Zodiac’s Littermates

Pomona with Zulu, Zodiac and Zenith

One of the things that Guide Dogs for the Blind does for puppy raisers is the littermate photos. With each litter of puppies they take photos and a couple of videos when they are a week or so old and then again a couple of weeks after that. With Yakira they had the photos uploaded to their Flickr site before we got Yakira but Zodiac’s litter was posted not long ago. Today I finally had a chance to go and look them up. I was also able to look up the names of his siblings in this year’s Fun Day book. The yellow lab in these photos is Zodiac’s sister Zulu and the other black lab is his brother Zenith. Sometimes I think I can tell which one is Zodiac but I don’t think there is a way to be sure. Correction on that, as I was just looking closer at these photo I realized that Zenith must be the one with a small white spot on his chest. Zodiac doesn’t have a white spot. Yeah! I’m really excited that at least in some of the photos I know which one is Zodiac. Anyway, I enjoy seeing how they looked when they were just tiny little things.

March 13, 2012 Video (Zodiac is the one hidden under the newspaper)

March 27, 2012 Video (zodiac is the black one not moving around much)


Zodiac and Zenith

Zodiac or Zenith

Zodiac or Zenith



Banta’s Graduation

Mark and Banta

Banta graduated as a guide dog today with her handler Mark. We had a chance to see Banta and meet Mark before the official handing off ceremony.

We arrived at the Guide dogs for the Blind campus at about 11:30 a.m. and gathered with the other puppy raisers in the dormitory day room. A little while later we were escorted to a sitting area down one of the wings of the dorm where Banta and Mark were sitting. Banta just looked at us for a few seconds as we approached while she processed who we were. You could just see her mind at work and when she realized who we were she got all excited and let loose with lots of hopping and jumping around. We spent several minutes just enjoying her antics. When Banta settled back down we had some time to get to know Mark and hear about how their training went. It seems that in the almost 7 months that Banta has been on campus she has gathered quite a fan club. Lots of people stopped by during class to say good-bye to Banta.

Mark said that Banta was everything he asked for in his next guide except for her size. He is accustomed to larger dogs but when the instructors asked what was the least important of his criteria for a guide he said size. Banta fit the rest of his requirements perfectly. He calls her “Little Bit” because she is only 20.5″ tall compare to 24″ with his previous guide. We are looking forward to hearing about how they develop as a team. And maybe next year we will plan a trip to Denver to see Banta again and see where she now calls home.

Banta In Class

Banta – photo by Jennilyn Proulx

The phone call came this evening that Banta is in class!!! We don’t know any details at this point. The official letter from Guide Dogs for the Blind will come next week. But Banta’s graduation is set for May 28th in San Rafael, California. Yeah Banta! You did it. Hopefully class will go smoothly and we will meet a happy pair at graduation. Today is my birthday so this news makes a wonderful present too!

Phase 8

Banta with her favorite bone

Yeah!!! Banta is in the final phase of her training to be a guide dog. I’m so excited. There are never any guarantees at any stage that they will make it but this is a great sign that she has what it takes to be a guide dog. Now we just have to wait for the right handler to come to San Rafael then our Banta will be graduating!

Phase 8 – Final Testing, Finishing and Pre-Matching

  • Final Obedience Test
  • Final Blindfold Test
  • Final Building Test
  • Final Traffic Test

NOTE: Dogs that receive passing grades are deemed “Class Ready Guides.” These dogs are fully qualified and ready to be issued to a client.

“Finishing” Routes
Dogs work on relaxing residential or country routes, sidewalkless areas, and less difficult/ more straightforward routes for confidence building before class. Obedience responses are maintained and practiced in a variety of areas with a variety of handlers.
Practice with Less Experienced Handlers

NEW! Specialized Training
All dogs are introduced to hand and chair targeting. Instructors introduce pole targeting (for crosswalk buttons) on a few different routes.
If needed, select dogs may do custom work for identified clients (slower pace or fast pace, compromised balance — client who travels with a support cane, toed-out gait, etc.)

Pre Class Physicals (AKA: PCPs)
All class ready dogs receive pre-class vet physicals, which includes a height measurement at the withers (ground to shoulders).

