If you are a dog lover, there is a seemingly endless array of opportunities to do volunteer work. Rescue groups need help with fostering, transporting dogs and fundraising. Local humane societies need volunteers to help walk and socialize dogs. And of course, there are dozens of rewarding visit opportunities for therapy dog teams through Dogs On Call!
Another volunteer opportunity is being a volunteer puppy raiser for a service dog organization.
If you are interested in learning more about being a puppy raiser, here’s some information to get you started.
- Do I need special training to be a puppy raiser?
No. Most organizations are simply looking for volunteers who have general experience teaching a dog basic obedience and polite manners.
- What type of training do I do with the puppy?
This varies with the organization, but in all cases the puppy raiser is responsible for socializing the puppy in public settings. This means teaching the dog how to be comfortable and well behaved in places like restaurants, business settings, libraries, etc. The puppy raiser also teaches the dog basic obedience commands. In some cases, the puppy raiser (under the guidance of an experienced trainer) teaches the dog specific service dog skills such as flipping a light switch, opening/closing a refrigerator or cupboard door, picking things up off the floor, and pushing a handicap door button.
- How long do I keep the dog?
This, too, varies with the organization. Some groups rotate the dogs in training amongst the different puppy raisers every 6-12 months. In other groups, the dog stays with the same trainer for 1-2 years.
- Am I responsible for the dog’s veterinary bills?
In most cases, the puppy raiser covers the cost of veterinary care, food, and grooming. Some organizations do cover the cost of veterinary care.
- What dog breeds are used?
Most service dog groups work with Golden Retrievers and Labrador Retrievers. However some groups use Poodles, German Shepherds, mixed breeds, or rescue dogs.
- Are there service dog groups in the Madison area?
Yes. At the time of writing this article, there are 3 local service dog groups:
- OccuPaws (www.OccuPaws.org),
- Custom Canine Service Dog Academy (www.customcanines.org),
- Wisconsin Academy for Graduate Service dogs (www.wags.net).
- There are also national service dog groups like Canine Companions for Independence (www.cci.org) that have volunteers in Wisconsin.
I started puppy raising about 10 years ago. I am currently raising Kory, a Golden Retriever puppy from Canine Companions for Independence. She joins Journey, my therapy dog partner, and Nickels my goofy Golden (pictured above). It’s a house full of Golden energy!
Now I am guessing that many of you are thinking “No way – I could never be a puppy raiser because I could never give up a dog…”
Without a doubt, puppy raising is not for everyone. Giving up a dog that you have raised is one of the hardest things you will ever do. Then again, there is nothing that quite compares to the joy and happiness that comes with seeing how a dog you have raised changes the life of a person living with a disability. It’s an amazingly rewarding experience.