Volunteering as a puppy raiser for Guide Dogs UK

Guide Dogs UK

A dog can bring so much to a person’s life, and do so for millions of people around the world.

Aside from being fun and adorable, dogs can help to improve our physical and mental wellbeing – for example, by encouraging us to walk more and reducing feelings of loneliness.

And, in some cases, specially trained or ‘assistance dogs’ can also provide life-changing help to someone’s day-to-day life.

However, not every dog can become an assistance dog. The skills necessary to fulfil the role are the result of extensive training to make sure that people with mobility problems, hearing difficulties, or other medical conditions can be supported in the best possible way.

This is why we’ve teamed up with Guide Dogs UK; to tell you everything you need to know about volunteering as a puppy raiser – and to help set up more puppies for success in becoming guide dogs.

While it might not be the first thing that comes to mind for many of us who want to do something good for our community, raising a guide dog puppy is a hugely impactful role.

Aside from the deeply rewarding experience of supporting a puppy on its journey to becoming a life-changing companion for a person with sight loss, puppy raising is a great opportunity to learn new skills, meet new people, and get involved in a community of like-minded volunteers.

So here’s what you need to know about becoming a puppy raiser with Guide Dogs UK…

Who are the Guide Dogs Association for the Blind?

The Guide Dogs for the Blind Association is a UK charity working toward a future where every person with sight loss is able to live their life to the fullest. More specifically, they focus on training and providing canine companions who act as guides.

But that’s not all the charity offers. For example, in 2021, Guide Dogs provided information and advice about sight loss 658,730 times, matched 385 with a sighted guide, and produced 7,434 tailor-made books for children with sight loss, among many other things. To read more about all the wonderful work that the charity completed that year, check out the ‘how your money is helping’ section of the Guide Dogs website.

Guide Dogs first began recruiting puppy raisers in 1956 and, since 2011, has bred around 11,000 puppies at their National Breeding Centre.

And while the breeding programme had to be put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic, thankfully it’s now back on track. However, to catch up, Guide Dogs are breeding more dogs than usual – and more puppies means more puppy raisers are needed to help them reach their full potential.

What does a puppy raiser do?

What does a puppy raiser do?

Most of us have heard the old adage ‘a dog’s not just for Christmas’ and – while Guide Dogs’ puppies will eventually complete their training and move on to support people with sight loss – volunteer puppy raisers are expected to give the same level of day-to-day commitment.

The experience can be enjoyable and fulfilling, but it’s important to know the commitment required. Puppy raisers welcome an aspiring guide dog into their home at six to eight weeks old for between 12 and 16 months, which means a volunteer will care for the puppy 24/7 during this period.

There might be some chewed slippers, long nights, and changes to your typical routine along the way – but it’s worth it to see the puppy’s journey to becoming a guide dog.

During the early stages of their stay, the puppy can’t be left alone and will gradually work towards being left for a maximum of four hours as they get older. This is part of a puppy’s early behavioural training needed to become a guide dog.

A huge part of your role will be to socialise your puppy in different environments – such as shopping centres, cafes, and grocery stores. As guide dogs accompany their owners in public spaces where non-assistance animals aren’t allowed, it’s important that the puppy becomes comfortable and secure working (and resting quietly and calmly) in these environments.

Prospective puppy raisers will learn the training methods provided by Guide Dogs to use at home with their puppy throughout their stay. This learning is delivered through interactive e-learning modules and regular puppy classes.

As a volunteer puppy raiser, you’ll also be in regular contact with a friendly puppy development advisor to check in on your puppy’s progress, so there’s no risk of feeling alone. They’ll help you settle in and provide support throughout your experience – so you’ll always have help when you need it.

At around 12-16 months, when a puppy is ready, they’ll finish their stay with you and go on to start their formal training with Guide Dogs.

It’s normal to feel mixed emotions once you and your puppy reach the end of your time together. It might be sad to see them go, but you can also feel proud of your achievement and know that you’ve made a big difference in the lives of both your puppy and the person with sight loss.

Fortunately, if you find yourself wishing you could do it all over again, you can! Volunteer puppy raisers are able to stay on with the charity and continue raising new puppies for as long as they like.

The social and health benefits of volunteering as a puppy raiser

The social and health benefits of volunteering as a puppy raiser

“There are so many people willing to help. It’s a lovely community of puppy raisers who want all the dogs to succeed and are always happy to help.”

Naturally becoming a puppy raiser for Guide Dogs will make a life-changing difference to the puppy and their eventual owner. However, it could also make a big difference in your own life.

Being a puppy raiser means being part of a community. You’ll be able to share your experience – adorable puppy moments, challenges, and tips – with puppy raisers in your area and have the opportunity to meet each other at events and training classes.

Getting out and about has its benefits too! It might seem obvious to say that adding dog walking to your daily routine can boost your physical health, but it’s worth considering how welcoming a puppy into your life for just over a year could improve your mental health too.

For example, studies have shown that dog owners are less likely to experience loneliness and depression, and that pets can increase the production of ‘feel-good’ hormones like serotonin and dopamine.

How to sign up as a puppy raiser

Guide Dogs UK - How to sign up

To become a puppy raiser, you’ll need to be over the age of 18 and…

  • Be physically able to handle large breed dogs (weighing around 25-40kg)
  • Have your own home or permission to have a dog in your home
  • Have access to a car
  • Have access to a secure area where the puppy can go to the toilet
  • Be prepared to invest time in raising your puppy

If you want to sign up to become a puppy raiser, you can search for opportunities near you on the Guide Dogs website, and on the volunteering section of our site.

Final thoughts…

Raising a puppy for Guide Dogs UK is a time-consuming endeavour that requires equal levels of commitment and enthusiasm. However, it can be highly rewarding and create meaningful connections and memorable experiences.

Thanks to your hard work, the puppy you raise can go on to help a person with sight loss in ways that’ll change their life.

If you don’t have the time or resources to volunteer as a puppy raiser, but you want to help with Guide Dogs’ mission to support people with sight loss to live actively, independently, and well, then you might want to check out the other volunteering opportunities available on their website. Or you can help by donating to the charity directly.

And finally, if it turns out that puppy raising isn’t for you, then why not explore other opportunities by checking out our page on volunteering with animals?

Are you considering becoming a puppy raiser, or have you raised a guide dog puppy before? Or has a guide dog made a difference in your own life? We’d love to hear about your experiences. Leave us a comment below, or join the conversation on the Rest Less community forum.

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