Local couple raising Seeing Eye Dog puppy

This article submitted by Linda Stelling on 10/7/97.

They heard about the Leader Eye Dog Program through the Paynesville Lions Club. Steve Masih and Nancy Landmark talked about the program and decided they wanted to raise a puppy for the program.

They signed up for the program in February and received word in September they could come and get their puppy, a golden labrador about nine weeks old.

Masih headed to Rochester, Mich., to get ďChance.Ē The family will have him in their home as a part of their family for a year to 15 months. During that period of time, they will expose him to as many different situations as possible.

ďChance is a typical 12-week-old puppy,Ē Landmark said. ďWe were told we could give him his name. He loves to chew on everything and anything. He has to be brought up as a house dog because that is what he is being trained to be, a companion for a blind person. He is great with our daughter, Kirsten, 4,Ē Landmark added.

Landmark also stressed Chance has to learn what is people food and dog food. As a leader eye dog, he will be taken into restaurants and grocery stores and will be expected to lay quietly at his ownerís side, not disturbing the diners or shoppers.

Masih states anytime they take Chance outside, he must be on full leash, to get accustomed to being led and walking with a person. As he gets older, they will try and train Chance to walk by their side instead of ahead of them.

Masih and Landmark have been talking with different people, businesses in the area and the judges and court personnel in St. Cloud. Very few dogs have been trained for a court situation. Landmark said there is a three-year waiting list of judges who could use a leader eye dog.

ďOnce we go into a store or restaurant explaining what we are doing, people are more than open to receiving Chance into their place of business,Ē Landmark said.

ďChance is bred for his trainability. All puppies in the program come from selected breeding stock owned by the school, or donated from private breeders of labrador retrievers, golden retrievers and German shepherds. Their primary traits are intelligence and good temperament.

Masih has taken Chance to work with him in Clear Lake and onto job sites. Masih manages a small cabinet shop. By taking Chance to work with him, Masih is training him to properly ride in a vehicle, be it for a short distance or a long drive. Leader eye dogs are expected to lay down and not move for the duration of the trip.

When the family plays with Chance they must keep in mind they canít rough house with him too much or throw a ball. The ball must be rolled, as he must learn not to chase flying objects.

ďIt sounds difficult to try and train a hunting dog to go against his nature, but labs are loyal and ideal for the leader dog program,Ē Landmark said.

When Chance goes out in public, he wears his scarf which states he is a puppy in training for the leader eye dog program. ďWe have to keep him under control at all times and instill discipline when he misbehaves, just like a child,Ē Landmark said.

ďKnowing he has to go back to the Leader Eye Dog School from the start helps,Ē Landmark said. ď We were given him free and he will be given free of charge to a needy person within the Minnesota 5M Lions District.

Landmark said the program is very short on people willing to raise puppies. The only requirement is that any individual or family be able to devote the necessary time and effort to raise a puppy according to Leader Dog guidelines.

The puppies are checked thoroughly by the Leader Dog staff veterinarian before being placed in homes. A puppy orientation manual is furnished to each family which gives valuable guidelines in raising a potential leader dog. The training of puppies placed in a home must be a family project where they receive lots of TLC (tender loving care).

As part of the training process, the puppies are exposed to alltypes of noise so they will not be afraid of noise, such as heavy traffic, general household noise and confusion such as vacuum cleaners, fans, slamming doors and slippery floors. The dogs are to be walked along busy highways and exposed to noises of city and country traffic. This will build up the dogís confidence and take away any fear they may have of the highway. The puppies must be raised in the same environment in which they will later work.

Leader dogs must accept everyone as their friend. Leader dogs are not trained to protect their master. Aggressive behavior towards people or other dogs is grounds for rejection in the program.

Anyone interested in learning more about the program should contact Nancy Landmark, 320-243-3964, or the Leader Dogs of the Blind Program, Rochester, Mich., 810-651-9011.

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