Being a Volunteer Puppy Raiser for Putnam Service Dogs

What is it like being a volunteer puppy raiser for Putnam Service Dogs, and why do people do it?

Here’s what Elaine Sackman says about the experience:
“I started as a volunteer puppy raiser at PSD because it seemed like a win/win/win. I can get my doggy fix without owning another dog, a rescue dog is saved, and a person in need will be helped. The training and support provided are great! The dogs are treated with love, respect, and kindness.”

Here’s what Chris Ledwith says about his PSD puppy raising experience:
“They have an enthusiasm for puppy raising and training that makes the experience fun and rewarding.”

Peggy Carty says of her experience as a volunteer Puppy Raiser for PSD:
“I’m so glad I joined the PSD team! I was given such a wonderful, intelligent puppy.  This is so rewarding, and with a fantastic group of people…and pups.”

Here’s what Founder/CEO Nancy Teague says about her experience raising the numerous pups she’s raised:
“Our pups who have passed through my home are such great dogs! Truly a pleasure to live with, and see them develop the skills they’ll need as a Service Dog. Our pups are very people oriented. They love with  such intensity, and lie contentedly at my feet in down time. I’ve really enjoyed  spending working with our truly extraordinary dogs before sending them on their life path.”


The most common reason we hear why people won’t be a puppy raiser for us is they could never give the dog up. It is very difficult to part with a dog who has become a member of the family. You took on the pup to create a service dog who will change their recipient’s life, and you work hard to help the dog develop. If the pup you raised graduates, you will have a tear provoking, incredibly heartwarming experience – truly unmatched, of knowing the Service Dog you helped create is helping a person in need. This is a volunteer opportunity where you’ll truly make a difference.

If we have to release the dog before graduation, we look first to see if the dog can still help someone. For example, be an emotional support dog. Finding a great home where the pup will be happy and well cared for is our foremost criteria. In some cases, we feel it is best for the dog to remain with their raiser, and offer it to the raiser as a pet.  Each released dog has a different path, and we strive to find the best path for the dog.

What’s involved in raising a Putnam Service Dog puppy?

You can expect to spend between 1-2 hours a day, raising a service dog puppy. They’re a lot more work than raising a pet dog because so much more is expected of them. There are 5 area of focus –  caring for the pup (food, water, medical needs),  exercise (walking them 1+ mile/day when the pup is 6 months old, finding a fenced area for them to run 5-10 minutes/day), loving them (to build a very strong bond), training (in snippets – no more than 10 minutes at a time, 2 or 3 times a day)and socializing (key to developing a confident service dog). You will be given direction on all of these aspects by our trainers. All are essential.

We use only humane, positive training methods. The puppy is never forced or physically manipulated. You wait for it to offer the desired behavior. When the desired behavior is shown, it is immediately marked by sight, sound, or touch, and then the dog is given a treat to positively reinforce it. Our Head Trainer will guide you in how to positively train the dog to build trust and love of humans – essential for a service dog.  Undesirable behavior is ignored or redirected to extinguish it.

The puppy is crate trained, and taught not to go on the furniture. The dog will arrive at the recipient’s home, expecting not to go on the furniture, in case the recipient doesn’t want that. If the recipient wants the dog on his furniture that’s his choice.  No worries, the dog will quickly learn this!

You’ll be expected to feed our puppies the recommended food, Nature’s Select High Premium Pet Food. Most of our Service Dogs will be large dogs – over 45 lbs, and large dogs grow a LOT their first year. Excellent food is critical to their skeletal and muscular development.  We carefully chose to partner with Nature’s Select Premium Pet Food. They use only local ingredients (they’re in California), and in 29 years have never had a food recall. Their CEO obsesses over what goes into their food, and uses only local sources.

You’ll be expected to attend hour long weekly classes led by our Trainers for the first 12 months you have the puppy.  Our trainers will also visit your home once a week, or as needed, to conduct private sessions. After the first year, the classes, and private sessions will go to twice a month until the puppy begins Formal Training (when the pup is around 18 months, depending on the pup’s maturity level).  The pup lives with our Head Trainer once they begin Formal Training.

Our classes will teach you how to teach the puppy Basic Obedience skills to a higher level that would qualify the puppy to be a Canine Good Citizen per American Kennel Club standards. You will learn a lot of dogmanship raising a Service Dog puppy!

The puppy will be taught some basic service cues – Under (since Service Dogs need to go under tables to get out of the way in restaurants and other public places), Get Busy (to eliminate on cue), Close (to come to your side), Fetch (as our recipients tend to drop items0,  Touch (to push elevator buttons, turn on lights, open or close drawers),  Look (to focus on the handler’s face), Leave it (to ignore any unwanted distraction, or leave food and other enticements alone), Close (to walk closely to you), Door Manners (sitting before a door is opened and waiting to go through until released), Food Bowl Manners (waiting until released as our recipients may struggle to prepare and set down food bowl), Front (standing in front of you, facing you), Back (next step after Front for pup to go through a narrow door, enter a crowded elevator), and a Rock Solid Stay.

Our Trainers are kind, patient, fun, enthusiastic, and extremely knowledgeable teachers. They will be available to you via email, text, or phone. You’ll receive our Puppy Raising Manual as a guide, and books will be recommended if you want to do further reading.

Raising a service dog puppy means short sessions of daily training and frequent socializing (taking them to new, novel situations to expand their confidence and ability to navigate the situation successfully). It means walking them, not only for exercise, but also to teach them to walk well and to stimulate them mentally, and exercising the puppy sufficiently to release their huge amounts of energy! (This usually involves the pup running in a safe area.)

Raising a service dog puppy means giving them lots of love, down time just chilling together, and playtime. We encourage you to keep a crate in your bedroom so they sleep close to you.  The puppy needs to learn to bond closely to humans, to love and trust humans deeply. We teach you to gain eye contact between you and the puppy, so the puppy is responsive and isn’t focused on something else when you’re working with them.  It’s a very deep, rewarding connection for both you and the puppy! You’ll be encouraged to leave the pup in his crate for some alone time to teach him independence as well.

Putnam Service Dogs adopts a carefully selected pupfrom Partner Rescue Groups after a raiser has been approved. Most of our pups will be 50+ lbs when full grown. Almost all are mixed breeds, who show the temperament we’re seeking, and show good retrieving ability. Hearing Alert dogs may be smaller dogs. We seek pups that look approachable so the public won’t be afraid to approach a service dog team if the person needs help.

Below is a link to apply. We so appreciate our Volunteer Raisers. They’re truly indispensable. We can’t produce Service Dogs without our them.

Thanks for your interest and support of our organization and cause!

Click here for the Puppy Raiser Application »

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