Welcome to a guest blog about raising puppies for service dogs. I have met both of Cindy's puppies, Tulip and Mancha. They are both wonderful dogs with nice personalities. Tulip's photos are included in this post. She was photographed with another puppy in the program and we had a wonderful Bark Gallery Session at Red Rock, NV.
How can you be a Puppy Raiser only to give the pup away?
CCI Puppy Raiser- Tulip and Mancha
Questions I hear on a regular basis when out and about with Tulip, my second service puppy in training I have raised: How can you give them up? Don’t you get attached? How can I get a vest for my dog? Do they get to play? Or alternatively, I feel so sad for the dog because they only get to work or they look sad.
First let me address question one. This puppy isn’t mine; she belongs to a Service Dog organization that will finish her training and place her with an individual with a disability. She’s in my home for socialization and basic obedience. That’s my volunteer commitment, to provide a safe environment, socialize and introduce her to 30 commands. What commands, you ask? First Name, we play the name game throughout the day, every day. Kennel, yes she must learn to be comfortable in a kennel, including sleeping in it at night and during the day when she can’t be with me. This isn’t really difficult because the dog’s natural instinct is to be a den animal. Introduced correctly they love their kennel. Toileting on command and on leash, our command is hurry. Why on leash? Because we want the dog to toilet before she enters any public building, to eliminate accidents. A Service Dog who toilets inappropriately can be asked to leave by a business. This is their legal right. Sit, down, shake, don't/no, drop are all pretty standard. Wait is a pause and helps to prevent bolting doors and kennels, and used to wait for feeding. Let’s go, kind of like heel in AKC or equivalent of let’s move/walk. Our pups learn an implied stay, so until they are "released" or asked to "let’s go" they are expected to stay. Here, equivalent of "come." Release is free dog, exercise finished. Dress; put on their equipment. In our case a vest and gentle leader (similar to a horse head halter). Okay is used as a release to eat. Roll & shake are fun commands but have real life need. Roll for a disabled person allows them to groom or inspect the dog’s underside. Our dog isn’t expected to roll over all the way. Stand, from a seated or down to up on all fours. Car; means get into the car. Under; go underneath tables, chairs or benches and be out of the way. A Service Dog should be almost invisible. The best compliment for a puppy raiser is someone at a restaurant who says, as you’re leaving, ‘I didn’t know the dog was here.’ Heel, get on the left side in proper position. Side; get on the right side in position.
Bed; is the equivalent of spot or place; a command to get the dog to get on her bed, blanket or spot, out of the way. Jump; is place all four feet on a table or object. Off; now that the dog is on something, they need a command to get down. Speak and quiet. Out; is used to send a leashed dog in front of handler in narrow entries. Back; is used to back the dog in or out of an area, including narrow corridors. Lap; two front feet across the seated handler’s lap; used to transition retrieved items and give to the handler. Turn; helpful in tight spaces and grooming. Up; is two feet on an object or table; useful in delivering or retrieving items from cashiers and others. Up is also used in transitioning dog to turn light switches on & off. Visit; dog’s chin is resting on handlers lap; helpful in returning dropped items to handler. Many of these commands are stepping stones to advanced commands, like shake can transition to push handicap push plates.
Second, do I get attached? Absolutely! We have a saying. Each puppy gives a piece of her heart and takes a piece of ours with her departure. We also like to think of it like raising a child; sending them to college and seeing them find their life partner.
Lastly, how do I get a vest? This is the most frustrating because so many are people who just want to take their pet dog with them everywhere, but are not disabled. Would you ask a person in a wheelchair where you can get one like it? Would you ask an amputee where you could get a prosthetic like his if you aren’t also an amputee? That is essentially what you’re asking a disabled person or a Puppy Raiser trying to train this life alerting animal. The dog is an enhancement, a tool for independence. A tool to opens doors, and pick up dropped items so the person doesn’t have to ask a complete stranger. A Service Dog who detects life threatening blood sugar fluctuations, or hears a smoke alarm. A Service Dog who keeps a child with Autism safe, by staying with them or discouraging wandering.
Our pups get play time every day. We play fetch, which progresses to an advanced command. We have play dates with other puppies and graduate dogs. A good puppy is a tired puppy so play is essential. Note: Guide Dogs for the Blind are not taught or encouraged fetch as this could put their handler in danger.
If you see Service Dog team in public, don't make noises or call the dog, or come up and pet without asking. Distractions, no matter how well trained a dog is, can put a handler at risk.
What do I get out of raising this puppy, only to give it back? I feel a sense of pride. The emotions are overwhelming when a puppy raiser hands off the leash to the pup’s forever person. A huge sense of pride.