Training My Own Guide Dog

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, Birthday Week, 5 Months Old

Well, I overdid it! I fed him too much and now he is a little chub boy. He is definitely food motivated which makes training easy but I have been giving him treats that are too high in fat. I was also using food to keep him occupied when I could not attend to him or if he was bored. The vet said he was a fine weight last month but this month he gained a lot, so adjustments must be made. Sagan doesn’t know it yet but he won’t get those lovely marrow bones or bully sticks nearly as often. I am switching to meat broth ice cubes and vegetables. I was also giving him kibble with his raw food morning and night. Now the kibble is just for training treats. I feel a little bit guilty about this because I am so nutrition conscious. I am calling it a learning experience. After all, I haven’t done this before and it is a grand experiment.

The Picture above shows Mel and Sagan outside of the Doylestown Friends Meeting building. 

 

Sagan got his rabies vaccine this week. Now he sports 4 tags on his collar along with his bell. He is a noisy boy which is a good thing. I can keep up with his counter surfing much better. He did get a prize tomato the other day when I was inattentive for one second. He thought it was interesting but not so much that it was a problem. Needless to say, more vigilance is required since he is taller and smarter.

 

We found 2 teeth on the floor this last week. The vet says most of his baby teeth are gone. Teething has been fascinating. I have not thought about dogs' teeth much before now. He has lost so many so fast. I am sure it is not comfortable. I can forgive his mad dog behaviors.

 

The picture above shows Sagan on his 30-foot leash exploring the grounds outside. 

 

The goal for last week was to increase his exposure to the world and to add another formal training session per day. Training sessions are about 20 minutes long or maybe a little more if he is really excited about what we are doing. I have begun to name behaviors that we do all the time like going inside and outside a door. I use the words that will eventually become commands. My problem is deciding on which words I want to use and stick to them. Indecision is one of my flaws which Sagan is teaching me about. Confidence and decisiveness are essential when training a dog. They learn fast to take advantage of squishy thinking and under-confident commands. I am learning to think ahead and to not be such a softy.

 

Overall, we are doing great. My biggest concern is barking. I know barking is natural and I don’t need to stop it altogether but it does need to be managed. Jingles, my retired guide absolutely never barks except when she is dreaming. I have been spoiled by her silence.  I try not to worry because he is a puppy. Guide dogs do not get to bark out in the world so this is a real project. I am a quiet person so hopefully, he will mellow out.

The Picture above shows Sagan and Jingles laying side by side on the couch.

 

Training Sagan is teaching me so much about myself. I am learning again about the fear that goes with such a visceral, ferocious love. He has become the center of my world which is not super healthy for me or my relationships. I have neglected my own self-care and my body and emotional balance have suffered. Recalibration is in order now. This is a spiritual journey with an external, practical result if all goes well. I am grateful to the people who tolerate my single focus these last few months. Balance will return.

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 5 Months Old

Sagan got to experience a house full of people last week. My husband’s birthday and retirement party was Saturday and preparations were going on all week. We had window washers, house cleaners, carpet cleaners, and power washing going on. There were lots of strange noises and people. I did my best to keep him calm and occupied but I honestly ignored him a lot of the time. He got bully sticks and marrow bones to keep him occupied. He did very well overall.

The picture above shows Mel's son Cole sitting on the kitchen floor while holding Sagan in his lap while giving him the biggest hug.

Susie, the dog trainer also came in the midst of everything. We worked on our exits through doors and entrances. She helped me with timing and she showed me how to improve my technique. Sagan is quite the puller on his leash and I need lots of help to stop that behavior. The Gentle Leader works great but I would like to be able to handle him without it if I need to. I did not get a chance to practice anything I learned that day so hopefully, I can remember what I am supposed to do. It will be back to basics this week. 

