The Art of Co-Raising
Many GDB puppy raisers choose to co-raise a puppy rather than raise full time. Co-raising refers to two separate raiser households alternating the task of raising a puppy. It can be a very rewarding experience and advantageous for both the dog and raisers, but it can also involve some challenges. Jennifer Ross, a former GDB Bellevue Club co-leader and puppy raiser, shares her co-raising experiences.
Jennifer first discovered Guide Dogs for the Blind at an event at one of the local libraries, and eventually decided to join the Bellevue, WA club with the persuasion of her daughter. The leaders of the club left several years later, which opened the door for Jennifer to step in and become a leader along with another club member, Karen. “I really wanted the club to continue, so I figured as long as I had Karen, who had a lot of experience, with me we could make this work.” Years later, Jennifer has successfully co-led the Bellevue group and has co-raised 5 dogs, 2 of which became guides (Flipper currently in Los Angeles and River in Chicago), and Handsome (currently in Nevada) who recently became a K9 buddy in an affiliated program.
There can be many reasons why a raiser may opt to co-raise. One prominent factor for Jennifer was her available time commitment for raising. “I’m a very involved person in more than just guide dogs, so it wasn’t possible for me to raise full time. I needed the help of another family, but still wanted to raise a dog” says Jennifer. People who cannot devote the majority of their attention to the dog, especially when they are puppies, prefer co-raising as an opportunity to still be involved in the raising process. For Jennifer, her first puppy’s personality also played a role in her starting co-raising. “I hadn't planned on co-raising when getting Sharona. But she was challenging and extremely high energy. She was never content sitting still and because we were new to raising, we eventually had another family raise her as well.” Although her subsequent puppies had more mellow temperaments, Jennifer continued co-raising because of her busy schedule.
Co-raising can be advantageous for both the raiser and the development of the puppy. One benefit is the flexible trading schedule between the two raisers. For example, Jennifer had Sharona for 5 days during the week and traded her during the weekends. “Having time off made me a better raiser when I did have the puppy around. Because I had a break I was fresh and ready to work on training.” Jennifer committed to raising every other week as she gained more experience. “The dogs don’t really have a set frequency for switching; as long as it’s consistent and the puppy experiences both handlers, it’s a preference for the raisers.” Co-raising also helps the dog learn to adapt to different environments, handlers, and schedules because most raisers have varied routines, walking speeds, and training methods. This is good preparation for puppy sittings within the club and change in routine once at formal training.
Of course, co-raising can come with a few obstacles. Because no raiser has the same daily routine, it may take time for the dog to adjust to a raiser’s particular routine after each trade. Jennifer’s fourth puppy, River, often woke up early based on her co-raiser’s routine, which Jennifer didn’t prefer. “Every other week I’d have her get back to my schedule.” Another challenge for Jennifer was “finding the time and place to meet and exchange the dog. It’s perfect if you can do it on a Sunday club meeting, but the logistics of the trade can be difficult at times.” Co-raisers have the opportunity to communicate about their dog's development and concerns during these exchanges, which allows for a reinforcement of skills for the puppy and a stronger friendship between the families. The advantages of co-raising far exceed the challenges.
Jennifer recently moved across the country to South Carolina. Although she won’t be able to volunteer for GDB anymore, she hopes she can continue raising wonderful guide dog puppies with a similar local organization.