Puppy Raising Program Overview

Puppy Raisers are an integral part of the program that make our mission a reality! 

Puppy Raising Program Overview

With selfless commitment and support, Puppy Raisers are an integral part of the program that make our mission a reality!  As a volunteer Puppy Raiser with Guide Dogs of the Desert, you help ensure love, companionship and the miracle of independence for the blind and visually impaired through the use of a Guide Dog.

Volunteer Puppy Raisers play a vital role in instilling the fundamental skill sets a dog needs for guide dog work: well socialized, easy to manage and can demonstrate appropriate behavior at home and in places of public accommodations. Between 8-12 weeks of age, the puppies are placed in their new homes to learn about the world and bond with humans. The whole family is asked to make a commitment to the puppy until he/she is 18-24 months of age. You will receive constant support from GDD’s Puppy Department Team throughout this time.

The Making of a Future Guide Dog

There are many aspects that go into preparing a puppy to become someone’s guide, but there are a few key components that are essential to be learned at a young age while in your care.  As the Puppy Raiser, it is your role help the dog accomplish the following:

  • Basic obedience. A dog that is obedient to its handler is in a better position to learn and accept formal guide dog training. Our ultimate goal is for our dogs to be verbally responsive.
    • Each puppy must go through one 8-week obedience course when they are between the ages of 8 weeks-6 months (if you are unable to attend the one conducted by Guide Dogs of the Desert, a certificate of completion of a preapproved course is required).
  • Walk appropriately on leash. 
    • When in a GDD jacket, you will teach the puppy to heel by your side. Puppies should be given an opportunity to explore the world around them, but only after receiving permission from the handler.  Casual walks (without the jacket) can allow a bit more freedom from the heel position. However, please do not allow your dog to pull, dictate direction or excessively sniff if they are ever on a short leash.
  • Proper relieving habits (housetraining) and get the puppy accustomed to relieving on leash. 
  • Proper house manners. You will teach the puppy how to conduct itself appropriately in the home. They should be comfortable when left alone and confined for short periods of time, taught not to steal food or chew inappropriate objects, and stay off all furniture and counters.
  • Socialization. Get the puppy accustomed to as many new situations as are relevant and age appropriate such as, the bank, grocery store, shopping malls, doctor offices, stairs, elevators etc. This includes teaching appropriate behavior when encountering new objects or distractions.

Don’t worry!  GDD is here to assist you in accomplishing all of the above!


Career Paths

It is important for you to know that approximately 40% of the puppies being raised will not become a guide dog and instead will qualify to be placed in another line of service (receive a “career change”). Reasons dogs do not qualify for guide work are often due to medical reasons. A dog that is going to be guiding a person must have a strong hips and elbows, clear a vision exam, may not be genetically predisposed to illness, and be free from heart problems. The majority of these tests will occur before the dog reaches two years of age.

Other reasons a dog may not qualify for guide work are due to a variety of behavior concerns.  Our Training Department’s goal is to qualify each of our dogs for guide work, but despite everyone’s best efforts, not every dog will become a guide. Sometimes they struggle with the responsibility, or may not possess the self-discipline to focus on the work. Still others may just not be interested in being a guide dog.  It is the policy at GDD to never force a dog to do a job they do not wish to do.

When either a medical or behavioral issue arises, GDD first tries to find another line of service work for the dog. The dogs in our program are born and raised to be working dogs and in fact, often make challenging pets. There are many jobs, other than guide work, where our dogs may excel. We have had dogs go onto a variety of careers, including Search and Rescue, Diabetic Detection, Service Dogs for PTSD or Autism, and Therapy Programs.

When a dog receives a change of career for a reason other than medical, this decision is driven by the individual dog’s personality and rarely has anything to do with your role as the raiser. Please keep in mind that there are many EXCELLENT puppy raisers who raise amazing dogs that are just not meant to be guide dogs.

Lastly, there is one other reason a dog will not become a guide dog.  In cases where the puppy shows excellent health and a high level of promise, 

they may be selected to join the breeding program – growing up and then becoming the parent of more future guide dogs.  If you are interested in learning more about this career change and what it means to be a breeder host, please let us know!

Please also be aware that should the dog be unsuitable for another line of service or the breeding program (again, due to behavior/personality or medical reason), they would then become available for adoption.  If, during your time as a Puppy Raiser, you decide you wish to adopt should the dog become available, please make your wishes known. 

Eligibility to become a Puppy Raisers:

  1. Puppy Raisers must be at least 10 years of age with parental involvement and support. The adult is the responsible party.
  2. Puppy Raisers must have a way to transport the puppy in an emergency.
  3. Puppy Raisers must agree to allow the puppy to sleep indoors at night.
  4. Puppy Raisers must agree to follow the training methods developed by GDD, in an effort to raise a puppy that is best prepared to be someone’s guide.
  5. Puppy Raisers need to be able to walk 2-3 miles per day, bend, carry up to 25 lbs., sit on floor, stand and stoop frequently. Puppy Raisers must be willing to get up throughout the night to relieve the puppy until it is old enough to sleep through the night.

If you are interested in becoming a Puppy Raiser, please contact Wende Owen at 760 329-2383  or email wowen@GDDCA.org, or continue with the link below to learn more about the requirements and fill out our online application.

Paul Crish

Shay Elenberg

Jacob Harris

Madeleine Harris

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