Puppies With a Purpose: Raising Future Guide and Service Dogs

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Help to raise future guide dogs to change the life of a veteran, first responder, or individual who is blind or has low vision © Courtesy of America’s VetDogs

The world is full of ways to make a difference, and one of the most profound experiences is volunteering to raise a puppy as a future guide or service dog. These remarkable animals change and save the lives of people who are blind or have low vision, as well as veterans, active-duty military, and first responders with physical and emotional disabilities, including PTSD. Volunteering to raise these special puppies is an opportunity to be part of a life-changing journey.

For individuals who graduate from programs created by America’s VetDogs and the Guide Dog Foundation, sister national nonprofits that provide services free of charge to the people they serve, these dogs play a pivotal role in empowering them to lead more independent, fulfilling lives. For people who are blind or have low vision, guide dogs help them navigate the world with confidence. For veterans and first responders dealing with the physical and emotional scars of their service, service dogs provide not only practical assistance but also emotional support, helping them overcome the challenges they face every day.

Future assistance dogs cannot be raised in kennels; they need socialization and exposure to the world they will be navigating when they are paired with their future handler. Volunteering to raise a future guide or service dog is a commitment that requires time, patience, and unwavering dedication. Puppy raisers take on the essential role of introducing these puppies to the world and laying the foundation for their specialized training. No prior dog training experience is needed.

America’s VetDogs and Guide Dog Foundation are always seeking volunteer puppy raisers in the New York metropolitan region and beyond to help nurture their fantastic dogs for the first 14 to 16 months of their lives. These puppies are typically placed with volunteer puppy raisers when they are about eight weeks old, and the journey that follows is nothing short of extraordinary.

The initial stages of raising a future guide or service dog involve socialization and basic obedience training. Puppy raisers expose young dogs to a variety of environments, from busy city streets to quiet parks. They teach them fundamental commands, such as sit, stay, and come. But it’s not just about obedience; it’s about ensuring these dogs are comfortable and composed in various situations, ready to face the world that awaits them and their future handler.

Some future service dogs are raised in correctional institutions from Maine to Florida, home to America’s VetDogs Prison Puppy Program. In this special program, with support from expert advisors, incarcerated individuals (including some incarcerated veterans) help raise and train puppies who will one day work as service dogs. Each weekend, puppies in the program go home with a volunteer puppy raiser who teaches house manners, socializes them to car rides and traffic noise, visits stores and restaurants, and lets the pup out with kids and families so that they will be confident wherever their future partner will go.

After 14 to 16 months with their puppy raisers, the dogs are called back to the America’s VetDogs and Guide Dog Foundation national training center in Smithtown, New York, to begin advanced training. At this point, they are assigned to expertly trained program staff and start a three-to-four-month training process focused on maximizing positive training methods to enhance their learning and understanding.

A hallmark of America’s VetDogs is the meticulous matching process to ensure that each program participant is matched with the dog that best suits that person’s mobility, personality, lifestyle, and physical and emotional needs.

Once the matching process is complete, additional training helps to customize and sharpen the skills of the dog even further for their future handler. When the dogs are between 18 months and two years old, they meet their human for two weeks of training together on Long Island. Puppy raisers are invited to attend Celebration Saturday, a special graduation ceremony that is also streamed live on Facebook. And that’s when the next phase of the journey begins! These incredible dogs become the bridge to a world of independence and hope for those they serve.

If you’re interested in becoming a volunteer puppy raiser or learning more about either organization, applying for an assistance dog, or donating, visit VetDogs.org/GH or GuideDog.org/GH

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The service dog programs of America’s VetDogs were created to provide enhanced mobility and renewed independence to veterans, active-duty service members, and first responders with disabilities, allowing them to once again live with pride and self-reliance.

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