Leader dogs training at Oakland

Leader Dogs for the Blind, a guide dog school located in Rochester Hills, has been helping those who are visually impaired for over 70 years.

While Oakland University hasn’t existed for that long, the university has been a consistent, invaluable resource to the school, and it will take more than the recent construction efforts to keep the guide dogs from maneuvering the campus.

“We’ve been down to Wayne State and Detroit, but it’s just so hard to drive down there, find parking and everything,” said Linda Fisher, a Leader Dogs senior instructor. “That’s why we like to utilize OU. We’re training dogs for a big city and huge pedestrian traffic-type places, and we don’t have that (in Rochester) so we go to the college. It’s good training for them with distractions.”

Fisher, who started out with Leader Dogs as a dog caretaker in 1994, said working with the canines was a natural progression from her childhood.

“I’ve lived in this area all my life so I’ve seen them out and about,” Fisher said. “You kind of feel like you give back because that’s where you started.”

It doesn’t take a connection to the Rochester area, however, to get involved with the school.

Leader Dogs has an apprenticeship program that, when finished, will allow the graduate to be a guide dog instructor. A four-year degree in psychology or animal behavior isn’t required, but the three-year program will test the pupil’s commitment.

Once entered into the apprenticeship, a time commitment of roughly 40 hours per week will likely be necessary. There are other activities the student will be asked to do, such as attending conventions and orientations pertaining to guide dog education.

There are over 230 volunteer positions available at the Rochester facility.

One of the more intensive volunteer programs is raising a puppy to be a guide dog.

The volunteer puppy raising program encourages the raiser hosting a puppy for approximately one year to prepare the dogs for their lives as dog guides. Raisers teach puppies house manners, basic obedience and take it into the surrounding community to interact with people on a regular basis.

While an affinity for dogs is suggested, it takes more than just a love for dogs to raise the potential guide dogs.

“You’ve got to be able to understand a dog, for a start. You’ve got to be able to exercise a young dog. You’ve got to be able to hopefully bring the dog into puppy class. You’ve got to remember it’s going to be a leader dog,” said Richard Michael, Leader Dogs’ Canine Training Class Supervisor. “The key thing is you have to be committed to the puppy. Get it into environments where there are lots of people… what you’re trying to achieve is to have a well-behaved young adult puppy growing up.”

Not all of the volunteer positions at Leader Dogs for the Blind deal directly with dogs.

“We have volunteers that come and help students, show them around the rooms and around the residence when they come in,” said Katie Stamm, guide dog instructor. “We have volunteers that go and pick up students from the airport or drop them off, so we have lots of different opportunities for volunteering around here. Our main focus is with the dogs, but you can volunteer to do just about anything here.”

For more information regarding apprenticeships and volunteering, contact Leader Dogs for the Blind through their website, www.leaderdogs.org, or visit their offices located on the southeast corner of Rochester and Avon Roads.