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I never knew how much Leader Dogs for the Blind would mean to me or how invested I would become when I began volunteering in August 2007. I started by coming in one day a week but I quickly realized how much I loved being here. I kept adding days to my schedule and I currently volunteer four days a week. I split my time between canine center receptionist and canine support assistant. I look forward to coming in each and every day because it puts a smile on my face. It really makes me feel good to help other people and be a service to the community.

The canine center receptionist role is extremely rewarding. I have always loved being around dogs and I enjoy administrative work so this was the perfect fit for me. I answer incoming calls and talk to some amazing people. I enjoy greeting all the visitors, puppy raisers, volunteers and employees when they come into the canine center. I have gotten to know a lot of people and I value all the friendships I have made over the years. My favorite part is interacting with others and how I feel when I have helped someone either in person or over the phone.

There are so many things I enjoy about this volunteer role, but one of my absolute favorite things is witnessing career changed dogs go to their new home. It is especially fun to see puppy raisers come in to pick up their dog after being career changed. The puppy raisers simply amaze me with how much work they put into raising their puppies. The dogs are so excited to be reunited with their raisers!

I am really impressed with the organization and how much time and training is required to prepare a dog to become a Leader Dog for a client. As a canine support assistant, I get to spend one-on-one time with the dogs in training. I love being able to sit with the dogs, give them love and interact with them. I feel that the dogs work hard and it brightens their day and makes them feel special to receive individual attention. It is also rewarding to be a part of these dogs’ lives knowing that they could potentially be guiding a person who is visually impaired or blind in the future.

Volunteering at LDB these past 12 years has been such an amazing experience. I am so grateful to be part of such a wonderful organization that provides their services free of charge. I love spending a large part of my week at LDB and knowing it is helping clients gain independence.

The post Loving It Here for Twelve Years appeared first on Leader Dogs for the Blind.

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Orientation & Mobility Training Options at Leader Dog
Leader Dogs for the Blind understands the importance for someone who is blind or visually impaired to develop strong orientation & mobility (O&M) skills to increase their travel independence. Whether someone is new to using a white cane, wants to prepare for training with a guide dog or is a long-time cane user who experienced further sight loss, O&M Training at Leader Dog can be tailored to fit their needs.
Join us as we explain O&M, what skills are taught during training, application requirements and how we can partner with certified orientation & mobility specialists (COMS) throughout the U.S. and Canada to help ease caseloads.

Webinar: The Wonderful White Cane - Orientation & Mobility Training Options - YouTube

View our previous webinar, “New Guide Dog Training Options and Summer Experience Camp.”

If you would like to be notified of future webinars, please email Rachelle Kniffen with your request.

Meet Your Host and Presenters

Erica Ihrke has been Leader Dog’s manager of extended services since 2008. She earned her master’s degree in orientation and mobility from Western Michigan University. She is currently a member of the O&M Subject Matter Expert Committee for the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Education Professionals and is a past president of Michigan Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER).

Erica is an in-demand speaker and has presented at several AER International Conferences and the International Mobility Conference on the topics of guide dog readiness, alternative models of O&M, and accessible GPS.

Rod Haneline has been a member of the Leader Dog team since 1979, Rod currently oversees O&M, GPS and guide dog training as the chief programs and services officer. He has also served as director of client services and was a guide dog mobility instructor for 12 years.

Rod is internationally recognized for his extensive knowledge in developing advanced orientation and mobility (O&M) instructional programs. He has developed integrated methods for the use of canes and dogs as well as GPS in both O&M and guide dog programs.

David Locklin has 17 years experience in guide dog training. His career started with Guide Dogs for the Blind in the United Kingdom where he was a guide dog mobility instructor for seven years before becoming their service delivery manager.

Since 2014, David has been Leader Dog’s director of programs, overseeing the training department and the outreach services & community engagement department. Among David’s responsibilities is ensuring that all programs meet International Guide Dog Federation standards and that the needs of all clients are being met.

The post Webinar: The Wonderful White Cane appeared first on Leader Dogs for the Blind.

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Every team within Leader Dog has a specific function, and their work can get pretty specialized. Last fall, Leader Dog’s puppy development team and the training team (the instructors and supervisors who work directly with our Leader Dogs and clients) started working on ways to teach each other more about what each team does.

To start, the puppy development team followed a group of Leader Dogs in training through each stage of the guide dog training process. This experience let team members from both departments discuss how puppy raisers can build positive training skills in their puppies as it relates to the ultimate goal: guide work. The collaboration was a great success and both teams enjoyed the experience.

