When I first wanted to raise a guide-dog puppy years ago, it wasn’t an option because I worked full day, so I didn’t think it would be something I would ever be able to do… And raising an ADHD knucklehead as a single parent almost kept me too busy for normal interpersonal relationships, let alone volunteer work *smirk*! I figured it was a pipe dream and put it on the back burner.
When my darling Glugster said I could take up baking full time as The Cupcake Lady and work from home, I started rethinking the possibility of applying to SAGA to be a puppy raiser! Working from home I have more time to focus on my projects and the causes I believe are important- like ADHD awareness and wedding planning. So in February last year we applied to SAGA to be puppy raisers, after the three of us- my Glugster, my knucklehead and I- discussed it at length. They would also be involved in the pup’s training so I had to have my husband and son’s buy-in to be able to do it properly.
It was several months before I got the call from SAGA though, and only in December last year- just before Christmas- was I able to go and collect my puppy!
Now let me state from the beginning- I do not regret becoming a puppy raiser! I am loving the work that goes into raising Volt and working with SAGA, and if you’ve read any of my blog posts about Volt you will know that outright! The reason I’m writing this is because I thought a blog post might prove informative for anyone considering puppy raising for themselves and their families.
Being a puppy raiser for a guide-dog in training is a lot like having a a new baby in the house. Except that these puppies come with a manual! Unlike a regular pet, that you can house-train and teach good manners and train to sit and wait for their food if you want to– these puppies start their training the day you take them home from the guide-dog kennels at 7 weeks old, and SA Guide-dogs keeps a close eye on their progress.
For the first couple of weeks, they need to be taken outside every hour, to a specific spot in the garden, and told to “busy-busy” as they have to learn to potty on command! They are absolutely “inside” dogs but they are not allowed on the furniture at all, and like all little puppies they don’t always sleep through. They miss their mommies and their litter mates at first, and they need to be taught their new routine with infinite patience. They may not chew on anything except their own toys and they may not play with balls or frisbees, or play tug-o-war games. They may not play with children as little people are easy to “dominate”, even for a pup, and they have to always respect people. They may not dig, jump, bark or growl. It is far harder to teach a pup not to do something once they’re already doing it, so they have to be taught constantly what they may and may not do. If your puppy is awake, he (or she) is with you. They have to go everywhere with you because they have to be comfortable with all forms of transport and they have to be socialised with other dogs. They need to be taught not to pay attention to pedestrians and other dogs when they are on-lead because then they are working and will one day have their person to look after. They have to be walked every single day, and adhere to strict rules while they’re out walking, and they must always be on your left. They have to be taught to walk on all kinds of surfaces- tiles, carpets, grass, gravel, tar, you name it! Sewer grates and drain covers are a particular challenge for some dogs. They need to be taught to be okay with different kinds of staircases (and climb them slowly), different kinds of lifts, and being upstairs and be unconcerned with heights if they can see through the railings. They are not allowed to go barrelling in or out of a door or a gate simply because it is open. They may not chase cats and they are not guard-dogs. They also may not swim in pools and fountains as wet dogs do not make pleasant travel mates. Taking on the responsibility of raising a guide-dog pup means you will be working with your puppy constantly.
Their training is hinged on praise and positive reinforcement, not rewards and never beatings. Their spirits can not be broken for the sake of obedience because these dogs need to be able to make decisions for their blind partner one day, and “blind” obedience (s’cuse the pun) means they won’t do that, doing only what they are told because they are told to do it.
You also need to be patient with people! Strangers will call out to and approach your pup, and whilst the pups are irresistible it makes their training rather tricky when you’re out in public, and you will have to answer the same questions over and over again- but you are representing SAGA, so you have to act accordingly!
Whilst anyone can be a puppy raiser, you don’t have to be a trainer or a dog psychologist or a specialist of any kind, and puppy raising is immensely rewarding (and my puppy is only 5 months old), volunteering is not to be taken lightly. We knew it would be a lot of work, but in all honesty- we underestimated the impact puppy raising would have on our lives as a couple and as a family. Our home life and routine changed completely when Volt came to live with us. I spent the first few weeks adjusting to far less sleep than I was used to, and my work day is now far longer because in between tasks I am working with Volt. This means I now often work later than I used to and the two men in my life have had to adjust to that too. And there are other responsibilities that we as puppy raisers have- we have 10 weeks of puppy classes that we have to attend when our pups are young, with a monthly class and home visits after that. We attend SAGA events and fund raisers, and we help out at guide-dogs filling envelopes and such when they need extra hands.