Photo of a smiling woman wearing sunglasses and sitting or kneeling in front of a bush. She has her arms around the black Labrador sitting next to her. The dog is sitting and looking directly at the camera with tongue slightly out.

Guide Dog Training FAQs

Our client services coordinators are ready to answer any questions you have. If you have additional questions or would like to discuss our programs or your application, please give us a call at 248.651.9011.

To receive a guide dog from Leader Dogs for the Blind:

  • You must be at least 16 years of age.
  • You must be legally blind (visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with correction or restriction in the visual field of less than 20 degrees).
  • You must have good mental and physical health, including the ability to walk several blocks without jeopardizing any current medical conditions.
  • You need to have successfully completed a basic course in orientation and mobility (white cane training). You do not need to have completed orientation and mobility training at Leader Dog.

Most clients participating in our Guide Dog Training program complete a three-week course at our Rochester Hills, MI campus that includes country, city and nighttime travel; how to incorporate a Leader Dog into daily routines; and basic dog care knowledge. Clients receive their dog, equipment, housing, meals and public transportation in the U.S. and Canada (plane, train or bus) free of charge. Clients who receive a Leader Dog and training via one of our other Guide Dog Training options may work in other locales for a different duration. Leader Dog classes are offered all year round.

You must complete an application, medical history form, physical exam form (which a medical doctor must fill out) and supply contact information for six people who can serve as personal references. We will also need a 10–15 minute video of you walking in your home area demonstrating independent travel and the ability to safely navigate lighted intersections and street crossings. The video helps us to determine your suitability for guide dog training and provides information that will help us match you with the perfect guide dog for you.

Once we have obtained a complete application package, your file is reviewed by our admissions committee. This process can take 30 to 90 days.

We can send our Eye Evaluation form to your eye care doctor for completion. Once we receive the completed form, we can determine whether you meet our criteria for legal blindness. If you are not legally blind but do have vision loss, contact your local state agency (e.g. commission for the blind, blind rehabilitation services, Lighthouse for the Blind, school for the blind, etc.) for low vision services. If your vision changes or worsens, we encourage you to send us a new Eye Evaluation form with the changes noted.

Yes. All clients must be able to walk unassisted at a reasonable pace for 30 minutes or more without jeopardizing any current health problems to be considered for training. We have worked with individuals with balance issues, leg or arm braces, prosthetic limbs or coordination disorders (vertigo, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, scoliosis, limb deformities). Each client’s needs are assessed on a case-by-case basis by our admissions committee.

No. Leader Dogs are only trained to guide people who are visually impaired—they are not trained to aid people who use walkers or wheelchairs. Also, Leader Dogs are not trained to pick up or retrieve dropped items, open doors, pull weighted objects, notify the handler of an impending medical emergency, or alert the handler of ringing doorbells, phones or alarms.

To qualify for Deaf-Blind Guide Dog Training, you must use American Sign Language (ASL). Leader Dogs trained for people who are Deaf-Blind recognize and respond to hand signals and ASL with or without vocal support. Please note that these dogs are trained solely to guide—they will not alert on doorbells, ringing phones or fire alarms. If you do not know ASL, we do accept hard-of-hearing individuals into our regular Leader Dog classes, as long as you can hear spoken instruction from 3–10 feet away and/or can use hearing aids or an FM loop during training.

The decision to train with and use a guide dog is a personal one based on your needs, goals and lifestyle. Guide dog users must possess strong orientation and mobility skills and the confidence to successfully use a guide dog. A guide dog replaces a cane as your navigational tool. It should enhance your mobility, not hinder or complicate it. A dog can't tell you when it is safe to cross a street or the best route to travel to your local bank or grocery store. It can assist with obstacle avoidance, maintaining straight street crossings, traveling along sidewalks and road shoulders, and identify doors, curbs and other patterned objects.

GPS training is a part of our Guide Dog Training program for clients from the U.S. and Canada. We provide free HumanWare Victor Reader Trek units to these clients. We do not offer GPS for sale.

We do not accept clients under the age of 16. If your child is 16 or 17 and would like to experience what it's like to work with a Leader Dog before coming here for Guide Dog Training, our Summer Experience Camp offers a day of guide dog "test driving" where the teens can spend time with, learn about, and walk with Leader Dogs in training while on our campus.

No. Lions club involvement is not a factor for acceptance into our programs. When a client is involved with a Lions club, it is helpful to indicate this on the application for a Leader Dog or Orientation and Mobility Training so we can keep the club up to date on the client’s progress (if the client wishes). The club may also include a letter with the client’s application indicating their involvement.

We currently do not offer a low allergen breed.

You may want to contact Assistance Dogs International, Inc. They are a coalition of nonprofit organizations that train and place assistance dogs. The purpose of ADI is to improve the areas of training, placement and utilization of assistance dogs as well as staff and volunteer education. They can be reached at info@assistancedogsinternational.org.

No. We do not train clients’ pets as guides for several reasons. First, we maintain our own breeding program, which allows us to control breeding stock, genetic factors and development of breeding lines. Second, a client would have to relinquish ownership of their pet to Leader Dog and a re-transfer of ownership cannot be guaranteed if the dog is not a viable match for the owner after it is trained. Third, most pets would not pass our strict physical requirements and rigorous training program.

For on-campus training, your daily schedule is a busy one and takes effect after receiving a dog. The basic schedule (which applies Monday through Saturday) is:

  • 6:30 a.m. Wake-up (park and water dogs)—"park" refers to the dog’s relief time
  • 7:30 a.m. Breakfast
  • 8:30 a.m. Board buses to training location
  • 11:00 a.m. Return to Leader Dog campus (park and water dogs)
  • 12:00 p.m. Lunch
  • 1:00 p.m. Board buses to training location
  • 4:30 p.m. Return to Leader Dog campus (park and water dogs)
  • 5:00 p.m. Feed dogs
  • 5:30 p.m. Dinner (water dogs after dinner)
  • 7:00 p.m. Lectures and/or obedience session
  • 8:00 p.m. Park dogs
  • 9:00 p.m. Free time (park dogs as needed)
  • 11:00 p.m. Quiet time

Evening activities include a variety of lectures, obedience sessions, nighttime training sessions and an opportunity to meet puppy raisers.

We use Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds and crosses of those breeds. We encourage you to share which breed you prefer to receive on your application; however, specific preferences for breed, gender or color may delay the time it takes to find the right dog match for you.

Our dogs spend four months (six months for dogs that will guide people who are Deaf-Blind) undergoing training with our instructors before they can qualify to become Leader Dogs. There are four phases of training that introduce more complex concepts in each phase along with evaluations to make sure each dog is on track. We use positive reinforcement training as this has been shown to be the most effective method. If you'd like to find out what goes into each phase of training, they are all covered in our post "How Guide Dogs are Trained."

Videos help our instructors understand your current pace, stamina and travel environments. Our instructors compare these videos to their group of trained dogs to help pair you with the perfect dog match, or to tailor a white cane training program to your specific needs. An individual’s needs for a guide dog change over time—the type (pace, pull, disposition) of dog you required 10 years ago may not be the same type of dog you require today.

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