I took Sagan to the main party Saturday night just for a little while. I opened the door so he could look in and see the lights and hear the loud music. He backed away from that so we sat outside and people came out to visit. He loved up everyone. He had on his training jacket and people were respectful of that mostly. He is irresistible himself and he loves all the attention, so I might not have been as insistent on good manners as I should have been. I will be asking for advice about that from other guide dog trainers this week. I am still not clear about how much puppy freedom he should have in a party situation like we just had. I am always worried that I am being too slack with him. He is a puppy after all so I keep thinking I can correct my mistakes.

The Picture above shows Sagan outside happily laying on the grass.

The best part of last week is that trainer Susie introduced Sagan to the 30-foot-long line. We had done some challenging mental work and he needed some energy release. I had been afraid to use the long line myself because I was afraid he might get into trouble that I could not see. Sagan went wild! He had so much fun. Now, this is part of our days. My son and his partner took him out every day so he could get tired before putting him in his crate for long periods. I am very grateful for this new exercise opportunity for him.

The picture above shows Mel's son Cole with Sagan outside on his 30 ft leash. Sagan is in mid-jump running toward the camera. 

I feel like now that he is 5 months old I am going to intensify his training some. I want to get the basic commands solidified while asking for more precision in his positions as well as being able to hold positions longer. It is time to start studying training books again.

This coming week  Sagan gets his rabies vaccine. I chose to wait as long as I could and to separate it out from all the others. The vet agreed with me that spreading out vaccinations is a good strategy so as not to overwhelm their immune systems. I will get him the Lyme vaccination later because we live in a heavy tick zone. I am choosing not to give him heartworm medication but choosing instead to have him tested every year. I am also not giving him flea and tick medications unless our travels dictate that it is safer. I know this is a controversial topic. I thought about not sharing it here but I want people to question the protocols followed by most vets. Geography does play a part in the decision. Thinking through with your vet what is best for your situation is a smart thing to do. Find a vet you trust to be curious and talk with you about your choices. Every situation is different.  

The picture above shows Jingles and Sagan snuggling together on the couch. Sagan is laying on top of Jingles and they are both looking at the camera.

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, One Week Shy Of 5 Months Old

TEETH! Where are they going? Where have they been? Should puppies come with a warning to wear appropriate PPE before handling? How does the tooth fairy know how many toys to buy?

I am happy to say at least for this moment, that Sagan’s biting skin has subsided. He still misses his target sometimes when playing which can really hurt but overall he is more respectful. The last couple of days he is rubbing his face more and can’t decide which toy he wants. He has been going for harder objects like his leash buckle. Last night he was throwing himself all around his crate and sleeping was not happening for either of us. I finally got up and took him out of his crate. I took him outside but I don’t think that was the issue. We sat on the floor and talked about his problems while I rubbed his face. It seemed to soothe him and he went to sleep. Today he will get marrow bones and frozen treats to soothe his gums. I am told that this will go on for a few months.

Sagan had some new experiences this last week. He wore his training vest to the pet store and to my doctor’s office. He did a not quite perfect down and under the chair in the waiting room but that is to be expected. There were all kinds of people coming and going. I was very pleased with his behavior. After that, we went to the pet store to buy his raw food and a car safety harness. Pet stores are particularly challenging for pups but he was mostly a gentleman.

I have been asked to give an example of a typical day for us. Of course, there is no such thing but I will give you the outline I strive for most days.

Training starts from the minute I open his crate door in the morning. His Gentle Leader goes on and we work the stairs. My goal is for him to be controlled in his movements and mannerly. This is essential so we don’t get hurt. We go out to his “busy” spot and come straight back inside. The morning feeding time is a choreographed dance so that both dogs get their needs met with the least amount of chaos. Sagan is required to stay on his mat while I make his food. He struggles a lot to contain his enthusiasm. He understands now that if he breaks his sit or barks out of excitement or frustration, I stop making his food. He has made the connection after a few weeks of this that food comes faster if he just stays quiet and still. Consistency does pay off over time.

