Thursday, July 2, 2009

Qualities of a Puppy Raiser Home

SSD depends on its volunteers to help us raise and train puppies to become service dogs. Of these volunteers, our volunteer puppy raisers make one of the longest commitment of time. Puppy raisers welcome an SSD puppy into their home and raise and train them for 15-18 months, teaching the puppy some of the skills and behaviors they'll need to succeed when they return to the kennel for advanced training.

Although anyone can become a puppy raiser, there are certain things we look for in our puppy raisers. We take as much care selecting our puppy raisers as we do matching service dogs with their partners. When we're placing a puppy with a family,we want to make sure both the puppy and the family will be happy and safe. Once we receive a potential puppy raiser's application (which can be found online),we visit that person's home for an in-home interview, and we usually take an SSD demo therapy dog or puppy-in-training with us to help.

The safety of the puppy is one of our first concerns. When we visit a family in their home, we look to make sure that the house is puppy safe. Are there cords the puppy could easily chew on? Are there other objects around that the puppy could get into mischief with and potentially hurt himself? Usually, if a house is kid safe, it's puppy safe. We also look at the house's proximity to busy roads and whether the yard is fenced in.

Family Pets
When we bring our SSD demo dog into the home, we watch how both family pets and the SSD dog react to each other. If the pets or our SSD dog react in fear or if one tries to dominate the other, we may not be able to place a puppy in that home. We do not want to create a tense situation for the animals. We're looking to make suure all of the animals can live together happily and safely.

Family Commitment
One of the most important things we look for is whether the entire family wants to raise an SSD puppy. It's a large commitment, and the entire family must at least be in agreement that they want to raise a puppy. Training requires the commitment of everyone in the house. If one person does not adhere to the training, the puppy may not learn the necessary skills and behaviors properly. We're looking for families who are all willing to invest the time and love to raise and train a puppy. (We're been using "family" throughout this post, but individuals can raise SSD puppies as well. We've even had college students raise puppies for us.)

Home Alone
We also look at how many hours the puppy would be spending home alone. One of the goals of raising an SSD puppy is to expose him to many new experiences, something that is not possible if he has to spend too many hours alone in his crate. Puppies need to be socialized and become used to a variety of different environments so they learn to generalize behaviors. Exposure to new and interesting experiences also increases the puppy's capacity to learn and helps ensure that the dogs will be able to continue supporting their partners as service dogs regardless of tempting distractions.

Attendence at Puppy Classes
As part of their training, puppies and their puppy raisers are required to attend SSD puppy classes 2-3 times a month. Puppy classes are essential for the puppy's journey to becoming a service dog. They help to lay the foundation for important skills and behaviors. In addition, puppy raisers can ask questions and voice concerns about raising and training their puppy. To be successful puppy raisers, families must commit to attending SSD puppy classes.

These are some of the main criteria we look for in our puppy raisers. If you are interested in becoming a puppy raiser, you can apply online.* Even if you don't necessarily meet all of the criteria for being a puppy raiser, please don't hesitate to apply. We would love to meet you and set up an interview.

Besides our puppy raisers, we depend on puppy sitters and kennel sitters to help us raise and train these potential service dogs. In our next post, we'll talk about the responsibilities of our puppy and kennel sitters.

(*Because we're located in Harrisburg, PA, it's necessary that our puppy raisers live within a one-hour radius to make it easier for vet visits and puppy class attendence. However, we do have a small group of puppy raisers in northeast PA.)


  1. Thanks for the great work you're doing. Service dogs make real contributions to the lives of those they serve. If you get a moment, you might want to check out this brief video -- -- it's one woman's "aha moment" that led her to start an organization to train service dogs. I think you'll find it very inspiring.

    Thanks again,

  2. Jack,

    Thank you so much for sharing Carol's aha moment! What an inspiration.