Puppy Raisers are a critical part of our program. Learn more about the role they play in transforming puppies into skilled guide dogs.
What do Volunteer Puppy Raisers do?
- Provide a loving home to a puppy in training from around eight weeks old until they are about 12 to 15 months old when they move out to work with their trainer.
- Help prepare puppies through a supervised obedience and socialization skills program.
Are you interested in finding out more about becoming a volunteer Puppy Raiser for a future CNIB Guide Dog?
Here are some things that you need to consider before applying.
1. Are you relaxed and comfortable in the presence of dogs?
Puppy Raisers foster puppies from the age of 8 weeks to between 12 and 15 months old. This means that the future guide dog lives in the Puppy Raiser’s home for a whole year! The job of a Puppy Raiser is not just to provide a safe home, but also to socialize the puppy by taking them to various environments and into different situations to prepare them for a future career as a guide dog. They become the puppy’s full time companion and handler. At the start, the puppy is a little bundle of fur, but they soon grow into a full-sized Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever, or a cross between these two breeds. So, it is important that Puppy Raisers are relaxed and comfortable with dogs and are confident when handling them.
2. Are you 18 years or older?
Children can play a very important role in the raising of a future guide dog, but they cannot be the primary Puppy Raiser. Puppy Raising is a serious undertaking and a very big responsibility. A lot of time must be devoted to the puppy during the year they live in the Puppy Raiser’s care. The Puppy Raiser must have access to a vehicle and be available to drive the puppy to regular training sessions with the Puppy Raising Supervisor, to vet appointments, group obedience classes, etc. Younger people are often busy with their school work and extra-curricular activities and want their free time to relax and spend with friends. Also, although young children can play with and maybe even walk the dog (depending on their maturity and strength), they must always be supervised when handling the puppy. Spending time with children of all ages is a great way to socialize the puppy and help them to be relaxed and well-behaved in the presence of kids.
We are considering a new scheme where we place puppies with high school students who take the puppy to school a few days a week as part of their socialization. Ask for more information if this is something that may work for you, your school and your family.
3. Are you and all members of your household happy to have a puppy living in your home for approximately a year?
The idea of having a cute little puppy in your home for a year may be very appealing to you, but not necessarily to others living with you. Anyone who has raised a puppy can tell you that although puppyhood is the cutest stage of a dog’s life, it is also full of hard work and frustrations. Anyone who is considering raising a guide dog puppy should be aware of the possibility of chewed slippers, scratched floors and doors and toileting accidents on carpets. In the early days, there may be sleepless nights while the puppy cries for attention and to be let outside to relieve itself. If you or anyone in your house is “house proud” and concerned about dog hair on furniture or urine stains on rugs, a puppy could end up being the cause of upset or friction. If someone living with you has a fear or dislike of dogs or is allergic, Puppy Raising may not be a good idea for you and your family.
4. Do you live in a home where dogs are permitted?
If you own your house, then of course it is up to you whether you choose to have a dog living there or not. However, if your home is rented, it is a good idea to seek permission from your landlord before bringing a puppy into your home.
5. Do you live in an apartment building?
Puppies need frequent opportunities to relieve themselves. As they get older, they don’t need to go quite as frequently, but in the early days you will need to take them out last thing at night, first thing in the morning, several times during the day and maybe even in the middle of the night. Apartment buildings where you must travel up and down flights of steps or an elevator to the puppy's toilet area may make it very challenging to successfully house train a puppy. So, easy and quick access to a safe and suitable relief area is important. There is also the possibility of disturbing neighbours in your building if your puppy is vocal, particularly when you are starting to get them used to being left on their own. For these reasons, we prefer that our puppies are raised in a house rather than an apartment.
6. Are your home and local area suitable for raising a future guide dog?
Ideally, the home should have a secure yard so the puppy can have some freedom to get exercise without the risk of straying into traffic or other dangerous situations. Children's toys can be a hazard to a puppy if they are left within reach of the puppy, so if you aren't prepared or just don't have time to keep your floors free of small, tempting items, then your home might not be suitable for raising a puppy. Because of their future role as a guide dog, your puppy should get used to relieving on concrete or pavement, so ideally, there should be an area at least 6' x 6', perhaps on the driveway or a paved area in your yard that can be used as the puppy's relief area.
7. Do you have the use of a vehicle which is suitable for the transportation of a puppy?
Puppy Raisers must be able to transport their puppy to various appointments during the year that the puppy is in their care. In the first month with the puppy, the Puppy Raising Supervisor will arrange weekly visits to check on the puppy’s progress. As the puppy matures, these visits will become monthly. Often the meetings will take place in the home, but the Puppy Raising Supervisor will also request to see the puppy in various other environments such as busy town conditions, shopping malls, cafes and on city buses, so the Puppy Raiser must be able to get there. There will be group obedience and training sessions with other Puppy Raisers and their puppies at a central location. Exposing the puppy to many types of situations and places that they may encounter later in their career as a guide dog is essential to their success. There will also be several routine and possibly some non-routine veterinary appointments during the year, so you will need to transport the puppy to an animal hospital for these.
8. Would you and members of your household cope with giving the puppy back at 12-15 months of age when they will enter their formal guide dog training?
