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 her contributions to raising the numerous pups she’s raised for Putnam Service Dogs:
The pups who have passed through my home are such great dogs! Truly a pleasure to live with, and help develop the skills they’ll need to go on to being a Service Dog. Our pups are so people oriented (one of the traits they’re selected for) that they are content to lie at my feet. They bond more closely than the pet dogs I’ve lived with in the past – partly due to their training, and partly due to their people oriented temperament. Service dogs have to be very closely bonded to their person. It’s part of what motivates them to do the work. When you raise one of our pups, you will be spending time with a truly extraordinary dog before you send it on its 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 the dog, but from the beginning, you worked to create a service dog who will change their recipient’s life. 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. 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 activities you’ll be doing every day with the pup: caring for them (food, water, medical needs),  exercise (walking them 1+ mile/day when the pup is 5 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) socializing the pup (key to their development as a service dog).  When you socialize the pup, you will start out introducing them to as many different types of people, and as many different friendly dogs you can find.  You will take them to new places – low stress, short time period at first,  higher stress , longer time periods as the pup is ready and is maturing. You will be given direction on all of these aspects by our trainers. All are key to producing a successful pup.

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.

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 visit your home once a week to conduct private sessions the first year. After that, the classes, and private sessions will go to twice a month until the puppy begins Formal Training (around 18 months, depending on their maturity level).  The pup will go to live 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, who will also be available to you via email or phone. You’ll receive our Puppy Raising Manual as a guide, and books will be recommended if you want to do further reading to learn more about dogs.

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, frequently 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 mostly be between 10-14 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 and support of our organization and cause!

Click here for the Puppy Raiser Application »

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