Of all the gifts you could give, this is the greatest.
If you have ever seen a service dog working in public and wondered, “How do they get the dog to do that? My dog could never behave like that!” — we are about to tell you the secret:
90% of the work was done by someone just like you.
Not by a professional dog trainer. Not because the dog is some rare miraculous specimen. But because the dog was lovingly raised and trained from puppyhood by a dedicated puppy raiser. Someone just like you.
Raising a Hero Dog puppy is truly a labor of love and involves a tremendous commitment — of time, labor, resources, and your heart. This offering to one of our nation’s Veterans would be priceless. It is difficult to express what a service dog means to his partner, and what your contribution to that person’s life would be. If you have ever had a dog of your own, you know the special bond you achieve with a beloved pet. Imagine if that dog was your lifeline as well as your companion! Your gift of puppy raising could make that happen for one of our heroes. Will you open your home and your heart to a Hero Dog puppy?
If you think you might be interested and live in the greater Baltimore/Washington DC metropolitan area, please read the frequently asked questions about puppy raising below, then visit our volunteer page to learn about the steps to volunteering. If you don’t think that you can commit to being a full time puppy raiser, we also need qualified puppy sitters. Or you could be part of a Hero Dog puppy’s life by sponsoring or providing a scholarship to a puppy!
Puppy Raiser FAQs
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First, there are the basics: Potty trips (15-20 times per day for a very young pup!). Feeding (two or three times per day). Grooming (5 minutes most days, 20 minutes two to three times per week).
Then there is the required exercise and training for your Hero Dog puppy:
- a one-hour walk, every day, rain or shine
- two 10-15 minute daily play periods
- two 10-15 minute daily training sessions
- taking the puppy on a socialization outing to different places at least three times per week
- attending training class once per week in Brookeville, MD and surrounding area.
Although this is a lot, many of these activities can be combined. For example, you can accomplish your walk, a training session, a play period, and a socialization outing all at the same time. Feeding, a training session, and a play period could all be combined into one 20 minute session. Grooming counts as a training session. The day you attend training class, you will accomplish all of your training, play, and socialization requirements in one session!
Finally, there are the incidentals: More vacuuming. Cleaning up poops in the yard and the rare “oops!” in the house. Trips to the vet or pet store. Wiping up muddy paw prints on the floor and nose prints on the window. Lots of kissing and snuggling the puppy.
Hero Dogs and/or the puppy’s sponsor will provide the puppy and puppy raiser with:a crate
- a basic puppy supplies kit
- a basic grooming supplies kit
- any necessary specialized training equipment
- monthly flea/tick/heartworm medications
- pre-approved veterinary care
Any durable items provided to the puppy raiser stay with the puppy and will be passed on to the Veteran when the puppy is matched with a partner.
- Email frequent pictures of your pup so we can post them to Facebook, Flickr, and our website, and so we can have them to prepare a final photo album at graduation!
- Attend a quarterly meeting of all puppy raisers (takes the place of training class that week).
- File electronic quarterly reports which provide Puppy Program Director with an overall status of your pup’s health and behavior.
- Keep a daily log of where the puppy is going on training outings, what you are working on, and/or what you need help with.
- Provide a monthly blog with photos so puppy sponsors, breeders, and eventually the Veteran recipient can keep track of and learn about the pup.
(Most puppy raisers like to do this themselves, but this task can be given to a volunteer “ghost writer” if desired – as long as there are photos and material in your daily log to work from!)
We also depend on puppy raisers to attend community outreach events which provide great training for the pup and good exposure for Hero Dogs.
If everyone in your household is gone for a long period of time every day, puppy raising is not the best project for you. Perhaps you can help us by sponsoring a puppy or volunteering to be a puppy sitter.
