Guide Dog Training: What to Expect
Leader Dogs for the Blind is committed to providing world-class guide dogs in a small class setting that allows training to be personalized for each client. We match our guide dogs to our clients with the best possible long-term partnership in mind and spend the three-week training period developing the skills and working in the environments that are most suited to each client's plans after leaving the Leader Dog campus as a handler and guide dog team.
We provide a safe, clean and comfortable setting for training to take place with 24-hour assistance available for personal needs.
The Polk Residence and Training Center is home to all clients in training; accommodations and meals are provided free of charge. You will have a private room and bathroom equipped with a full-size bed, desk and chair, small refrigerator, television, internet access, dog bed, temperature controls and immediate access to a secure outdoor area. The facility is furnished with multiple lounges, a fitness center, dog grooming stations, and a library with books on tape, Braille materials and computers with internet access. Residence staff are available around the clock to assist with your personal needs.
You will spend a lot of time outdoors and walking. Pack clothing suited to Michigan’s changing climate and seasonal differences (hats, boots and gloves are a good idea October–April) and shoes you are comfortable walking in. Comfort and convenience should be the priority.
Traveling to the Leader Dog Campus
Leader Dogs for the Blind pays for public transportation to and from our campus for all clients traveling within the United States and Canada. Accepted clients receive instructions for making travel arrangements in your approval letter.
We ask that you provide travel details (airline, arrival time, etc.) in advance of your class date so that we can arrange to have someone meet you at the airport terminal, train station or bus station.
Please note: While Leader Dog will pay for public transportation by plane, train or bus, plane travel is the preferred method for clients traveling with a guide dog—especially for trips longer than six hours.
When You Arrive
When you arrive at Leader Dog’s campus, we will review important preparatory material, provide additional information, sign needed paperwork and give you a tour of the residence center. This is a good time to ask questions about our campus, your training and what's coming up in the days ahead.
Our wonderful kitchen staff will make sure that you're ready to tackle every day of training fueled by good food. If you follow a special diet or have any restrictions, we will work with you to ensure that your needs are met.
If you are a new client, you’ll be with us for three weeks. Clients returning for a successor Leader Dog may be here for less time.
Your training starts the morning after you arrive. The first few training sessions with your guide dog mobility instructor are called “Juno” training. This is when your instructor plays the role of a dog, referred to as “Juno.” “Juno” walks with your instructor will help us learn about your travel situations, orientation mobility skills, walking pace and lifestyle so we can select the best dog match.
Two days after your arrival is “Issue Day,” when you receive your new Leader Dog!
Our instructors spend four months training class-ready dogs and are now here to teach you to be a successful Leader Dog handler. Ultimately, your success depends on the effort you put toward your training during class and after your return home. Please keep an open mind and be willing to try new ideas during training. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and be ready to learn new skills during every training session.
We expect you to progress to a level that empowers both you and your Leader Dog to travel safely. There are no tests that decide whether you pass or fail; instead, your instructor will expect you to work at your own pace and abilities and to improve your skills during training.
You'll receive detailed information on what to expect when you return home with your Leader Dog. Your dog will need time to adjust to its new home environment, and it will be important to refer back to your training to assist your dog during the transition.
Generally, it takes six months to a year for you and your Leader Dog to become an effective team.
You have challenged yourself by deciding to get a guide dog and we're here to help you meet your goals!
Transition for Returning Clients
Coming to Leader Dog for a new dog may be a difficult and emotional time for returning clients. We offer a transition/grief session for any returning clients who feel it may be helpful.
We respect the firsthand knowledge and accomplishments of our returning clients. Please remember that your new dog requires you to recognize its needs and to keep an open mind (and heart) as you progress through training. Your new dog will be different than your previous dog, but over time you will build your relationship together. If you need additional support during class, please let your instructor know.
Returning clients are role models for new clients and will have some valuable stories and memories to share about working with a guide dog. If you are a returning client, please help to support the new clients through their first experience with a Leader Dog.