Leader Dogs for the Blind Needs Puppy Raisers to Raise Future Leaders

Since 1939, Leader Dogs for the Blind has been empowering the blind, visually impaired, and Deaf-Blind with skills for a lifetime of independent travel with the help of highly trained leader dogs, and is one of the largest organizations in the country providing this service.
Every year approximately 500 puppies are brought to Leader Dogs to be trained as future leader dogs, and these puppies need to be raised by loving families who will give them the additional training necessary for a future leader dog early in their development.
The need for puppy raisers is always present, but it becomes especially pressing in August just after peak breeding season. Soon Leader Dogs will be in great need for volunteer families to raise a puppy for leader dog training.
Puppy raising is a year-long process. Adoptive families get the puppies between seven and eight weeks old and then raise them for the first year. There are a lot of guidelines for the adoptive family to follow so that the puppy is ready to start leader dog training after its first year with an understanding of basic commands and behavioral controls.
“There is a lot that the puppy needs to learn and Leader Dogs for the Blind are there to support and guide the families along the way,” says Bev Blanchard – Leader Dog Manager of Canine Development. “It’s not the same as raising a family dog, but all [adoptive families] have a large support system.”
Some of the things the puppy needs to learn include housebreaking, not begging at the table, not stealing items out of the trash, basic manners and obedience, and “just being a good citizen of the home.” Blanchard says, “Self control is the biggest thing we need to have the puppies learn. As a leader dog, the dog doesn’t have the opportunity to visit every person or other dog whenever it wants to. We need dogs to learn to control their urges and impulses around other dogs and people. We need them to be comfortable and safe in any environment – babies, strollers, slippery floors, traffic, things we might take for granted in our society. We want to make sure these puppies are exposed to sights and sounds as much as possible.”
Blanchard says that active families are great because they can take the puppy with them to various outings and activities so they can learn to be in environments where they’ll be working guides.
She also says there is no particular “ideal” family, with or without other dogs. “That’s like asking if it’s best to raise an only child or multiple children,” she says. Some people have never had dogs and want to learn how to raise one, though most puppy raisers have dogs already because they’re dog lovers. Families also don’t need to have a fenced-in yard, though if they don’t they do need to make sure the puppy is kept on a leash or long line.
Puppy raisers also get free veterinarian care at the Rochester Hills facility, and are supplied with leashes, collars, and some toys. The puppy raisers are only responsible for the puppy’s food and additional supplies. “A lot of what the puppy needs comes with them, it’s just time and food you’re going to give.”
After one year the puppy returns to the Leader Dogs facility in Rochester Hills to begin training. After it completes the training program, it will graduate and be placed with a client, go into a suitable replacement career if it doesn’t meet Leader Dog’s needs, or go back to its original adoptive family if they choose.
“It’s not feasible to say every puppy is going to want to do this job or have the skills to do this job,” Blanchard explains. “It’s like having four kids – they can’t all be dentists. You can’t force a dog to stop for traffic; they have to learn the skills to want to stop for traffic and lead their people around. The dogs get to be part of that decision making process.”
Leader Dogs graduates about 200 dogs per year and have clients come from all over the world to be paired with a dog.
There are also some big changes afoot at the Leader Dogs for the Blind Canine Development Center in Rochester Hills. They are currently one year into a multi-phase renovation, with $13.2 million raised of a $14.5 million funding goal. Major changes include substantially larger housing suites that are two and a half times larger than the current suites that also allow for cohabitation for dogs that want to be together; a large, open area for human-dog interaction; climate control in the kennel that will keep dogs cooler and calmer in the summer months; separate breeding areas for both male and female breeding dogs as well as a separate area for puppy litters with three times more available space; a centralized veterinary clinic that will streamline services, increase space, and add new and advanced technology; and a redesigned lobby with a puppy viewing area. Phase 1 will be completed this September, with Phases 2 and 3 completing in 2016.
To apply for puppy raising or support the Canine Development Center fundraising campaign, visit the Leader Dogs for the Blind website at http://www.leaderdog.org/