Sunday, September 28, 2008

Zane update & VisionWalk Colorado

Good morning friends,

I am still very sad that Zane was unable to be my partner and support for the 3rd Annual Colorado VisionWalk which was held yesterday in Denver. Almost 500 people and lots of their canine friends participated on a beutiful day in the Rockies. Everyone asked "where is Zane?" It was so difficult to explain that something had happened almost 3 weeks ago and Zane lost his confidence to work.

A report from GDB on Friday indicated that after four attempts to work with Zane failed to get him to work in harness. They reported that Zane is totally his fun-living and playful self, even with his harness on as he ran around the grass paddock, but when the harness is picked up, Zane gets nervous and anxious and does not want to work. This is so sad. Zane was such a GREAT guide dog.

The instructors at GDB will give him one more week to respond and get back on track. I request everyone to pray for a miracle and for Zane to restore his confidence. Thanks for your support.

Regarding the Colorado VisionWalk, we started yesterday at $95,035 raised and after lots of money came in from all the walkers and teams, we are somewhere around $110,000 raised. We have to post all of this information to the website to confirm how much new money came in. We will continue to keep counting money well into October and November to reach our goal of $125,000!

Thanks everyone for your support for the mission of the Foundation Fighting Blindness to find preventions, treatments and cures for retinal degenerative diseases!

Keep praying and help bring Zane back to Denver.

Love, Richard

Sunday, September 21, 2008

ZTC5: College in its final phases

Good day fellow senior classmates,

Note: Zane requested Dad to complete this training update.

It has been quite a challenging pace of training over the past three to four months and it is so gratifying that we can now move into our senior phase of training to become a guide dog. We have passed the basic training, the intermediate phases of obedience, distractions and obstacles. We have passed the advanced phases of buildings, elevators, stairs, escalators, trains and so much more. Now we have entered the final phases.

Phase 9: Advanced overhead and obstacle training

This senior phase means that we have to take more responsibility in knowing when there is an overhead obstacle, narrow passage, traffic check or whatever it is. The instructor is blind-folded and we must do our job such that the handler is kept safe and out of harm's way. We must exercise intelligent disobedience and await the handler to recognize the problem before proceeding. Once we have successfully passed this phase, we can now move into the final phase of training in preparatiion for blind students.

Phase 10: Prep for Class Training with Students

Each one of us had to go through another thorough physical examination to ensure that we were heallthy and medically ready for the rigors of class training with a bunch of blind students. This is what we have been being trained since we were about six to eight weeks old. We have gone through all the training with our puppy raiser, the four months or so of training with our coach and instructors. This is the time to "fish or cut bait."

Our coaches and instructors now put us through all final testing to ensure that each one of us pass our tests with flying colors. I know I passed fudging only on sniffing some food, but I did not eat it! What was key is that all instructors were blind-folded for ALL tests, so we had to do very well or we could have not passed.

It might be worth recalling that only about 50% of the guide dogs that start the guide dog process, actually make it through to this point. So we went through all the final tests:

- final traffic checks and intelligent disobedience

- final obedience commands including food refusal

- final buildings and stairs and elevators and excalators

- final guide work using all commands and recognition of obstacles in all settings

Dogs that passed all these tests could be put in class-ready status. We do not get a diploma, but we do sort of graduate as "sum-a-good-doggie."

This was some really tough training, but I can attest that I have used just about every phase of the training in some form or fashion with Richard. I appreciate all the hard work that my Coach Jessica and all her colleagues put into making me a number ONE guide dog.

In class 680 (Dad's), there were 28 of us ready for prime time guiding. 18 studetns in total came to GDB that November, 2007 looking for a new set of eyes. 20 of us actually were used since two of us had to be career-changted. I'm so happy that I found Dad. He is such a great handler and my new friend.

Hoorah, throw my graduation cap in the air!


ZTC4: College Training - Phase 5 and 6

Good day college classmates and wanna-bees,

Note: Zane asked that Dad complete his training update, since he has returned to college!

It feels good to have passed my sophomore phase of college. I have really learned my guide work cammands and stopping where I am supposed to stop for my handler. Even with lots of distractions, I am doing about 75% of my commands without getting distracted. Then I passed the test while my coach was blind-folded executing all my commands while being distracted. I was feeling like pretty hot stuff!

