Frequently Asked Questions
There is no such thing as a "stupid question," but there are questions that young people ask us all the time. Here are a few questions and answers.
- How does the dog know when to cross the street?
- The dog doesn’t know when to cross the street. It is the responsibility of the person to know when to cross the street.
If you are standing at a street corner with a grown-up, hold on to them and close your eyes. Listen closely and you can hear if the cars are driving by in front of you or on the side of you. When the cars are driving on the side of you, this is the time to cross the street. The owner would tell his or her dog “forward,” and the dog will walk forward if there are no cars in the way and no cars are coming down the street. If it is not safe to cross the street, the dog will not move forward. This is called “intelligent disobedience” and means that a dog knows when to do what its owner tells it to do and when to disobey because it is unsafe.
Just like sighted people “stop, look and listen” before they cross a street, so does a Leader Dog team. Both the person and the dog “stop,” the dog “looks” and the person “listens.”
- How does the dog know where to go?
- The dog doesn’t know where to go. It is the responsibility of the owner to know where to go. The dog only follows the commands given to it by the owner.
- How does the blind person know where to go?
- The visually impaired person knows where to go through a process called orientation and mobility. This is the ability to learn your environment and how to get around your environment. This may mean getting through your house without bumping or walking into anything, or going across town to get to a meeting or a party.
Once a person, blind or sighted, goes to the same place several times, he or she gets very used to which ways to turn, how far to go forward, etc. If a person with a Leader Dog goes to the same place over and over again, the dog will also get used to which ways to go.
- How old do Leader Dogs get?
- Most Leader Dogs are just over a year when they start getting trained. The dog is about 1-1/2 years when they “team” with their owner. The average number of years a Leader Dog works is 6-9 years. So, Leader Dogs are 7 ½ - 9 ½ when they retire and could live up to 12 or 14 years.
- Can kids have Leader Dogs?
- To get a Leader Dog, you must be at least 16 years of age, just like if you were getting a driver's license.
- What if the dog needs to go to the bathroom?
- It is the responsibility of the owner to make sure his or her dog has times to go to the bathroom (the command is “park”). For instance, a person would “park” his or her dog before going into work, “park” it again at lunchtime and again immediately when leaving work. The dog will get used to the routine and begin to understand when it is allowed to go to the bathroom.
If the dog needs to go to the bathroom at another time, it may whine or whimper to get the owner’s attention, just as your dog might. The dog and the owner spend so much time together that they come to understand each other very well. Because of this, the owner can often sense when something is wrong with the dog, such as needing to go to the bathroom, and so can take it out to “park.”
- What breeds of dogs do you use?
- Most Leader Dogs are Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers or German Shepherds. We also train some Standard Poodles, smooth coat Collies and the occasional mixed breed dog. The dog’s breed isn’t really as important as its personality, willingness to work, size and pace. If a dog is smart, friendly and the right size, we can probably train it to be a Leader Dog!
- Will a Leader Dog protect its owner if he or she is attacked?
- Leader Dogs are not trained to protect their owners. It is very important that Leader Dogs are not aggressive because they spend so much time around a lot of people. However, just like the pet dogs we have at home, some will protect their owners if they are attacked and some will not.
- What happens if the dog dies?
- If the dog dies, the owner can come back to Leader Dog and get a successor dog. From the time between the dog dying and getting a new dog, the owner would use a cane or a sighted guide to get around.
- What happens if the dog dies when they are at the store (in a restaurant, etc.) with their owner?
- It is very unlikely that this would ever happen because one of the things that people learn when they come to Leader Dog is how to take good care of their dogs. They learn to do a daily hand check to make sure their dogs are okay and also to take their dogs to the veterinarian for regular check-ups. Because of this, it is unlikely that a dog would get ill without the owner knowing. If the dog were ill, the owner would either take them to the veterinarian for help or keep the dog at home until it feels better.
- What happens if the owner dies?
- If the owner dies, the family or friends of the owner can keep the dog as a pet. If no one in the family wants the dog, then Leader Dog will find a good home for the dog to live in. We have a list of hundreds of people who are willing to take good care of one of our retired or career-changed dogs.
- What happens if the dog is too old to work?
- If a Leader Dog gets too old to work, it is retired. This means that they don’t have to work anymore. It is up to the owner to decide when to retire his or her dog. When a dog is retired, the owner can keep the dog for a pet. If he or she is unable to do so because of personal illness or cost, then a family member or friend can adopt the dog. If there is no one to adopt the dog, Leader Dog will find a good home for the dog to live in. We have a list of hundreds of people who are willing to take good care of one of our retired dogs. After a dog is retired, the owner can come back to Leader Dog to get a successor dog.
- What happens if the owner gets sick or hurt?
- If the owner gets too sick or hurt to use their dog anymore, they can keep it as a pet. If they can’t keep the dog, Leader Dog will take the dog back. If the dog is young and healthy enough, it may be retrained and given to another student. If the dog is too old to retrain, we find a family to adopt the dog and give it a good home.
If the owner gets sick or hurt while out with their dog, the dog is not trained to take care of him or her and would act much like your dog. However, the dog may bark and draw attention to its owner so someone can offer help.
- What other types of “careers” can dogs have?
- Sometimes a dog is training to be a Leader Dog and we decide that they are not the best fit for being a Leader Dog. These dogs are “career changed,” which means that they don’t become a Leader Dog and instead go to work in another manner.
Some of our “career changed” dogs become “Paws with a Cause” dogs and help people who are deaf, are in a wheelchair or have seizures. They may become border patrol dogs and work with police, or they may become therapy dogs and work in a nursing home or hospital. These are only some ways a dog can work.
Sometimes, the dog is “career changed” into being a family pet. This is important work because they bring love and friendship to the family they live with.
- How can a blind person have a job when they can’t see?
- Just like people who are sighted, blind people want to have jobs and have a lot of different types of skills. Since people use computers a lot in the work place, it has become easier for visually impaired individuals to do a larger variety of jobs.
Computer software is available that allows visually impaired people to hear what they are typing on a keyboard, or to hear what someone wrote to them in an e-mail. Also, there are magnifying screens available that allow people with low vision to read what is on their computer screen.
One of the most important aspects for visually impaired people to be successfully employed is to make sure they have the proper equipment to get to work and do their jobs.