Leader Dogs being trained are often seen in Birmingham and, on an average day, a few of the dogs can be seen walking around the town, restaurants or shops.
Founded by three Detroit area Lions Club members in 1939, Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester is there to provide the blind with a trained guide dog. This scheme was so successful that around 270 people every year are placed with a completely trained up dog as their guide, and this is a free of charge service for them.
There are about one in three of the puppies that make it through the training regime and then become a fully-fledged working guide dog for the visually impaired. This means that there must be many puppies trained each year in order to supply the demand.
Leader Dogs provides those acting as puppy trainers with classes, an instructional DVD, a Puppy Raising Manual and any other assistance for all the volunteers who want to train their puppy efficiently for the scheme. Dedication to ensure consistent training and the daily care necessary for the puppies will also require a lot of positive reinforcement. Many of the dogs trained by the scheme are either Golden Retrievers or Labradors, with only around 15 per cent being German Shepherds.
When the dogs are around a year to a year and a half old, they will go back for four months to Leader Dogs, where they will receive formal in-harness experience to complete their course.
After this in-harness experience, the dogs that pass can then be paired up with a visually impaired recipient and then complete 26 more days of training together. If this is successful then they can become full time partners on a daily basis.
Dogs that can’t be taken on as trained guide dogs can either be entered in to other areas of work, such as becoming service dogs, or may possibly become pets. At this time, the puppy trainer volunteers have first refusal for taking the dog on as a pet.