Tuesday, September 9, 2008

ZTC2: 10 Phases of Guide Dog College Training

Fellow Classmates & Collegians,

It was really tough to make that transition from the constant love and attention that I received with the Johnpeer family as I returned to San Rafael to begin my college training experience. It was great to see my brothers again, Zippy & Zeus, plus all the other pups that I frolicked with during those first few weeks before I was shipped off to Brea, CA. Guess what, we're not pups anymore!

But now I hear the coaches talking about all the work that they are planning for su. I know that my future is to be a guide dog for people like my Dad, Richard, so I'm sharing my training stories to let everyone know what I had to go through to become a guide dog.

My coach Jessica was very helpful in providing a lot of this information. Thank you, Jessiva. I want you to know that I miss you very much. Your dedicated efforts really paid off. I love what I do!

The training is divided up into phases, instead of a number of weeks or months to complete the training. That means that each of us have to successfully complete each phase before we can move on to the next phase.

There are 10 phases and each one lasts one to three weeks, depending on what the coaches are able to get done each week and how well twe adapt and learn what they are being trained.

Phase 1: Physical exams

I got to know my doctor, a veterinarian, very well. She gave me a complete physical exam and took lots of
x-rays to make sure my bone structures were in top condition. But the most fun part of this phase for me was being introduced to our community run. Man did I love that! I got to run like a wild dog, up and down the length of the run, trying to take the toys away from my classmates.

I really looked forward to the two or three group play sessions each day as the coaches watached us to ensure that our play behavior was enjoyable, but controlled. Those of us who get a little bit too excited & aggressive and get angry are put into a different session so their behavior can be modified and improved. The coaches were taking us on walks all over the beautiful campus at San Rafael. This is such a lovely place with lots of walks that curve all over the place. I really needed to learn my way around, especially to the play areas!

We were also given lots of kennel enrichment. This allowed us to get to know all of the kennel staff who took such good care of us. They took care of all of our medical needs, groomed our coats, cleaned our ears and brushed our teeth. I really like my teeth brushed, because I love chicken!

My puppy raiser Dad, Gary, did such a good job of preparing me for college, I passed Phase One with flying colors! Mainly black.

Phase 2: Basic Obedience Training

Now that we have been certified to be in great shape and great health, it's time to begin basic training. Gary and the Johnpeers did a great job because I recalled many of these commands!

All of my classmates and I were given intensive training on the clicker and how to respond to the clikcer when doing what we were told and receiving our reward kibble. I really enjoyed this training because I LOVE kibble, so I made sure I did what I was requested to do.

The coaches taught us how to respond to collar pressure. I think everyone knows that we wear these loose fitting chain collars when tightened, get our attention. The coaches show us how to respond to a "light yank" of the chain which means "obey." There is a "hard yank" of the chain which means "obey NOW." I learned to respond very effectively with the light yanks.

Now, this training was really tough. Can you believe that they would put food at our feet and then tell us not to eat it? What, are they crazy? I'm a Lab and I LOVE to eat! But, with lots of practice, we were taught not to teak the food and wait until commanded to do so. Heh, I got it eventually, as long as I listened!

We then moved into basic obedience comands like Sit, Stay, Down, and Come. These were easy because the Johnpeers really drilled me on these commands.

But, the final part of this phase, was really challenging. Can you believe that the coaches put us on a treadmill so we could get the feel of pulling into the harness while maintaining a consistent pace? I had never been on a treadmill and it was a little scary. The surface kept moving under me so I had to keep walking or fall on my muzzle! It took me a few days to get this process down, but I finally got the swing of it and it was kinda fun. I kept telling my coach to "speed it up!" Let's go faster!

This is just a couple of the phases, but you can see that we go through some very intensive training.

Stay tuned for additional phases. College is tough. But now I know it was worth it. So I guess I made it through my freshman phase!

Lots of Greek love, you know our fraternity! (Zeus would get that)


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