years. And while this is significant, it’s still far less than a life-long commitment. Many people do this when they have a set period of time available, but the future is less certain. This could be a result of a career choice, schooling schedule, retirement, or perhaps before a couple plans to have children.
Service dog puppy raising allows one to experience the joys and challenges of raising a puppy without the lifelong commitment. It also presents the bittersweet experience of having to permanently part with the dog you’ve cared for and bonded with, while knowing that your good deeds will benefit someone’s life in a substantial way.
Choosing to become a service dog puppy raiser is not a decision to be taken lightly. Make sure you’ve weighed all factors before taking on this significant responsibility. But if you decide to raise a service dog, it can be an extremely enjoyable and rewarding experience.
What Kind of Service Dogs Need Puppy Raising?
Every service dog is unique. Not only is each one trained to assist with the specific disability that their handler has, but each dog is trained for the specific needs of that individual. But all service dogs begin with the same basic training which serves as a foundation for their more specialized formal training.
Types of Disabilities That Can Benefit from Service Dogs
Service dogs can assist individuals who have a variety of physical and emotional disabilities, including but not limited to:
The majority of your work as a puppy raiser won’t depend on the type of disability your animal will ultimately be trained to assist. You will be providing socialization and basic obedience work in preparation for their specific service dog training.
If you are thinking of working with dogs and raising a service dog puppy, what do you need to know?
Service Dog Breeds
What dog breeds can be trained to provide therapeutic services? There are no hard and fast rules about breed; in fact just about any dog (even small dogs) with a calm and gentle temperament can potentially become a service dog, regardless of breed. Of course, they. must also able to be trained to perform the required tasks.
That said, Labradors, Golden Retrievers and German Shepherds are most often used as they naturally possess many of the desired characteristics of service dogs:
Most organizations that train service dogs get their puppies from breeders with ancestry lines that have been proven to be successful in the past for their specific disability. This makes the odds of success much greater.
It’s important to note that even the most likely successful puppy candidates for service dogs are not necessarily guaranteed to make it through training and become a service dog. No matter how ideal the breeding, puppy raising, and training, certain dogs just don’t have what it takes to do the specific job.
Requirements of Service Dog Puppy Raisers
Other than a love of dogs and a commitment to raising a puppy, service dog puppy raisers are required to provide essential services for the pup. These include providing a safe home, a healthy diet, health monitoring, proper socialization, and taking them to obedience classes.
Most organizations require puppy raisers to be at least 18 years old, have a secure, fenced yard, and have the necessary available time in their daily schedule to properly care for the pup. It is helpful if you work from home, are retired, or can bring the puppy with you to work.
You will be expected to not only bring your puppy to obedience training, but also continue that training at home between classes and after the course ends. A puppy raiser’s goal is to best prepare the pup for future training and service.
A puppy raiser is also expected to actively socialize the dog. Service dogs accompany their handlers everywhere in the world, so the puppy must learn to become comfortable in all sorts of different environments. Exposure to the unknown is critical, and ranges from different stores to different surfaces to walk on.
Each program has specific guidelines that you should be familiar with before taking on a puppy. There may be limitations that don’t work in your situation. For instance, many programs don’t allow their puppies to go to dog parks, eat foods other than their normal dog food, etc. These rules exist for a reason and if you don’t intend or cannot follow them, you should not take on the responsibility of raising a puppy in that program.
A general guideline for the amount of time you will need to spend with your puppy is two hours daily. This includes, walks and exercise, play, and training. Of course, interaction and bonding are expected as well, as are frequent socialization efforts.
Applying To a Puppy Raising Program
Different organizations and agencies are dedicated to training dogs to help with specific disabilities. You can find out about these programs on their websites. Simple searches online for service dog organizations in your area will reveal the various programs available.
Once you apply, you will likely receive a home visit from the organization. You don’t have to have any special dog training skills, but your attitude, desire, and willingness to volunteer are important.
Some organizations will offer financial assistance to those raising a service dog, while others just don’t have the resources. So while you won’t have to pay for the puppy, you will generally need to pay for feeding, vet bills, classes, and any other costs. There are exceptions to this, but they aren’t common.
Things to Consider When Deciding to Raise a Service Dog Puppy
There are a couple of major factors to consider when deciding whether or not to become a service dog puppy raiser. One is that you are getting a puppy! Raising a puppy is much different than adopting and older dog. And just about the time a service dog puppy is grown up, they will be leaving the raiser’s home. So there is no real adult dog time spent with them; they are perpetual puppies for raisers!
Also, parting with a dog you’ve raised for a year or two can be much more difficult than it seems when you first decided to raise one. It’s part of the deal, but it’s important that you understand that early so you are prepared emotionally. Knowing the valuable service they will be providing makes it easier, of course.
What if My Service Dog Puppy Doesn’t Pass Training?
A certain percentage of all service dog candidates aren’t able to successfully complete their formal training. This can be for a number of reasons, but it happens. In this case, the organization will often offer the dog back to you on a permanent basis. Depending on your circumstances, this could work out positively for you.
Helping others is one of the easiest ways to feel good. And having a puppy is one of the surefire ways to make you happy. Combine the two by becoming a service dog puppy raiser, and the odds of happiness are super high!
If you’ve carefully considered the responsibilities involved and can make the time and effort commitment required, becoming a service dog puppy raiser can be a wonderful experience.