Sagan still naps quite a bit so training sessions come between naps. I have found that his best training period is after his first-morning nap. He is hungry and motivated to work for treats. We warm up with commands I know he can do easily then progress to expanding his skill set. We work on his positions like sit, down, up sit, and stand. Now we have progressed to perfecting how he sits, the position of his sit in relation to me, and lengthening the time he sits. We do this for all positions. Then we will play for a little but he loves training so we usually keep going. As of now, his commands are sit, down, up sit, stand, go to your mat, go to your crate, come, targeting my hand, and stay on his mat or wherever I put him. We also practice down and under chairs while I just sit. He gets treats but I am fading them out. We also work on his manners while being groomed. I know this sounds like a lot but he seems to love it all. The sessions are actually shorter than it sounds. We do them more than once a day. I am trying to find better ways to play with him so he gets tired physically. It is becoming clear to me now that I will need to ask for support for exercising him more. Now that he is older, we need to go out into the world for new experiences just for exposure.

The Picture above shows Sagan sitting obediently outside on the patio 

The day ends with me doing my best to avoid the Tasmanian Devil dog. I get out the hose. We water the plants and fill his pool. He runs around like a crazy dog. He runs through his tunnel, chases his football, and tries to eat flowers and the hose. I stay out of his way while keeping him safe. Once some of his energy is burned off, I give him a frozen marrow bone which keeps him occupied for a long time. He gets fed his evening meal and goes in for a nap. About 8:30 we go out one last time. I breathe a sigh of relief and put him to bed. I squeeze in domestic chores while he is napping unless I am a zombie in which case, I rest and read either training books or even a novel. The days are full and I do get tired but I am loving this challenge. My confidence is growing along with him.

 

 

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, Still 4 1/2 Months Old

Sagan got his first hair cut and I felt like pulling mine out. This last week was full of highs and lows. It has been an emotional roller coaster. One day he is a complete angel genius and the next he is possessed by demons. My anxiety has risen because I am so in love with him that I am feeling more like a helicopter mom. I am hyper-vigilant to every sound he makes which is okay because it is only me that makes myself crazy. Now I want to double-check everything that others are doing which makes them crazy too. There have been a few close calls with him getting away or getting hurt not by something I have done wrong, so my own anxiety has been reinforced. I am sure I will continue to be vigilant, but I can be more zen about it.

 

His grooming session went very well. He was as good as a toothy 4 month old can be. He is very handsome. He feels like velvet.

Pictures above show Sagan after his first grooming. 

 

I ordered a custom vest for him which says "Guide Dog in Training."  It is orange and black and looks great on him. He doesn’t seem to mind it at all. His first time wearing it was last Tuesday when we took him to an almost 2 hour appointment. The building had an elevator which did not phase him. When we got to the office, he went down and under and stayed there the whole time. I treated him occasionally. He mostly slept. I was so proud. I also took him to visit a neighbor with his jacket. It was a little more challenging to keep him down and under because there was a creature underneath the porch deck. Overall he did quite well.

Pictures above show Sagan outside the Dogs and Cats Rule Store. He is wearing his new guide dog vest.

 

Susie, the trainer came this week. We learned Paw Pad positioning. This is the use of using an elevated surface to help Sagan find and keep a proper position while standing at my side. Both of us learned it quickly. We practice every day.

Pictures above show Suzy and Mel training Sagan on the blue mat. 

 

Next, we worked on staying on his mat as I went out of his sight. He stayed put without any prompting from the trainer. The idea is to always set him up for success. With the trainer there by his side, while I command him to stay, she can encourage him to stay. He then gets rewarded for doing such a good job. The rewards will be faded out over time. Sagan and I can practice alone by using a long leash and very slowly increasing duration, distractions, and distance. Susy breaks everything down to to simple concepts so it is easy to implement.

 

This journey is not all unicorns and rainbows though. He has begun to bark when startled. Once he gets going, it is challenging to get through it. We have discussed it with the trainer and we have some strategies. He is also barking more when frustrated or he wants something. He is definitely in a developmental phase that requires proper handling so bad habits do not get formed. His barking puts my nerves on edge which helps nothing. It is essential that barking is under control, so the stakes are high.

