Welcome to Freshman Orientation
When babies grow up and head off for college and careers, parents say tearful goodbyes. They knew this day was coming—they hoped and planned for it—but it’s never easy to leave your kid behind at the freshman dorm. Wait. Did you think we were talking about humans? No, this is canine college, and the emotions are every bit as strong. In this case, the “parents” are our volunteer puppy raisers.
When puppies are between 14–18 months old, volunteer puppy raisers arrive on campus for the big day. Known as freshman orientation, it’s the day that puppy raisers come from Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Texas, Tennessee, Alabama, and the Carolinas to return puppies to campus for higher education and career training.
Freshman orientation is a day of mixed emotions. Puppy raisers and families enjoy an inspirational program, that includes a graduate speaker who shares about the difference a guide dog or service dog makes. Then one at a time, dogs’ names are called and raisers say a difficult goodbye to a puppy that has become part of their family, one in which they’ve invested months of training, care, and love.
Over the next several weeks, these dogs—known as IFT or “in for training” dogs—will undergo assessments to evaluate their personality, health, temperament, trainability, and suitability for specific careers. During this phase, dogs will be examined by our veterinary staff and partners for healthy eyes, elbows, hips, heart, and overall health. After the freshman dorm, IFT dogs enter our formal guide and service dog training program.
At freshman orientation, saying goodbye is never easy, but puppy raisers share the philosophy of, “I love my dog—but somebody else NEEDS my dog.” We couldn’t create world class superhero dogs without the help of our puppy raisers.