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 Dogs 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 heroes 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 Dogs puppy?
If you think you might be interested and live in the greater Washington DC 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
How long does the puppy stay with us?
The puppy will generally live with the puppy raiser until he is approximately 16-18 months old. Most pups will be placed at around two months of age, so this means that the pup would live with you for about 15 months on average. A few pups might be placed as older pups, and so live with you for a shorter time.
What is the daily time commitment?
The quick answer is: expect to spend at least two hours a day working with your puppy.
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.
What is the financial commitment?
The puppy raiser is responsible for food, toys, miscellaneous supplies (e.g. clean-up supplies), replacement of lost or damaged items, and any incidental damage the puppy might cause — for example, if he mysteriously chewed one of your shoes. Any amounts that you spend on the puppy may be tax deductible (consult your tax advisor), so do save your receipts.
Hero Dogs and/or the puppy’s sponsor will provide the puppy and puppy raiser with:
- a crate
- basic puppy supplies kit
- 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 or first-responder when the puppy is matched with a partner.
What other commitments are required?
Puppy raisers are also required to:
- Attend quarterly meetings of all puppy raisers (takes the place of training class that week).
- Participate in quarterly puppy swaps with other puppy raisers (you trade puppies for a week).
- File electronic quarterly reports which provide the Program Director with an overall status of your pup’s health and behavior.
- Participate in quarterly one-on-one check-ins with dog training staff.
- Post regular photos and updates on the pup’s social media (we will set this up for you) so puppy sponsors, breeders, and eventually the veteran or first-responder recipient can keep track of and learn about the pup (and so we can have them to prepare a final photo album at graduation!).
We also depend on puppy raisers to attend community outreach events which provide great training for the pup and good exposure for Hero Dogs.
Are there special rules I have to follow?
Yes, to raise a Hero Dogs puppy you have to agree to abide by our rules. There are many things that you may allow your own dog to do which are perfectly acceptable for a pet dog, but not for a Hero Dog. For example, you may allow your dog on the furniture. Hero Dogs puppies must not be permitted on furniture because they will travel many places where this is not allowed: hotels, waiting rooms, other people’s homes. You may allow your dog to pick up food dropped on the kitchen floor — who wouldn’t? But a Hero Dogs puppy must learn to ignore food on the floor because he will work in restaurants and grocery stores and must not scavenge for food.
I don’t know how to train a dog! Who will help me with all of this?
We will. One of your commitments to the program is to attend a training class once per week while you have the puppy. All required classes are held in Brookeville, MD and the surrounding area. Our training staff will be there to teach you and advise you every step of the way. We will provide you with written materials to help you at home. We are available to help you by phone or email when you have questions or problems.
Can I raise a puppy if I work full time?
Yes. If you have the daily time available to spend with the puppy and can make appropriate arrangements for the puppy’s needs while you are at work, you can be a puppy raiser. While the puppy is less than about four months old, you or a trusted friend or neighbor who has been trained as a puppy sitter will have to go home to let the puppy out at least twice during the day (about every three hours). For the remainder of the time you have the puppy, you will still need to have someone take him outside at least once during the day (about every four to six hours, depending on his age). The best case scenario is if you can convince your employer to allow you to bring the puppy with you to work at least some of the time!
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 have other pets at home. Can we still raise a Hero Dog puppy?
Other adult pets are fine as long as they are spayed or neutered, current on all veterinary care, they are not aggressive toward the puppy, and you agree to abide by our rules for your Hero Dogs puppy, even if your own pets have different rules.
Can a child raise a Hero Dog puppy?
Puppy raising can be a family project, and children can certainly be involved in raising your Hero Dog puppy. There is a tremendous amount that children can learn from the experience. However, raising a puppy is fundamentally an adult responsibility. Therefore, there must be an adult in the household who is wholly committed to the project. When it is cold and raining, the pup must still be walked. When there is homework, the pup must still be exercised and trained. When the child’s enthusiasm for the project has waned, there may still be months to go.
Do puppy raisers have to live in a specific area?
Puppy raisers are required to attend training once per week for the entire time that they have a puppy. Because of this, we find that it is best for puppy raisers to live within ~45 minutes of zip code 20833. Puppy raisers are required to have a valid driver’s license and their own transportation.
What are the characteristics of a good service dog?
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.
Why don’t some dogs complete the training program?
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.
What happens to dogs that don’t complete the program?
Our goal is to find the best possible placement for each and every one of our dogs. Just like people, dogs have differing temperaments, energy levels, skills, and abilities. Some dogs will just be better suited to one job than to another.
Dogs may have a relatively minor physical or behavioral issue that precludes them from becoming service dogs. For example, a dog might shy away from boarding a loud bus or be uncertain about grated metal staircases. These behaviors are safety hazards in a service dog, but most dogs need never encounter these situations. Many of these dogs will find important jobs as Facility Dogs, utilizing their extensive socialization and training to perform tasks for a wide variety of people alongside their handlers in a clinical setting.
If a dog lacks the confidence or demeanor to fulfill the public access role of a service dog, we may also try to place him with a veteran, first-responder, or family member of one of those heroes as a Skilled Home Companion. These dogs can perform many of the tasks they were taught to assist with physical or psychological challenges, as well as providing comfort and love to their new families within the home only.
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 thousands of people throughout the region every month.
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 a dog is released for a serious medical or behavioral 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.
How will I ever be able to let this puppy go after 15 months?
It will be very difficult and there will be a lot of tears. The best thing is to keep focused on the end goal: your puppy all grown-up as a working service dog, providing independence, support, confidence, and improved quality of life to one of our nation’s heroes. You will be so proud when you see your Hero Dog working and at graduation — and there will be more tears. We will be here to support you through this part of the process as well. If you were to ask any of our past puppy raisers, they would tell you that it is actually harder to bear the disappointment of a puppy not completing the program than it is to give up the puppy to a veteran or first-responder.
What do I do with the puppy if I am planning a trip or vacation?
If you can take the puppy with you wherever you are going, all the better! It would be a good socialization experience for him. If not, we will help you arrange to have an approved volunteer puppy sitter care for your puppy. If you would like to leave the puppy with a friend or relative, please be aware that the person would need to be approved as a volunteer puppy sitter first.
What does a puppy sitter do?
In the event that the puppy raiser is temporarily unable to care for the puppy due to illness, family emergency, or vacation plans which don’t allow for dogs, a puppy sitter home is needed.
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.
How do I apply to become a puppy raiser or puppy sitter?
First, please be sure you have read through all of the information available on this page. Then please visit our volunteer page to learn the steps to volunteering.