Final Class Preparations

Dormitory exposure

Phase 7

Banta in her trademark “relaxed” sit

Banta is doing so good. We are excited about her progress in her training. Each week when the phase report comes I almost hold my breath until I get to her name and see that indeed she has moved on the the next level. Keep it up Banta!

Phase 7 – Advanced Training
Obedience and Distraction Training
Guidework Training
Advanced training includes work in both suburban and urban areas, and requires forward-looking decision-making (initiative).
These routes can consist of:

  • City traffic patterns
  • Difficult crossings
  • Difficult clearance situation
  • Areas with a challenging line
  • Animal distractions
  • Surface issues
  • Curb approach challenges
  • Pedestrian islands
  • Crowded sidewalks
  • Different pedestrian climate
  • Additional city bus exposure
  • Additional rapid transit ride exposure
  • Additional and multiple escalators
  • Rounded corners

Escalator Training Continues
Platform Training Continues
Overhead Obstacle Clearance Training

Phase 6


This phase was an extra week in coming. I’ve wondered what she might be having trouble with. Maybe body handling or distraction issues. I’ve also heard about some dogs with kennel cough. That would slow down her training too if she were sick. But whatever the delay our Banta has finally made it to phase 6. Way to go girl!

Phase 6 – Urban Challenges

  • Obedience and Distraction Training
  • Advanced Guidework Training
  • NEW! Sidewalkless Technique Introduction
  • NEW! Platform Edge Intro and Exposure Work
  • NEW! Light Rail, Subway systems
  • Obstacle Course Progression
  • Pre-Matches for Select Clients
  • Socialization Programs
  • Leash relieving exposure on cement begins.

Phase 5

Banta along the Jordan River Trail

The phase reports are put out on Thursdays and all week long I look forward to Thursdays. Then I anxiously check my email through the day to see if it has come in yet. Then I almost hold my breath to see if Banta has made it to the next level. This week she did it again. Another week another level.

PHASE 5 –Traffic Training & City Work

  • Advanced Obedience and Distraction Training
  • Advanced Guidework Training
  • City Routes (San Francisco/Portland)
  • Intensive Indoor Mall and Store Training
  • NEW! Escalator Introductions and Training – Boarding/Riding/Exiting
  • Notable Accomplishment – Formal Traffic Training
  • NEW! Total Barricade Training
  • Obstacle Course Progression
  • Body Handling Acceptance
  • Socialization Programs
  • Vet Meeting – Review of Health

Phase 4


Our girl just keeps on moving through the phases. She is now half way thorough the phases!

Phase 4: Intelligent Disobedience

  • Formal Harness Training
  • NEW! After preliminary testing, more extensive work inside buildings begins.
  • Notable Accomplishment – Traffic Conditioning (Exposure)
  • Body Handling Acceptance
  • Physical Agility Programs
  • Obstacle Course Progression – Intelligent Disobedience Training Begins
  • NEW! Some clearances now require a stop.
  • NEW! Addressing errors is now introduced for basic clearance work.
  • NEW! An overhead clearance is any obstacle that is above the dog’s head.
  • Socialization

Phase 3

Banta with nylabones and Goughnuts

Banta is moving right along to phase 3! Keep it up girl!

Phase 3: Preliminary Testing

  • Notable Accomplishment – Preliminary Obedience Testing
  • Obedience and Distraction Training
  • Notable Accomplishment – Preliminary Blindfold Testing
  • Difficult Distractions
  • Body Handling Acceptance
  • Guidework Training
  • Pattern Training
  • Up Curb Exercise # 3
  • Physical Agility Programs
  • Obstacle Course Progression

Phase 2

Banta in our backyard

Banta has moved on to Phase 2! Bill is sure she is doing just fine in training but I worry more. I tend to focus on her challenges and not her strengths and that isn’t a good thing. The trainers know what they are doing and they will do everything they can to teach her to be a wonderful guide dog. Below is a list of what she is now working on and learning in phase 2.

Phase 2: In Town and Responsible Lead

  • Obedience and Distraction Training
  • Body Handling Acceptance
  • Kennel Adjustment and Routine
  • Wearing the Harness
  • Pattern Training Progression
  • Planned Distraction Route NEW!
  • Physical Agility
  • Responsible Lead Session NEW!
  • Obstacle Course Progression