We have talked about our amazing puppy raisers and the extraordinary things they do to ensure we have dogs that are well-behaved and confident. And we briefly talked about Puppy Raiser Day, but we thought you might like a more in-depth look at this very special day.
Puppy raisers spend approximately 14 months loving, caring for, training, and exposing pups -- starting at 9-10 weeks of age -- to every aspect of life so they will grow to be confident guide dogs. They then return these uber-obedient dogs back to us to begin their formal harness training in the hopes of becoming a working guide dog.
After six months of training with our guide dog trainers, passing a battery of tests, hopefully these dogs are ready to be matched with their new handler. During this time, the puppy raiser gets periodic updates on the dog’s progress and might catch a glimpse of their formal charge on Facebook or Twitter, but they are not allowed to visit the dog. This time away is important for the dog so they can bond with their trainer and focus on learning how to keep someone safe.
When the dog has completed formal harness training and is “class ready” the puppy raisers eagerly await that magical phone call that informs them that their dog has been matched with a student in class. They are then invited to attend Puppy Raiser Day so they can see their dog working with its new handler (student).
Puppy Raiser Day is held the third Saturday during the student’s in-residence training. Puppy raisers are invited to gather in the Freedom Pavilion and await the time when they get the first glimpse of their dog actually working. The trainers accompany the students on a route along the Freedom Walk, showing off each dogs’ skillful work. Imagine how proud the puppy raiser must feel, seeing the pup they loved doing what they were put here to do, keeping someone safe and providing independence.
Each student is introduced to their dog’s puppy raiser and after removing their dog’s harness, they allow the dog to reunite with their raiser. This can be a stressful time for the student as they have spent the past three weeks bonding with the dog and now they see their dog getting over-the-moon excited to see someone else. It never fails though, once the dog has their initial “oh my goodness, it’s my raiser” freak-out, they settle right down and move back to the student’s side.
The raisers and students get to spend time swapping stories about the dogs, taking pictures and getting to know each other before heading in for breakfast. Some raisers bring mementos from the pup’s early days that they share with the student.
The day then wraps up and yet another black-out period begins. To make sure the team bond is cemented, the puppy raiser and student do not have contact for at least 90 days. After that period, if the student is game, a relationship can begin, and many times, these friendships blossom into lifelong bonds, all over the love of a pup.