 

 

The hardest days are those when my energy is so low that working with him takes a great deal of pure determination on my part. I feel like saying bad words at him and ignoring him altogether. Taking a puppy into your home is a very real commitment and adding to that, committing to molding great manners in all situations is huge. The task I have set for myself is coming clearer as the days pass. This is not easy but my purpose is clear and my emotional stamina is growing. I love him and what we are accomplishing together.

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 4 1/2 Months Old

Sagan lost his first teeth this last week. This means the puppy tooth fairy brought new toys. He also got a vaccination which only means more new toys. He weighed in at 26 pounds which is 5 more than a month before. Of course, more toys because he deserves them, right? I can usually rationalize buying most anything when it serves my own addiction to novelty.

The 4th of July fireworks were not an issue. Honestly, I did not try even a little bit to expose him to them. I closed up the house and turned on a fan. They could be heard in the distance but he paid no attention. I may have made a mistake but I was just too tired to deal with it.

Picture aboves shows Sagan on his outdoor bed with his piggy toy.

This last week he got to have some new experiences. He went to the vet for his vaccine. He thinks this is grand because he gets a jar of baby food while he is getting the injection. The best part about this trip was that his manners were impeccable. I think he might be a reincarnated guide dog because he did things I have not taught him to do. He went down and under the bench and with a little reminding, he stayed there so nicely. He also sat at the top of the stairs before I asked him. He also stood quietly for a long time between me and the counter when we were checking out. I just couldn’t believe it. I almost cried he was so great. So, I really did need to buy him new toys.

The Gentle Leader continues to be the best tool. I feel like it is helping him understand good behavior because he seems to be more mannerly now when it is not on him. This may be my imagination but time will tell.

The trainer came. We worked on my technique for treat delivery. The idea is to use treats to perfect his position in relation to me. We also worked on holding positions while distractions were present. He learned quickly. We did make it easy for him though. Over time the distractions will get more intense. He is learning that no matter where I put his mat that he is to go where it is if I tell him to “go to your mat”. Generalizing from one situation to another is very important for guide dogs. I have begun to teach him how to generalize about “find a seat” command as well. So far, that is going well in our little patio area with the different seats. I am trying not to overload his brain with too much. He enjoys training so much that it is tempting to pour on too much at one time. It is so gratifying to see his spongy brain soaking it all up which makes me want to go too fast. Needless to say, I am learning a lot about myself. Sagan is teaching me so much!

Sagan has begun to alert bark. Alert barking is not a bad thing as long as it can be stopped immediately when commanded. It is a self-reinforcing behavior which makes it especially hard to stop. I have not figured out exactly how to train this so next week I will find the best method. I will let you know how we are doing as time passes.

Next week I will let you know which new toys are best. He will get his first haircut this week so that will be fun. I will try not to buy more toys.

 

Training my own guide dog: Sagan at 4 months old

Sagan has been with me now since May 1st. We are experiencing so many new things together. My hope is that my brain can grow as fast as his. I read every day about puppy development so I can anticipate what is coming next so I can prepare my house and get ready with new puzzles and toys to keep him mentally and physically busy. This keeps us both feeling good about each other.

 

4 months is often when the first really challenging phase starts to show up. They begin to lose baby teeth and their confidence grows. They start to realize that countertops and furniture are great places to explore, often with great results from their perspective. Well, Sagan is there. No more knives left on the counter or shoes left unattended. The best practice for dog training is to manage by eliminating the possibility of mistakes being made in the first place; so shopping we will go.

 

My kitchen is his main play area which is gated off. Before he was too small to worry about the possibility of counter surfing. He is three times as large as he was when we brought him home. He has discovered the counter so now it is our turn to make a new plan. My trainer suggested we get a tie-down for the kitchen for the times we need him to stay away from the counters and out from under foot. Thankfully I have tie-downs from the guide dog school so I can use them. All we need is a solid place to hook it. That is a project for this weekend.

The picture above shows Sagan on his outdoor bed. 

On the training front, we are making good progress. This past week we walked a short distance to the mailroom where we found a bench. He went down and under and we just sat and watched the world go by. He got lots of treats for doing a great job. I introduced him to curbs and steps. We practiced waiting at the front door before going outside as well as finding the door. He was able to learn these quickly. From my reading though puppies can regress when they become teenagers so I am not counting on his reliability.

