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 will be helped. Nancy and Putnam’s trainer are always there to help and answer questions, and the training provided is great. The dogs are treated with love, respect, and kindness. While it is definitely work to train a puppy, it is truly a gift to be part of PSD.”

Chris Ledwith really enjoys working with Putnam’s Head Trainer, in raising his puppy Anna:
“There’s an enthusiasm to puppy raising and training that makes the experience fun and rewarding. Their trainer enjoys teaching and passing on her knowledge and experience to each of us which in turn benefits all of the puppies in the program. I give much of the credit for Anna’s development to the training I’ve received.”

Peggy Carty says of her experience as a volunteer Puppy Raiser for PSD:
I’m so glad I joined the PSD team! Allie is such a wonderfully intelligent puppy. With the ongoing, expert support of Putnam’s trainer, I feel confident in my role as “foster mom”, helping Allie become a Service Dog for someone in need. This is so rewarding, and with a fantastic group of people…and pups.”

Here’s what Founder/CEO Nancy Teague says about raising her puppy, Amy:
“Amy is Putnam Service Dog’s first puppy. I’m raising her because she’s a GREAT dog, and because there’s such a pressing need for PSD’s Service Dogs. It’s been a lot of work but also very gratifying. Our Head Trainer’s guidance ensures success and growth as Amy travels her 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. If the dog doesn’t graduate as a Service Dog, and the raiser has raised the puppy for at least 6 months, the raiser will be given the opportunity to keep the dog. If they’ve had the puppy less than 6 months before it’s released, the adoption fee is $550. If the dog graduates, the raiser will have the incredibly heartwarming experience – truly unmatched, of seeing the Service Dog they helped create help a person in need. This is a volunteer opportunity where you’ll truly make a difference.

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

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 with by sight, sound, or touch, and then the dog is given a treat to positively reinforce it. The puppy is never punished. Undesirable behavior is ignored or redirected to extinguish it. Positive, humane training creates dogs that trust humans and don’t feel the need to be aggressive to protect themselves; necessary components of a Service Dog’s personality.

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 Protein Dog 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 27 years have never had a food recall.

You’ll be expected to attend hour long weekly classes led by our Trainers for the first 6 months you have the puppy.  After that, the classes will go to once a month until the puppy begins Formal Training (age 16-18 months, depending on their maturity level).  Our Trainers will take over the training of the puppy during Formal Training, and you will be asked to spend 15 minutes/day maintaining their obedience skills, and to do a little more socialization (per instructions). We’ll need you to care for and love the puppy in your home during Formal Training until the puppy is placed in the recipients home at age 22-24 months.

Our classes will teach you how to teach the puppy Basic Obedience skills to a 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 items), Touch (to push elevator buttons, turn on lights, open or close drawers), Pull (to open drawers or doors using an attached pull), Heel (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), and Place (to lay down at a designated place, and stay until released).

Our Trainers are kind, patient, fun, enthusiastic, and extremely knowledgeable teachers, who will also be available to you via email or phone, and will do one-on-one training sessions with you if needed. You’ll receive our Puppy Raising Manual as a guide, and books will be recommended. You’ll receive written assignments.

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 running in a safe area without other dogs.) Because our recipients tend to have little body strength, the puppy will wear either a Gentle Leader, or a Freedom Harness, to prevent pulling.

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!

Putnam Service Dogs adopts their puppies from Partner Rescue Groups just before a Puppy Raising class begins. Puppies learn the most between the ages of 3-16 weeks, so no time will be wasted holding dogs before they’re passed out to their raisers! The puppies will be between 8-12 weeks, and will probably be lab, shepherd, or golden retriever mixes. Our recipients need dogs they can easily touch sitting in their wheel chairs, and good retrievers to fetch their dropped items. These breeds train easily. Hearing Alert dogs may be smaller dogs.

Putnam Service Dogs maintains ownership of the dog, unless it’s released and adopted out. This gives PSD the right to remove a puppy/service dog if neglect or abuse are discovered. This includes not adequately exercising the puppy, or mentally stimulating it through socialization and daily training. Putnam Service Dogs will cover the majority of expenses – all adoption fees, all vet fees and medications, crates, and most of the other required supplies. You will be asked to cover food, toys and some supplies expense.

Below is a link to apply. Hope you’ll join our team! Our Puppy Raisers are truly indispensable. We can’t produce Service Dogs without our volunteer puppy raisers. Thanks for your interest!

Click here for the Puppy Raiser Application »

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