Puppy Raisers FAQs

How do I become a puppy raiser?
We will need your completed application. Plan to take one of our five-week training classes to learn how to properly train your puppy and plan on an interview in your home. A fenced space with room for the dog to play and exercise is highly desirable, but Puppy Raiser Volunteers without a fence who are willing to leash walk the dog on a regular basis will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Volunteers should also live within a reasonable proximity to Charlottesville, or be willing to drive to attend the required weekly classes.

How old are puppies when they are placed in foster homes?
Puppies are placed in foster homes between 8 and 12 weeks of age. We believe strongly in early education and the puppy will begin its service dog training classes by 12 weeks of age.

How long do I have the puppy?
Depending on the dog’s temperament and abilities they usually go to advanced training at around 12 months of age. And then along comes your new puppy so you can be a part of this wonderful process again.

Where do potential service dog puppies come from and what breeds are used?
We use primarily Labrador Retrievers in our program due to their size, natural retrieving instinct, and their strong desire to work for and please people. From time to time we will accept a donated dog for training or a dog deemed unsuitable for guide work and given to us by a guide dog organization, which could be a Golden Retriever or a Golden/Lab cross.

Is the entire family involved?
Yes. Considering the investment of emotion, time, and energy in raising a service dog puppy, the entire family needs to be in favor of taking on this commitment. Family members may participate in the training process; however, one family member should be designated as the primary trainer.

Can we have other animals?
We are in favor of puppy raisers having other pets. This allows our puppies’ exposure to other animals and gives you more opportunities to socialize and train your puppy. However, your animals must accept a puppy in your home. If you have an older dog or an animal that is dog-aggressive, we will not be able to place a puppy with you. This prevents harm to the puppy, your other dog(s), or yourself. If your dog(s) is not experienced around puppies or you aren’t sure how your other animals will react, we would be happy to set up an appointment with you for temperament testing.

What is involved in the training process?
Our training methods are based on positive reinforcement, and we know you will truly enjoy the experience. You will attend weekly training classes at our Training Center or another location, train the puppy at home in several short sessions throughout each day, and train the puppy in public as guided by SDV and the weekly lessons. You do not need prior experience in training a dog to be a puppy raiser. We will guide you through the process every week, teaching you how to train your puppy.

service dog puppy chewing on a toy

Your pup should be gently exposed to household sights and sounds, as well as things in the community that they may come across in their working lives:

  • men, women, adults, infants, elderly, toddlers, people of any ethnicity
  • people using walkers, wheelchairs, pushing strollers and grocery carts
  • people wearing uniforms, hats, having beards
  • city streets, honking cars, big trucks, public transportation
  • crowds, parades, sporting events, fairs, grocery stores, restaurants, malls, elevators
  • walking on all different surfaces and all kinds of stairs
  • other nice animals including dogs, cats, and horses

Most of all, they need to be loved and cuddled, played with and enjoyed. Our puppy classes will show you how to guide the pups towards their full potential. If this sounds like something you’d enjoy please give us a call or email .

Do I need a fenced yard?
A fenced yard is highly desirable. We will, however, make exceptions on a case-by-case basis if you are willing and committed to leash walking the dog on a regular basis. Please note: Electric or invisible fences are not permitted.

How much exercise do the dogs require?
Puppies need physical activity in the form of play or walking. Foster homes should expect to provide at least 25-40 minutes of exercise per day. This could be accomplished by brisk walking or playing in a safe, fenced area, for example. Please understand that for young dogs under one year of age, bones are still forming. Exercise by running the dog along side you while you run, jog, bike, etc. is not appropriate for dogs under one year.

What equipment or supplies does Service Dogs of Virginia provide?

  • A Premier Collar, training leash, training vest, and a small crate for crate training
  • Food
  • Training classes, manuals covering reference, medical, and training topics
  • ID microchips, heartworm screening, heartworm preventative, flea and tick preventative, hip evaluations, and eye exams at no cost to foster homes

What does the foster home provide?

  • A fenced yard or commitment to leash walking on a regular basis
  • Dog toys and treats
  • A warm, safe place to sleep
  • Plenty of love and attention

Who takes care of the dog if I go out of town?
Usually another volunteer will take care of your dog while you are on vacation. We like our puppies to become accustomed to new experiences and occasionally will ask foster homes to exchange puppies for a week or two.

Will I get to meet the individual who receives the dog I train?
Yes, as a puppy raiser you will have the opportunity to meet the individual who receives the dog you trained. Applicants for service dogs complete two weeks of team training with their potential service dog followed by a graduation ceremony held in December each year. You will participate in the graduation and celebrate the team and reaching the goal of your dog graduating as a service dog.

What if the dog is not placed as a service dog?
Sometimes dogs in training can not be placed as a service dog due to reasons such as health or temperament that don’t meet the qualifications for this type of work. In the event that a dog needs a career change, we evaluate the situation and determine what is best for the dog.