So, what does it mean to be a puppy raiser? Well, for the next 12-15 months I will be completely responsible for every aspect of raising little Bolo,a yellow lab puppy and future Leader Dog. She was entrusted to my care yesterday at 8 weeks of age. Over the next several weeks, I will be responsible for Bolo’s daily care, house-training, socialization, basic handling and touch to prepare her for veterinary examinations, basic manners skills such as focused attention, sitting for attention, loose lead walking, settling, and more. I will build on all those skills at an age-appropriate rate to help her gain confidence and manners that will foster her ability to do her job in the future.
I spent this past weekend in Rochester Hills MI ,at the Leader Dog for the Blind campus, to attend the puppy-raiser training. Although I have been training dogs professionally for the past 12 years, I wanted to experience everything provided to the puppy raisers. It was an eye-opening experience. In a room filled with approximately 55 dogs, ranging in age from 7 weeks to 14 months, we began the morning with an introduction to the Puppy Development team. From a show of hands, I learned that I was not the only one from out of state. I also learned that about 70% of the people were repeat puppy raisers, with many having raised over 15 dogs already.
The grand prize belonged to a woman named Pat Boyd. She is raising her 50th dog for Leader Dogs for the Blind. Unbelievable!
Following general introductions and “housekeeping”, we divided into age appropriate groups for the dogs, starting with the young pups 7 weeks- 4 months, 4.5-8 months, and 9-12 months. And so the day of training began.
Throughout the day I met a lot of inspiring people. I was curious about the other puppy raisers and I had an opportunity to speak with many of them. Here are a few highlights:
Ten year old Lexie told me she always wanted a dog and had been begging her parents since age 2 to let her have one. When she discovered she could raise a puppy to become a future guide dog she presented a logical case to her parents. Lexie saw it as an opportunity to experience having a pup and at the same time, do something good for someone else. Her mom is very supportive and I am impressed with this very mature little girl who truly sees the big picture.
Nancy Columbo, currently raising Trooper (her 19th dog), says this program provides her with the opportunity to stay social, expand her horizons and be involved with something for a greater purpose.
Julie Haase, a teacher who works with children who are blind, visually impaired, and deaf, decided that puppy-raising could enhance her work with the children. She is now on her 4th puppy, Bentley. Notice she is sporting the Dogvergnugen hat? Love it!
The one person who touched me most deeply was Debra Delia of Marshfield, WI. Debra was born with a rare bone disease and spent 26 years in a wheelchair. She endured 40 surgeries over those 26 years and ultimately gained her ability to walk. Debra had 2 service dogs, trained to hit a lifeline button if she should fall, brace her if she could not get up, answer the phone, and do many other things she could not do for herself. Once she was capable walking, Debra was determined to raise a dog who could provide that same level of independence for someone else. As a member of the Lions Club, she decided to raise a Leader Dog puppy. The joy in her eyes as she worked with her 7 week-old, pudgy, black Lab puppy was priceless!
Needless to say, the entire weekend experience was incredibly fulfilling. I was impressed with the professionalism and training instruction provided by the puppy development team. I am ready and excited to embark on this journey!