Then it was puppy development’s turn to let guide dog mobility instructors (GDMIs) experience what it’s like to train a very young puppy. During the education session, each instructor got a puppy along with tools that are given to our volunteer puppy raisers (leash, bandanna, toys, treat bag, kibble). The instructors worked on the same skills our puppy raisers start with when training their young Future Leader Dog: putting on the bandanna, settling on a mat, stepping up on a paw pad and basic exercises such as handling paws; looking at teeth, ears and eyes; brushing, and trimming nails.

The instructors also did a relaxation protocol (introducing the puppy to mat training) and played the “I Spy” body handling game, which helps the puppy get used to people touching various body parts. In that game, the lead teacher says something like, “I spy my puppy’s head.” The handler touches the puppy on the top of the head, says “yes” and then feeds the puppy a food reward. This teaches the puppy that being touched brings rewards! Throughout the session, the instructors also learned how often a young puppy needed to go out to “park” (relieve itself), and that success in that area is… inconsistent.

In playing the part of the puppy raiser, many of the instructors gave “their” puppy a name during the session. They found out that while puppies are a lot of fun, they are also a lot of work. The plan is to allow all the instructor teams to participate in puppy training so that every member of both teams can learn what we do to nurture successful Leader Dogs from puppyhood to partnership with a client!

The post Learning from Each Other at Leader Dog appeared first on Leader Dogs for the Blind.

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It’s International Guide Dog Day! In celebration of the support guide dogs give their human partners every day, we’re inviting everyone to share who has helped you through a RUFF patch. It could be your Leader Dog, Future Leader Dog, a family member, close friend, or someone who was just in the right place at the right time. Share your special someone on social media, tag them (if you can) and use the tag #LeaderDogChallenge in your caption.

You can also take your recognition further by donating in your someone’s honor! Our goal is to raise $5,000 and show the world that together we can help one another through RUFF patches with someone special by our side.

Bubba is my best friend. He understands the way I stand, which way I want to go at the curbs, and the best of all he loves me and knows that a little rub of his cheek on my leg or a lick to my hand says it all.

Bubba isn’t just my Leader Dog, he is my emotional friend and knows when I get upset and is there to comfort me. From sleeping with me at night to resting at my side, Bubba is my truly wonderful bestie.

Shared by client Tom Dockham about his Leader Dog.

We want to share your stories on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram, so make sure we can find you by including #LeaderDogChallenge in your post!

The post Join the Leader Dog Challenge appeared first on Leader Dogs for the Blind.

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Recently, we upgraded the GPS that we provide to U.S. and Canadian guide dog clients. We are now using HumanWare’s Victor Reader Trek. “The Victor Reader Trek combines the cutting-edge GPS technology of the Trekker Breeze with the innovative media reading and playback capabilities of the Victor Reader Stream,” says Rick Piper, Vice-President Sales – U.S. for HumanWare. So, our clients will use the device to help them navigate to their location and they can listen to audio books or music along the way.

Other benefits of the Victor Reader Trek are that it has space for lectures and large country maps to be uploaded. Past devices only fit four regional maps (there are 20+ for the U.S.). Now all Trek devices we issue include the entirety of the U.S. and Canada. Trek also equips our clients for indoor navigation since it is iBeacon*-ready and will support the Galileo** orientation system for better accuracy.

Our continued commitment to GPS technology is based on the positive results reported by our clients. 90% or more agreed to the following statements regarding how GPS devices are helpful: establishing, maintaining or re-establishing orientation, planning a travel route in an unfamiliar area, knowing when they reached their destination, finding businesses along unfamiliar routes, and becoming a more capable, confident and relaxed traveler.

Additionally, an astonishing 70% of users reported increased travel in or outside their neighborhood. This is incredibly vital as it impacts an individual’s ability to find work, connect with their community and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

We are proud to have been the first guide dog organization in the U.S. to include GPS in our programming. To date, we have issued over 1,600 GPS devices to clients.

*   iBeacon is the name for Apple’s technology standard that allows a device to receive signals from beacons in the user’s location to supply information about the local environment.

** Galileo is a global navigation satellite system currently used in Europe to provide highly accurate global positioning service.

The post Upgrading to the HumanWare Victor Reader Trek appeared first on Leader Dogs for the Blind.

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If you’ve ever spent time with a young puppy, you probably experienced the “shark teeth” phase. If you were frustrated with how often your puppy was biting, the good news is that it’s perfectly normal for puppies under 5 months of age to use their mouths on everything! However, you don’t want your young dog to grow up thinking it’s okay to bite (and your hands, apparel and furniture might need a break), so here are some do’s and don’ts to help you guide your puppy to use its mouth appropriately.

