Urban Training in Chicago with Instructor Jamie Togal

Q&A with Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Jamie Togal

Published in: Update - Issue 3 - 2017 »   

Why did LDB start training in Chicago?

Photo of instructor Jamie Togal walks down a sidewalk in Chicago. Behind him are a male client walking with a Leader Dog in harness and a female client walking with a Leader Dog in harness

We wanted to provide an immersive experience for clients who live, work or travel in large, urban areas. We have urban experiences in Michigan in bits and pieces, such as riding the elevated train in Detroit or crossing seven lanes of traffic in Birmingham, but we don’t consistently have the large number of people and heavy street traffic like in Chicago.

How did LDB set up training in a remote location?

We conducted scouting trips about a year ahead of the first class to look for suitable work areas and learn the transportation system, such as access points to the “L.”* We looked at hotels both inside and outside the city limits to find one that accommodated our training needs. We also mapped training routes throughout the city so we could expose the client/dog teams to as many unique environments as possible.

Do clients stay in or outside of the city?

Photo of instructor Jamie Togal walks down a sidewalk in Chicago next to a male client who is walking with a Leader Dog in harness. Jamie, the client and the Leader Dog are just beginning to cross a street

We stay in Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago. This area allows us to gradually ramp up the difficulty of the environment that the dogs and the clients experience. We work in Oak Park the first day to get everyone settled in, then move into the city. Our hotel is located close to the Green Line** so we ride it every day to get into and out of Chicago. This allows the teams to practice commuter travel and simulates a routine someone might have every day going to work.

Why is this training important?

Traveling in an urban environment can be difficult for someone who is blind. For these clients to be able to face these challenges for the first time with the guidance of their GDMI gets them off to a strong, safe start. I find that tackling this challenging environment together accelerates the bond between the client and their Leader Dog because of the faith and confidence they build in each other.

*L – Chicago’s elevated rapid transit system
**Green Line – one route of the transit system