Puppy Raiser FAQ

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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:
    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Well-traveled: The puppies are relaxed and comfortable when traveling in all modes of transportation: cars, buses, trains, airplanes, ferries, etc.
    4. People-friendly: The pups bond well with people, enjoy receiving verbal praise and are eager to please.
    5. Animal-friendly: The pups are calm and appropriate around all sorts of animals including other dogs, cats, birds, livestock, etc.
    6. 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: Any homes with dog(s) currently placed with be considered strictly on a case by case basis.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.
  • What happens if a dog becomes sick while I am Puppy Raising? BEFORE going to the vet or before a situation is escalated for a dogs need to see a vet. We as an organization need to be informed that the dog has some form of injury or illness in the first place and secondly we may be able to potentially save you a lot of money in the long run through our many years of experience by giving you recommendations of holistic natural remedies.
    Once at the vet SDWR needs to know the diagnosis, DMV recommendation or speculation of the cause of such injury/illness. What the treatment plan is so that a treatment plan can be run by our staff of veterinarians and see if the recommended treatment course of action is an approved method for treatment. We will need all vet records, notes, essays and any other informative information from the vet center immediately emailed to info@sdwr.org
    Lastly, please remember that SDWR does not reimburse vet visits, this is your responsibility and was in the initial agreement you signed up front when you agreed to become a volunteer Service Dog Raiser taking on such a wonderful responsibility. Such vet bill examples are including, but not limited to UTIs, ear/stomach infections, mechanical injury (bones, muscle, tendon, etc…), blockages from ingestion of foreign objects, obvious things that could have been prevented, including by not limited to neglect, abuse, etc… Our organization is grateful for all of the work you put in behind the scenes and we rely on you to manage and take care of this living creature as if it were a child or a sibling. It counts on you daily to teach right from wrong, to help discipline and learn the proper ways of life. The dog counts on you to keep it from being injured or ill just as you did when you were a child. It is a major responsibility, however, it is a very rewarding way, through our Service Dog program,  of being able to help assist a person less fortunate.
  • What if I need A Puppy Sitter? As a courtesy, please remember to  contact an organization staff member , Cheri at this time no less than 3 weeks in advance that you are in need of a puppy sitter and for how long the dog will be with that person. That potential puppy sitter will need to fill out a puppy sitter application to be considered (underneath puppy raiser application on our website) and SDWR will need to talk to them on the phone and approve of them. Once approved you are good to go, however this does not neglect your liability / responsibility of your agreement with SDWR including, but not limited to theft, death, accident or injury to the SDWR dog you have agreed to raise. Ultimately this is your responsibility, so , please know and trust the person you are wanting to ” puppy sit ” your dog as if it were your child.
  • What Is Approved For Dogs To Play With? Please do not allow your dogs to play with or chew on any form of plush toy, stick/mulch, or rope toy. All of these have potential to harm your dog and potentially cause a blockage and lead to death. Only approved toys such as the initial ones provided and Nylabone should be in use at all times. Visit our nutrition page for more information.

Does this sound interesting to you? Apply here to become an SDWR Puppy Raiser!

Volunteer Testimonies

Puppy Raiser

"When I was 8, I meet my first service dog in training. I was flying to Charlotte, NC after visiting my grandparents in Seattle, Washington when a puppy and his raiser were on my same flight. While I knew I could not pet, I continuously watched from a safe distance until I worked up the courage to talk to the raiser. For a few months after that encounter I told everyone I knew that I was going to train service dogs when I grew up. Then over the past couple of years I faced my own health challenges. I no longer underestimate being able to perform simple day to day tasks on my own. While I can live normally again with medication, I know there are people out there that don’t get a simple cure. When I found out that there was program with SDWR on Wake campus I knew that I needed to give back."
– Ellen & Puppy, Stone

Puppy Raiser

"I am a middle school special education teacher and have seen tremendous growth from my former students when they had assistance from their service dogs. I joined this fantastic organization as a puppy raiser after my school participated in the DC Autism walk. Being able to take my service dog in training to work with me has helped many of my current students learn how to interact with a service dog and gain confidence to do more things independently."
– Ashley & Puppy, Jack

Puppy Raiser

"I wanted to be a puppy raiser for SDWR because I know first hand how much a dog can change someones life. I have a family member who is affected by an illness and have always been interested in getting involved in programs like SDWR. I grew up with dogs and absolutely love them. SDWR is the perfect way to incorporate service and giving back while training a puppy! Training Bohach gives me a purpose everyday and he provides so much joy in my life."
– Kelly & Puppy, Bohach

Puppy Raiser

"Through high school I worked with English Labrador Retrievers, breeding and training them for the show ring and hunt field. After going away for college I found that I missed being around dogs every day. Once I heard about the SDWR Puppy Raising Program I immediately contacted them and two weeks later I had a puppy. This experience has been more benefitting for me personally more that I realized before. Not only do I get to enjoy having these amazing animals around me every day, but I also have the privilege of knowing that what I am doing will have a positive impact on not only myself, but also others in the future. This program is not just rewarding for a person who has trained dogs in the past, it can also easily be applied to those who have had dogs for pets in the past or to people who have never had an animal in their life."
– Madeleine & Puppy, Ramses

Puppy Raiser

"Taking on the responsibility of raising a 75 pound bundle of pure energy has certainly come with its share of challenges. Teaching my bundle of energy also known as Jack the service puppy in training, has taught me many lessons about patience and persistence. Through all the learning moments, we have formed a strong connection. Jack is my shadow, following me everywhere I go. He brings so much joy and happiness to my life. I’m hoping I’ve had as much influence on his life as he’s had on mine."
– Cassidy & Puppy, Jack

Puppy Raiser

"I became a puppy raiser for SDWR for several reasons. My grandmother, Juju, has suffered from diabetes for many years. When I heard about SDWR’s service dog and puppy raiser program, I knew I could make a difference. I realized just how large of an impact a service dog would be for my grandmother on a daily basis. I had to get involved to benefit others in need. My neighbor also suffers from PTSD and I realized how a service dog would benefit his life in countless ways. He used to tell me stories about how the 4th of July was his least favorite holiday because the fireworks reminded him of being in battle. He also suffers from anxiety before thunderstorms. I feel very strongly about ensuring I make a difference in these people’s lives."
– Tanner & Puppy, Slash

Puppy Raiser

"I have been raising and training puppies for more than 25 years for my personal use and love dogs and the joy they bring. I currently have two dogs who are certified therapy dogs which I take to schools, nursing centers, and other outlets. I am a strong believer in volunteerism. Becoming a puppy raiser was a great mix of these two activities. Taking Hazel around with me throughout my day has brightened each day and drawn others to us. I enjoy telling people about Hazel and describing the important work she will do someday. I’m able to educate others about the future role of these dogs. It is so enjoyable to be walking down a hallway and watch the faces of people as the see Hazel coming their way. Initially they usually have a neutral expression, and I can pinpoint the moment they see her. The faces just light up.
– Mary & Puppy, Hazel

Puppy Raiser

"Raising Foster has been the greatest part of my experience at Wake Forest so far. I get to spend every hour of every day working and playing with such a beautiful dog and each moment with him presents a new learning opportunity for both of us. When I decided to become a puppy raiser I knew that I would be raising a dog that would one day go on to do tremendous things for someone else, but I never anticipated that I would also benefit and learn so much from the experience. My day to day life is more enjoyable and fulfilling because of the opportunities presented to me by SDWR."
– Rance & Puppy, Foster