Do:
  • Snuggle and pet your puppy when it’s relaxed or sleepy. Your hands are exciting teeth targets when they’re close to the puppy’s mouth, so putting them nearby when your puppy has less energy to bite reinforces the idea that getting petted is not an opportunity for nibbling.
  • Have toys handy so that you can redirect biting behavior when you’re playing with your puppy. If you’re sitting down with the puppy and it gets overly excited, stand up and end the game. Reward good behavior, such as sitting, with a treat or another chance to play.
  • Keep your puppy entertained. Teach games such as low-key fetch or hide and seek with toys.
  • Have treats handy to reward good behavior. Teaching your puppy to sit and stay in a certain spot (such as on a mat or dog bed) while you walk by is a handy behavior to use. You can toss a treat or kibble on your puppy’s “spot” to make it a good place to be and reward the puppy with another treat when it visits and stays in that spot.
  • Keep track of the times of day when your puppy is more likely to be bitey.
  • Use a crate and/or baby gates to create safe play areas. If your puppy doesn’t have access to yummy chair legs in the first place, then you don’t need to worry about teaching it to leave the furniture alone.
  • Every two or three days, rotate the toys that your puppy can access. This helps to prevent the toys from becoming boring.
  • Make sure your puppy gets regular naps. Growing puppies need lots of rest, and a tired puppy is more likely to bite.
  • Prevent your puppy from having the opportunity to bite, indoors and out. If your puppy is wildly biting at you or the leash when you’re out on a walk, straighten your arm and hold the puppy out away from you (make sure all four paws are on the ground) until it calms down. In the house, you can let your supervised puppy drag a light, long leash around, and if biting starts to happen, you can step on the lead until it stops.
Don’t:
  • Touch your puppy on the head. Puppies invite play with other puppies by biting at faces, so petting your puppy on the head is a signal to bite and play. Scratch your puppy on the chin or chest instead.
  • Wrestle with your puppy. Wrestling invites biting and rough play. In addition, your puppy needs to accept handling of all different body parts for grooming and veterinary exams. Wrestling will make it more difficult for your puppy to stay calm while being examined or groomed.
  • Shove or wiggle toys in your puppy’s face. Wiggle a toy along the ground instead.
  • Use punishment-based techniques (holding the puppy’s jaw, holding the mouth shut, etc.). The fallout from these techniques can make a puppy hand-shy.
  • Use repetitive verbal cues (“no,” “no bite,” “ouch,” etc.). If you’re repeating your cues, they’re not working, and that will teach your puppy that your words have no meaning. On top of that, if your puppy is biting for attention, giving verbal recognition will actually reward that behavior.
Additional Tips

Is your puppy getting enough mental stimulation? Try exposing your puppy to something new, teaching a new trick or game, or feeding meals in a KONG or other food-dispensing toy. Anything that encourages your puppy to use its brain will help use up that puppy energy and make it easier for you to manage.

Be prepared for your puppy’s behavior and plan ahead. Reward the puppy with treats, praise or play when things are going well, and do your best to remove objects and opportunities to bite. When you know you’re going to be busy with other parts of life, having a crate or an enclosed “puppy-proof” area and a prepared KONG or two filled with kibble, small amounts of peanut butter, biscuits or other food (freezing the stuffed KONG helps the filling last longer) will ensure that when you just don’t have time to deal with puppy biting, there’s a safe place for your puppy to go and amuse itself while you do other things.

As with all dog training, consistency is key. You may need to try different techniques to see what works best for you and your puppy, but don’t give up when the puppy’s behavior doesn’t change overnight. Your puppy is learning and growing, and keeping your behavior consistent will help your dog to be consistent as well. Make sure every member of your family is on the same page! With time and patience, your puppy will learn to use its teeth in ways that make both of you happy.

The post How to Manage Puppy Biting appeared first on Leader Dogs for the Blind.

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Sadona and I are doing well. She just “celebrated” her 6th birthday. Sadona’s work is great. We enjoy walking around our neighborhood and going places like church and shopping.

My mom wanted me to thank you for matching me with Sadona. She used to worry about me crossing crazy busy streets alone. She hasn’t worried (much) since she knows Sadona is by my side and won’t let me cross if it’s not safe.

Thank you again for matching me with such a smart and assertive worker who loves her work and enjoys playtime. She has boosted my confidence so much! Her silly antics keep me laughing. She is just the dog I need! Thank you Leader Dog!

Terra Peterson

Justin and Winnie go for daily walks around the neighborhood and walk up to a nearby shopping center often. They have bonded immensely over the last year. Winnie is always at his side. She is a great dog that has added a lot of joy to our family. She and Justin are best friends! We are overjoyed with the experience that Justin had at Leader Dog. He still talks about all the people he met.