Phase 6: Advanced Training - Buildings, stairs and more!

Well, that feeling of being HOT stuff quickly dissipated when we began entering big buildings with lots of stairs and doorways and elevators, oh my.

Our coaches first introduced us to working in buildings and targeting doorways, stairs and elevators. I had no idea that we had to learn so much. But a few days of clicker training and great kibble rewards, I learned when it was appropriate to stop at a doorway to ensure that my handler had room to clear.

Then we started going up and down stairs and this was very tricky. I wanted to just take off and run down the stairs, but I had the instructor hanging onto my harness and I had to go up and down these stairs at a pace that would not make them fall. You should try that some time, it's not that easy!

And next were elevators. No problem, right? We just walk up to these HUGE doors and wait for them to open. And then we had to march across this crack in the floor and make it inside before the door closes on our tail. This took me a few tries to learn to do this, but I finally got it and I was always ready to get out of that elevator without too much prodding.

The biggest challenge of all for this phase was learning intelligent disobedience. Is that an oxymoron?

Initially, the instructors started with narrow clearances and taught us that we should not continue our guide work until the handler found the obstacle and praised us which acknowledged that the handler was aware of the obastacle. Now to be clear, we could not move foward even if instructed until we were sure that the handler was well aware of the narrow passage.

After passing this specialized disobedience training, then we were prepared for a more advanced level of disobedience around traffic issues.

Phase 7: Traffic Training

As a member of the Junior class, the training was now getting more intense. We now embark on traffic conditioning and training. You ask, what's a traffic check? We learned the following: when crossing a street and a vehicle makes a left turn in front or at you; when walking down a street sidewalk and a vehicle backs out in front of you; when walking down a sidewalk and a parked car starts up and may potentially back up; when crossing streets and someone turns near you or crosses the street at the wrong time.

We had to learn about all of these and how to respond by turning to the side or pulling our handler back to clear safely or putting our head in front of the handler and not moving. We would repeat this process for days until we passed 100% of the time. There could be no errors in this training.

We did most of our training in San Rafael with some work in the neighborhoods. In addition to this very crucial training, we also began to do some overhead training, which means we have to be aware of tree branches that hang down and can whack our handler in the head. Also, signs or other low hanging obstacles are very important for us to learn that they are there and we should stop or go around them if it was safe to do so.

Phase 8: Escalators & Subways & Trains

After passing those tough tests, we moved forward to learn escalators, subways, trains, buses, etc. When we were introduced to escalators and learned the technique for riding them and exiting safely, we also had to learn to wear those funky booties on our feet. I felt like a Budweiser Clydesdale horse, since I was a high-stepping dog.

When getting onto the escalator, the handler would approach the moving stairs and when I was ready, she would say, "OK, let's go!" I would jump onto the moving stairs and try to stay put while she was holding onto my leash very tightly. I watched as she would put her hand onto the moving hand rail to be ready when it flattened out which meant it was time to exit. She would say, "Ready, Ready, Let's go!" I would then leap off the moving stairs and land safely outside in the hall. Boy, was I happy to be off that moving monster!

Plus I would give a little high-stepping dance to acknowledge that I had safely made it. We also learned how to go from the escalators to the subway platforms and operate safely getting on and off the subway trains. I have used this training a lot with Dad when we are traveling through airports. I really appreciate this training. The one big thing we learned on the subway platform was to be intelligently disobedient when asked to move forward when that would take us closer to the path of the train. NO WAY! I'm not moving over there!

If all that was not enough, we learned to work on sidewalkless streets in the neighborhood near the campus. I know that sounds kinda funny, a sidewalkless street. That's just what it was. A street that did not have sidewalks so we had to move in and out of parked cars. Dad and I use this a lot where we live in Denver. We live on a sidewalkless street.

Wow, I am tired just sharing all this stuff we learned in our Junior phase. I passed again, but this phase took about three to four weeks to complete.

We are almost cooked! Stay tuned as we get close to meeting our new partners.


Zane returns to San Rafael

Good morning fellow handlers,

Zane is not here to write about this new development in his life. Therefore, this is Richard, with a very heavy heart and a very SAD disposition, bringing Zane's fans up to date.

