Nursery, Laura J. Niles Early Learning Center, and Hawkins Canine Center Volunteers

Volunteer support is critical to building a solid foundation for the dogs' service dog training.

On-Campus Opportunities


If you are interested in other on-campus opportunities, please check back at a later time. Thank you for your understanding.

Laura J. Niles Early Learning Center & Hawkins Canine Center Volunteers

Volunteers provide valuable one-on-one (1:1) time to NEADS service dogs in training while they are on campus, either with puppies in the Laura J. Niles Early Learning Center (ELC) or adolescent dogs in the Hawkins Canine Center (HCC).

In the ELC, puppy candidates work on socializations and exposures, and in the Canine Center, Service Dogs in Training are usually on campus for an evaluation by their trainer. Volunteers give the NEADS dogs love and attention, take dogs for short walks around campus, and play with individual dogs. Volunteers also help with facility daily operations, which include doing laundry, cleaning, various kitchen duties, and assisting with occasional projects.

ELC and Canine Center volunteers commit to:

  • Handling, reinforcing training of, and interacting with NEADS dogs according to NEADS methods and policies
  • Following sanitation policies and procedures of the NEADS campus, for the health of humans and dogs
  • Communicating effectively and appropriately with NEADS staff, volunteers, clients, and other campus visitors
  • Volunteering each week for a regularly scheduled 2-4 hour shift, for at least 6 months, which equals a minimum of 55-105 hours of volunteering

Reasons why people choose to become ELC and Canine Center volunteers:

  • Love that they are part of and contributing to the NEADS mission
  • Really enjoy dogs
  • Want to have a fun and active volunteer experience

Nursery Volunteers

The nursery is where NEADS houses its purpose bred puppies and broods (mothers). Our broods stay in the nursery until the pups are about 6-7 weeks old, and the pups are housed until they are 8 weeks old. The nursery provides the pups with early socializations to help expose them to new sounds, surfaces, objects and people. We start socializations when a puppy turns 3 days old.

Volunteers work with nursery pups that are between 4 to 8 weeks old. They help with socializations, managing puppy play time, and giving one on one time to our broods. An example of puppy socialization that we do is puppy massages, a personal favorite of all our current volunteers. Volunteers also help with facility daily operations, which include doing laundry, cleaning, various kitchen duties.

Nursery Volunteer Time Commitment

The time commitment is a 2-hour shift once a week for a four- to five-week period. The weeks can sometimes be five to eight weeks in a row if there is more than one litter in the nursery.

Q: What are the minimum requirements for volunteering in the ELC or Canine Center?

A: In addition to the commitments in the role description section of this document, all volunteers must:

  • Be 16 years of age or older
  • Have a great work ethic and an enthusiastic attitude; be willing to assist staff in any area or for any project that may come up, which may include light landscaping, administrative, or cleaning tasks, or being shifted to the other facility (ELC or Canine Center) during periods of high puppy or dog volume
  • Work independently and be able to follow instructions, including reading posted signage
  • Be able to lift up to 30lbs easily; bend, kneel, stoop, stand for 2-4 hours at a time, as this is an active volunteer role physically engaging with dogs
  • Perform cleaning tasks with approved chemical cleaners, some of which have strong odors
  • Additionally, ideal volunteer applicants live within a 45 minute one-way commute of NEADS. Previous experience indicates that volunteers living outside this radius are unable to sustain the commute long term (due to expense, traffic patterns, or long periods of adverse weather), and thus become unable to complete their 6 month commitment to NEADS.

Q: Why do I have to be 16 or older in order to volunteer?

All ELC and Canine Center volunteers must be 16 years of age or older for insurance/liability purposes, and NEADS cannot make exceptions, even if a parent/legal guardian chaperones. For minors under the age of 16, other ways to get involved with NEADS include

Q: What does 1:1 time with NEADS dogs entail?

A: 1:1 time always includes a quick walk to toilet the dog, but also encompasses playing with or walking a dog, and giving the dog love and attention. Or, instead of playing, some dogs may prefer to sniff all over the play room, to have their coat gently combed, or to have a volunteer sit on the floor with them and pet them. This all counts as valuable 1:1 time.

Most NEADS dogs on campus are still in training and not yet mature, and so will not have perfect gentle service dog behavior just yet. Many will exhibit typical puppy or adolescent behavior.

ELC and Canine Center volunteers will not:

  • Socialize dogs. For those interested in socializing NEADS dogs, please consider becoming a Puppy Raiser.
  • Train dogs on obedience or task work. This is done exclusively by inmates at partnered prisons, under the direction and supervision of NEADS Trainers.
  • Bathe or medicate NEADS dogs.
  • Take NEADS dogs running. Many NEADS clients have physical disabilities, so NEADS dogs are not trained or conditioned to be running companions.

Q: Do I get to choose whether I volunteer in the ELC or the Canine Center?

No, volunteers are assigned to the ELC or Canine Center based on the volunteer’s hours of availability and what gaps on the volunteer schedule need to be filled. However, volunteers can be cross-trained as need and opportunity arises.

Q: Do I need to have dog experience in order to volunteer in the ELC or Canine Center?

No dog experience is required. Supervisors will train volunteers on NEADS handling policies and procedures, and build the volunteer’s confidence when interacting with dogs.

Q: How old are the dogs that I’ll be working with? And which dog breeds does NEADS work with?

Puppies in the ELC typically range in age from 8-12 weeks, and dogs in the Canine Center typically range in age from 7-18 months.

NEADS primarily works with Labrador retrievers. Less frequently, there may also be golden retrievers, poodle mixes, or shelter dog mixes in the program.

Q: Is there a dress code for volunteering?

A: Yes. Shoes must be closed-toe and fully encase the foot. Clothing must be conservative/modest and appropriate for working in a kennel environment.

Q: I want to work at NEADS; will volunteering help me get a foot in the door?

A: NEADS will interview all strong applicants for open positions, but being a NEADS volunteer does not guarantee an interview, preference in the hiring process, or a job offer.

Q: What is the process to become a volunteer for the ELC or Canine Center?

1. Complete the online application for ELC and Canine Center volunteers.

Applicants should rank their Canine Center volunteer interest as 1 instead of 2 or 3, as this affects how applications are grouped. Ranking Canine Center interest as 1 also indicates the applicant’s interest in volunteering at the ELC.

2. Attend an orientation.

Orientations are by invitation only. Regretfully, staff must decline applications if there are not any volunteer openings during the applicant’s listed hours of availability, and/or if the applicant’s listed hours do not permit them to volunteer for a minimum 2 hour shift during Canine Center hours of operation (8am-12 and 1-5pm). If an applicant is declined, they are encouraged to apply again should their schedule change or become more open.

3. The ELC and Canine Center Supervisors will communicate with orientation-attendees to determine shift time, location (ELC or Canine Center), and start date. Training will begin during the first shift.

Q: How long is the process between submitting an application and actually volunteering?

A: Sometimes as long as 7-8 weeks, though staff are working hard to shorten this period!