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 Rachael are always there to help and answer questions, and the training provided by Rachael 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 Rachael Beuchler, our Head Trainer, in raising his puppy Anna:
“Rachael brings an enthusiasm to puppy raising and training that makes the experience fun and rewarding. She 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 Rachael.”

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 trainer, Rachael Beuchler, 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. Rachael Beuchler’s (PSD Head Trainer) 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 leave graduation with a person in need. They will see the recipient’s and their family’s joy, at having this precious animal who will now assist the person with disabilities and change their life. The raiser will have directly contributed a LOT to that person, and their family’s lives by helping to create this very special Service Dog. 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 either a click from a clicker or a YES, 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. If the recipient wants the dog on his furniture, that’s his choice. The dog will not arrive at the recipient’s home, expecting to go on the furniture in case the recipient doesn’t want that. No worries, the dog will quickly learn this if it’s OK with recipient!

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, muscular development, and we carefully chose to partner with Nature’s Select. They use local ingredients, and in 27 years have never had a food recall.

You’ll be expected to attend hour long weekly classes led by our Head Trainer, Rachael Beuchler, CPDT-KA,(a dog behaviorist in addition to being a Certified Professional Dog Trainer). The classes will be held weekly at least the first 7-8 months of the puppy’s life. After that, the classes will go to every other week, or as needed. The classes will teach you how to teach the puppy Basic Obedience skills that would qualify the puppy to be a Canine Good Citizen per American Kennel Club standards.

The puppy will also 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 walk very close to the recipient to navigate tight, or crowded situations), 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 come close to the person’s knee and sit), 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), Place (to lay down at a designated place, and stay until released).

Our Head Trainer, Rachael Beuchler, is a kind, patient, fun, enthusiastic, extremely knowledgeable teacher, who will also be available to you via email or phone, and will do one-on-one training sessions with you if needed. She has written a  which you will be given to you as a guide. She will give you weekly written assignment sheets.

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. When walked, the puppy will wear a lightweight Puppy- In-Training vest to get used to the weight, and straps of the Service Dog vest they’ll eventually wear if they graduate. Because our recipients tend to have little body strength, the puppy will also wear either a Gentle Leader,
or Freedom Harness, to prevent pulling.

Raising a service dog puppy means giving them lots of love, down time just chilling together, and playtime. This will encourage the puppies to learn to bond to humans, and the puppies will learn better if they’re happy. Eye contact between the puppy and its raiser is encouraged, as the puppy isn’t connected to you if it’s focused on something else. Because we encourage and reward eye contact, our puppies will, at times, look deeply into your eyes. A very deep, rewarding connection for both you and the puppy!

Putnam Service Dogs will adopt the puppies from Partner Rescue Groups just before a Puppy Raising class begins. Puppies learn the most between the ages of 3-14 weeks, so no time will be wasted waiting for puppy raisers to be ready! The puppies will be between 8-12 weeks, and will be 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. 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 provide the food, toys and some supplies.

The Application for being a volunteer puppy raiser is on our volunteer page of our website, putnamservicedogs.org. Hope you’ll join our team! Our Puppy Raisers are truly indispensable. We can’t produce Service Dogs without puppy raisers. Thanks for your interest!

Click here for the Puppy Raiser Application »

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