Client FAQs

Guide Dog Training

Accelerated Orientation and Mobility Training

Summer Experience Camp

Guide Dog Training

I am interested in a Leader Dog. Can you tell me about your program?

There are several basic prerequisites to applying for Leader Dog training. An applicant must:

  • Be 16 years of age or older.
  • Be legally blind (visual acuity of 20/200 or less in the better eye with correction or restriction in the visual field of less than 20 degrees).
  • Have good mental and physical health, including the ability to walk several blocks without jeopardizing any current medical conditions.
  • Have successfully completed a basic course in orientation and mobility (white cane training). Clients attending our Guide Dog Training complete a 25-day course that includes country, city and nighttime travel; how to incorporate a Leader Dog into daily routines; and basic dog care knowledge. Clients receive their dog, equipment, housing, meals and public transportation (plane, train or bus) free of charge. Leader Dog classes are offered all year round.

How do I apply for a Leader Dog program?

You must complete an application, medical history form, physical exam form (which a medical doctor must complete) and supply contact information for six people who can serve as personal references. You must also supply a 10–15 minute video of you walking in your home area demonstrating independent travel and the ability to safely navigate lighted intersections and street crossings.

How long does it take to find out if I’ve been accepted for training?

Once we have obtained a complete application package, your file is reviewed by our admissions committee, which decides if you are approved for training. This process can take 30 to 90 days.

What if I’m not sure I qualify as legally blind?

We can send our Eye Evaluation form to your eye care doctor for completion. Once we receive the completed form, we can determine whether you meet our criteria for legal blindness. If you are not legally blind but do have vision loss, contact your local state agency (e.g. commission for the blind, blind rehabilitation services, Lighthouse for the Blind, school for the blind, etc.) for low vision services. If your vision changes or worsens, we encourage you to send us a new Eye Evaluation form with the changes noted.

Can you train someone with balance issues and/or other physical impairments?

Yes. All clients must be able to walk unassisted at a reasonable pace for 30 minutes or more without jeopardizing any current health problems to be considered for training. We have trained individuals with balance issues, leg or arm braces, prosthetic limbs or coordination disorders (vertigo, cerebral palsy, multiple sclerosis, scoliosis, limb deformities). Each client’s needs are assessed on a case-by-case basis by our admissions committee.

I use a wheelchair. Can I get a Leader Dog?

No. Leader Dogs are only trained to guide people who are visually impaired—they are not trained to aid people who use walkers, wheelchairs or four-prong canes. Also, Leader Dogs are not trained to pick up or retrieve dropped items, open doors, pull weighted objects, notify the handler of an impending medical emergency, or alert the handler of ringing doorbells, phones or alarms.

How do I qualify for your Deaf-Blind program?

To qualify for our Deaf-Blind Guide Dog Training you must use American Sign Language (ASL). Leader Dogs trained for people who are Deaf-Blind recognize and respond to hand signals and ASL with or without vocal support. Please note that these dogs are trained solely to guide—they will not alert on doorbells, ringing phones or fire alarms. If you do not know ASL, we do accept hard-of-hearing individuals into our regular Leader Dog classes, as long as you can hear spoken instruction from 3–10 feet away and/or can use hearing aids or an FM loop during training.

How do I know if a guide dog is right for me?

The decision to train with and utilize a guide dog is a personal decision that is based on your needs, goals and lifestyle. Guide dog users must possess strong orientation and mobility skills and confidence to successfully use a guide dog. A guide dog replaces a cane as your navigational tool; it should enhance your mobility, not hinder or complicate it. A dog cannot tell you when it is safe to cross a street or the best route to travel to your local bank or grocery store. It can assist with obstacle avoidance, maintaining straight street crossings, traveling along sidewalks and road shoulders, and help you identify doors, curbs and other patterned objects.

Do you offer GPS training or units for sale?

GPS training is a part of our Guide Dog Training program for clients from the U.S. and Canada. We provide free HumanWare Trekker Breeze units to these clients. We do not offer GPS for sale.

My child is interested in training with a Leader Dog, but he/she is under 16 years old. Can you help?

All of our programs are for people age 16 and older.

Do I have to be involved with a Lions club to attend your programs?

No, Lions club involvement is not a factor for acceptance into our programs. When a client is involved with a Lions club, it is helpful to indicate this on the application for a Leader Dog or Accelerated Orientation and Mobility training so we can keep the club up to date on the client’s progress (if the client wishes). The club may also include a letter with the client’s application indicating their involvement.

Do you train poodles?

