Puppy raising research findings
In July 2022, we conducted research into puppy raising at Guide Dogs to find out the experience of our puppy raisers with a view to learn about the current challenges and to make improvements. We also surveyed the public to find out their expectations of the role and how we could potentially gain their support as puppy raisers in the future. The below summary of findings (published on 27 September 2022) focuses on responses from volunteers.
We surveyed over 1,000 past and present puppy raisers, and over 1,000 potential volunteers. Alongside this quantitative research, we held in-depth qualitative conversations with 28 past and present puppy raisers.
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Why you puppy raise for Guide Dogs
The top three reasons why you puppy raise (multiple responses per user):
- Two-thirds (66%) of our volunteer puppy raising team are motivated by helping a puppy to progress and learn to become a life-changing guide dog.
- This closely followed by two-thirds (64%) who said supporting people with sight loss to live actively and independently.
- One-third (31%) said it was the pleasure of being around dogs and caring for them.
How likely would you be to raise another puppy in the future:
- Two-thirds (67%) of puppy raisers are likely to raise a puppy again in the future, with another 17% considering doing so again.
Your experience of puppy raising: key elements
There are various elements across the puppy raising journey - recruitment, learning, support, communications, our internal processes and other areas - which contribute to your overall volunteering experience with us.
In general, you were ‘satisfied’ to ‘very satisfied’ with:
- Guide Dogs’ level of expertise in raising and training puppies - 92%
- The application process - 91%
- Support from your Puppy Development Advisor - 84%
- Quality of training materials provided - 80%
However, there were areas for improvement where you told us that you felt ‘unsatisfied’ to ‘very unsatisfied’ with:
- The way Guide Dogs communicates with me overall - 27%
- Level of recognition/acknowledgement from Guide Dogs - 24%
- Updates on your pups in training - 23%
- The approaches used by Guide Dogs in the Puppy Raising for Excellent Partnerships (PREP) training programme - 23%
We did well across the more core or infrastructural elements of our puppy raising operations - recruitment processes and checks, our canine expertise and replicating this across training materials, and ensuring dedicated support from Puppy Development Advisors. However, we didn’t perform so well in a range of activities which fall under the umbrella of communications. This included the content, structure, and delivery/release of PREP chapters (content) on Kallidus, communications from volunteer managers, and ongoing updates when your puppy is in training. Interestingly, the findings show a disconnect between our canine expertise and how this translates into our approaches under PREP.
Puppy Raising for Excellent Partnerships (PREP)
PREP is our new standard way for staff and volunteers to raise and train puppies to become future life-changers. It builds upon our collective experience and practices by developing the existing use of Positive Reinforcement Training. PREP also makes use of technology to support remote learning. It’s delivered through a mix of e-learning, puppy classes and webinars.
So, how did you get on with the introduction of PREP:
- Nearly three-quarters (73%) of volunteers agreed that they were happy to apply the training approaches in PREP
- More than half (59%) of volunteers agreed that PREP content is easy to understand and implement
- Around half of volunteers said that:
- The emails I am sent about completing PREP are clear and helpful
- PREP content is too long
- Kallidus is easy to access and use
- The PREP approach feels like a big change to what I am used to
- The e-learning modules are enjoyable
The introduction of PREP training has been a hard transition for some, especially more experienced puppy raisers, with the e-learning method being a struggle for some. Some felt it was a little onerous. We also heard that you are keen to get face-to-face time with our staff and each other. This part of the research also revealed a high degree of uncertainty across questions with a significantly high response rate of ‘not sure’ (between 18-28% across all responses).
The most challenging aspects of puppy raising
- Returning the puppy at the end - 41%
- Learning and following PREP - 33%
- Time commitment - 26%
- Challenging puppies - 26%
- Limited updates on progress of previous puppies raised - 25%
What are we doing now?
Overall, we’re pleased to say it’s a positive picture, but we have looked in detail at all the feedback and are working through a number of improvements over time.
PREP learning materials on Kallidus
We’re continually improving and updating PREP content alongside making enhancements to functionality and accessibility to the eLearning experience on Kallidus. We’ve recently been looking at how we can build on our training to make it easier to absorb online, by reducing the initial content to have a shorter foundation structure, and an Index for quick to find subjects as and when you or your Puppy Development Advisor think they would be useful. We have also heard that there is a healthy appetite for being able to access this offline. The PDFs are currently printable, but we are looking at how we can make this easier.
We are also working internally on national guidance around puppy classes and how we can get together more often for training in groups, as this is something we’ve heard loud and clear.
Work is underway to improve feedback on the dogs in training and beyond. Whilst it is not without complexities, this is the next big area of focus.
Application process for puppy raisers
You may also have noticed a growth in advertising and publicity around puppy raising, as we try to find more puppy raising homes. We’ve had some great success here over the summer and have seen applications come from some new areas we have opened up. For some, this will mean they are on a medium-term list of puppy raisers who may wait a little longer as we bolster our teams to support. This is a trial, and we are very grateful for the applicants in the wider areas for their patience as they are key to the future, alongside our existing puppy raising areas.
The above is a summary and does not include all the improvements, but overall, we are glad that so many people are still loving playing their part in creating our amazing guide dogs, and the lives they go on to change. Thank you for your time contributing to the survey, and we look forward to you experiencing some of these changes over the coming months.
We will provide you with more in-depth research insights and updates as we progress with the above work and other activities.