Service animals are specially trained to help their disabled human handlers perform tasks they are not otherwise able to do. Often service dogs provide people with disabilities enough help to enable them to live fairly independently. Raising and training a service dog is a time-consuming and long-term task, and many organizations depend on volunteers to do this. Puppy-raisers or foster trainers spend up to the first two years of the dog’s life training it in socialization, basic manners and obedience before the dog is specially trained and placed with a disabled handler.

Decide what group you want to work with and put in a volunteer handler application. There are many different service dog training programs, both general and specialized for certain disabling conditions, and all of them have different requirements. The application will, at a minimum, require your personal information and pledge to follow the training guidelines, but may also include a background check and in-person visitation to assess your home and commitment. Some, but not all, organizations may require you to attend certification courses before placing a dog in your care.

Attain all required accessories to make the dog comfortable. This includes a collar, leash, dog food, dog bowls for food and water, a crate or bed, dog treats for training and a few toys. Please note any specific requirements regarding classification and brands of dog accessories by the organization through which you are volunteering.

Integrate the puppy into your home and life. A service dog in training is to be considered part of the family and will be required to attend various outings and activities as part of its socialization. Also, most organizations will not permit the dog to be crated or left alone for more than four hours a day. This means it must accompany you to work, school and other gatherings, as well as engage in regular daily exercise.

Attend the training classes with the puppy. Training classes will teach you how to train the dog for proper socializing with other animals and humans, good indoor manners and appropriate responses to various environments. Classes will also include basic command training, which must be practiced regularly and consistently.

Give the dog back to the organization for further training and placement with a disabled handler. A volunteer or foster trainer will typically have the dog for 12 to 20 months, depending on the dog’s individual development. Though foster trainers do get attached to the dogs, it is required to give the dog back to the organization so the dog can use its training to help someone in need of their assistance.

Items you will need

  • Training manual provided by volunteer organization

  • Dog bowls

  • Dog food

  • Dog treats

  • Leash and collar

  • Crate or dog bed

  • Dog toys

Tip

  • Before volunteering to foster train a service dog, make sure everyone in your household is ready and willing to participate in training the dog. Consistency and patience will be necessary from anyone in regular contact with the dog, otherwise the training can be compromised.