Service dogs change the lives of countless people. Whether a guide dog for a visually impaired person or a helper for someone with a disability, these dogs are tremendous assets to their owners. As a puppy raiser, you’d have an important role in turning a pup into a valuable service dog.
Assess your ability to raise a service dog puppy. As a volunteer puppy raiser, you must be able to commit up to 18 months to caring for a young puppy’s every need. You don't need any special training, but you do need to follow guidelines provided by the service dog organization, meet with other puppy raisers in your community for support or contact the organization for assistance when needed. You need the physical ability to care for and exercise a rambunctious pup. You’ll need to work with your new friend daily, teaching basic commands and turning him into a well-behaved companion. You also need to be willing to pay for food, equipment and veterinary care for your foster pup. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of becoming a puppy raiser is giving up your young friend when it’s time for him to start formal service dog training.
Find a suitable service dog organization and apply to become a puppy raiser. Each service dog organization has a standard procedure and set of requirements for becoming a service dog foster parent. You’ll fill out an application that describes your household, your work schedule and any other pets and their temperament. You’ll need to state whether you own your home or rent, and if you rent, you’ll need to show proof that your landlord will let you have a dog. You also need to agree to return the dog whenever the organization requests it.
Provide proper care and training for your furry friend. Your new friend will arrive when he’s 8 or 9 weeks old. You’ll also receive information about what and when to feed your new companion, housebreaking tips, general puppy care and instructions for teaching basic commands such as sit, stay, lie down, come and walking on a leash. Every organization will have its own preferred practices for raising a happy, healthy and obedient service puppy. You’ll also need to keep a journal or fill out periodic reports about how your future service dog is progressing.
An important part of your service puppy’s first year is socialization. Expose your little guy to as many situations as possible. Take him on the bus, walk him through the mall, go grocery shopping with him, walk him along crowded, noisy sidewalks—anything that your dog might encounter as a typical service dog.
Return your puppy to the service dog organization. At some point after your dog turns 1 year old, depending on his progress, you will be notified that you must return him to the organization for formal service dog training. This can be a difficult time for you as a puppy raiser. You’ve grown attached to your furry friend, and parting can be emotionally upsetting for the entire family. Take comfort in the fact that because of your loving care, your pup will go on to enrich another person’s life. Some organizations will allow you to meet the prospective owner. Others will provide you with progress reports or allow you to correspond with the new owner or even visit your dog’s new home.