 

The 4th of July is in 2 days which Sagan has not experienced. Fireworks can be frightening to dogs so I am getting my strategy ready to deal with them in case he finds it unsettling. Because he is to be a guide dog, protecting him completely from the noise is not good. He needs to be able to keep his equanimity around startling sounds. My plan right now is to allow the sound to come in the windows but not too close to him. I will modify my response according to how he reacts. My hope is that if I act like it is no big deal that he will do the same. This is going to be a big test. I will report next week.

 

We continue to work on his mouthiness. He is still going after my knees and ankles and if I am on the floor, he bites my hands and arms. I realized that I was not handling this situation well. My strategy now is not to try to discipline him with a collar and body hold but to get up and leave the playing field. This is already making a difference. Play stops when biting starts. 

 

The only thing I bought this last week is a pair of farmer overalls. It is much easier to have lots of pockets instead of wearing belts with treat pouches. They are also not as easy for Sagan to get his teeth into.

The picture above shows Sagan playing with his lobster outside as Mel looks on smiling.

 

Next week I will let you know how the fireworks land. I hate fireworks myself so I will need to monitor my own anxiety so as not to trigger him.

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan at 16 Weeks Old

This last week started out rough with me feeling overwhelmed and too tired to contain my emotions but I got through it and we are back on track. Stu and I took him on his first big outing so I could get a much needed massage. Sagan wore his car harness with some agitation at first. He settled nicely on the way home.

Sagan was exposed to fast cars zooming by him as he walked on the sidewalk. I was pleased to hear that he watched but was not scared. He was wearing the Gentle Leader which calms him and keeps him walking nicely at the left side. After his walk, Stu gave him a peanut butter smeared whole carrot which kept him busy until my massage appointment was over. I truly feel like he is going to be a good dog if I can keep up my end of the contract I made with myself.

Picture above shows Sagan in the kitchen playing with a puzzle toy.

Another achievement last week was walking him to the nearby mailroom where I sat on a bench and he performed a perfect “down and under” command. He went easily under the bench and stayed put.  I was treating him every few seconds which I increased the duration as we sat. He also went down and under when people were over and there were no treats. I had to replace him several times but he finally acquiesced and went to sleep. It feels good to know that he can be still if I work with him long enough to help him understand that fighting the inevitable is just not worth it.

Puppy nipping has been troublesome this last week. He communicates that he wants to play or attention by biting my knees and ankles. He also goes after my hands if I am sitting on the floor. I have had to employ discipline to quell the behaviors. It works for a time, then he forgets and goes back to biting. I have been assured over and over that this too shall pass. I know it will and I can’t stay mad at him for more than a second. He is too cute for that. Puppies and human babies are born cute for a good reason.

The best toys of last week were the football shaped ball which bounces around and keeps him moving. The tunnel also keeps him very busy and it makes me laugh a lot. I am like a child though myself in that I want more toys every week. I am afraid it is becoming an addiction for me to keep ordering toys. I think I need to learn to play better with the ones I have. I am not naturally a loud person who plays freely and with great enthusiasm so I am learning to let down my own walls. Sagan is teaching me so much. It is tough at times but well worth doing.

Pictures above show Sagan running through the tunnel chasing after his Jolly egg toy. 

Desensitizing him to the grooming table and tools is going well. I also like the new crate which feels more secure. The links will be below.

Grooming table, https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07DGR6XQ7?psc=1&ref=ppx_yo2ov_dt_b_product_details

Pet Crate, https://www.petmate.com/petmate-vari-kennel/product/21790

 

Training Sagan: Training my own guide dog, 15 weeks old

Well, to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, I feel drained and frustrated. My intention here is to tell it like it really is when it comes to training Sagan. The last couple of days has been tough. The week in general though has been very good. My capacity for constant vigilance in keeping him safe and staying consistent with his training is, at this moment, exhausting. I am not one of those people who thrive on adrenaline rushes. I am struggling with feeling angry. When his toy of choice is my hands and my clothes and IT HURTS, my reflex is to hurt him back. Rest assured that I do not do that but the temptation is great. It takes a great deal of energy for me to calm myself so I can make a good decision about how to respond correctly. The last thing I want to do is hurt him or make him leery of me. I did the right thing and removed him to his crate where he is now barking as I write this. It feels like sandpaper on my brain. Time for sound-canceling earphones.

