Blind World Magazine

Leading the Future.

January 17, 2006.
Noblesville Daily Times - Noblesville,IN,USA.

Paul and Jane Catlin have raised show dogs, children, and now, leader dogs for the blind.

The Catlins were attending a Lions Club meeting when they noticed a couple with a leader dog and information on raising them. The Catlins became interested and are currently raising their third leader dog puppy, eight-week-old Daisy.

The Catlins are volunteer puppy raisers whose job is to take in a dog given to them by Leader Dogs for the Blind. They will keep it for a year and then return it to the Leader Dog organization in Rochester, Mich., so that it can be formally trained.

Throughout the year that the dog is in their home, the Catlins begin teaching it a revised form of basic obedience. Though the common “sit” and “stay” are included in this training, the puppy is taught other commands, including a revised version of “heel,” in which it is trained to stand with its hips near the owner's leg. In more traditional training, dogs are taught to stand with their heads near an owner's leg. The dog is trained on a loose lead, which helps it learn how to lead its owner without pulling him or her around.

Puppy raisers must also expose the dog to as many situations and environments as possible. This helps the dog become familiar with anything that may happen so that it will not be taken by surprise in the future. In these situations, puppy raisers begin to teach the dog to stop at every curb, staircase or obstacle that may be a danger to someone who is visually impaired.

And once the puppy is house- trained Jane Catlin begins taking it with her as she teaches her third-grade class at Hamilton Heights Elementary School.

“Students learn quickly that there is a time to play,” she said.

Jane also uses the puppy as a learning tool, reading a story to her class about a blind woman and her leader dog. She said that the fifth-grade class reads a similar book, which is like a sequel for her third-graders.


She said that taking the puppy wherever they can gives it exposure as well as teaches obedience and house manners.

Paul Catlin said that taking the puppy with him “is time consuming.” He explained that people will see the puppy wearing its “leader dog in training” jacket, and want to pet the puppy or ask questions.

He dosen't mind this much, though he said that “it would be nice to have people ask (before they pet the dog).” That's important because at the nine-month stage of the puppy's training, it is no longer allowed to be petted by the public. This trains the dog to be friendly towards people without wanting attention and dragging its owner over to someone because it wants to be petted, which is why pedestrians should always ask before petting a leader dog.

Puppy raisers must also help their puppy become familiar with terms that will be used when it enters formal training in Michigan. For example, “leave it” tells the dog to not touch or to stay away from whatever “it” may be. They also begin teaching the dog “right” and “left.”

No matter how hard the raiser works to train the puppy, some dogs do not make it to leader dog graduation. That was the case with the first puppy the Catlins raised.

“He got too distracted by birds and squirrels,” Paul said.

Other reasons a dog may not graduate include physical problems such as hip or shoulder issues or allergies. Temperament problems will keep the dog from graduating as well.

Jane said that, just like people, “every dog has their own personality.”

Being a puppy raiser is a large commitment, but can be very rewarding.

Paul said he is waiting for “when they graduate and are actually given to someone in need.”

He is hoping that the second puppy that they raised, which is currently in formal training, will graduate.

Jane said that the most rewarding part of this commitment is “knowing that what we are doing can help make a difference in someone else's life.”

For more information on Leader Dogs for the Blind or how you can contribute to the organization, call 1-888-777-5332,, or visit the Web site at

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