Most of us have heard the old adage “a dog’s not just for Christmas” and – while Guide Dogs’ puppies will eventually complete their training and move on to aid people with sight loss – the same kind of day-to-day commitment is required as a volunteer puppy raiser.
The experience can be positive and fulfilling, but it’s important to know the commitment required. Puppy raisers welcome an aspiring guide dog into their home at 6-8 weeks old for between 12 and 16 months, which means a volunteer will care for the puppy 24/7 during this period.
There may be some chewed slippers, long nights, and changes to your typical routine along the way – but it’s worth it to see the puppy’s journey to becoming a guide dog.
During the early stages of their stay, the puppy cannot be left alone, and will have to gradually work up to being left for a maximum of four hours as they get older. This is part of a puppy’s early behavioural training needed to become a future guide dog.
A huge part of the puppy raiser role is to socialise your puppy in different environments, such as shopping centres, cafes, and grocery stores. As guide dogs are required to accompany their owners in public spaces in which non-assistance animals are not allowed, it’s important that the puppy becomes comfortable and secure working – and resting quietly and calmly – in these environments.
Prospective puppy raisers will learn the training methods provided by Guide Dogs to use at home with their puppy throughout their stay. This learning is delivered through interactive e-learning modules, regular puppy classes, and dedicated support from your very own Puppy Development Advisor. The training scheme for new puppy raisers has 13 hours of initial training combined with ongoing learning to support you and your puppy.
As a volunteer puppy raiser, you’ll also be in regular contact with a friendly Puppy Development Advisor to check in on your puppy’s development, so there’s no risk of feeling alone with the big responsibility of nurturing a puppy. They’ll help you settle in and provide support throughout your experience – so you’ll always have help when you need it.
When a puppy is ready, at around 12-16 months, they will go on to start their formal training. It’s normal to feel mixed emotions once you and your puppy reach the end of your time together. It might be sad to see them go, but you’ll be able to feel proud of your achievement and know that you’ve made a big difference to the lives of both your puppy and the person with sight loss who they’ll go on to help.
Fortunately, if you find yourself wishing you could do it all over again – you can! Volunteer puppy raisers are able to stay on with the charity and continue raising new puppies for as long as they like.