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Puppy raisers are the heart of the service dog world

These compassionate individuals open their hearts and homes to provide a safe and loving environment for young puppies. They provide the essential foundation to ensure that a puppy is prepared to go on to become a service dog.

In 2023, EAC Hacket was placed with her 8-year old partner, Luciano. But Hacket's journey started many years before that! Her puppy raiser, Karen, shares her experience below.

"I had never owned a dog until our family became caretakers for Rumor, a female breeder dog from Canine Companions. Rumor had already whelped three litters and needed someone to take over as her breeder caretaker for her last two litters. This experience of having service dogs born in our home inspired us to become volunteer puppy raisers for Canine Companions.

Karen with Hacket as a puppy

One of my earliest memories of Hacket is when I taught her to “speak,” or bark on cue. Hacket was about four months old at the time. My younger daughter was visiting from Washington DC and wanted to spend time alone with our family dogs, retired breeder Rumor and Trisha, the first puppy that we raised, who had become a therapy dog after being released from training. They went outside to play. Hacket felt left out. It was obvious that she was becoming frustrated and over-excited as she moved between windows, trying to see what the other dogs were doing. I decided to take advantage of the situation and brought Hacket outside, putting her in a tie-down where she could see the other dogs playing. As soon as Hacket started to vocalize, i rewarded her with a high value treat. I then added the word “speak” and, within minutes, Hacket was consistently barking when I asked her to “speak.” I was so proud of how quickly Hacket learned this new behavior. Not only was Hacket a fast learner, she also excelled when we took her out into public and exposed her to various settings. Another proud memory I have is when Hacket substituted for Trisha during a visit to a children's hospital. Hacket interacted wonderfully with the young patients, playing fetch and being gentle with them. She even managed well around medical equipment, despite some surprise at suction sounds. Plus Hacket was very comfortable wearing Trisha’s activity vest, a specially designed vest that included zippers, ties, buttons, etc. to encourage the children to practice fine motor skills while interacting with a dog.

Hacket as a puppy in training

I firmly believe that the best way for organizations to provide highly trained service dogs to those in need is by placing them with puppy raisers. These dogs require individual attention to learn proper behavior and basic obedience. It is also crucial for the puppies to experiences a wide variety of settings, such as cars, public streets, shopping centers, medical facilities and schools, so that they will be comfortable working in these environments as a service dog. Raising the puppies in a kennel wouldn't offer adequate socialization. Nor is it reasonable to expect professional trainers to take time out of teaching important skills to take the dogs on outings Volunteer puppy raisers are vital to organizations like Early Alert Canines and Canine Companions. Although puppy raising demands a significant commitment, it is incredibly rewarding. It has changed my life, as each dog I raise teaches me new things and I have made many new friends.

The most rewarding aspect on a daily basis is witnessing the dog's progress, such as them learning to walk politely on a leash. In the long run, nothing fills my heart more than seeing a dog I helped raise change someone's life. However, there are also challenging times, such as when puppies have gastrointestinal issues or struggle with their new surroundings, leading to sleepless nights. It's exhausting! People often ask how I can let go of the puppy when it's time for professional training. It's genuinely difficult, and I missed Hacket tremendously after handing her in. But it's even more heartbreaking to learn that a puppy you raised didn't pass training and won't become a service dog. I was overjoyed when I learned that Hacket would go on to be placed as an Early Alert Canine, and indeed work as a service dog!

I am eagerly looking forward to her graduation in 2024. I plan to attend with Huberta Hacket, my co-raiser and Hacket's namesake, as well as Nyx, the puppy I am currently raising for Canine Companions. Both Hacket and Nyx are black female labrador retriever-golden retriever crosses."

Thank you, Karen!

To learn about puppy raising, click here.

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