I flew with Zane on Tuesday, 9/16, to San Francisco to return Zane to GDB so he could be rehabilitated. Zane has not been working in harness, in fact, flat refusing to work. Therefore, I had to use my white cane as I healed Zane through the airport to meet the volunteer for his return to San Rafael.

It was a very difficult moment when I finally had to turn the leash over to the volunteer. I cried my eyes out as Zane gave me BIG LICKS and hugs, but this had to be done so that he could be restored to his normal self and returned to me ASAP.

What happened? On 9/3, while visiting the park where the Colorado VisionWalk will be held on Sept. 27, Zane and I were startled by a big dog. I'm not sure if that is exactly when it happened, but I noticed that he started working faster than normal and not responding to commands as he normally does. He worked erratically after that moment, in fact, sitting down and not wanting to work at all.

A former GDB instructor who lives in the Denver area, came out the next week to work with us and Zane would not work in harness. Therefore, it was decided that he had to be returned to San Rafael for rehabilitation.

Master Instructor, Brenda Schafer, is now in charge of rehabilitating him. Paolo will be giving me weekly updates on Fridays and this past Friday only had a short report because Brenda had worked with him for only one time. Zane was nervous and lacked confidence in harness. There are many factors that they could attribute to this, but let's pray that it is the change of scenery and handler.

Next Friday will be a critical report to see how well he has recovered. I ask everyone to pray for a quick recovery and restoration to his normal self and be returned right away to Denver and ME. His entire family mises him, including Claudia, Grandma and Cuzzie!

I know yesterday that I wanted to call Zane on my cell phone to see how he is doing. It's tough not being able to communicate, hug, kiss and love up Zane.

Wishing Zane much positive energy and restoration,

Love, Richard

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

ZTC3: College Training - Phases 3, 4 and 5 & First Test

Good day fellow classmates,

Now that we have graduated our freshman phase which is through basic obedience training, it's now time to upgrade our training experience. In Phase 2, I learned clicker training, basic obedience commands, collar pressure and especially, using a harness and getting the feel of it while walking on a treadmill. Can you believe it?

Phase 3: Initial guide work training

Now, the fun begins in our sophomore phase of college. This is when we really start feeling like guide dogs. This is when my guide dog classmates started guide work pattern training. The coaches pattern train each of the dogs, which means for me, Jessica showed me exactly what she wanted me to do, essentially “patterning” the correct responses."

Being a model student (?), I learned very quickly. She taught me to target "up curbs." That means as Jessica and I crossed the street, she would ask me to "find the curb" and when I found it and put both front paws up on the curb, she would "click" to indicate that I had done it properly and then give me a treat. Boy, do I like this part of the training. FOOD! So I had my eyes peeled for the next "up curb" so I could find that curb and be rewarded with a treat. More kibble means happy dog.

We were doing most of this training in the neighborhoods around the campus. They were lots of million dollar homes in this area (I understand that means they're nice, but what I hear today on CNBC, they may be half-million dollar homes!). I'm sorry that I had to pee a few times during this training. You might say that I left my mark in their neighborhood.

Then, while I'm concentrating on finding these up curbs, Coach has to throw in a few distractions. First, it was this good-looking French poodle that just happened to saunter by while I'm trying to find a curb. What did I do? Well, I missed the curb and just kept walking toward that poodle. Ooops, that was a mistake. No kibble.

Then they brought out these BIG German shepherds and had them barking their heads off at us as we walked by , but I did not pay any attention. I knew this was a trap and I wanted my kibble treat. All bark and no bite.

After we had mastered this neighborhood area, the coaches loaded us up in the bus and took as to downtown San Rafael for a trip through the city. Wow, all these cars, trucks and buses were making so much noise while I was trying to find a few curbs. But after a few days, I did not pay any attention to those vehicles and paid more attention to that clicker because I knew FOOD was not far behind. Besides, my puppy raiser had me around motorcycles and huge front-end loaders. These were like toy vehicles.

Phase 4: Intermediate Pattern Training

Now it was a daily routine to hop onto the bus at least twice a day and do our guide work in downtown San Rafael.

Now, Coach was teaching us to respond to many other "clicks" along the way. Next we had to learn the down curbs too. That means that I had to stop right at the edge of the down curb, Jessica would click and then I would get my kibble. Sometimes, there was no curb, just a down ramp or an up ramp and that meant that I had to stop right at the bottom of the ramp. I like these ramps because they are so much easier to go down and up.

