A black lab puppy sits in front of a body of water on a sunny day. She is looking at the camera and wearing a Future Leader Dog bandanna

Puppy Raising: What to Expect

A volunteer puppy raiser is responsible for raising a Future Leader Dog for a period of approximately one year according to Leader Dog guidelines. The raiser will provide the puppy with a safe environment, love and nurturing, socialization experiences, obedience and good manners training.

The primary goal of a puppy raiser is to raise a Future Leader Dog that can show self-control in a wide variety of settings. A puppy that has self-control is ready to learn and has the best potential for successfully learning the guide dog skills that Leader Dogs must have. Self-control means that a puppy has learned to control its impulsive reactions in a wide variety of situations and will calmly and attentively respond to its handler’s directions. Puppy raisers teach this skill by providing consistent obedience training, expecting good house manners, and consistently exposing the puppy to rich and varied social situations. Puppy raisers are guided by the Leader Dog Puppy Raiser Manual, the In-For-Training (IFT) Standards, and monthly meetings with the continued support and guidance from area volunteer puppy counselors.

A puppy so trained will be ready to start the in-depth guide dog training upon return to Leader Dog and ultimately be prepared for transition to teaming with a client.

Essential Duties and Responsibilities

Follow Leader Dog's requirements for raising a healthy puppy in a safe environment:

  • All puppy raisers must come to Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester Hills, MI to pick up their Future Leader Dog.
  • Future Leader Dogs are strictly “indoor” dogs and are raised as part of the family in a “puppy-proofed” home. Future Leader Dogs are never loose or off leash unless in a safely enclosed area such as a fenced-in yard or on a tie-out; electronic fences are not allowed.
  • Future Leader Dogs are not allowed to visit dog parks. A safe alternative is to find a pet dog (owned by a family member, friend or neighbor) that is healthy, current on shots and is friendly for your puppy to play with during your year together.
  • The puppy raiser is required to keep the puppy healthy. The puppy must get routine vaccinations and appropriate treatment of illnesses or injury. The raiser has the option of going to Leader Dog or their own vet (who could consult with Leader Dog vets) for veterinary services. Leader Dog will provide a letter for your veterinarian explaining your volunteer role in the puppy raising process and present an opportunity to discuss possible discounted fees.
  • The puppy raiser is required to keep the puppy at a healthy weight and responsible for providing Leader Dog-approved food. A raiser should follow the Puppy Raiser Manual recommendations and puppy counselor advice for feeding amounts. The Puppy Raiser Manual provides proper weight ranges consistent with your puppy’s age. Leader Dog feeds Purina Pro Plan chicken and rice flavor to all its dogs and puppies. Any special veterinary diets or changes of protein source to something other than chicken needs to be approved by Leader Dog veterinarians. The puppy is to be transitioned to adult dog food between 4 and 5 months of age.
  • While grooming your puppy, the raiser should check the puppy’s health and overall condition as defined in the Puppy Raiser Manual.
  • For your puppy’s safety, use only Leader Dog-approved toys. Never buy toys that have bells, pieces that can be chewed off and swallowed, rubber toys with squeakers, rope toys, stuffed toys, or any toys that can be chewed apart and swallowed. Never buy rawhide bones, which can become impacted in your puppy’s digestive tract, or real bones, which can splinter and stick in your puppy’s throat and could be fatal. Socks, old shoes, towels or gloves should not be used for toys, as they confuse the puppy and may encourage a destructive habit later.
  • Your contract will include a tentative return date for your puppy, which is typically when the puppy is 12 to 15 months of age. You will receive notification of the return date three months prior to your puppy’s return to Leader Dog. You will need to return your puppy to Leader Dog no later than this date and up to a month prior so the Leader Dog instructors will have the dogs they need for training.

Follow Leader Dog's requirements for obedience training and socialization:

  • Contact your puppy counselor within 48 hours of taking your puppy home. The puppy counselor is the puppy raiser’s primary point of contact and can provide valuable advice and assistance every step of the way while you have your Future Leader Dog. The puppy counselor is available to the puppy raiser for questions at all reasonable times.
  • Attend monthly meetings, outings or obedience classes arranged and supervised by a puppy counselor (assigned or otherwise) with other puppy raisers. These meetings will teach you and your puppy the skills needed to meet the IFT Standards and are an important social setting for teaching your puppy self-control.
  • Consistently include your puppy in social experiences such as shopping, church, meetings or other daily routines. Future Leader Dogs DO NOT have automatic access rights. As a courtesy, ask for permission ahead of time before your visit. By taking puppies to a variety of locations, you are exposing your puppy to the life experiences that the puppy may encounter as a guide dog.
  • Set consistent expectations for good behavior in the home. These include behaviors include: chewing only appropriate toys, staying off furniture and people beds, not begging for food or taking food from counters or tables, not jumping on people when greeting, and not barking excessively.
  • Consider attending local obedience classes. Ask your puppy counselor for advice and guidance regarding appropriate classes in your area. If attending a local class, be aware that of some instruction may differ from Leader Dog guidelines; therefore, puppy raisers should take care to always be consistent with Leader Dog guidelines. These additional obedience classes can be a tremendous help for less experienced raisers and for every puppy. Puppies need to learn to do their obedience consistently around other dogs and distractions.
  • Read and follow your Leader Dog Puppy Raiser Manual. It is an important guide to all aspects of raising your puppy to meet Leader Dog’s goals.

