Raising an Assistance Dog Puppy—Stakeholder Perspectives on What Helps and What Hinders
Anthrozoology Research Group, Department of Psychology and Counselling, School of Psychology and Public Health, La Trobe University, Flora Hill, VIC 3552, Australia
Centre for Service and Therapy Dogs Australia, Melbourne, VIC 3162, Australia
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 6 December 2019 / Revised: 9 January 2020 / Accepted: 10 January 2020 / Published: 13 January 2020
Puppy raisers (or foster families) are volunteers who care for assistance dog puppies until they are ready to learn how to help people with a disability. During this period, some puppies develop behaviours unsuitable for assistance roles and end up changing careers or being rehomed as pets, which is wasteful. Puppy raisers control the early experiences of their puppies, and they vary in their puppy-raising outcomes, but we do not know what specifically helps some puppy raisers produce puppies that are behaviourally suitable for an assistance role. In this study, we interviewed 17 people from seven countries who were either experienced puppy raisers or provider program staff, or both. Their responses suggested several individual factors (expectations, competency, perseverance and passion) and social factors (informational and emotional supports), in addition to the puppies’ characteristics, that influenced the experiences and perceived effectiveness of their puppy-raising practices. These factors are also evident in other well-established areas of research (e.g., education, volunteerism, social support, and organisational performance). We propose recommendations for assistance dog organisations based on those relevant frameworks, which focus on enhancing puppy raisers’ competency, positive experiences, and program retention.