We’ve been able to keep in contact with the puppy raiser family, the Stauffers from PA, through Facebook. It’s such a cool relationship that really warms my heart. They are such a great family and I love seeing all the work they’ve done with Leader Dog.

Sincerely,

Amanda Mellis (Justin’s sister)

Hello! I just finished training at the Leader Dog campus and I am so grateful for your organization. I came to Leader Dog a broken person—I left an independent person again!

You have some of the best staff, instructors, puppy raisers and veterinarians I have ever encountered. I owe you… not just for the courage to go again without my sight, but for giving my life back to me with this beautiful dog Bailey. I will recommend you to all in need of Orientation & Mobility Training or a guide dog. I have no complaints. It was an eye-opening and beautiful experience. Who knows what me and Bailey will get into but I do know the adventures ahead will be awesome!

Thank you,

Jonelle Bray

I just returned from Leader Dog. After many years of being unable to go outside without assistance this was a life changer. I live in Las Vegas and the traffic here is really pedestrian unfriendly so I was petrified to leave [my place] alone.

I am proud to say since I have gotten home just three days ago I have been out more than the last six months. I went to the pharmacy last night in the dark alone to get my prescriptions that were ready. My fiancée was nervous but I wanted to do it alone as I have not done in at least eight years. I am 50 and my life is a LOT different than what it once was.

I plan on going back for a dog as soon as I can because every single person at Leader Dog was amazing, friendly, and totally caring of each and every client. Out of a 5-star rating in my book they get a 10. Everyone from the front desk, instructors, kitchen staff, and even the sales people in the store were totally amazing and truly care about every client that is there.

Christopher LaRue

Pictured above from L to R: Terra Peterson and Leader Dog Sadona, Justin Mellis and Leader Dog Winnie, Jonelle Bray and Leader Dog Bailey.

The post Letters to Leader Dog appeared first on Leader Dogs for the Blind.

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In the second part of our webinar series, Leader Dog staff discussed our brand new, expanded options for Guide Dog Training as well as giving an overview of Summer Experience Camp.

Leader Dogs for the Blind understands that every client has their own one-of-a-kind goals. This webinar talks about six unique options we’ve created for Guide Dog Training, including Flex, Urban and Warm Weather offerings.

Our Summer Experience Camp is open to teens ages 16 and 17. This experience helps campers build independence, leadership skills and GPS travel skills while making new friends.

Guide Dog Training Options and Camp - YouTube

View our previous webinar, “Is a Leader Dog the Right Mobility Tool for Me?

If you would like to be notified of future webinars, please email Rachelle Kniffen with your request.

Meet Your Host and Presenters

Erica Ihrke has been Leader Dog’s manager of extended services since 2008. She earned her master’s degree in orientation and mobility from Western Michigan University. She is currently a member of the O&M Subject Matter Expert Committee for the Academy for Certification of Vision Rehabilitation & Education Professionals and is a past president of Michigan Association for Education and Rehabilitation of the Blind and Visually Impaired (AER).

Erica is an in-demand speaker and has presented at several AER International Conferences and the International Mobility Conference on the topics of guide dog readiness, alternative models of O&M, and accessible GPS.

David Locklin has 17 years experience in guide dog training. His career started with Guide Dogs for the Blind in the United Kingdom where he was a guide dog mobility instructor for seven years before becoming their service delivery manager.

Since 2014, David has been Leader Dog’s director of programs, overseeing the training department and the outreach services & community engagement department. Among David’s responsibilities is ensuring that all programs meet International Guide Dog Federation standards and that the needs of all clients are being met.

Jim Dugan, Leader Dog’s manager of outreach services, has been with Leader Dog since 2016. He oversees client field activities including home delivery of Leader Dogs and client support, as well as agencies and community engagement activities.

Jim has been in the guide dog industry since 1989 and has been a guide dog mobility instructor since 1992 for organizations in the U.S. and Australia. Prior to that, Jim was a member of the Military Police K9 Corp. in the U.S. Army.

The post Webinar: New Guide Dog Training Options and Summer Camp appeared first on Leader Dogs for the Blind.

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Once Future Leader Dogs are returned to our campus by their puppy raisers, most will live here for four months in the canine development center before graduating to working Leader Dogs. During that time, it’s important that every dog stays happy, healthy and ready to learn the lessons that will allow them to be successful guide dogs. To make sure that happens, we have several groups of people who work and interact with the Leader Dogs-in-training every day.

