Raising a Service Dog in Training as a College Student

This blog post written by Samantha Benner, Family Science Major and Human Development Minor, Graduating May 2022

Some students play on sports teams, but during my sophomore year, I joined a club on campus that raises service dogs in training (SDiTs) for the Guide Dog Foundation and America’s VetDogs. Our club consists of puppy sitters and puppy raisers who are dedicated to helping the visually impaired and veterans with PTSD.

As a dog lover, I joined the club because I loved their mission, and as a full-time college student it would be a positive experience for my own mental health. I began sitting a few dogs for raisers who either needed a break or needed to study, which was great for me because what’s better than spending time with adorable dogs? I absolutely loved watching the dogs and heavily considered raising my own, but I didn’t know if I could handle it.

Flash forward to now, I’m a senior and I’m helping to raise a SDiT. Raising a SDiT is the most rewarding feeling because I know that I am helping someone in the future with a bigger goal either to walk safely or to comfort and help them during times of stressful events.

While I will be helping someone in the future, raising a dog is also helping me. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted everyone’s lives and has caused heightened stress to families, but having a companion by my side is a protective factor to my mental health. Not only do I love working with my SDiT, but I’ve met incredible and inspiring individuals in the club who have the same passion as me.

Joining a club or participating in volunteer work are great ways to meet new people and to de-stress from school, work, or other responsibilities. Some common questions people might have are:

  • How do I know if I want to commit to raising a dog?
    • It is a big responsibility, be realistic and honest with yourself if you can manage it.
  • Can I afford it?
    • The only expense is food, however raisers like to buy toys and beds.
  • How long will I have the dog for?
    • Raisers typically have a co-raiser so time will be split 50/50. However, the dog will be in training for a little over a year.
  • Where do I go if I need help?
    • Reach out to area coordinators and the puppy program managers in your area. 
  • Is there a website I can refer to?
  • Can I still raise if I have other obligations?
    • Yes, but it depends on the other obligations. If other obligations have a big time commitment, it might be difficult. 
  • I have other pets, can I still raise a SDiT?
    • Yes. 
  • I can’t raise, however I still want to volunteer. How can I help?
    • Become a sitter! 
  • Can anyone raise a SDiT at UMD?
    •  Freshman can’t because they live in dorms, but they can be a sitter!
  • Are there puppy class requirements to become a sitter or a raiser?
    • Yes! Both must attend at least 3 classes a month, attend an information session, and schedule a home visit.

Those interested in raising a service dog in training do not have to be students at the University of Maryland or a student at all. In fact, anyone over the age of 18 years old can raise a SDiT. The benefits of raising a SDiT are endless, but to name a few it is extremely rewarding, it’s for a good cause, it’s a great way to give back, and last but certainly not least there is unconditional love between you and your pup. This is a great opportunity for college students because they’re able to spend time with adorable dogs and help change someone’s life for the better! If you’re interested in raising or sitting a dog, visit the club Terps Raising Pup’s website.

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