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Raising a Service Dog

You may have seen our recent posts on social media about VIP (Very Important Pet) Jib and SDiT (Service Dog in Training) Oakley. We wanted to show our support for the service dog community by sharing the stories of two puppy raisers for National Service Dogs (NSD) who happen to be a part of the CK9 team too.

The NSD Journey

After lots of research Kayla T and Natasha chose to each raise a service puppy with NSD as they are a member of Assistance Dogs International (ADI) the international administrative body which sets the guidelines and ethics for the training of service dogs (National Service Dogs, n.d.). As NSD dogs must pass strict temperament training and public access testing in order to become certified these ladies were up for a challenge!


In July 2019, Kayla T brought Jib home and began the journey of raising a service dog puppy. She attended weekly classes through NSD and cared for Jib as he developed from a young puppy to young dog. Jib was given a training jacket and through a variety of public outings he learned how to work in jacket while other puppies aimlessly played. Kayla T shared "The ability to to bring your puppy everywhere with you was a great way to socialize them; especially during a pandemic. But, teaching a puppy manners in a public setting does come with its challenges. Like when people stop you in a checkout line wanting to pet your puppy in jacket and you have to tell them that they can't pet/ distract while working, or when you're sitting in a lecture hall and your puppy runs to the front of the room because your professor is pointing to the powerpoint presentation so you have to interrupt the class by getting the puppy back to your seat".

Kayla T also highlighted that as great as it was training Jib, she wished she could've trained some fun tricks too. Tricks such as “shake a paw” or “speak” are always fun to show off, but not teaching them ensures that the expectations around greetings and vocalization remain consistent and the dog doesn’t begin behaviours like lifting up a paw or howling when being greeted. Raising a service puppy is centred around a well socialized dog who has a variety of experiences and enough exposure to what they may encounter while working that they can maintain good manners in all situations.

Just over a year old, Jib was ready to complete an entry exam and attend NSD university where dogs begin the final training and assessment stages before entering service. It was during this time that Jib’s health checks were done and after a review of his joints it was found that Jib had signs of elbow dysplasia which would prevent him from continuing as a service dog. Kayla T worked through early puppyhood with potty training, basic commands, etc., then worked through the challenges that are brought on when a puppy matures such as patience, focus, and emotional stability; all of this coupled with teaching Jib how to complete public access test requirements. If service work wouldn't be in Jib's future, Kayla T decided to adopt Jib as a VIP and continue his training with the Complete K9 family.


Oakley was from NSD's "O" litter and raised by Natasha. Oakley entered his adult raiser home in Jan 2021 with the goal of completing NSD university before becoming a service dog for someone in need.

As you can see by this adorable photo, Natasha picked Oakley up at 8 weeks old. He had a similar upbringing as Jib with jacketed outings and NSD classes, except Oakley was raised with Maverick (Natasha's first dog) in the home. Maverick was able to teach Oakley proper manners, dog styles of play, what was and wasn't acceptable behaviours in the home or out on trails. Dogs learn best from other dogs because they are able to communicate so effectively, and this was a benefit for Natasha as she had already put in a lot of work in training Maverick to be a kind, respectful, and well-behaved dog. Natasha mentioned "If you're looking to raise a service dog puppy and you currently have a dog, it's super important that your first dog is trained to your liking so you can better focus on the service puppy's needs and balance both dogs in the home. I give Maverick a lot of credit for passing on good behaviours, but there were somethings she had to adjust to as well; like always walking on my right side as Oakley needed the left and staying home while I took Oakley out in jacket for training".

Then almost 13 months after bringing the adorable black fur-ball home, Oakley was sent to his adult raiser's home for final service training. Natasha shared that she ended up bonding more with Oaks more than she thought possible; "It's bittersweet because when a dog leaves your home it's so hard, but at the same time it's exciting to see all the great things they go on to accomplish in service". Oakley is still a SDiT and we cannot wait to see where his service leads!

Service Dog vs Complete K9 Dog

There are differences between raising a service dog and a Complete K9 dog. For example, a service dog must walk on the left side for consistency across handlers and service dogs wear a flat collar or halti for walking, as they can't be in service if needing correction for pulling or leading on leash. Whereas Complete K9 recommends that owners practice having their dog walk on both the left and right sides as it is practical for safety and politeness while out on sidewalks and trails. Also, Complete K9 requires that owners use the Martingale Collar for training purposes as it allows for a safe correction if the dog tries to pull or lead on leash and a means of quickly interrupting unwanted behaviours. Perhaps the biggest difference however between training a service dog and a Complete K9 dog was having to use food as a reward which is the training method of NSD (for those of you who are familiar with our training, know that this isn’t typical for us!).

Despite the differences in training, there are some similarities we'd like to share as well! All NSD dogs are crate trained and are expected not to go on furniture. At Complete K9 we believe it is important for your dog to have healthy boundaries which includes having a space just for them (crate) and respect our space (furniture). We also hold value to our words and have expectations that when something is asked of our dog, we say it once and expect them to comply; which NSD implements in their training program.

We hope this blog gave you a glimpse of what raising a service dog entails and if you're interested in adding a dog to your home, looking to volunteer in your community, learn more about working with animals, etc., then raising a service puppy could be a great opportunity. Please do your research on a service dog organization before applying for a puppy as you will be partnered with the organization for the majority of the dog's life.


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