Frequently Asked Questions
- What happens at Leader Dogs for the Blind?
- People come to Leader Dog from all over the world to learn skills that will enhance their mobility and in turn, their independence. We teach people how to travel safely with a white cane and/or with a guide dog. We also teach people how to use the Kapten PLUS (GPS navigational tool).
- What kinds of dogs do you use?
- Most Leader Dogs are Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and German shepherds. Sometimes we are able to use dogs that are mixed breeds that have been donated by individuals, shelters or other service dog organizations.
- How do you train the dogs?
- Leader Dogs are educated in the same way as many pets: with lots of repetition and positive reinforcement. For the first year of their lives, they grow up in homes with volunteer puppy raisers. The raisers teach them basic obedience and expose them to the world. Leader Dogs are in formal harness training for four months with a professional instructor at our campus in Rochester Hills. During this time, they learn guide dog skills, such as finding sidewalks and avoiding obstacles.
- How does someone get a Leader Dog?
- Leader Dog recipients must be at least 16 years old, legally blind, physically and emotionally capable of caring for a dog and must agree to use the dog in the intended manner. Leader Dog recipients must have safe traveling skills. If you meet the requirements and would like to apply, please visit our Application page.
- Do you only train dogs for people who are blind?
- Yes. Leader Dogs are trained to guide people who are blind and visually impaired. You must be legally blind to be considered to receive a Leader Dog. We also train guide dogs for people who are both blind and deaf, but the role of the dog is as a guide and not a hearing dog.
- Is there a charge for the services?
- There is no charge for any of our services, including the guide dog, equipment, transportation to and from our school and room and board for 26 days.
- How does a dog know when to cross the street? Can they read traffic lights?
- Leader Dogs don’t know when to cross the street and they can’t read traffic lights. They wait until their handler gives them the command to go forward. Then the dog decides whether or not it is truly safe to cross. If the Leader Dog doesn’t see any approaching traffic, it will cross the street and stop at the curb. Then the dog's handler will tell it again which way to proceed.
- How does a dog know where to go?
- Leader Dogs rely on their handlers to know how to get to destinations. During a walk, the handler is constantly telling the dog to turn right, turn left or proceed forward. Sometimes when a team (guide dog and handler) has frequently walked to a certain destination, the dog will remember the route. However, it is always the handler’s responsibility to become oriented to the environment.
- What happens when a Leader Dog dies or gets too old to continue working?
- When a Leader Dog is no longer able to work in a safe and responsible fashion, it is time to for it to "retire." Some people will choose to keep the dog in their home as a pet, while others will place their dog with family or friends.
- Can people take their Leader Dogs anywhere?
- Just about! There are federal access laws that protect a guide dog user and his or her partner from discrimination. Any public place is accessible by a guide dog team.
- How do you become a Leader Dog trainer?
- A three-year apprentice program at Leader Dogs for the Blind is required to become an instructor. During this time, apprentices attend in-class lectures and receive hands-on training alongside a seasoned Leader Dog instructor.
Puppies and Breeding Program
- Where do you get the dogs that become Leader Dogs?
- Leader Dogs for the Blind has its own breeding program. Occasionally, Leader Dog will also accept puppies from breeders whose dogs conform to our rigorous health requirements. Leader Dog moms and dads live with volunteer host families in their homes. They are bred at the facility, then return to their homes where the mom whelps (births) her pups. At any given time there are approximately 70 Leader Dog moms and dads.
- Where do the puppies grow up?
- Future Leader Dogs (puppies) grow up in the homes of volunteer puppy raisers. There are about 400 puppy raisers in 22 states and Canada. Volunteer raisers teach the puppies basic obedience, house manners and expose the puppies to the world. Puppies are returned to Leader Dog when they are 12 to 15 months old.
- How can I become a puppy raiser or host a Leader Dog parent?
- To volunteer as a puppy raiser or breeding stock host family, you must complete an application and submit it. If you are accepted, it usually takes between six months to a year before you will receive a puppy. Leader Dog moms and dads are placed in homes based on the continuing needs of the program; it is difficult to estimate the waiting period.
Career Changed Dogs
- What is a career changed dog?
- When a dog is not able to serve as a Leader Dog, we refer to that dog as career changed. Most times these are wonderful dogs that make terrific pets but are not well-suited to be guide dogs. Oftentimes these dogs are not able to pass the scrutiny of our medical exams or personality assessments. Some dogs just don’t have the desire to work in this way or are too interested in squirrels, for example.
- What happens to a dog that is career changed?
- Some dogs will have the opportunity to be a service dog for a different kind of organization, such as police, customs and assistance dogs. Most career changed dogs are available for adoption by loving people.
Funding and Volunteering
- Where does Leader Dog get its funding?
- Our funding is largely attributed to three areas: individual gifts, endowment interest and service organizations, such as Lions Clubs. Much of the success of the Leader Dog program relies on the generosity and dedication of our generous donors. We receive no state, federal or United Way funding.
- What type of volunteer opportunities do you offer?
- We have administrative needs, dog care needs and the option to house a puppy or breeding stock dog in your home.
- What other programs does the school offer?
- Leader Dog offers a number of classes for people who are legally blind.
In the Accelerated Mobility Program (AMP), clients participate in a mobility course that is designed to accelerate the learning process with one-on-one instruction in cane travel. AMP offers opportunities for people to experience various travel environments.
Leader Dog provides a free Kapten Plus GPS device to clients in our guide dog program who live in the United States and Canada. The Kapten Plus is a simple to use, handheld personal navigation device that enhances travel by verbally announcing names of streets, intersections, route instructions and other clues.
For people who are both blind and deaf, Leader Dog offers a specialized guide dog program to fit their needs.