Recently, the weekly program for the Independence Host Lions Club was about Lions International Club's Leader Dog Program. A “Leader Dog” is one that has been specially trained by the Lions to assist persons with no, or limited, sight. Sometimes the dog's harness has a little sign that says, “Do not pet me, I am working.” When the harness is removed the dog knows it can once again do whatever activity that doggies do.
The Independence Host Lions Club is part of the 1.35 million member organization that operates in some 208 countries and geographic areas. They assisted in the raising of more than $2 million in 2013 for the Leader Dog program. While fully trained guide dogs sometimes cost between $25,000 and $50,000, the Lion's program provides them at no cost. Since 1939, Leader Dog has operated one of the worlds most respected and innovative guide dog programs. It includes a free 26-day residential training program for those who are legally blind, at least 16 years old, have good orientation and mobility skills and are able to take care of their dog.
In 1991, Leader Dog became the first organization to provide guide dogs specifically for persons both deaf and blind. Instructions are provided via American Sign Language, either tactile or visual, based on a person's range of vision.
The first seven days of the residential orientation and mobility program provides people with the skills to travel safely. The Leader Dog program, unlike some others, has no upper age limit and accommodates persons with multiple disabilities or health challenges. Training methods for the dogs meet or exceed International Guide Dog Federation standards and are achieved using positive reinforcement and conditioning training principles.
Several dog breeds can and have been trained as guide dogs as long as they have the right intelligence and temperament, but golden retrievers top the list. Guide dogs are bred by dedicated families throughout the nation and even by prisoners in American penitentiaries, but only a small minority of the dogs makes the final cut.
Dogs can be trained for various tasks other than serving the blind. For example some serve to alert parents to when a child is about to suffer a seizure.
So the next time you see a working Guide Dog, it just might be the result of your local Lions Club.