No. Poodles are not one of the dog breeds we currently use or breed on campus.

What if I am or my family/my employer is allergic to dogs?

We currently do not offer a low allergen breeds.

How many German shepherds do you graduate a year, and why don’t you offer more of them?

German shepherds are less than 10 percent of our graduated dogs. However, they are extremely popular, so we will continue to breed them. Our breeding department is actively working to increase our German shepherd stock. There is currently a 24-month wait to receive a German shepherd.

I want to train my own dog—any suggestions?

You may want to contact Assistance Dogs International, Inc. They are a coalition of nonprofit organizations that train and place assistance dogs. The purpose of ADI is to improve the areas of training, placement and utilization of assistance dogs as well as staff and volunteer education. They can be reached at info@assistancedogsinternational.org.

Can you train my pet dog to guide for me?

No. We do not train clients’ pets as guides for several reasons. First, we maintain our own breeding program, which allows us to control breeding stock, genetic factors and development of breeding lines. Second, a client would have to relinquish ownership of their pet to Leader Dog and a re-transfer of ownership cannot be guaranteed if the dog is not a viable match for the owner after it is trained. Third, most pets would not pass our strict physical requirements and rigorous training program.

What is the daily training schedule?

Your daily schedule is a busy one and takes effect after receiving a dog. The basic schedule (which applies Monday through Saturday) is:

  • 6:30 a.m. Wake-up (park and water dogs)—"park" refers to the dog’s relief time
  • 7:30 a.m. Breakfast
  • 8:30 a.m. Board buses to training location
  • 11:00 a.m. Return to Leader Dog (park and water dogs)
  • 12:00 p.m. Lunch
  • 1:00 p.m. Board buses to training location
  • 4:30 p.m. Return to Leader Dog (park and water dogs)
  • 5:00 p.m. Feed dogs
  • 5:30 p.m. Dinner (water dogs after dinner)
  • 7:00 p.m. Lectures and/or obedience session
  • 8:00 p.m. Park dogs
  • 9:00 p.m. Free time (park dogs as needed)
  • 11:00 p.m. Quiet time

Evening activities include a variety of lectures, obedience sessions, nighttime training sessions and an opportunity to meet puppy raisers.

What kinds of dog breeds do you use?

We use Labrador retrievers, golden retrievers, German shepherds and Labrador/golden retriever crosses. We encourage you to share which breed you prefer to receive on your application. Specific preferences for breed, gender or color may delay the time it takes to find the right dog match for you.

What kind of training do you use for the dogs?

Leader Dogs for the Blind uses positive reinforcement at all times when training new behaviors. We believe positive reinforcement is the most fair and humane way to teach dogs. We also believe this method produces the most willing workers in the long term. The corrective methods that we use adhere to the standards set by the International Guide Dog Federation, and clients are always taught to be mindful of public reaction while using them. While we prefer to use positive training methods to the greatest extent possible, in some cases corrections are needed to control impulsive and instinctive behaviors that can affect the safety of a guide dog team, and these corrections will be taught on an individual basis depending on the temperament of each individual dog.

Why do I need to submit a video with my application, especially if I’m a returning client?

Videos help our instructors understand your current pace, stamina and travel environments. Our instructors compare these videos to their string of trained dogs to help pair you with the perfect dog match, or to tailor a white cane training program to your specific needs. An individual’s needs from a guide dog change over time—the type (pace, pull, disposition) of a dog you required 10 years ago may not be the same type of dog you require today.

Accelerated Orientation & Mobility Training

Can I still participate in the Accelerated O&M Training program if I don’t want a guide dog?

Yes. You are eligible to participate as long as you meet the program’s eligibility requirements of being at least 16 years of age, being legally blind, possessing self-care and self-medication skills, being able to walk for 30 minutes without taking a break, and speaking English fluently. Accelerated O&M Training is open to individuals in the U.S. and Canada who would like to improve their O&M skills whether or not they are currently using a long cane, interested in pursuing a guide dog or currently utilize a guide dog.

Am I guaranteed to eventually get a guide dog if I participate in the Accelerated O&M Training program?

No. Participation in the program does not guarantee you will possess all of the skills and qualifications needed to work with a guide dog by the end of training. However, our O&M program gives you the opportunity to work one-on-one with an instructor who is familiar with the skills needed to work with a guide dog and who can assess your current skill level, identify the areas that need improvement in order to reach your goal and provide individualized training in those areas. Throughout the training process, the instructor will have open conversations with you about your progress towards your goal.

