What’s the big deal about Full Time Puppy Raisers?

June 20, 2023

You’ve probably seen NEADS talk about our need for Full Time Puppy Raisers on social media, on the news, and everywhere we can. We are working hard to get the word out about how important and needed these dedicated volunteers are. Maybe you’ve wondered why. Aren’t most of our dogs trained in the Prison Pup Program?

The Prison Pup Program is still vital. Two major changes have greatly affected the program: prison reform and the pandemic. Both have had permanent effects that have resulted in fewer placement spots for NEADS dogs. In order to keep raising and training dogs for our clients, we’ve had to get creative. Working with Full Time Puppy Raisers—volunteers who take a young dog into their home and work with Puppy Raiser Instructors to deliver NEADS’ methods of socializing and obedience training—has taken on great importance as we strive to keep enough dogs in the training pipeline to meet the needs of our clients.

Even before the pandemic began, prison populations and sentences in Massachusetts were falling due to prison reform. Inmate handlers have time throughout the day to devote to training and have been able to work on early socialization, obedience, and then the specialized task work that a dog will need in its career as a Service Dog, Service Dog for Hearing, etc. A dog might have been placed with an inmate handler for 16 to 18 months until ready to be placed with a client. A prisoner incarcerated for several years might have trained several dogs. With fewer people incarcerated for shorter sentences, this model was becoming increasingly unfeasible. When the prisons shut down during the Covid pandemic, all NEADS dogs had to be immediately removed and no dogs at all were trained in prison for almost two years. Now, as a result of these forces, there are only a fraction of inmate handlers available to train our dogs.

NEADS continues to experiment with the most effective way to give each dog the socialization, obedience, and task training they need to become World Class Service Dogs. Full Time Puppy Raisers are just as vital as the Prison Pup Program. Raising and training a puppy, as anyone who’s ever done it can tell you, is time-consuming and challenging—it’s a fun challenge, but puppies definitely have their moments! Puppy Raisers are closely supported by NEADS Puppy Raiser Instructors, who conduct weekly classes, help monitor progress, suggest activities, and assist Puppy Raisers throughout the process. When the dog is well-grounded in socialization and obedience training, it will move on either to a shorter placement with an inmate handler—perhaps six months—or join us on the NEADS campus to work with one of our trainers here. This allows us to use our limited inmate handlers more efficiently, as they can work more intensively on Service Dog task work.

If you’re interested in becoming a Full Time Puppy Raiser, you can apply online or email Heather at [email protected] with questions. We thank you, and most of all, the clients our World Class Service Dogs will serve thank you!