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Puppy Socializer Volunteers Provide Essential Service


This is the time of year when many organizations honor their volunteers, and individuals who are puppy socializers are high on the list of volunteers who provide an essential service for the disabled.

Scores of organizations in the United States and around the world provide service dogs for people who have disabilities ranging from vision and hearing disorders to autism, epilepsy, limb amputation, and medical conditions that keep them wheelchair bound. The dogs needed to help these individuals must be carefully nurtured and trained, and part of that process begins with puppy socializing.

Puppy socializing is a time-consuming but rewarding task that typically utilizes volunteers. One organization that recently honored its puppy socializers is Dogs for the Disabled of Banbury, Oxfordshire, which recognized more than 100 volunteers at the charity’s national training center.

People who volunteer to be a puppy socializer provide a home for a charity’s “dog-in-training.” Chris Allen, the dog training manager for Dogs for the Disabled, notes that volunteers who take a puppy into their home for a year “provide a vital service for the charity to continue its work.” The puppies will someday go on to assist children or adults who have disabilities, giving them an opportunity to experience independence and confidence.

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In the United States, there are many nonprofit organizations that need volunteers to provide puppy socializing services. Some of them include Autism Services Dogs of America, Eye Dog Foundation, Fidelco Guide Dog Foundation, Fidos for Freedom, Guide Dogs for the Blind, Guide Dogs of America, and KSDS Inc. Individuals who are interested in learning more about puppy socializing can contact one of these organizations or others that provide service dogs.

According to Partnership for Animal Welfare, socialization is a process of introducing and familiarizing a dog to new experiences in ways that help the dog learn how to respond to and interact with the experiences in an appropriate manner and without fear. From 8 to 12 weeks of age, puppies go through a fear imprinting stage, and it is during this time that it is critical to carefully introduce puppies to various positive stimuli on a daily basis.

Although it is important for all dogs to learn not to be afraid of many different situations and people, for dogs destined to become assistance and service dogs, this is essential. Puppy socializers gradually introduce the dogs to experiences such as wheelchairs, bikes, canes, umbrellas, young children, men with beards, sudden and strange sounds, loud noises, and other animals.

Generally, puppy socializers receive their puppy at eight weeks of age and keep the dog for about 12 to 18 months, depending on the program. Along with providing a loving home and exposure to many socializing experiences, volunteers typically must take the puppy to scheduled obedience classes provided by the charity and often meet with other puppy socializers. Most sponsoring organizations pay for all food, vet, and other expenses related to caring for the puppy, while others cover vet bills and volunteers can use food and other expenses as a tax deduction.

Perhaps the hardest part of being a puppy socializer volunteer is handing the dog back to the organization at the end of the process. But as many volunteers attest, being a puppy socializer is a rewarding experience because they know that the dog they are caring for today will help someone with a disability tomorrow. And there is always another puppy that needs to be socialized.

Dogs for the Disabled
Partnership for Animal Welfare