I’ve already had O&M training, why do I need to have more?

Orientation and mobility is a lifelong process. Over time you can experience cognitive and physical health changes, lose skills due to a lack of consistent practice, experience environmental changes (such as an increase in traffic or move to a new area) or experience lifestyle changes (such as traveling somewhere new for work or to visit friends and family). For these reasons, it may be recommended that you undergo additional O&M training.

What will the training schedule be like?

The training provided is personalized to meet each individual client’s needs. Typically, class runs Monday through Friday with Saturday and Sunday reserved as travel days. The general daily schedule is as follows:

  • 7:30 a.m. Breakfast
  • 8:30 a.m. Training
  • 11:15 a.m. Break
  • 12:00 p.m. Lunch
  • 1:00 p.m. Training
  • 3:30 p.m. Break
  • 5:30 p.m. Dinner

Although training sessions take place over the course of several hours or more, two to four lessons are provided during that time with short rest breaks in between each lesson. Additionally, there is an optional night lesson.

May I have visitors during training?

Yes. You may have visitors during your free time but they must follow our visitor policy including checking in with our staff on duty and wearing a visitor badge at all times. You must accompany your visitor everywhere and notify the staff on duty when they depart. For safety and confidentiality reasons, visitors are not allowed in all areas of the residence. Visitors are not allowed prior to 4 p.m. or after 10 p.m. due to our training and staff schedules. We have an open campus policy, so you may leave campus to visit with friends and family once training is completed for the day.

Summer Experience Camp

If I attend Summer Experience Camp, will I be ready to get a guide dog?

No. Summer Experience Camp is designed to introduce mobility options and make participants aware of the skills required to be successful with these options. During camp you will spend one day with a guide dog to begin to learn about them. If you are interested in pursuing a guide dog, the experience will give you the opportunity to ask a guide dog mobility instructor questions about the requirements and lifestyle of working with a guide dog.

How much orientation and mobility training will be provided during the camp?

None. During camp, we break up into teams for activities and travel as a group with an instructor assisting with street crossings. For camp activities we travel mostly in rural and residential environments with some exposure to business environments. If a camp participant would like to prepare for a guide dog or improve their overall independent travel skills, especially in a variety of unfamiliar environments, we recommend applying for our Accelerated Orientation & Mobility Training program.

What if I get homesick?

We understand that for many campers this is the first time they are away from home alone. For this reason, we try to accommodate you and help you make friends with the other campers. We keep you busy with fun activities to alleviate homesickness and make certain you are able to call home every day if you choose.

Will there be someone to help me get ready in the morning and take my medications?

Our resources are limited for assisting with self-care and medications. We can provide some instruction and suggestions for how to do things, help pick out coordinated outfits, read labels, give reminders and so on. We are unable to help participants shower, groom, and dress and administer medications. If you think you may need some assistance, please contact our client services department to discuss your specific needs and what accommodations we may be able to provide.

What are the schedules and activities like?

The schedule and activities vary from year to year. Camp starts and ends of a Friday with the first and last day of camp reserved primarily as travel days. Activities we always include are GPS training and a one-day experience with guide dogs. Other activities may include tandem biking, canoeing, low ropes course, inspirational guest speakers, games, a talent show and more. The following outlines our general daily schedule.

  • 8:00 a.m. Breakfast
  • 9:00 a.m. Morning training/activity session
  • 12:30 p.m. Lunch
  • 1:15 p.m. Afternoon training/activity session
  • 4:00 p.m. Evening training/activity session (until 8:00 p.m. with a break for dinner)
  • 5:30 p.m. Dinner
  • 8:00 p.m. Social time activities (including one or two night travel excursions)
  • 10:30 p.m. Lights out

What should I bring to camp?

You will be staying in a private room with your own private bathroom. The room is equipped with cable TV, mini refrigerator, bed linens/pillows, bath towels and soap. In addition to your personal toiletries, you are encouraged to bring small personal items for entertainment. Opportunity for souvenir shopping is not provided; however, you will have access to our gift shop during free time if you choose to bring money to purchase a Leader Dog souvenir. A variety of healthy snacks and drinks are provided throughout the day, but you are welcome to bring your own. The following is a list of items required for camp activities:

  1. Closed-toed tennis shoes with laces (preferably already broken-in)
  2. Sunscreen
  3. Hat
  4. Water bottle

Although some camp activities such as canoeing take place on the water, participants do not go swimming and are not required to bring a swimsuit or swim shoes. Participants will receive three camp T-shirts upon arrival.