Exploring the Experiences of Volunteer Assistance Dog Puppy Raisers from the Same Program at Two Australian University Campuses

Animals (Basel). 2023 Apr 27;13(9):1482. doi: 10.3390/ani13091482.


Assistance dogs are beneficial; however, accessing one can be challenging due to the time, cost, and high failure rates associated with training. A major factor contributing to a high failure rate appears to be the competency of volunteer puppy raisers (PRs), with returning PRs typically more effective than first-time PRs. However, there remains a gap in the literature dedicated to examining PRs' experiences and how they are affected by the raising programs. This study analysed two groups of PRs (N = 16) from the same university-based program in different Australian regions (i.e., one regional and one suburban). Semi-structured interviews were conducted and analysed both inductively and deductively. The inductive approach identified four major themes that helped to understand the PRs experiences throughout the program: expectations as a PR, organisational and environmental support and suitability, the intensity of PR workload, and practical support. The deductive analysis identified four functions of volunteerism relevant to PRs' motivations: altruism (values), egoism (enhancement), interacting with others (social), and learning new skills (understanding). Overall, the results obtained from the two groups were consistent with past findings suggesting the benefits of organisational and practical support. These findings further develop our understanding of how to enhance puppy-raising experiences.

Keywords: functional volunteerism framework; puppy foster carer; puppy socialisation; puppy walker; service dog.

Grants and funding

This work was supported by a La Trobe University Full Fee Research Scholarship and a La Trobe University Postgraduate Research Scholarship and in-kind support from La Trobe University.