Now as we were starting to get more responsibility, we learned how to go around obstacles like poles or trees or bushes and when we did it right, we earned more kibble. I like this training a lot!

With this advanced clicker training, also came a lot more distractions, like people walking down the street and trying to catch our attention, people walking by with their pet dogs to distract us, a few bicycle riders that looked like they were coming staight at us, so I had to pull the Coach to the side to ensure I kept her safe.

This phase of the training was the most difficult. I had to learn all these guide work commands like Right, Left, Forward, Halt, Hop Up, Steady and NO!, while the coaches were throwing all sorts of distractions at us. After a couple of weeks, I was doing really good. My most favorite sound was not only the clicker, but also the two most important words in guide work training, "GOOD BOY." I almost always got a treat to acknowledge a great job that I had done.

Phase 5: Preliminary Test #1

Now that I had gotten the great basic and intermediate training, it was time for the rubber to meet the road, or should I say, the paws on the concrete. Now my coach will be blind-folded and we went on a short route through San Rafael and I was measured to see how well I did.

This test really evaluated everything that I had learned, especially lots of distractions while my coach barked out the commands. In additiion, Coach Jessica also put me in the Sit position and then teased me with food at my feet. How dirty could they get? But when they say "NO", I must obey and not touch that food. I only fouled up once when I put my head down to sniff it, but I did not eat it.

Ah yes, many of my classmates as well as I passed the test and once we had passed this very first true test of our training, we had then graduated from the sophomore phase of our training.

Now it was time to continue the program with advanced training. A few of my classmates had to return to intermediate training because they did not pass. This is tough stuff!

Upward and onward,


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)


Monday, September 1, 2008

ZTC1: From Puppy Days to College Daze!

Fellow Freshmen Collegiates,

As I sat inside that cage, I was really perplexed. I had been having the time of my life. Now, I was sitting inside a truck, feeling like a caged lion whose freedom had just been taken away.

Where was I going? Why did Gary and Vicki put me on this truck? I did not want to leave them. Have I done something wrong? All of these questions and no answers.

Gary was crying. Why was he sad? I was the one that was sad. Was I never to return? Oh, the pain I felt in my heart. I just laid my head down in the cage and cried myself to sleep. Gary called it the "puppy truck" and said we were heading back to San Rafael, where I was born.

San Rafael, where is that? Will I be going to stay with a new family? Why did Gary and Vicki get rid of me?

That was certainly the saddest day of my life.

As we approached San Rafael, I started hearing the sounds of lots of dogs barking. I seemed to remember this sound. Could I have been here before?

My heart started pounding, my tail started wagging, and I was feeling a sense of exhilaration and excitement.

Oh gosh, is this where I was born? Maybe Zippy and Zeus would be here.

Then we turned into the campus and I knew what Gary had been talking about. This must be college!

I saw the sign at the entrance, "Guide Dogs for the Blind." It was then I realized that I would be starting a whole new adventure in my life.

As we unloaded from the truck, the person who put a leash on me was a "Canine Welfare Technician (CWT)." Welfare? Is this some government program?

I found out later as I listened inside my kennel cage that it was the job of the CWT to help make sure all the returning dogs get what they need: attention, kennel enrichment, play time, etc.

How could anyone give me as much attention as Gary did? Gary took me everywhere in his Jeep. I felt like I was part of the upholstery.

The CWTs were actually a lot of fun and took us into a big area to play, to run and chase Kongs and rubber rings. It seemed like we were playing all the time!

My eyes lit up as I thought about all the other dogs that were there to play with. I really enjoyed stealing things from Marcel, but now I could fight for the dog toys with all my fellow freshman. This was really going to be fun and maybe not such a bad change after all.

I knew that I would never forget the great time that I had with the Johnpeers, but now I was at college, enjoying my freshman days of getting to know the campus, all the instructors and CWTs that had been making such a fuss over me. I was really feeling special.

My new kennel home was a very stimulating environment, with lots of noise and dogs everywhere. Zippy and Zeus were there, too, and I got to play with them!

But I kept wondering: what's next for me? My mind was all a whirl. Oh well, it was time to eat. Yummy.

Rah! Rah! Sis Boom Bah! Hey, do I get a freshman beanie?!