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Guide Dog Puppy Raiser Vs. Service Dog Puppy Raiser

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No, this is not a competition, but it is something that has been weighing on my mind…should I continue being a Guide Dog Puppy Raiser or should I move to a different organization/school and volunteer as a Service Dog Puppy Raiser?

Over the past few years I’ve had the opportunity to talk to many of the different non-profit animal organizations out there.  Most of you already know that I’ve been a long time volunteer puppy raiser for Guide Dogs of America (GDA).  However, more recently I’ve been interested in branching out and learning more about some of the other wonderful assistance dog organizations.

Where Should I Volunteer My Time?

Toby GDA Puppy In Training
Toby, GDA Puppy In Training

While working for the technical education company, Ascolta I learned the importance of volunteering time to my community and found how rewarding it can be to help others in need.  Before I started volunteering with Guide Dogs of America I involved myself in the community as a foster parent for Cuddly Canines Rescue and also volunteered for Special Olympics, Habitat for Humanity, and Working Wardrobes.

While I enjoyed helping all of these organizations I truly love working with puppies and dogs while also helping people.

I did consider for a short while going back to fostering (this may be something I do again in the future), but I’ve always enjoyed the long term commitment of training a puppy from 8 week old puppies to 18 month old young adults.  Not only the training, but the fact that you get to train a puppy to help another human being makes the adventure all the more rewarding.

So why not continue as a Guide Dog Puppy Raiser?  Honestly, I love raising for GDA!  I love my local Orange County GDA group!  I love the volunteers, staff, guide dog teams, and all people involved with the organization.  However, I wanted to do a little more:

  1. I wanted to learn more about all kinds of assistance dogs.
  2. I wanted to learn how to teach more commands/cues.
  3. I wanted to work on more advanced training.
  4. I wanted the opportunity to work with not only the puppies in training, but also the clients.

Unfortunately, these things would not happen at Guide Dogs of America.  I still plan on helping GDA whenever possible, but instead of continuing as a Guide Dog Puppy Raiser I wanted to try volunteering as a Service Dog Puppy Raiser.

Assistance Dog Organizations

Before I became a GDA Puppy Raiser I researched and applied to several other Guide and Service Dog organizations in southern California.  I actually sent my application to these schools back in 2006:

  • Guide Dogs of America (GDA) – I currently meet with the Orange County group in Irvine, CA
  • Guide Dogs for the Blind (GDB) – I met with the Mission Viejo, CA group several times.
  • Guide Dogs of the Desert (GDD) – I sent my application and emailed them several times, but never heard back.
  • Canine Companions For Independence (CCI) – I sent my application, spoke to the puppy manager and a couple trainers, I also attended their graduation in Oceanside, CA

That was the process back in 2006 and as you know I ended up a puppy raiser for GDA.  So far I’ve raised 4 puppies for Guide Dogs of America and puppy sat dozens (maybe even in the 100’s) of puppies for GDA.

Shortly after turning Apache (my 4th GDA pup) in for formal training I decided I wanted to raise a service dog puppy in training instead of a guide dog.  I immediately started researching schools.  Here’s a list of schools I contacted:

  • Canine Support Teams (CST) – Located in Temucla, CA.  About 1 month after I turned in Apache he was career changed and began Advanced Training with CST.  I had heard of CST ever since I raised my first puppy, Stetson and learned more as Apache went through the program.  I applied to the school and attended several of their outings.  Apache eventually graduated from CST in April 2012.
  • Tender Loving Canine Assistance Dogs (TLCAD) – Located in San Diego, CA.  I applied to the school and attended a couple events.  I also went though their training program and learned some new things about training and assistance dogs.  I wrote a separate blog post on TLCAD here.
  • Little Angeles Service Dogs – Also located in San Diego, CA.  I applied to TLCAD and attended an interview to become a volunteer trainer.  They never contacted me back after the interview even after I followed up.  I guess I flopped the interview 🙁
  • Canine Companions For Indepedence (CCI) – Located in Oceanside, CA.  They still had my application on file and told me to contact them anytime I was ready to raise a puppy.  They also offered their training classes in Irvine which was nice, but I never made contact with CCI this second time around.

As you can see I take these things seriously and it took me nearly a year to decide on which program would work best for me.  In the end I was very torn between not only two of these great Service Dog schools, but I was also still committed to and considering raising another GDA pup, but in the end I decided…

Why I Decided To Raise A Puppy For Canine Support Teams (CST)?

Adelle, CST Puppy In Training
Adelle, CST Puppy In Training

There were two organizations that stood out for me: Tender Loving Canine Assistance Dogs and Canine Support Teams.  I was seriously back and forth on my decision from one day to the next, but it really came down to one key point:  There are 4 (possibly more) other CST puppy raisers living in Orange County.

Why does this make a difference?  In general these schools are very picky about who can watch your puppy.  Most schools allow other puppy raisers to puppy sit, but other people not known to the school are usually not allowed to puppy sit.  Having 4 puppy raisers close by means I don’t have to drive as far to get a puppy sitter.  This is very important when you need a puppy sitter for a few hours or just a day or two.

