Friday, May 8, 2009

What is a Puppy Raiser?

My name is Kate Richardson and I am proud to say that I am a puppy raiser. I'm currently raising my 6th puppy in training. (You'll be able to read all about my puppies in a following post.) I got into puppy raising for my Girl Scout Gold Award. I never finished the project, but I got absolutely hooked on Guide Dogs!!

You may be asking, "Kate, what exactly is a puppy raiser?"

Well the 'definition' of a puppy raiser is pretty simple. A puppy raiser is simply a volunteer who takes in an 8 week old puppy and teaches it basic obedience, self-confidence, how to behave in public, and housebreaking. Like I said, the definition is simple. There is a lot more involved in being a puppy raiser that isn't in that definition though.

As a puppy raiser, you are required to attend a weekly meeting with the other raisers in your community so that your leader can check in and help you with any problems that you may have. A very important part of being a puppy raiser is being an informal PR person for Guide Dogs for the Blind. Lots of people will approach you when you have a puppy. Especially when you're at the grocery store, a movie, or out to eat. Those are activities that dogs are usually not involved in!

After you get the hang of Guide Dogs' training style, puppy raising becomes a lot more fun. I was stressed out about being perfect and not messing up my puppy for the first three months that I was a raiser. Once I calmed down, I began to have the time of my life! And then the time came for me to send my first puppy off to school.

Yes, that is the part of puppy raising that people most often ask about. "How can you give them up? I couldn't do it."

A very important part of that is knowing from the beginning that the dog does not belong to you. It belongs to Guide Dogs. You simply play the part of a foster parent. Just like a foster parent, you have a hugely important job and what you teach the pup stays with them for the rest of their lives. It can be very hard to believe that your influence for a year can mold a dog, but it's really true.

After you send your puppy away to Guide Dog 'college' they go through a 10 phase training program which generally takes 4-6 months to complete. Once your puppy has made it through those ten steps, they get paired with a blind partner that they work with for about 6 weeks. After that, a miracle happens. You get the letter telling you that your puppy is graduating. Not only that, but you get invited to the ceremony!

I've been to three graduation ceremonies and still get choked up when I talk about them. At a graduation, you get to spend about an hour with your puppy and the person that they will be paired with for the rest of their lives. Did you know that a dog can remember and recognize a person by their scent for up to three years? Keeping that in mind, imagine this grown-up dog that you had in your life for a year seeing you and turning back into a 6 month old puppy. It's amazing. They see you and go crazy!

After getting to know your puppy's partner you go to the ceremony. This is the part where most people cry. When your partner's name is called, you take the puppy that you raised on stage and get to give a little speech about your experience with that dog. And you get to hand the leash over and officially start your dog's career.

The really cool part of starting a dog's career, however, is that you are starting so much more. By agreeing to take in a puppy and turn them into a 'good dog,' you give someone their freedom and their life back. It's a very hard feeling to explain, but it's the most real feeling that you will ever have in your life.

For the past 5 years, I have devoted a huge chunk of my time and my life to this glorious program. I have NEVER felt it to be a sacrifice.

If you're at all interested in becoming a raiser, donating to the cause (yes, it's not for profit and anything that you can do is GREATLY appreciated), or just learning more, feel free to visit Guide Dogs for the Blind online.

No comments: