The Leader Dog Difference
Leader Dogs for the Blind is innovative, inclusive and dedicated to providing high-quality services to our clients in a respectful and empowering environment. We set ourselves apart from other organizations who provide guide dog services through the way we view our clients, by providing value-added services and by continuing to develop new training techniques.
Our Clients are Treated as Individuals
Clients are first and foremost individuals and our training is personalized for each person we serve. We can accommodate clients who require a shortened training or home delivery due to work or family commitments. Clients with multiple disabilities, health challenges or who are elderly are not turned away. As long as they are able to work with and take care of a Leader Dog, our clients will get the services they need.
We Offer Unique Services
Leader Dogs for the Blind prides itself on offering services that empower our clients to travel farther, travel safer and prepare for their next life challenge.
After noticing that many of the people we were unable to accept into our guide dog program were turned away due to a lack of orientation and mobility (O&M) skills, we began our Accelerated O&M Training to help these individuals quickly increase their cane travel skills.
We identified a need for teenagers to prepare themselves for life after high school, which for many includes college, so we developed the Summer Experience Camp for kids 16 and 17 years of age to help develop independence and leadership skills while in a safe and fun environment with their peers.
We found that a lot of our clients didn't travel outside of their immediate community for fear of going into an unknown environment, so we incorporated GPS Technology training, including a free GPS device, into our guide dog program.
To allow our clients to become familiar with our campus and local training routes prior to attending training, we began working with ClickAndGo maps. Being able to study maps of our buildings, campus and training routes prior to coming to Leader Dog can help our clients reduce anxiety about traveling in a new environment.
We Pilot New Training Techniques
Though we have been successfully training both our clients and guide dogs for 75 years, we acknowledge that there is always room for improvement. Our guide dog mobility instructors are always piloting new techniques with our dogs such as using Martingale-style collars and using clicker training for positive reinforcement. If these programs are proven to be successful, they are incorporated into our dogs' rigorous training regime.
We piloted the Prison Puppies initiative to place puppies within correctional facilities with carefully screened inmates. These inmates will spend 12–15 months raising a Future Leader Dog before the dogs are brought back to Leader Dogs for the Blind. This initiative has proven highly successful, with as many as 60% of Future Leader Dogs raised in correctional facilities graduating with a Leader Dog client (the graduation rate of dogs raised outside of Prison Puppies is around 45%). Additionally, inmates and correctional facility staff have reported many positive changes in the inmates' lives as a result of their time with the puppies.
We are Located in a Top 10 City
In 2014, Rochester Hills, Michigan ranked ninth in Money Magazine's listing of the Top 10 Best Places to Live in America. The annual ranking is for small cities with a population between 50,000–300,000. Listed among the reasons for the ranking were safety and the over 1,000 acres of parks and trails.
We Pilot Guide Dog Training in New Locations
Because our clients are individuals who live in a wide variety of home environments, we have piloted our Guide Dog Training program in communities outside of Southeast Michigan. We offer Urban Environment Training in Chicago for clients who live or travel in large cities so they can learn how to maneuver crowded sidewalks, busy vehicle traffic and mass transportation safely and efficiently. We have held warm weather training in Florida during the winter for clients who live in mild climates and do not have the need to learn how to travel in cold climate conditions. In winter of 2014, we headed to Ostero, Florida to hold our first warm weather training for clients who are deaf and blind to aid the American Sign Language (ASL) and Tactile ASL processes, which can be hampered by gloves and mittens.
We Have More Field Representatives Available for In-Home Visits
Leader Dog has field representatives, who are trained guide dog mobility instructors and/or certified O&M specialists, who can assist clients with transition and working problems. Field representatives conduct in-home assessments and acquire short videos on prospective clients to help with the admissions process. They also conduct home deliveries for clients needing to be trained in their home environments. Currently we have four full-time field staff along with a team of 10 experienced contractors conducting our field representative visits. This team of 14 is the largest field staff of any guide dog organization in the country. Leader Dogs for the Blind is committed to providing quality follow-up services to our clients for the entire working life of the team and can even help with retirement decisions when needed.
We Offer University Students Hands-On Learning
We have an ongoing relationship with Western Michigan University to extend our educational services to students in the field of blind rehabilitation. University students come to Leader Dog to participate in a hands-on practicum and internship teaching experience working with clients in our Accelerated O&M Training program. While at Leader Dog, they also learn about guide dogs and how they can better work with clients who use a guide dog for mobility.
If your university is interested in this program, contact the manager of technology and extended services at 888-777-5332 or firstname.lastname@example.org. There is always the possibility of adding to our partnerships and expanding the roster to include your university.
We are Committed to Changing Technology
Innovation is a Leader Dog value and reviewing emerging travel related technologies is a part of our strategic plan. With this in mind, we are committed to researching new, appropriate travel related technologies for possible inclusion in our training programs. The technologies we consider include electronic travel aids (ETAs) and electronic orientation aids (EOAs). ETAs provide mobility information (obstacle avoidance, obstacle detection) and EOAs, such as a GPS, provide orientation and navigation information (where I am and how to get where I want to go). When researching a new travel related technology, we consider several factors before entering the beta test phase. We examine cost, ease of use, commercial support, availability, sustainability and whether the technology is standalone or needs a system (such as phone/internet provider) for support.
We Aid Guide Dog Organizations in Other Countries
Leader Dog has an ongoing relationship with ONCE, Spain's guide dog organization, to train some of their clients each year, and we helped the Taiwan Guide Dog Association with dogs and apprentice training when they first started out. We have also provided guide dogs and training to clients from IRIS Guide Dogs in Brazil for the past 15 years. Now we are developing a program with IRIS to help them grow their organization by bringing one IRIS apprentice instructor per year to live and learn at Leader Dog for five months. At the same time, we are helping IRIS to develop their own apprentice program.