Volunteer to Raise a Service Dog
By Gary Le Mon

Why not raise a service dog while you’re taking care of your own dog?

Do you love puppies? Can you teach simple commands and proper behavior? If so, then you might want to consider volunteering as a puppy trainer to assist people with special needs.

The world’s largest provider of dogs that help people with physical disabilities is the non-profit organization Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), and they are looking for a few good dog lovers to help with this important and worthwhile cause.

CCI has regional centers serving states throughout the nation. Founded in 1975 and headquartered in Santa Rosa, California, they are now in need of puppy trainers. Volunteers will have the satisfaction of knowing they helped disabled people gain independence by supplying them, at no cost, with assistance dogs.

What It Takes to Raise a Service Dog

Once you have been thoroughly screened and accepted into the program, you will bring a puppy into your home and community for a little over a year. In raising your service dog you are responsible for:

Providing a safe environment for the dog

Loving the animal and helping with socialization 

Paying for and feeding the dog a healthy diet

Taking the puppy to approved obedience classes

Transporting the puppy to, and paying for, its medical check-ups.

As a member of your home and family, the puppy's habits and behaviors will become well-known to you. You are expected to submit monthly reports to the organization. When the dog is not indoors or sleeping in a kennel or crate at night, it is expected to be on a leash when outdoors or in a fenced yard. 

Process of Becoming a Puppy Trainer

This successful program has a rigorous application process. It can take as long as two years for a person to be accepted as a volunteer. People wanting to raise a service dog must be at least 18 years of age. If they are under that age, a parent or guardian must be the co-applicant. Puppy trainers must acknowledge they are to return the puppy after training is completed. People interested in joining the program may begin by going online to the organization's website to request an application: www.cci.org 

Where the Dogs Come From

Labrador retrievers, golden Retrievers, and mixtures of the two breeds are top choices of Canine Companions and come from the organization's own breeding program. In choosing one from a litter, the organization looks at the dog's temperament, health, trainability, sisters and brothers, and the past offspring of its dam and sire. 

Volunteer to Become a Breeder-Caretaker

Canine Companions also needs another type of volunteer: a breeder-caretaker for Labrador retriever and golden retriever service dogs. People who live within 90 miles of Santa Rosa, California can apply to help care for breeder dogs. Once the pups are born, the volunteers will raise them as outlined above. Anyone interested in pursuing this job may go to the organization's website to get the phone number or email address.

Interim After Home Instruction 

When training ends at your home, the dog is typically 14 to 16 months old. From there it goes to a professional training center for 6 to 9 months of advanced training. Even at this point, some dogs may be released because they are not a good fit for the program. During advanced training, basic commands are reinforced. Dogs also begin working around a wheelchair and learn the “retrieve” command. As the weeks go by, the puppies learn commands such as “pull” and “light switch” and “open the door.” By the time they are finished, they will understand 40 cues.

Team Training

Finally, the dog is partnered in a two-week training camp with the person it will assist. During these sessions, commands will be modified to ensure the recipient and the dog are well matched. 

Types of Assistance Dogs

After training is completed, the dog will be used as a service dog, hearing dog, facility dog, or skilled companion. Service dogs perform common tasks such as picking up keys, turning on lights, pushing elevator buttons, opening doors, and pulling on a person who's seated in a manual wheelchair.

These graduate dogs can even help people with their business transactions by transferring money, collecting receipts, and receiving packages. Service dogs are helpful to individuals with arthritis, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, spinal cord injuries, and many other disabilities. 

Hearing dogs alert their partners to sounds by nudging or pulling on their arm or leg when they hear sounds such as the call of a name, the doorbell or a fire alarm. Facility dogs are paired with a person who works at a rehab center, hospital, school, or similar setting. Dogs who are skilled companions work with a facilitator a minimum of 20 hours per week. When facilitators groom, feed and play ball with these animals, they benefit both mentally and physically. By being the link between the dog and its partner, this person promotes bonding between the two. 

Help for Veterans -- The Newest Assistance Dog Program

Canine Companions for Independence is now seeking veterans as volunteers to train dogs to aid members of the armed services who are suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. This program currently selects its volunteers from people who live within 90 miles of Santa Cruz, California. 

Other Populations Working as Volunteers

The organization's Prison Puppy Raising Program is active in 13 institutions in nine states, allowing inmates to raise a service dog. The prisons select the inmates, and donations instead of taxpayer funding support the training. CCI also operates their Collegiate Puppy Raising Program serving disabled students in over 18 of the nation's colleges and universities. 

People who love puppies and who can make a commitment of time and talent will find purpose and joy when they raise a service dog. Yes, it’s a sad day when you must part with your special companion, but think of the newfound ability your efforts will bring to that person less fortunate than you.


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