Volunteer Puppy Training: What to expect

Posted by Victoria Leedham

In the first of a new series of #VolunteerVoices we were thrilled when Matt and Viv Bridgman from Selby offered to give a frank, real-life perspective on becoming first-time volunteer puppy trainers.

If you’re someone who is thinking about this role, we would recommend reading their candid insight as a great reality check as to the expectations and day-to-day commitment of caring for and training a hearing dog puppy.

We thank Matt and Viv, and all our incredible volunteer puppy trainers, for giving their homes and hearts to this crucial role. Without them, we simply couldn’t provide hearing dogs to deaf people. It’s as simple as that.

We became puppy trainers for Hearing Dogs because of some life changes that are probably common to many other volunteers: We recently lost our beloved 16-year-old cross-breed, Lily and I had just retired, so we felt that we had more time available to dedicate to a new puppy. We had previously discussed doing some charity work, so Hearing Dogs seems like the ideal way to combine these factors.

We completed our online induction and in-person assessments with our area trainer, Hayley, and soon afterwards, there was an opportunity to take on a 17-week-old Cocker Spaniel Puppy called Hallie. She had previously been placed with another volunteer and had completed her one-star training, but, due to a change in personal circumstances, the volunteer wasn’t able to continue with the program so we agreed to be Hallie’s new foster carers. So, this lovable ball of energy came crashing into our lives and nothing has been the same since!

Hallie was such a happy and playful puppy that she won our hearts from the first moment we saw her. We expected a few sleepless nights as Hallie settled in to her new home, but she slept through the night straight away. The only hiccup was a short spell of very early mornings when Hallie decided that 5am was the right time to get up, but this phase soon passed. Our fears about having to follow her around with a mop & bucket were also unfounded, as Hallie was already fully house trained which was great!

Like any puppy, Hallie will play with you for as long as you’re willing to let her, and it’s hard to resist those pleading eyes! There’s also the daily routine of training, grooming, feeding, teeth-cleaning, walking and so on, which makes the role pretty-much full time. We’ve owned puppies before, so we knew that they’re a big commitment, but the charity quite rightly stresses the importance of following their recommended training techniques, and keeping to a regular routine, so that’s something that’s always at the back of our minds as first-time volunteers. I guess we’ll relax into it more as we become more experienced.

Now that Hallie is getting older, we’re starting to introduce her to new experiences which means we can take her to places like cafés and garden centres so we can get out and about a bit more than we could when she was younger. She can also be left at home for a couple of hours now, which means we don’t have to rush when we go shopping. The charity has an excellent network of volunteers who provide cover if we do need to go out for longer or overnight.

We’ve been really impressed with the level of support that we get from trainers, other staff members, and other volunteers. We live quite close to the Beatrice Wright Centre in Yorkshire, so there are always plenty of classes and other social events that we can attend. We’re lucky enough to live in a village where there are several other volunteers with trainee hearing dogs, and we often bump into them and have a catch-up whilst out walking Hallie.

Even though Hallie is a wonderful, lovable, friendly puppy, our young grandsons are nervous of dogs and so it’s been a bit more of a challenge than we expected when we have the boys at our house. Hallie absolutely loves them and wants to make friends, but they haven’t learned to read her body language yet, so they tend to be cautious towards her. Hopefully this will improve as Hallie calms down and the boys get more used to her. Our daughter is keen for the boys to become more confident with dogs, so we hope that Hallie will help them achieve that goal.

Hallie also loves our cat called Pudding and is desperate to make friends with her. We’ve owned other cats in the past that would let our pet dogs know who was the boss, then the dogs would leave the cat alone. We were hoping this would happen with Hallie and Pudding, but Pudding is quite timid and just stays out of the way, which is a shame. We’re gradually encouraging Pudding get closer to Hallie, while we keep Hallie calm and distracted, and we’re making gradual progress in getting them to make friends.

Despite these couple of challenges, we love having Hallie in our lives and it’s so rewarding to see Hallie learn new skills as she progresses towards her future role as a fully qualified Hearing Dog. We know that she won’t be with us forever, and people often ask how we can bear to give her up. We know it will be difficult, but we’ll comfort ourselves with the knowledge that she will be going on to enrich someone else’s life.


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About the author

Victoria Leedham

Hello, I'm Victoria and Head of Volunteering for Hearing Dogs for Deaf People and Hearing Link. It’s my privilege to celebrate and share stories about our wonderful volunteer family.

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