The picture above shows Sagan sitting in the kitchen with his dragon toy. 

I am finished whining myself now. Maybe he will stop too.

Sagan woke up more this last week in many ways. His brain is growing along with his body. He sleeps less and requires more mental and physical stimulation. The answer to this is more and more toys. Toys for his mind such as treat dispensing puzzles and toys that keep him moving. It feels like Christmas every time a package comes to the door. I am more excited than he is. This week I ordered him a hard egg-shaped ball. It is amazing how he chases and jumps all around. The link will be at the bottom. I also got him a 6-foot-long tunnel. I throw the ball from one end to the other. He runs and pounces which makes for great videos and a lot of laughter. The food-dispensing puzzles have not been tested yet. I will let you know about them next week.

Training went great this last week. I began using hand signals with basic commands like sit, stand, down, up sit, and stay. He is still getting a truckload of treats as rewards for his accurate behaviors. I introduced him to the grooming table which was a limited success. That will take small steps and lots of treats. I do like the table I ordered so the link will be at the bottom. I  am refining his commands by asking him to respond more quickly and to hold the position longer. He learns so fast! Loose leash walking is super challenging. He is pretty good in the house but it has not transferred to outside yet. The Gentle Leader is helping a lot and more practice is needed. Overall I am extremely satisfied with his progress.

Sagan needs his mouth occupied except when he is sleeping. Bully sticks and frozen, raw marrow bones from the butcher section of the grocery store are great for keeping him out of trouble while I take care of my own domestic chores. They are kind of gross but the peace and pleasure they bring are worth it.

The picture above shows Sagan outside stuffing his nose into one of his treat-dispensing toys.

There is one more resource for you in case you are training your own guide dog. The GDB Training Manual is very helpful. Between McCann Dog Trainers, a local in-person trainer, and the manual, I have plenty of support in the puppy-raising phase. I feel confident most of the time that I can move Sagan and myself to be a working team.

Here are this week's links.

Jolly egg, https://www.amazon.com/Jolly-Pets-8-Inch-Egg-Yellow/dp/B005AFHOZE/ref=asc_df_B005AFHOZE/?tag=hyprod-20&linkCode=df0&hvadid=218421090408&hvpos=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=17564658124319233041&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=&hvdev=c&hvdvcmdl=&hvlocint=&hvlocphy=9006971&hvtargid=pla-338994503161&psc=1

Tunnel,https://www.amazon.com/Tunnel-Toddlers-Outdoor-Backyard-Playset/dp/B08CX8CSHS/ref=sr_1_1_sspa?crid=15ZR3G70RLNA&keywords=dog%2Btunnel&qid=1655738683&sprefix=dog%2Btunnel%2B%2Caps%2C503&sr=8-1-spons&smid=A2XSB0B7TEINEN&spLa=ZW5jcnlwdGVkUXVhbGlmaWVyPUEyRTFJRU9BMFMxNFhOJmVuY3J5cHRlZElkPUEwMTAwNTk1MzNZRDNGVjFYNDFNSiZlbmNyeXB0ZWRBZElkPUEwMDQzNTc4MVdIOEtEVDdVTjRUViZ3aWRnZXROYW1lPXNwX2F0ZiZhY3Rpb249Y2xpY2tSZWRpcmVjdCZkb05vdExvZ0NsaWNrPXRydWU&th=1

McCann,https://www.mccanndogs.com/

GDB manual, https://www.guidedogs.com/uploads/files/Puppy-Raising-Manual/Puppy-Raising-Road-Map.pdf

Puzzles will wait for next week’s post.

 

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