Service Dog Puppy Raising

Service Dog Puppy TrainingMy last newsletter addressed Pet Therapy and all the information you need to know before venturing into that world with your dog.

This week, I’d like to address “puppy raising” for a service dog organization. (Thank you Pam English, Sylmar Puppy Leader for Guide Dogs of America for checking my facts here!)

Many people have inquired as to how they can become involved as a puppy raiser for a dog being groomed for performing “physical tasks” for a person with a disability.

First, you need to have PATIENCE! You will be given a puppy of approximately 8 weeks of age to take home and blend into your home and, and for some, work life. From the get-go, it’s feeding and relieving and getting some basic obedience skills nailed down early in this process. Also required, are monthly meetings and obedience classes. Your puppy will be evaluated by the staff on a continuing basis to make sure it’s on track with their socialization, health issues and obedience.

You are required to give your puppy basic obedience skills, socialization and house manners. Socialization is key. Taking your dog with you to all environments is essential and required. You will be stopped continually so give yourself more time to run your errands. Your dog will be given a bib, then a “big dog” jacket/vest. This identifies the dog as a “Puppy In Training” in public and also gives the dog the idea that when the jacket is on, they have to be good little canines outside their home…obedient and quiet in all settings. One such example would be laying under a table in a restaurant quietly. The best pups in training are those that other patrons have no clue that a dog in their midst.

These service-dogs-to-be must be non-reactive to the sights and sounds of everyday life (unless they are a “hearing dog”). Nothing must phase them when they are working with their handler down the road. No pun intended!!

Ideal service dogs are smart, but not too smart. They must respectfully disobey their handler’s commands if they deem it will put themselves or their handler at risk. That takes a very special dog.

The raising process takes anywhere from one year to 18 months, depending on the school. Then the tears flow when you are contacted to turn in your “now-perfect -dog” back to the school for final evaluation. If the dog passes the medical and temperament testing, it will then go on to the actual training for the special job of that particular service dog organization.

Puppy raisers are not be allowed to see their dog when it is turned in for training, but will be invited graduation day to see their dog graduate and meet the lucky person who has been matched with their dog.

If the dog is dropped and becomes a “career-change, the raiser usually gets right of first refusal to take the dog back as their “pet.” Some dogs need a job, so they may go on to search and rescue, bomb sniffing, law enforcement K-9 duties, etc. The statistics are pretty amazing. Only about 50% of all dogs raised will actually become a service dog. The criteria they need to meet is high for the safety of themselves and the handler.  

Every pup raiser I know says it was the most rewarding “job” they could ever imagine doing. Raising a dog for someone in need of assistance for their disability is such a noble cause. Not everyone can do it, but those who do it over and over again stand on a very high pedestal in my mind. This is the most selfless act one can do…to raise a dog and then give it back to the organization. Brings tears to my eyes just typing this!!

So, next time you see a puppy raiser in public with their dog, thank them for what they are doing to help someone with their disability.

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