Every working dog from Southeastern Guide Dogs starts as a little pup full of potential. With help from incredible volunteer puppy raisers, these puppies learn basic obedience and skills to succeed when they start formal training.
To step into the life of a puppy raiser, first, you have to realize that no two puppies—or puppy raisers—are the same. Puppy raisers are retirees, working professionals, stay-at-home parents, families, teachers, college students and more. Each day is different, depending on who they are or how they live, but every puppy raiser has something in common; a love for puppies and a passion for making a difference.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that puppy raisers need extensive training. At Southeastern Guide Dogs, no experience is needed. After submitting an application and being approved, the organization provides training and a supportive network to ensure each volunteer succeeds. Additionally, each raiser gets a Puppy Raising Manual, a comprehensive guide of rules and protocols each raiser must follow when training and socializing the puppy.
You Got a Puppy! Now What?
Once a puppy raiser receives their pup, they join a community of other raisers in their area. They attend “Puppy Kindergarten” classes once a week for about six weeks (depending on the local group) to begin training. After that, meetings with their local group will take place twice-a-month to practice basic obedience and cues. Occasional “walk and talk” puppy evaluations and coaching sessions will take place. All these programs are designed to help the raiser and the puppy succeed.
A Day in the Life
At home, puppies will learn basic obedience and house manners with help from their raiser. They will experience the world by accompanying their raiser to work, school, the local grocery store and more.
First-time puppy raiser, Lauren Thibert, shared that her typical day of raising a puppy was not too different from an average day, as long as she was prepared. “I would make sure I had everything necessary for him and then some because you can’t always know what’s going to happen when raising a puppy,” Lauren said. “I would make sure I always had his vest, extra treats, extra bags and the card stating the laws about service dogs just in case I needed to go somewhere unexpected.”
Once Lauren had everything little pup Igor III needed, they would go to work at Peters Elementary School in Broward County. After school, the pair would head home or take care of a couple of errands. “Most of the time when running errands around the community, people would ask about him and the program, and I quickly learned to be prepared to have extra time to talk to others,” Lauren added.
At home, they would practice cues, and then Igor III would have time to be a typical dog and rest. Evenings also consisted of going to the neighborhood dog park or long walks.
Returning to Campus
After 12-14 months of housing their pup, raisers return the young dog to the Southeastern Guide Dogs campus in Palmetto, Florida, for Canine University. It’s here that these dogs will begin their formal training to become a guide, service or companion dog. They’ll go through assessments to determine the best career path. It could be a career as a guide dog for the visually impaired, a service dog for a veteran, a kid’s companion dog for a child with significant challenges, or a breeder dog to help continue the mission, to name a few.
Puppy raising is an incredibly rewarding experience. Each puppy benefits from the skills they learn to get ready for formal training. Each puppy raiser knows they’ve contributed to a cause larger than themselves.
Lauren shared, “Igor III had such a positive impact on everyone around him for the year he was with me. I was worried it would be really hard to give up a dog I spent a year loving and training, and of course, I miss him, but getting a picture of him in his guide harness and seeing him do exactly what we’ve been working toward makes it worth it. Not only is it very rewarding putting something good out into the world and possibly changing someone’s life for the better, but it is a wonderful experience from start to finish!”
Taking the Leap
Southeastern Guide Dogs relies on donors and volunteers to provide life-changing services for people with vision loss, veterans with disabilities, and children with significant challenges such as vision loss or the loss of a parent in the military. Puppy raisers are a crucial part of the organization.
A day in a puppy raiser’s life is filled with puppy hugs, tail wags and smiles. If you’re ready to take the leap and raise a puppy with a purpose, apply now at GuideDogs.org.