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5 Things I’m Considering Before Raising My Next Puppy In Training

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Puppy Adelle
It seems like yesterday Adelle was this little puppy…

Adelle is creeping up on her 14 month birthday which means she will only be staying with us for about 4 more months 🙁  It’s around this time I start thinking about what lies ahead for us in the future…

Adelle’s future is set.  When she turns 18 months she will go to the Prison Pup Program and learn advanced service dog skills.  She will spend 4-6 months with prison inmates helping rehabilitate while learning at the same time.  After her time in the Prison Pup Program Adelle will move on to Team Training where she will be matched with her new partner and move on to her career as a working dog.

Our future is uncertain.  I actually have two questions I will try to answer in the next 4 months:

  1. When will I raise another puppy (I’ve pretty much decided I already will the question is when)?
  2. Should I raise another CST puppy? another GDA puppy?  or…?

Question #2 is what we’re going to focus on today.

Before I Was A Puppy Raiser

2006 was the year I decided I wanted to be a puppy raiser and the question at that time was which guide or service dog school would best fit my needs as a volunteer puppy raiser?  Many of you probably will not have this problem as you may only have one school nearby, but in southern California we were able to research over a half dozen different guide and service dog schools.

Back in 2006 I had an idea of what I thought the ideal school should offer volunteers.  While some of the same things are still important to me I’ve come to find that there are many other factors that are imperative to having a good puppy raising experience.  After all, you’re committing 18 months of your life to this program!  You should find the school that works best for you!

6 Things A Puppy Raiser Should Consider Before Choosing A School

This isn’t an all encompassing post that factors in all things you should consider before choosing a service dog school, but instead I’m brining up some of the more subtle things that I’ve found important to me over the years.

1. What do I do with my puppy when I can’t watch him?

You don’t have to watch your puppy 24 hours a day 7 days a week, but there will be times when you need a short term or a long term puppy sitter to help you with your puppy raising duties.  If you want to leave your puppy at home for a short period it’s always a good time to work on crate training.

  • Short Term – I consider short term as 1 day sometimes unplanned or loosely planned.  This is very important because we’ve had times when we just needed a short break for whatever reason.  A few scenarios for us have been going to Disneyland for the day, weddings, parties, and just a little bit of time without our puppy.  We’ve found it very helpful to have nearby puppy sitters to help at moments notice to give us a break from puppy raising.
  • Long Term – Long term are planned usually something like a vacation or business trip.  Most schools can help you with a long term sitter whether it’s a kennel stay or puppy sitters/raisers that can help watch your puppy

The key thing I’m looking for here is an organization that can help me with short term puppy sitters.  If I’m going to Disneyland for the day without my puppy I don’t want to have to drive 2 hours to drop my puppy off at the kennel then drive another 2 hours to pick him up.  It’s much easier to have a puppy sitter that lives 10 minutes away that can watch a puppy for the day.  See what I’m talking about?

Why can’t parents, friends, or family watch your puppy?  Most schools want to verify and home check anyone who watches a puppy in training and quite frankly I would not trust my parents watching one of my service dog puppies in training (sorry mom and dad, but you’re the types that spoil the grandkids).

2. Is there a local group?

This is one I didn’t deem important when I first started puppy raising, but today I find imperative to a good puppy raising experience.  First of all, let me preface by saying I’m a very independent type of person.  I would have been totally satisfied without a support group before I started this journey.  However, without the support of our OCGDA group I would probably have only raised 1 puppy then moved on to the next thing on my bucket list.

The friendships and support I’ve received from our OCGDA group is priceless.

  • Our group organizes outings that helps new puppy raisers socialize puppies.
  • Sharing puppy trials and tribulations.  Seeing that others are experiencing the same problems helps to know you’re not alone.
  • Guidance from veteran puppy raisers.  This helps with puppy training, socialization and teaching good house manners.

3. Is there a puppy raiser manual?

Before you start your puppy raising journey it’s nice to have a manual to help guide you on your journey.  This gives you an idea of what you need to teach your puppy and what you should expect along the way.  If your school doesn’t give this to you before you get your puppy I’d definitely ask for one so you can get a jump start on your puppy raising career.

4. Are there puppy training classes?

Most people don’t like going to class, but what if it’s Puppy Kindergarten!  Puppies are adorable and Puppy Kindergarten is basically a collection of adorable puppies acting like…well, goofy little puppies!

Whether you’ve been raising and training puppies for the past 10 years or bringing home your first puppy getting guidance from seasoned trainers helps immensely.  Even today I feel like I’m learning something new as well as being reminded of something I forgot.