In the end I feel very lucky that I have the opportunity to work with any one of these great organizations.  The fact that I have a choice is all the sweeter.

How about you guys?  Do you volunteer for a non-profit organization?  If so, tell us a little about the organization and what you do as a volunteer.  We love learning about all the great volunteer opportunities out there!

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  1. You might be able to find a Service Dog organization on the Assistance Dogs International website. Good luck to your current guide dog in training!

  2. I was wondering if you had any leads regarding training a SD in the San Antonio, TX, area. I currently raise for the Guide Dogs of Texas. My current and first dog should make it into advanced training in January. They don’t like us to overlap puppies as in having two puppies to raise with a single raiser. It doesn’t look like I’ll get any of the G or H litter puppies, so I’m worried about being without a pup to raise. Any connections or suggestions for me? Thanks in advance.

  3. We had 3 puppies in training there plus the 1 working service dog . It was fabulous. I have a season pass, so my puppies go lots….Canine-angels.org is their website….their training facility is in Grants Pass, Oregon….however, their director and puppy raiser coordinator both are here in southern California….there are 3 puppies here right now….

  4. Awesome! We’ve taken a couple of our puppies in training to Disneyland. Where is Canine Angels Service Teams located? Were currently in between puppies and we’re trying to decide what we want to do next.

  5. Great job with puppy raising! I also researched all of the same organizations you did and eventually went with a small, new, non-profit called Canine Angels Service Teams. They provide service dogs for children and young adults with disabilities (anything from autism to spinal cord injuries). I am on my 4th puppy and absolutely love it! It is definitely a better fit for my busy lifestyle and other pet animals than Guide Dogs or CCI. I just spent a day at Disneyland with puppy #2 and his girl and it was fabulous to see them work together!

  6. That’s really a great idea Colby to raise puppy for CST.


    Also, last picture is awesome. He is looking like a drunk dog… But its a cute one 😀

  7. Hi Brittany,

    Spunky sounds like a great dog. You should try contacting some of the service dog schools or trainers in your area to see if it’s okay to apply even if you don’t know what your dog is sensing in you. Spunky is probably sensing some subtle change that your and your doctors have not yet identified. Hopefully this is something a service dog trainer can work on with you and another dog.

    Take care,

  8. I chose ‘Stray from the Heart’ and I love it that it is a non-profit dog rescue organization whose main goal is to rescue, rehabilitate and place homeless dogs with families that would truly care for them. The organization do all this without the benefit of paid employees or a shelter to house these needy dogs up for adoption. I am happy to be part of their network of volunteers.

  9. I used to raise Guide Dogs for the blind when I was in middle school. My first dog graduated and recently retired with his blind person who my mother is still in contact with today. It is always sweet hearing the stories of his world travels with Mildred who found amazing freedom with her guide. My other two dogs were career changed due to health reasons, but they are happy in new homes now.

    In 2009 at age 23 I was diagnosed with a rare brain disease called Idiopathic Intracranial Hypertension. For a few scary months I was actually going blind and my glimpse into the life of those who can’t see terrified me. We saved my vision by placing a shunt in my brain to drain excess spinal fluid to my abdomen in an effort to reduce the pressures in my skull. However I still suffer from exhaustion, dizzy spells, and unpredictable sudden drops in energy that leave me barely able to find my way to a chair without collapsing.

    In August 2011 I was given a toy poodle by family members. He had been passed around between owners and had suffered from depression when first a dog he was bonded with died and then an older woman he bonded with passed away. His experiences made him very needy and they thought he might help with my depression as I was bedridden so much of the time.

    Spunky immediately stole a piece of my heart. I slowly started to creep out of my depression as he made me feel happy, alive and loved again. Ever the caretaker her was always at my side, even after surgeries when I would sleep for days or be puking my guts out, he loyally watched over me.

    The more time I spent with him I realized that he signals for me to rest when I have an attack coming on. What he is sensing we have no idea of, since we don’t know exactly what causes my frequent dizzy spells, but he lets me know when it is time for me to sit down before passing out. To the point where this little toy poodle will start dragging me towards the door of the store if I don’t listen fast enough.

    We got him certified and now he comes with me everywhere. His watchful nature allows me to get more done because he makes me rest before I burn out. He also helps to calm me done after an attack. I worry about what will happen when he is too old to work anymore though. At 7 1/2 he is about middle age for a toy poodle. The fact that he is so in tune with me and can sense changes in me that the doctors and I don’t even know the causes of is so lucky.

    Since you have done so much research into service dogs I was wondering if it is possible to apply for a service dog if you aren’t aware of what the dog is sensing. Or if the doctors and I have to find the cause of my symptoms before I apply for a new one. I have a good 6 years or so before I really have to worry about a new working dog, but I rely so much on Spunky now that I worry about life without him or another dog watching out for me in public. So far I have been doing test after test with doctors for 5 years and we are still in the dark about the cause of my most serious symptoms. I guess I am just lucky that Spunky came into my life. The chances of getting a pet dog that can sense something we don’t even know about is so slim. I always say we were made for each other. He fears being alone and I can’t function well without his help.

