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Friday, January 28, 2011

Puppy Update IV

Leader Dogs for the Blind is instituting process improvements in all areas of its operations.  Change is good, especially when it advances the great things this organization is already doing!

This week I called the phone number listed on the contract I received from Leader Dogs when I returned FLD Mike for his advanced training to get an update on Mike's progress.  This number dialed me into the kennel.  I identified myself and asked how Mike (dog # 12588) is doing.  The kennel transferred me to someone else.  The person I ended up talking to works in "Dog Care" and had lots of nice things to say about Mike, but couldn't tell me much more than "He's been held back and is in Phase 2."

What a surprise!

Earlier this month I received news that Mike just started Phase 4 (see my post from January 5, 2011).  As any puppy-raiser can tell you, it is a blow to learn that YOUR puppy--your special, sweet, smart, amazing, he's-going-to-be-the-very-best-Leader-Dog-EVER puppy--is doing anything BUT advancing to graduation.

I emailed my puppy-counselor in frustration.  I wanted to know more.


Part of Leader Dogs' process improvement plan involves the establishment of one main source for puppy-raisers to get information on puppies-in-training.  This will go a long way to preventing the frustration I felt by not getting specific details about Mike's development.

Another plan component is instituting standards (reachable goals with action plans if they are not attained) across the board.  Puppies will be evaluated periodically during their time with raisers, when they return to Leader Dogs on their one-year anniversary, and during each Phase of training until they are ready to become a working guide-dog.

Implementing such an extensive plan takes time, and is best accomplished in stages.  Leader Dogs is rolling out changes "in-house" with paid staff before expanding to volunteer activities.

As with all change, there is bound to be "glitches" that will need fine-tuning.  I am confident that Leader Dogs for the Blind will accomplish their mission to "enhance the lives of people who are blind and visually impaired" with the vision to "become the most innovative and forward thinking organization in the profession."

Why do I believe they (we) will succeed?

Leader Dogs for the Blind will succeed because of their dedication to involve employees and volunteers in the process, over 70 years of experience to draw on, and the passion possessed by everyone in the organization to make a difference.

In the future, I will contact "Puppy Development" for news about Mike (and FLD Gus when it is his turn), as I subsequently did this week after communicating with my puppy-counselor.


Mike did indeed begin Phase 4 at the beginning of January, but before a dog can "graduate" and be placed with a person, he or she must pass a "class-ready" standard.  Unfortunately, Mike couldn not pass this standard.  While he was doing very well, he developed "out of character barking."  Fortunately, the new standards allow for action plans as a way to address a problem issue.

What this means for Mike is that he avoids a career-change, at least for now.  Leader Dog trainers want to understand if his barking is "becoming a pattern or just a small set back." 

Mike is now back in Phase 2 with a calm, easy group of other dogs under the direction of an experienced team supervisor.

Our paws are still crossed for you, Mike!

Me and FLD Mike when he returned to Leader Dogs.
And a hearty THANK YOU to Nance, my puppy-counselor, and Bev in Puppy Development for filling me in on Mike and what I need to do to get detailed updates in the future.

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