This may become part of a regular series in an effort to help you locate a great organization to get a diabetic alert dog from. First topic? How they raise their puppies. The first year of a dogs life is a very important time. Socialization, obedience training, maturity markers, vet care, there are so many milestones that need to be paid attention to, that how an organization raises their puppies should be an important part of your decision.
There are organizations selling service dogs to people that are 8-12 weeks old, sometimes for crazy amounts of money, with promises that these dogs will receive future training and become service dogs. Now perhaps if you are local to them, this may be a good scenario for you. You may be able to participate in organization run or approved classes and training, or maybe you are part of a 2 month with you, 1 month with them program, and this may be a good way to save some money, learn a lot about raising a dog, and knowing that your dog is being raised in a loving home. If you aren’t getting that type of support, be very weary of buying a puppy. There are no guarantees that the puppy you purchase will some day make it to “service dog” status.
There are organizations that are selling “finished” service dogs at 10 months old, that may have never slept anywhere but an outdoor kennel. These dogs are sold for $15-$20,000 and may not even be house trained when they arrive at your house. These aren’t old barn dogs we are talking about. These are service dogs, that are expected to be with us 24 hours a day in some cases. Sleeping in our children’s beds, by our bedside, in a home with perhaps other pets, under a desk at work or school. Not left outside all day long, and certainly not urinating on the floor of a restaurant.
An ideal scenario is an organization that utilizes puppy raisers, essentially temporary foster families, that give these animals warm, loving, caring, structured homes. These puppy raisers may be dog trainers, animal lovers, or do this as a way to give back for a cause they believe in. It is extremely selfless work. These dogs become a big part of their lives for so long, and then they return them to the organization. The get the satisfaction of knowing that they had a hand in helping someone battling a disease or ailment, and make that persons struggle a little easier.
Why is a puppy raiser so important? Because these dogs get to live like they are really going to. In a house, with a family. Sleeping in the house, be it on a bed, on a cot, or in the safety of their crate indoors. They are being raised from day 1 with love. And the puppy raisers are raising them all while teaching them age appropriate behaviors, teaching them important obedience work, building structure into their day, and participating in important, organizational set milestone check points along the way.
These dogs are being socialized, being introduced to age appropriate stimulation and distraction work, learning all the basics of stay, sit, down, heel and all the other basic commands. They are house broken. They are being introduced to real life scenarios like the postal worker, the UPS driver, cats, kids, and all the other daily situations that arise. They are getting public access work that is so important, and is being ingrained from a very early age. Things like trips to the grocery store and Target, going to work, riding on a train or a bus, going to school, all of these things are such an important part of the “successful service dog” equation, that it really should be one of the first questions you ask. “How do you raise your puppies?”.
These raisers and trainers are my heroes. The welcome these animals into their lives. Allow them into their homes. They become family members. They have their children work with the dogs. They spend countless hours caring for, training, working with, and loving these animals, and the results speak for themselves. They love these animals. They want these animals to succeed. These dogs aren’t just microchip numbers to them. And the information that they can pass on to their new families is priceless. Things like what kind of treat or reward motivates the dog, do they like food, or do they want to play fetch? What kind of food do they eat, what kind of toys do they like, are there any issues to be aware of?
At some point along the way, the puppy they are raising may be matched with a family. Now here is where some real magic happens. When the dog is matched, they may be able to do some very specific training with the dog. Does the child it is going to play soccer? They can start taking the dog to soccer games in preparation. Does the child ride horses? Now they can subject the dog to the sites and sounds of a stable and introduce them to horses. Does the person take a subway to work? Off they go onto a subway!
These puppy raisers become such an important part of the raising and training of these dogs. They help create confident, obedient, well mannered service dogs. These dogs know love and warmth and kindness. These puppies are monitored closely, if there is an issue that arises, it gets appropriate attention immediately, whether that is behavioral, physical, or medical related. And each of these puppy raisers becomes an important part of your family when you finally get your dog. Just watching how Raven or Major reacts when they see Crystal, Ashley, Johanna or Stefanie makes my heart melt. I know Major got off to a really rough start, and didn’t have the benefit of a “proper” puppy raiser. He lived in a small cage in the back of a truck. But the love he shows for the people that saved him, that allowed him to sleep inside, welcomed him into their homes, gave him a warm place to rest his head? That is priceless to me. An outdoor kennel may be a fine way for some dogs to be raised, but for a service dog? A dog that is expected to be by your side all day, every day? A warm home, with someone that can focus all their attention and effort on just 1-2 dogs at a time is a winning recipe.
To all the puppy raisers and trainers that I know, thank you. You do an amazing, selfless job that does not go unnoticed, unrecognized, or unappreciated. We love you all!