Puppy Raiser FAQ
SDWR has been providing assistance dogs to people with disabilities since 2009. You can help us unite people with trained assistance dogs in a powerful program that leads to greater independence. Every assistance dog starts as a puppy that needs a loving home. You can raise a dog and change a life. Volunteer puppy raising is an incredible way to help children and adults with disabilities live more independent lives.
- What is the timeframe for raising a puppy? How long do raisers keep the dog? A: Raisers receive the pups when they are approximately 16 weeks old, and they usually remain in the puppy raiser home until they are between 14 and 18 months old. The length of time may vary, however, depending on the individual puppy’s development or our need for dogs.
- What are the main responsibilities of SDWR puppy raisers? Who teaches the service dog tasks? A: Puppy raisers are responsible for teaching puppies good behavior both at home and in public, and what to expect and accept in this busy world. Raisers also rear the pups to be close companions—to trust and be trusted. The raisers’ goal is to develop energetic and curious pups into mature, dependable dogs that have the following characteristics:
- Well-behaved: The pups have good house manners and will not relieve in the house. They are quiet and calm, eat only their own food and are not destructive.
- Socialized to the world: The pups have been exposed to a wide variety of people, things and places and accept new situations in a calm manner.
- Well-traveled: The puppies are relaxed and comfortable when traveling in all modes of transportation: cars, buses, trains, airplanes, ferries, etc.
- People-friendly: The pups bond well with people, enjoy receiving verbal praise and are eager to please.
- Animal-friendly: The pups are calm and appropriate around all sorts of animals including other dogs, cats, birds, livestock, etc.
- Responsive: The pups obey basic commands and are cooperative during various training exercises.
The actual training where the dogs learn the specific skills and commands to be Service Dogs are done through a comprehensive approach involving each family in their environment once the dogs are returned to us by our professional staff of Instructors.
- What if 12-18 months is too long of a commitment? A: We also need short-term raisers who will keep a puppy until it is at least 20 weeks old. Short-term raisers housebreak and begin training the puppy before it is placed with another raiser who will finish raising the pup.
- Does an SDWR puppy require any special foods? A: Yes. SDWR does require that SDWR puppies be fed one of several specifically chosen brands of high-quality dry dog food. A SDWR puppy should never receive table scraps.
- What breeds of dog does SDWR use? A: All dogs in the program are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers. We ask all volunteer puppy raisers to be flexible regarding gender, breed or color to assure that every puppy finds a home quickly and efficiently.
- Where does SDWR get their puppies? A: We have our own breeding program and In addition to our private breeding, we work with several licensed breeders in Virginia, as well as futher afield, to obtain puppies that are best suited to service dog careers. These acquisitions are at the discretion of our organization.
- I am 15 years old, can I raise a puppy? A: You must be at least 18 years old to be a volunteer puppy raiser. Those under the age of 18 must have a parent or legal guardian living in the same household as a co-applicant on the puppy raiser application.
- Do I need a fenced yard? A: We strongly prefer that our puppy raiser homes have a fenced yard. Puppy raisers must agree to follow our supervision and leash requirements. Puppies must not be off leash at any time unless in an enclosed area.
- What type of training will I do with the puppy? A: Puppy raisers must set aside time for daily training and attend obedience classes for the duration of the project. In some areas, we provide puppy classes free of charge. However, if you live in an area without a SDWR puppy class available, you must find and attend an approved public obedience class at your expense.
- How much exercise do the dogs require? A: Puppies need physical activity in the form of play or walking. Puppy raisers should expect to provide at least 25-40 minutes of exercise per day. SDWR puppies are not allowed to visit public dog parks.
- How old do you have to be to raise a puppy? A: The primary puppy raiser must be an adult 18 years of age or older. However, minors are allowed to raise with an adult co-raiser living in the same home. Note: Puppies can’t attend school with children in the household.
- I work outside the home; can I still be a puppy raiser?A: Absolutely! Most puppy raisers gain approval to take the puppy to work. We recommend speaking to your employer prior to applying. The puppy will need regular toileting breaks throughout the day.
- Can the puppy stay at home while I am at work? A: It’s imperative to the puppy’s development that supervision and socialization are provided throughout every day. Puppy raisers must either have prior approval to bring the puppy to the workplace or provide an alternative for the socialization and care of the puppy during the day. When left unsupervised, SDWR puppies should always be in an appropriate size crate.
- Who takes care of the dog if I go out of town? A: In most cases, the puppy can accompany the puppy raiser on vacation, or can be placed with a sitter that meets our criteria. We offer guidelines for age appropriate travel outings and activities.
- Does SDWR have any puppy raising policies regarding children or pets? A: Other pets are limited to a household of two dogs not including the SDWR puppy. All pets in the home must be well behaved, current on vaccines and over one year of age. There is no policy regarding age and number of children in the home; however, we strongly encourage families with young children to attend a puppy class and/or evaluate carefully the commitment of puppy raising on an individual basis.
- How does SDWR prepare individuals for their role as a puppy raiser? A: Each puppy raiser goes through an orientation process and is given training support. We also provide ongoing staff support to each puppy raiser via phone, e-mail, or in-person follow-up. There is also a great community of support from current puppy raisers across the country.
- Where do puppy raisers take the puppy in public? A: Puppies must be exposed or “socialized” to activities of daily life. This can include accompanying the puppy raiser to the work place, shopping center or other public places. When in public, the puppies wear a cape identifying the fact that they are being socialized for special purposes. However, we rely upon the goodwill of merchants and business owners rather than the legal system for gaining public access.
- What type of training philosophy does SDWR endorse? A: We believe in the use of positive reinforcement combined with appropriate corrections. Our puppies are raised by their puppy raisers different training tools or other similar and approved head collars.
- What happens if my living situation changes and I can no longer care for the puppy? A: SDWR maintains ownership of each puppy and our staff will find a new home for any puppy in need.
- How can I possibly give him up when the time comes? A: You and the puppy you raise will take a long journey together! It’s only natural that you will become very attached to the dog. The ability to give up a dog comes from knowing that you’re raising this puppy for a purpose — that the puppy will go on to help someone with a disability lead a more social and independent lifestyle.
- Will I get to meet the individual who receives the dog I raised? A: SDWR will make an effort to unite the puppy raiser with the assistance dog recipient. If an in-person meeting is not possible, we’ll pass along your contact information.
- What kind of financial commitment is required? A: Puppy raisers agree to provide food, supplies, vet care, transportation and related expenses while the puppy is in their care. These expenses are usually tax deductible. SDWR is often able to provide assistance for catastrophic veterinary expenses.
- What if the dog is not placed as an assistance dog? A: In the event the dog is released from our program but found suitable for a working role with another agency, SDWR will transfer the dog to such an agency. Should the dog be unsuitable for placement in any working role, the puppy raiser may adopt the dog as their pet or SDWR will place the dog in an approved home from our release dog wait list. An adoption fee applies to everyone other than the puppy raiser of the dog.
Does this sound interesting to you? Apply here to become an SDWR Puppy Raiser!