We ask a service dog to do many things that are diametrically opposed to one another. For example, we ask him to be impeccably friendly with people, yet to ignore people when working and not solicit attention from them in public. We ask him to be sociable with other dogs and animals but not to try to greet them when he encounters them while working. We ask him to wait calmly and quietly with his partner about 90% of the time when working, yet be ready to be active in an instant to assist his partner when needed. We ask him to do a number of things which are decidedly “undoggy,” like not sniffing things and ignoring food on the ground — unless asked to retrieve it. And then, he must deliver it to his partner without eating it! A service dog needs to be:
- friendly toward all people, regardless of how they look, act, speak, or move
- friendly toward or at least tolerant of other dogs, but not overly interested in other dogs
- not unduly inclined to chase things like squirrels or skateboards
- not sensitive to loud or strange noises
- not sensitive to and preferably welcoming of all types of touch and body handling
- unafraid of new situations and novel objects
- confident near traffic, when walking on different surfaces, and navigating many different types of doorways, stairs, elevators, etc.
- able to travel calmly and quietly in a variety of different types of vehicles
- willing to hold and carry just about anything in his mouth, but also to relinquish it readily
- motivated by a variety of things including food, toys, play, and particularly by attention and affection from his partner since that is frequently the only reward available
- big enough to reach light switches, door handles, and items on a table or counter but not so big that he cannot travel easily or be handled by a person with potentially little or no physical strength
- in excellent physical health.
How many dogs do you know who have all of these qualities? This is why it takes a long time, a lot of training, and a very special dog to begin with to become a Hero Dog.
The most common reason that dogs are released from the program is physical health. If a dog has a medical condition that requires complex, expensive, or life-long treatment, he will be released from the program. Service dog work is physically demanding. It would be inhumane to ask a dog with a skeletal or structural problem to perform the tasks required of a service dog. Therefore, dogs with conditions such as hip dysplasia are also released, even though the dog may have no symptoms.
The next most common reason dogs do not complete the training is confidence. Service dogs must work in very challenging environments involving close contact with strangers, large crowds, traffic, travel on public transportation, machinery, noises, and all manner of novel objects. Most dogs justifiably find these things frightening, and despite extensive socialization and training, some dogs will simply find it too stressful to deal with these types of environments on a daily basis.
The third most likely reason for a dog to be released is that he is too active, energetic, or reactive to new things. Despite the fact that a service dog is trained to do many tasks, a good portion of his job involves simply waiting quietly at his partner’s side. Additionally, the dog may be paired with someone who has no ability to physically control the dog in any way, so the dog must be calm and attentive enough to be under verbal or hand signal control only.
If a dog is released for a serious medical issue, he is offered for adoption as a pet. Usually the puppy raiser has first right of refusal, but this is not guaranteed. Our priority is finding the best possible home for the dog.
If a dog lacks the confidence or demeanor to fulfill the public access role of a service dog, we may try to match him with a Veteran whose needs can be met within the home or who largely needs a social support dog. This dog will not be a service dog, but can certainly be of tremendous value as a pet and an in-home companion to a Veteran. We may also look for other placements that suit the dog’s temperament and abilities, such as a detection dog or search and rescue dog.
If none of the above options is viable, then the dog would again be offered for adoption as a pet; we will find the most suitable adoptive home in which to place the dog. Many of our released dogs who have returned to their puppy raisers or who have been adopted are now volunteering as therapy dogs and are working to bring comfort and companionship to retired Veterans and military families.
It is important that the puppy stay in an approved home so that we know the puppy’s whereabouts at all times, can arrange for emergency veterinary care if needed, and can be confident that the puppy’s manners and training will be reinforced.
A puppy sitter would typically watch a puppy for period of a few days to a few weeks. During that time, the puppy sitter is expected to keep up with the puppy’s exercise, socialization, and training routines, bring the puppy to class if he has a class scheduled, and abide by Hero Dogs’ rules for the puppy’s safety and behavior. The puppy raiser will bring the necessary supplies (crate, food, etc.) as well as detailed care instructions and information about the puppy to the puppy sitter’s home.
Puppy sitters’ responsibilities also include:
- puppy sit at least once every six months,
- buy and keep clean-up products/supplies on hand,
- take puppy to places where pet dogs are welcomed, and
- fill out “report card” on puppy’s visit and return to raiser when puppy is picked up.