While it’s nice to attend puppy training classes at your local PetSmart, PetCo, or Community Center nothing beats being able to attend puppy classes specific for guide or service dogs.

Why?  Because we often will not learn some of the specific things we should be aware of for working dogs.  For instance, some of our guide dog puppy classes have us performing obedience commands blind folded.  It’s an entirely different story when you can’t see whether or not your puppy sits on command.  You have to take different cues like feeling it in the leash or reaching down with your hand to check or even using your foot to see where your pup is positioned.

5. Are there organized outings?

CST Puppy Training Outing
Adelle and her CST friends at a Christmas mall puppy training outing

We mentioned this earlier in the group section, but I wanted to mention it again here.  When we first started raising a puppy we weren’t too sure what to expect when walking into a public place like a restaurant, bookstore, or department store.  However, going in with a group of puppies on an organized outings helps rookie puppy raisers get used to going out and about with their puppies.  It gives rookies a chance to see how a veteran puppy raiser and puppy in training act in public.

Another advantage of organized outings is it allows many puppy raisers do things they may have never done with their puppies.  Would you have visited a fire station, road a train, visited a theme park, road the bus, visited a festival, gone to the movies, or gone to the horse track with your puppy in training.  Maybe some of these things you would have done with your puppy, but some require some serious planning and maybe you would not have gone on a train without your school organizing an outing.  Here are some of the outings we planned for our Orange County Guide Dogs of America group.

Remember these are some questions that are most important to ME as a puppy raiser and as I mentioned some I didn’t even realize were important until after I started my puppy raising career.  When I first started I assumed I’d raise one puppy then move on to whatever was next on my list.  Choosing the right program really started me on the path to becoming a lifetime puppy raiser.

We’ll see what the coming years have in store for me.  As of today, I will continue raising puppy #5, Adelle!

I know we’re all different.  What do you think are the most important factors a puppy raiser should consider when choosing a guide or service dog school?

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  1. Years ago we used a web cam to spy on Linus. It worked well, but I got tired of watching him sleep on the couch 🙂

  2. I have a puppy and he’s very bored while I’m at work. Friends prompted me to buy him Petcube (https://petcube.com/). This is kind of home camera for pets. Does anybody try something similar?

  3. Graduation is definitely a whirlwind day. That’s nice that GDB gives you the contact information before graduation.

    That’s cool about your next puppy coming from GDA. I didn’t know GDA had Goldens coming up as I haven’t seen too many at the group meetings. I have seen a lot more German Shepherds at meetings and training classes. I wonder if your new puppy will be related to my Apache. If so, you might want to prep for a large dog. Apache was close to 100 pounds and he was on the skinny side.

    Good luck with your new pup! I can’t wait to see some pics.

  4. Hi Colby!

    I am still here, although not actively blogging…

    Yes, GDB provides raisers with contact information for their dogs’ handlers, we get to talk to them on the phone before meeting them at graduation – something GDB started doing about 15 years ago because graduation days are so hectic, it can be difficult to have a meaningful conversation with anyone. It is up to raisers and handlers to stay in contact after that. My dogs’ handlers are fantastic… I try to keep up with them.

    I feel very strongly that raisers and graduates benefit from communication with each other. Because I work in the “blind industry,” I often forget that some puppy raisers are not exposed to really guide dogs or even people who are blind, and some handlers don’t really understand what work goes into puppy raising.

    I definitely recommend attending a GDB graduation and getting a tour of the campus. I think you will find that GDB graduation is very similar to GDA graduation.

    By the way – my next puppy comes at the end of this month, a GDA-born golden retriever who will be raised for GDB. I am looking forward to it!

  5. Hi Mandy!

    Awesome write up! You mentioned some great questions that we don’t always think to ask when we first start puppy raising. I know a big consideration for some people is the financial cost to the puppy raisers. While this is important to me it definitely wasn’t a consideration when raising Adelle for CST (I have to cover the majority of her costs). We are definitely all different as puppy raisers and we need to think about all these questions and decide which are a priority before puppy raising or choosing a school.

    Does GDB allow you to stay in contact with the dog after it leaves? Both GDA and CST seem to leave that up to the handler. I’m lucky that Liz and Dublin keep me updated on their adventures. On the other hand I haven’t heard from Apache since I met his handler at CST graduation.

