Yesterday I got to learn more about Leader Dog, the organization which supports Leader Dogs for the Blind.

Fun facts:

  • A client / dog pairing is called a “team”
  • The total cost to launch each team is ~ $50,000 including raising, training, travel, and admin
  • The dog is always working
  • In the past, dogs like German Shepherds were used because of their strict discipline and attention to detail
  • Now, Labradors are mostly preferred because they are non-threatening and allow clients greater access

Congratulations, graduates! Lots and lots of Labs

  • You should probably never let your civilian dog approach a working dog if it has its harness on. “They can’t visit, they’re working.”
  • When it comes off, they can relax and play.
  • Leader Dog and Seeing Eye are competing brands in the “industry” of guide dogs
  • The average working life for the dogs is 8-10 years, after which they are retired and welcomed as members of a family

I heard some incredible stories of companionship and support that these dogs provide. People who regained a sense of ownership over their lives after sudden or early-onset blindness. Tears were shed.

Me with Mason (in Montreal shirt) and Xavier (in bandana), a new Leader Dog team. Mason is legally deaf and blind.

We also got to shadow a training session for clients who are both deaf and blind as they took delivery of their new Leader Dogs. We followed as the Leader Dog trainers toured downtown Naples, Florida with the new teams to help reinforce behavior and learn best practices.

Puppy Raising Program

I want to be a Puppy Raiser! This page has lots of information about what it takes to be a Puppy Raiser for Leader Dogs.

It’s not easy to be a guide dog! It takes a lot of training

Characteristics of a Good Worker Dog for the Blind

The politically-correct and company-approved response to the question of “How do you know if a dog can be a seeing eye dog?” is: “The dog will tell us.”

An actual puppy that NASA sponsored as a Leader Dog (no joke! photo credit: NASA)

  • Good dogs for this work have great focus and are not easily distracted
  • Half of the 500 dogs that are raised each year specially for Leader Dog are not accepted
  • Dogs who are not accepted as Leader Dogs are often retrained as emotional support animals
  • They look for a blend of energy and attention, and a lack of excitability
  • They use the words “career change” for those dogs that become drug dogs, therapy animals, etc

Leader Dog Apprenticeship Program

It takes about three years to train a new Leader Dog human trainer.

The current apprenticeship program is in need of an update. They want to add videos and refresh the training modules.

Masion, Xavier, and my mother in Naples, Florida

My mother, pictured above with a new Leader Dog team, is helping to fund a redesign of the Leader Dog Apprenticeship program.

She did a lot of research on various organizations that support vision impairment.

“This group helps blind people and does good work with animals. Those two things are important to me.” My mother, Susan Gray

A development officer told her about the specific program funding need.

Leader Dog Org Info

The majority of their total funding comes from foundations and individual donors. They have a ~$14m annual operating budget. There are 250 full-time and part-time employees, with many more (thousands?) of volunteers. The organization is based in Rochester near Detroit, Michigan.

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