Follow Leader Dog's requirements for puppy progress reporting and meeting attendance:

  • Complete the progress surveys requested by Leader Dog when the puppy is three, six, nine and 12 months of age. The surveys provide Leader Dog Puppy Development and trainers with important information about concerns, progress and achievements of the puppy. This information helps Leader Dog improve their puppy raising program.
  • Attend at least one monthly meeting, outing or obedience class arranged by a Puppy Counselor (assigned or otherwise).
  • Complete the IFT Standard assessment before returning your puppy to Leader Dog for guide dog training.

Knowledge, Skills and Abilities

Raising a Future Leader Dog is a major commitment of time, love and energy. We look for the following things in a puppy raiser:

  • Raiser should have adequate time on a consistent daily basis to provide opportunities for socializing and training the puppy.
  • Raiser must have the physical strength, energy, patience and comfort level to handle an actively growing puppy.
  • Prior dog training experience is preferred but not necessary. A puppy raiser must commit to learning the skills needed to train and socialize a puppy for return to Leader Dog for guide dog training. Leader Dog uses positive reinforcement training methods that require the raiser to use food rewards.
  • Raiser should be willing and able to communicate with Leader Dogs for the Blind and their puppy counselor. Raising a puppy is a collaborative effort between the puppy raiser and Leader Dog.
  • The Leader Dog mission is “Empowering people who are blind or visually impaired with lifelong skills for safe and independent daily travel.” Our values are “Do what is right; show respect and compassion; demonstrate passion for the work; deliver superior experience; work as a team; seek innovation; practice safety.” Puppy raisers must be able to uphold our mission and values. Puppy raisers must remember that they are representing Leader Dog, especially when a Future Leader Dog is present.
  • Puppy raisers should have the ability to use the internet. One-on-one discussion is essential. However, manuals, training videos, reporting, communications and updates are largely done electronically.

Physical Requirements

The physical requirements described below are representative of the demands of handling a young, growing dog. On average, female Future Leader Dogs weigh 60 lbs. or more, and males weigh 70 lbs. or more. An puppy raiser should be able to perform these physical requirements without accommodation, or describe what accommodation may be needed.

Must have the manual dexterity to hold leash securely in one hand while delivering a treat to the puppy with the other hand, which may include twisting and bending.  Correct treat delivery is an integral component of puppy raising.

  • Must have good standing balance to resist moderate force from all directions (a large dog lunging away from or jumping against you)
  • Must have good dynamic balance to be able to recover from moderate loss of balance while walking (such as a stumble, being bumped into, or jumped upon by a large dog)
  • Must be able to transfer a leash with an excited dog attached to it from one hand to another both in front of your body and behind your back
  • Must be able to safely ascend and descend 5–15 step staircases of all types with a dog (closed, open, grated, carpeted, stone, etc). A Future Leader Dog must be able to negotiate stairs confidently to pass guide training.
  • Must be able to lift, push or pull up to 40 lbs.
  • Must be able to walk briskly for 20 minutes twice daily for the exercise of the puppy
  • Must be able to travel independently with a puppy to puppy meetings and for puppy familiarization several times a month (ex: personal vehicle; public transportation or other travel modes)
  • Must be able to comprehend, follow and retain directions given during puppy training sessions or by phone or electronically
  • Must be able to read and follow written directions such as the Puppy Raiser Manual, In-For-Training Standards and other written information
  • Must be able to apply learned knowledge on own after instruction is given
  • Must be able to walk outside in all weather conditions to train, familiarize and relieve the Future Leader Dog

Benefits

What do puppy raisers see as the benefits of participating in the Leader Dog puppy raising program?

Each experience is unique and individual because every person and puppy is different, but we hear common themes from our puppy raisers about what makes this opportunity unique and worthwhile:

  • Being part of the Leader Dog community.
    • "Even during the times that I've felt 'I've gotten in over my head,' I can count on the Leader Dog community for help. Support and advice comes from puppy counselors, other puppy raisers and the Leader Dog staff. I'm not in this alone!"
    • "I love being part of the Leader Dog community. I've made new friends with other puppy raisers and enjoy the group activities."
  • Helping people who are blind or visually impaired.
    • "I am humbled and awed by being a part of the process that creates a dog-person team that can give such freedom to someone who is visually impaired."
  • Learning new things.
    • "I have learned so much about raising a puppy—it is so challenging and rewarding, and the learning never ends."

Whatever puppy raising means to you, it will be unlike any other volunteer experience. Whether you take on the challenge solo or involve the whole family, bringing a Future Leader Dog into your home is the beginning of a year you'll never forget and the beginning of a dog's journey to change a life.