    By the way, I might go to the GDB graduation this summer. We’ll be in Gilroy for the Garlic Festival so I’m thinking of going to San Rafael for the graduation. I also want to go to Fun Day someday. It looks…well…Fun!

    I haven’t seen a post on your blog in a while. I hope all is well with you.

    Take care,

  6. Good list – I would also add this:

    What support does the organization provide to me, in training and finances? What support does the organization provide to my dog after it leaves me, in training and finances?

    These can run the gamut – some organizations expect raisers and graduates to take full financial responsibility for their dogs and others will cover vet expenses, and still others will cover food expenses as well. Additionally, some organizations provide a lot of oversight and are available for troubleshooting training issues, while others expect raisers and handlers to consult with outside trainers on their own dime if they have training related questions or problems. It is also important to know your organization’s stance on dogs that are medically released from training. Does your organization provide support? Will they take released dogs back if their placements don’t work out? I know for me, it is important to know that my dog’s health and well being are top priorities, and their health or behavior will never become a burden on a handler already dealing with a disability, and that a school will always take one of their dogs back.

    What training methods are used?

    Different organizations follow different training protocols. It is important to know how you are expected to teach your dog and what tools are available to you. Some organizations use training collars, prong collars, and teach primarily using compulsive, corrections-based training methods. Other organizations expect raisers and handlers to use positive reinforcement methods with food, and sometimes clickers. It is important to know the ramifications of either training method and what you are comfortable using with your dog.

    Who retains ownership of the dog?

    Some organizations retain ownership of the dog throughout the dog’s lifetime. Others have a trial period before offering ownership to graduates, and others transfer ownership of the dog upon graduation. It is important to know what your service dog school does with its dogs, and how they advocate for dogs that may be in compromising situations, such as if a handler is hospitalized, or there are allegations of abuse. If a dog is owned by a school and in danger for any reason, the dog can be collected and returned to the school at any time. If ownership is transferred to the individual graduate, animal control protocols must be followed to remove the dog from the graduate’s home, which can take time and requires substantial evidence. From a graduate’s perspective, there may be strong feelings about owning your own dog as a sign of respect and dignity – and this can factor into a potential handler’s decision on what school to choose.

    And some other questions to ask, that I will not write essays about:

    How are potential handlers screened? What are the requirements and expectations of handlers? Where are dogs placed geographically? Where are dogs housed during formal training? What enrichment programs do they have in place for the dogs during down time? How long does formal training take? Will I be allowed contact with my dog after it leaves me? Where does the organization get its dogs? How big is the staff? Do they have a veterinarian on staff? An endowment? I could go on….

    So yes, lots of questions. Good luck with your decision, Colby.

  7. Thanks, Johann! We really enjoy puppy raising. I guess we wouldn’t be thinking about raising a sixth puppy if we didn’t 🙂

  8. I never asked myself a lot of these questions before I started puppy raising. I’m very lucky that I chose a tight nit group that were willing to help me every step of the way with my first puppy.

    There are lots of groups near you and I’ve driven down to San Diego to meet some of them. Here’s a few that we’ve talked to that probably have groups in your area Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB), Guide Dogs of America (GDA), Guide Dogs of the Desert (GDD), Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), Canine Support Teams (CST), Tender Loving Canine Assistance Dogs (TLCAD). I’ve actually met with all of these groups and each one has it’s merits. The right group will largely depend on the individual.

    Please feel free to ask me any questions. As I mentioned in this post I’m trying to decide what to do next as well.

  9. Wait a second…I’ve seen you foster puppies! It sounds like we went down the same path. I rescued Linus from the animal shelter and after having him for a couple years decided that he was going to help me foster or raise puppies. We started with fostering then moved on to puppy raising.

    Fostering was great and I’ll probably do it again sometime down the line, but I love puppy raising. It’s so awesome watching a dog I raised from 7 weeks to 18 months help others regain their independence.

    I think you’d enjoy puppy raising. If you’re still at all interested you might check into some of your local guide/service dog organizations and attend a few meetings.

    If you have any questions please feel free to ask me.

  10. You still have me thinking about doing this, and when I’m finally ready, I will have lots of questions for you! I’m glad I live in an area where there are so many options. The concerns you brought up are some of my main concerns, like still being able to leave for the day or go on a vacation.

  11. When I brought Honey home, it was with the understanding she’d be my partner in either puppy raising for a service organization or fostering. We chose fostering because after raising one puppy, I discovered I wasn’t cut out for serious puppy raising over the long term.

    But I love your suggestions for thinking about which organization to work with. It’s a topic I’ve never seen anyone else handle.

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