Raising service dog puppies is one of the best, yet most challenging, volunteer gigs out there for dog lovers. Raisers are responsible for laying a perfect foundation of training, exposure, and teamwork with a puppy candidate, and then it’s time to say goodbye after a year of spending every moment together. Puppy raiser Ashley Wilt says it’s worth every heartache.
Ashley, who volunteers with Canine Companions for Independence (CCI), is about to say goodbye to her fourth puppy Elijah, a golden retriever and Labrador cross, who leaves the nest for advanced training soon.
“The goodbyes are hard, but it is only one part of the journey,” Ashley shared. “The months of love while raising the puppy and the years of pride after they graduate overshadows the bouts of sadness that are weaved in the middle.”
The Big Training Trip to Disneyland
By the time a dog is ready to graduate to specialized training, they must know about 40 commands and be able to perform them perfectly, no matter where they are or what’s going on around them.
That means field trips like Elijah’s recent visit to Disneyland are a perfect way to test a dog’s focus. Distractions like food all over the floor, screaming children, crazy crowds, and characters in larger-than-life costumes are just some of the challenges facing a working dog.
Judging by Ashley’s photos, Elijah handled every situation perfectly, which goes to show that their work together has been a success.
“The goal of a puppy raiser is to raise a confident and well-adjusted puppy that will succeed in professional training and eventually have a future as a service dog,” Ashley told The Dog People.
“This is done by careful age-appropriate socialization throughout the puppy’s time with their raiser and the teaching of 30-40 commands. I approach every dog I have raised from a different perspective. Some dogs excel at certain things and struggle with others. Viewing each dog as an individual has helped me to give more support where they might need it.”
She goes on to explain that different dogs are triggered by different stimuli. “For example, one of the dogs I raised had a fear of the ice machine. I worked to build his confidence around it by giving him an ice cube whenever we passed by it. He learned pretty quickly that the ice machine was not so scary after all.”
Service Puppies Learn to Sit Pretty
Ashley describes Elijah as extremely calm and cuddly, and she can’t wait to see what kind of work he’ll do after graduation. CCI trains service dogs in a number of disciplines, depending on the type of work that’s the best fit for the dog’s temperament.
Elijah’s future partner could be a veteran, a child or adult with special needs, a person with hearing challenges or mobility challenges, or he may partner with a facilitator who will bring him to hospitals, schools, or other situations where a furry and empathetic friend is always in need.
Service Dog Puppy Throwback
In addition to raising service puppies, Ashley also fosters dogs through a local shelter and is a full-time college student. That means not only is she a busy lady, but she can also take her service dogs-in-training to school with her for more real-life training practice.
We wish you luck in your new life, Elijah! We know you’re destined for great things.
Be sure and follow Ashley on Instagram at Fostering Puppies to see more of Elijah and follow her next service dog puppy’s adventures, too.