Service Dog 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 service dog in training (SDIT) and change a life. Volunteer service dog in training raising is an incredible way to help children and adults with disabilities live more independent lives.

A: For information about grooming visit our nutrition page for more information. It is extremely important that a golden retriever is never fully shaved. If you are uncertain, contact your SDIT raiser coordinator.

A: Please do not allow your dogs to play with or chew on any form of rawhide, 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 or Kong should be in use at all times. Visit our nutrition page for more information.

A: As a courtesy, please remember to contact an organization staff member at or 540-543-2301 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 service dog 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.

A: SDWR does not spay or neuter our Service Dogs in Training prior to 12 months of age. Spaying or neutering a dog too early can cause lifelong issues with the dog’s joints and overall health. A dog’s growth plates typically close between 10-12 months of age but for larger breeds, this can take longer. Waiting until the dog is full grown, sometimes 18-24 months, lessens health risks even more.



Heartgard can only be obtained by a veterinarian and ONLY AFTER the dog has been tested negative for heartworms. Heartgard is a monthly medication that is given to dogs to prevent heartworm larvae from developing into adults. Heartgard does not kill adult worms.When you give your dog his monthly Heartgard pill, it is killing all the immature forms of the worm (larvae) that have been growing in your dogs system for the past 30 days.If you have forgotten to give your SDIT his/her heartworm pill on time there is a chance that if your dog has heartworm larvae, those larvae would potentially be able to develop and travel to your dogs bloodstream and reach his heart. The problem with giving Heartgard to a dog that has heartworm disease is the sudden death of the larvae can trigger a shock-type reaction in the bloodstream that can be life threatening to the dog. That is why veterinarians are required by law to have a valid veterinary-client relationship before dispensing any medications. On top of that, the American Heartworm Society recommends that the dog must test negative for heartworms before being placed on heartworm preventative.

SDWR is not a veterinarian. We are not a Retailer or a Wholesaler. You should develop a relationship of your own with a veterinarian. SDWR is a nonprofit organization and therefore we are unable to provide medication and supplies to our service dog raisers. This also includes Seresto Flea and Tick Collars. You should be changing the Seresto collar out every 6 months and making sure you have your dog in a NEW Seresto collar. We want all of our puppy raisers to make sure you have your dog tested for heartworms by their veterinarian, obtain Heartgard preventative, and then administer the medication every 30 days as prescribed.

A: 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

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.

A: Service Dogs by SDWR is the sole owner of the dog and therefore maintains sole authority regarding all aspects of the dog’s placement, rehoming and well-being including (but not limited to) its health, safety, socialization, temperament, training, and placement.

At SDWR sole discretion, SDWR reserves the right to re-home the dog and/or dismiss the Raiser from the Service Dog Raising Program if s/he is not in full compliance with all referenced policies or for any reason SDWR chooses. Upon notification by SDWR of its intent to re- home the dog and/or dismiss the service dog raiser, the raiser agrees to promptly return the dog to SDWR.

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 service dog raiser may apply to adopt the dog as their pet or SDWR at its sole discretion, will place the dog in an approved home from our release dog wait list. An adoption fee applies to everyone other than the service dog raiser of the dog.

A: Service dog in training 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.

A: SDWR will make an effort to unite the service dog in training raiser with the assistance dog recipient. If an in-person meeting is not possible, we’ll pass along your contact information.

A: You and the service dog in training 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 SDIT for a purpose — that the SDIT will go on to help someone with a disability lead a more social and independent lifestyle.

A: SDWR maintains ownership of each service dog in training and our staff will find a new home for any service dog in training in need.

A: We believe in the use of positive reinforcement combined with appropriate corrections. Our service dogs in training are raised by their raisers different training tools or other similar and approved head collars.

A: service dog in training must be exposed or “socialized” to activities of daily life. This can include accompanying the service dog in training 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 on the goodwill of merchants and business owners rather than the legal system for gaining public access.

A: Each service dog raiser goes through an orientation process and is given training support. We also provide ongoing staff support to each service dog raiser via phone, e-mail, or in-person follow-up. There is also a great community of support from current service dog in training raisers across the country.

A: Any home with more than 2 dogs or ANY home with ANY bully breed will either disqualify the applicant or require rehoming of that dog prior to placement of an SDWR service dog. 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.

A: In most cases, the service dog in training can accompany the raiser on vacation, or can be placed with a sitter that meets our criteria. We offer guidelines for age appropriate travel outings and activities.

A: It’s imperative to the SDIT’s development that supervision and socialization are provided throughout every day. Service dog in training 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 SDITs should always be in an appropriate size crate.

A: Absolutely! Most service dog in training raisers gain approval to take the SDIT to work. We recommend speaking to your employer prior to applying. The service dog in training will need regular toileting breaks throughout the day.

A: The primary service dog in training 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: service dog in training can’t attend school with children in the household.

A: service dogs in training need physical activity in the form of play or walking. Service dog raisers should expect to provide at least 25-40 minutes of exercise per day. SDWR service dogs in training are not allowed to visit public dog parks.

A: SDWR holds regular quarterly training sessions are typically held at various locations in the state of Virginia. Location is at the sole discretion of SDWR. Our raisers are notified via email once a date, time, and place are confirmed for training sessions and it is up to raisers to confirm their attendance and commit to quarterly training for their SDIT.

A: Service dog in training 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 service dog in training class available, you must find and attend an approved public obedience class at your expense.

A: We strongly prefer that our service dog in training raiser homes have a fenced yard. service dog in training raisers must agree to follow our supervision and leash requirements. Service dogs in training must not be off leash at any time unless in an enclosed area.

A: You must be at least 18 years old to be a volunteer service dog in training 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 service dog in training raiser application.

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 further afield, to obtain puppies that are best suited to service dog careers. These acquisitions are at the discretion of our organization.

A: All dogs in the program are Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers. In EXTREME special circumstances due to doctor-verified allergies, we place doodles and may have some available intermittently for dog raising. We ask all volunteer service dog in training raisers to be flexible regarding gender, breed or color to assure that every service dog in training finds a home quickly and efficiently.

A: Yes. SDWR does require that SDWR service dog in training be fed one of several specifically chosen brands of high-quality dry dog food. A SDWR service dog in training should never receive table scraps.

A: We also need short-term raisers who will keep a service dog in training until it is at least 20 weeks old. Short-term raisers housebreak and begin training the service dog in training before it is placed with another raiser who will finish raising the pup.

A: Service dog in training raisers are responsible for teaching service dog in training 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 service dog in training 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 service dog in training have been exposed to a wide variety of people, things and places and accept new situations in a calm manner.
    3. Well-traveled: The service dog in training are relaxed and comfortable when traveling in all modes of transportation: cars, buses, trains, airplanes, ferries, etc.
    4. People-friendly: The service dog in training bond well with people, enjoy receiving verbal praise and are eager to please.
    5. Animal-friendly: The service dog in training are calm and appropriate around all sorts of animals including other dogs, cats, birds, livestock, etc.
    6. Responsive: The service dog in training 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.

A: Raisers receive the service dog in training when they are approximately 16 weeks old, and they usually remain in the service dog in training raiser home until they are between 14 and 18 months old. The length of time may vary, however, depending on the individual service dog in training development or our need for dogs.

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 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