So, imagine you have had a guide dog puppy living with you and your family for about a year. You have gone through all the normal challenges that raising a puppy involves including chewed slippers, stained carpets and sleepless nights. You have worked hard to raise the puppy to be the best-behaved, well-socialized and confident young dog. But you have also become very, very attached to this wonderful, loving dog. And then, just when you have succeeded in getting the puppy to a stage when they have matured into a well-behaved young adult dog, the Puppy Raising Supervisor comes to your home to take them away as they progress into the formal guide dog training stage of their life. This is obviously a very sad time for Puppy Raisers and their families and is often a reason that people would choose not to raise a guide dog puppy. Those that chose to raise a puppy for us must consider this seriously and discuss it with other family members before deciding if it is something that will be too distressing for the family. Successful Puppy Raisers often begin all over again with another little 8-week old puppy.
9. Do you work outside the home? Are you full-time or part-time employed? Are you self-employed or home-based?
In some situations, it is possible for a person who works outside the home to be a Puppy Raiser. They would only be accepted as a Puppy Raiser if their employer is happy for them to take a puppy to work, if there is an appropriate and safe place for the puppy to stay with the Puppy Raiser in their place of work and if they can take the time out of their work day to devote to the puppy’s care and training needs. Even then, one should be aware that young puppies cannot be expected to lie quietly for hours on end while their person works. They can be attention-seeking and need frequent trips out to their toileting area. It might be difficult at times to concentrate on work when you have a little puppy to contend with in your office. For people who work part-time, it might be possible to leave the puppy at home for a maximum of three hours on occasion once they are a few months old, but this would depend on how the individual puppy is progressing and should not be a regular occurrence. Even if you are self-employed and/or home-based, raising a guide dog puppy will take up a lot of your time and their needs may not coincide with your schedule. These are all things to consider if you are wishing to be a Puppy Raiser.
10. Do you have a pet dog(s) and/or cat(s) living in your home?
Usually, it is ok to have other pets while raising a guide dog puppy. It is important, however, that the pets are both tolerant of other dogs and well-behaved. Pet dogs, like it or not, will be role models for your guide dog puppy. For example, if your pet dog barks frequently, is destructive, aggressive towards other dogs, steals food from the counter or messes in the house, your guide dog puppy may well learn these behaviours from your dog. Cats will usually get used to having new dogs in the house, particularly if they are introduced when they are very young, but some cats can act aggressively towards dogs and even attack them. Dogs have been known to lose an eye or suffer other serious injuries at the claws of a cat.
11. Are you an experienced dog handler?
Although previous experience handling large dogs is a definite advantage, you don’t need any significant experience with dogs to be a Puppy Raiser for CNIB. What you do need is a love of dogs and a willingness to commit the time and effort needed to raise a puppy from 8 weeks of age to 12-15 months. We can teach you all you need to know. Some people are surprised to learn that guide dog puppies can misbehave, be over rambunctious and just be quite a handful until they mature and are taught to behave properly. Apart from their specialized breeding, they are, of course, still dogs and will behave like regular dogs until they learn appropriate behaviour. Until then, their behaviour can be somewhat challenging e.g. mouthing with sharp teeth, chewing inappropriate things, jumping up and scavenging things off the ground.
12. Would you be flexible in your dog training and care ideas to comply with CNIB guide dog training and care methods?
Experience with raising puppies and handling dogs is, of course, a bonus. But, because of the nature of guide dog work and the fact that guide dogs go with their user into public places where pet dogs aren’t allowed, there are specific requirements of their behaviour and training. What works perfectly well for pet dogs may not be appropriate for a guide dog, so it is essential to comply with the CNIB Guide Dog program guidelines for raising a guide dog puppy.
13. Are you fit, strong and healthy enough to raise a CNIB Guide Dog?
The breeds that we use are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers and the cross between these two breeds. Although they are quite little when they are first placed in the home, around 15 to 20 pounds, they grow at a rapid pace and soon will be strong, large dogs, usually between 50 and 80 pounds before they are a year old. These young dogs are still immature and will often use their weight and strength until they mature and become calmer. As puppies, they are often very high energy dogs. People with back issues, balance problems, arthritis, etc., may struggle with this. A certain level of fitness is also needed as the puppy needs daily walks and regular grooming and can require some physical strength to handle when they get bigger.
14. Would you be willing to sign an agreement stating the terms and conditions of the CNIB Puppy Raising Scheme?
Before CNIB places one of our puppies with their Puppy Raiser, an agreement between the two parties must be signed. It is a contract stating the terms and conditions of the CNIB Puppy Raising Scheme. If any of the terms or conditions are not acceptable to the prospective Puppy Raiser, and they are not willing to sign the agreement, CNIB will not place a puppy in their care.
15. Are you prepared to commit a lot of time to working with the puppy in many environments and situations to pave the way to their success as a guide dog?
Puppy Raising for the CNIB Guide Dog Program is a serious and time-consuming commitment. From the day the puppy arrives in their new home at 8 weeks of age, there is work to be done. House training is one of the main things the puppies need to learn. This involves taking the puppy out to a relief area frequently and maybe even in the middle of the night for the first week or two. They need to be taught to walk on a lead without pulling or lagging. Walking them daily in all kinds of different environments and situations is essential to their success as it prepares them for whatever they may encounter in their life as a guide dog. By the time they enter their formal guide dog training at about 12-15 months of age, the puppies should be fairly well-behaved in social situations including the home. They should know some basic obedience routines, be comfortable on public transportation and be confident, relaxed and ready to go on to the next stage of their life. We do realize that puppy raising a future CNIB Guide Dog is a big ask of volunteers, but those who take on the challenge are rewarded with the knowledge that they have played a huge role in making a positive difference to the life of a Canadian living with sight loss.
We are currently seeking Puppy Raisers in:
Toronto Area (East of Bathurst Street and South of Highway 407)