At any given time, we average between 110–130 dogs in the canine center. During a typical day we have 10 dog care team members, 20 guide dog mobility instructors (GDMIs) and 15 canine support assistant volunteers interacting with our dogs. Each one provides our dogs the maximum amount of interaction time to support their opportunity to become a successful Leader Dog.

Our dog care team members’ normal routine is to feed, medicate, handle, relieve and clean 2–3 villages (average of 25 total dogs) twice per shift. After those tasks are complete, they focus on the dogs’ health, training and enrichment. They take dogs to the vet clinic to check any health concerns, problem solve any concerns that were noticed while caring for individual dogs and spend one-on-one or group enrichment (dog-to-dog interaction) time with the dogs in their villages.

A typical weekday has 20 GDMIs concentrating on providing the 5–8 dogs they are responsible for with progressive guide dog training, such as a 30-minute training in the canine center or taking 3–4 dogs for a half-day training trip to Rochester, Birmingham, Detroit, etc. While the GDMIs focus mainly on training, they also pay close attention to the health, enrichment and care of their dogs.

We have three shifts of canine support assistant (CSA) volunteers every day. Each CSA shift has a dog care team member who guides their shift to provide enrichment time. The current focus for CSA volunteers is to provide one-on-one enrichment time with our dogs. This might be grooming (we have a never-ending supply of fur) or performing TTouch techniques (essentially a form of massage) to calm our dogs. We recently introduced a new opportunity for CSA volunteers to support group enrichment with our dogs.

We also created a new volunteer opportunity, dog transition assistant, with the goal to have 21 shifts (two hours long each) with two volunteers on each shift. The focus of this role is to use relaxation protocols that our puppy raisers have already introduced to our dogs to help them transition into their new environment. An amazing group of puppy raisers helped develop this role that other puppy raisers are now supporting on-campus.

Our dogs receive an amazing amount of interaction every day, and each staff member and volunteer helps to pave the way for another client receiving a well-trained Leader Dog that is ready to become the eyes of someone who’s blind or visually impaired.

Pictured above: Apprentice Guide Dog Mobility Instructor Kevin Guay interacts with some of the dogs in our canine center during a group enrichment session.

The post Caring for Dogs on Campus appeared first on Leader Dogs for the Blind.

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Leader Dog’s Puppy Development Supervisor, Deb Donnelly, offers advice on how to teach your dog to sit.

Sitting on command is a skill that all dogs should have because it is helpful in many situations, such as:

  • Mealtime – Encourages calmness around food
  • Playtime – Helps you keep control before throwing a toy and keeps your dog focused on you instead of only the toy
  • Meeting people – Teaches your dog not to lunge or pull to get to a person
  • Going outside – Prepares your dog to stop before going outside and starts your walk in a well-behaved fashion
Using Mealtime to Teach a Sit

Getting your puppy to sit when food is coming can be a challenge, but it’s also a good opportunity to use something your puppy wants to encourage good, controlled behavior.

  1. With your puppy’s food bowl in hand, take a piece of kibble and hold it in front of your puppy’s nose, then slowly raise it upward so that the puppy needs to look up to keep the food in sight. Soon it will be easier for your puppy to see the kibble from a sitting position, and the puppy’s rear will hit the floor.
  2. Once your puppy is in a sit, lower the food bowl to nose height and reward the sit by taking another piece of kibble and giving it to the puppy. Make sure to take the food to your puppy so that it stays in the sit and doesn’t lunge for the food bowl.
  3. Lower the bowl to chest height and reward.
  4. Lower the bowl to elbow height and reward.
  5. Lower the bowl to the floor and reward one more time.
  6. Release your puppy from the sit position by saying “OK.”

As with any behavior you teach your puppy, patience and consistency are key. Be prepared to help your puppy understand what you want it to do and that calm behavior will be rewarded, and you will be on your way to a well-behaved dog!

Additional Tips
  • Make sure your puppy is looking at you when you give a command.
  • Only say “sit” once. Do not repeat the command. Let your puppy figure out what it is supposed to do for the reward.
  • If your puppy gets overexcited at meal time, fill the bowl away from the puppy and set it aside somewhere until it’s time for a meal.
  • Train your puppy in a quiet area where it is less likely to get distracted.
  • DO NOT use physical pressure to push your puppy’s rear down. This can cause injury, especially to young dogs.

Deb Donnelly has been with Leader Dog since 1995, starting as a volunteer puppy raiser before coming on board as staff in 2012. In addition to her work at Leader Dog, she is currently raising Davey, her 23rd Future Leader Dog. She is a Karen Pryor Academy Certified Training Partner (KPA-CTP) and is Level 1 certified in TAG teach. 

The post Training Your Puppy to Sit appeared first on Leader Dogs for the Blind.

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