  10. Thanks Dusty! If you’re interested in becoming a guide dog puppy raiser I would start by researching schools nearby. I listed a few that are located in Southern California in this blog post, but there are several guide dog schools around the world. Here’s a list of schools I put together a while back: https://puppyintraining.com/dog-training-schools-a-list-of-guide-dog-schools/

    Hopefully that helps get you started. Good luck to you and hopefully you’re able to start raising guide dog puppies in the near future.

  11. This is really an awesome blog Colby, I love pets a lot and want to take up puppy training. Also It is great to know your love for dogs and your interest to learn more as service dog puppy raiser. Your post helps a lot and I am glad i was able to search the info. What is your suggestion how do I start as guide dog puppy raiser. Also your research on different schools and their updates is helpful

  12. Hi Jessica,

    I’m glad you stopped by. I’m not so sure I like the white text on the black background, but I’m leaving it for a while to see if it grows on me. I’ll most likely end up changing it to a light background with dark text. Yeah, I’ve been very busy outside of the blogging world. Not only working with several different service dog organizations, bringing home a new puppy, but I’m also in the middle of escrow for a new house. Hopefully I’ll be moving into a new home by the end of August. Lots to do and so little time.

    I heard you were going to SuperZoo! That’s awesome! I’m sure you’ll have a great time and I can’t wait to hear about your trip.

    Take care,

  13. Hi Colby. It’s been a long time since I have been by. Love your “new” blog design. It’s neat to see you moving on to similar but other volunteer efforts. I’ll keep checking back to see how things are going.

  14. Thanks Amanda! I hope GDD has a dog for you.

    I’m glad GDD is doing a better job keeping in contact with puppy raisers. I’d love to help out at the school cleaning up kennels, but I’m probably about an hour and half from the GDD facility. If I was closer by I’d definitely consider it.

    Take care and good luck with your next dog!

  15. Colby I applaud your decision to grow in your puppy raising profession. I am awaiting a new guide dog from GDD or if one does not look like it is coming soon switching to rescuing and owner training a dog.

    Just an FYI GDD went through a ton of changes during the time you applied to raise for them and it seems like things have stabilized so it is easier to maintain contact with them. I know they are always desperate for raisers and have a larger variety of breeds. So if you decide to go back to a guide dog school give them another try. I also know they are looking for on campus volunteers in the kennels so if you ever have an urge to clean I am sure they would love to help you.
    Good luck with CST theymare very lucky to have you!

  16. Well I just switched in May and know it can be v difficult. I raised 1 for Guide Dogs of Desert, 6 for Southeastern Guide Dogs (4 matched and 1 in final training) and now w St Francis Service Dogs in VA. Not an easy decision. I have a post called St Francis Service Dogs that explains my reasons. I am glad I did and it is going well. Once I volunteer with SF, then there is a good possibility in future I can become a field trainer which I would love. My best wishes for your new pursuit, sounds like you have carefully thought it out.

  17. Go where your heart leads you 🙂 You know where your experience is needed the most 🙂

  18. Awesome! I have two personal dogs at home one is a 6 year old career changed guide dog and the other is an 8 year old rescue from Riverside Animal Shelter. I’m very excited to be volunteering with Canine Support Teams. I can’t wait to start meeting the other puppy raisers and staff at CST.

  19. I have raised one pup for Guide Dogs of the Desert and four for Canine Support Teams.Speaking from my experience,I obviously preferred CST.For me, it was too difficult to keep the guide dog to the stricter disciplinary requirements (I have four personal dogs as well). The folks at CST are very supportive and accessible.Good luck with your new adventure – and yes,all four of my pups graduated.#5 is in advanced training right now.

  20. That’s great kathryn! Thank you for sharing your experiences. Canine Support Teams also evaluates and trains dogs from rescues. They were actually featured in the Rescue Me video that was recently featured at RedBox where CST rescued and began training two dogs from a local animal shelter.

    Possibility Dogs sounds like an awesome organization. Again thank you so much for sharing!

  21. I have a service dog through http://possibilitydogs.org/. They evaluate rescues for work with psychiatric and mobility assistance, and also help with their training. Actually, we got Gizmo and started with another organization, but it dissolved after the president/CEO passed away unexpectedly. Susannah Charleson of Possibility Dogs took over when Gizmo started his task training, and has worked with him based on my needs. Another awesome aspect of Possibility Dogs is that instead of money, they ask their clients to contribute service. Since most disabled people are on fixed incomes and have trouble raising the funds to pay for a dog or training, we provide our skills. I was a teacher before becoming disabled, so now I conduct corporate and community trainings about service dogs, ADA regulations, local Texas codes regarding SDs, and proper etiquette for dealing with disabled folks and/or their SDs. If you want to know more, Susannah is also a best-selling author, and her latest book is actually titled The Possibility Dogs (http://www.amazon.com/dp/054773493X/?tag=mh0b-20&hvadid=2395326046&ref=pd_sl_8yxl4ymp70_e).

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