Leader Dog puppies start learning early

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published March 25, 2015


ROCHESTER HILLS — Although just a few weeks old, guide dog puppies are already in training.

“We hold them up and hold them down and go in between their toes,” said Betty Crowder, a Leader Dogs for the Blind volunteer breeding stock host. “Things that give them a little stress so they learn coping skills.”

A structure made of hanging tin cans and other objects teaches the small dogs how to maneuver around and between barriers.

“We get them used to noises and things touching them,” Crowder said. “They must be sitting and quiet before they eat. They are rewarded for good behavior. They are amazing.”

Puppy mom Lola lives with Crowder, although Lola technically belongs to Leader Dogs for the Blind on Rochester Road. “She is kind of our dog,” Crowder said. “She goes on vacation with us. We’ve had her for two years.”

With the help of monthly meetings at the Leader Dogs headquarters, an extensive manual and mentors available to answer questions, Crowder is providing a home for Lola and her puppies and giving initial training to the future guide dogs.

Since 1939, Leader Dogs for the Blind in Rochester Hills has provided guide dogs to those who are blind or visually impaired to enhance their mobility, independence and quality of life.

A free, 26-day residential training program welcomes clients who are legally blind and at least 16 years old, and who have good orientation and mobility skills and are able to care for a dog.

Training is personalized for each client, who is matched with a dog that best fits his or her lifestyle, travel pace, physical size and stamina — and includes experiencing a wide variety of situations in different locations.

According to Leader Dogs officials, their programs give clients the confidence and skills they need to live independent lives. They also offer youth camps, orientation and mobility cane training, GPS technology integration, and more. 

The organization depends on volunteers to host breeding dogs and raise puppies.

At 6 weeks old, Lola’s puppies will move from Crowder’s home to Leader Dogs’ facilities for a formal evaluation. Next, puppy raiser volunteers will keep the dogs for a year, socializing them and taking them to public places.  

Breeding host families receive free vet care for the breeding life of the dog, access to on-call veterinarians 24/7, boarding for the dog when they go on vacation, and guidance from the Leader Dogs organization every step of the way. Breeding host families also have the opportunity to adopt the dog after the breeding period ends.

Leader Dogs for the Blind is currently in the midst of a $14 million canine development kennel renovation project. When complete, 60 to 70 percent of the currently 100,000-square-foot facility will be revamped.

“It will allow for a higher standard of care for the dogs,” said Rod Haneline, Leader Dogs for the Blind chief programs and services officer. “It will be completely redone.”

The Leader Dogs kennel holds up to 310 dogs — from puppies to retired guide dogs. In addition to dog care, the kennel is also the home base of the veterinary, puppy development, breeding and maintenance departments.

The renovation project is entirely funded through a capital campaign of donations, and completion is slated for summer 2016.

For more information about becoming a breeding dog host or a puppy raiser, visit www.leaderdog.org or call (888) 777-5332.