Training My Own Guide Dog

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,

Pet Crate,


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,



GDB manual,

Puzzles will wait for next week’s post.


Training Sagan: Training my own guide dog, Week 6

Sagan Training Blog: 13 Weeks old

I am losing track of how long he has lived with me so I am now going to say his age. Any links I mention here are for information only. I am not affiliated.

Life happened, thus two posts together.

The highlight of the last week was finding a fantastic vet. I have been searching for a vet who thinks more like I do about health care for our animals and ourselves. He is curious and thinks outside the box of conventional veterinary medicine. The appointment lasted one hour and we really talked about our lifestyle and how that will predict how we choose to treat Sagan to keep him as healthy as possible without giving him unnecessary treatments. I was thrilled to have a good conversation about diet and its role in longevity. Some might say that I am rather obsessed with diet and its relationship to most of our common diseases so that naturally transfers to my animals. My decisions may be controversial for some. I believe we all do what makes sense to us as dog people.

The picture above shows Sagan at the Vet, laying on the scale.

For now, I am feeding Sagan a mixture of raw food and dry food. The brand of raw food is OC RAW and the brand of dry food is Annamaet, which seems like a good choice. My plan is to rotate brands at random so he builds a strong gut biome and is less likely to become sensitive. So far, this is working well for him. He gets a few eggs every week and random fruits and veggies from my refrigerator. I used to enjoy cooking for my human family but now the dogs eat better than I do. Once I get through this intense puppy period, I plan to get myself back on track.

We also discussed at length treating heartworm and fleas and ticks. I have struggled with this for some time now. I feel like we have a plan that makes sense to me given where we live and where we are going now. I have never been comfortable giving my dogs pills for heartworm or fleas and ticks. If I lived in the south, I would certainly think differently. Ticks are a real problem here so I have chosen to give him the Lime vaccine and to use natural sprays when we go out where ticks are especially a problem. I will be diligent about checking for ticks and fleas every couple of days. He will be tested for heartworm every year so that should there be a problem, it will be caught early. Heartworms are rarely seen here except in rescue dogs coming up from the south. The vet suggested a product called Wondercide which will need to be applied regularly as a repellant. I will also keep him close-shaven for the summer so finding ticks will be easier. Of course, these choices may change as I learn more or lifestyle changes.

This last week was mostly reinforcing basic commands and incorporating hand signals. He is performing sit, down, up sit, stand, name recognition, touch, go to your mat, and stay on your mat. He also waits for permission to eat his food. I have not introduced distractions to the mix yet. He is slowly but surely getting used to the Gentle Leader. It is going to be a game-changer when walking together. I feel he is doing very well for 14 weeks old. Next week will be much the same with the addition of longer stays on his mat and the introduction to the grooming table.

It was a good week. For a nonmeat eater, my house and clothes smell a lot like sardines and chicken. It grosses me out but meat is what he needs so that is what he will get with love and care.

OC Raw Dog food

Annamaet Dry Dog food

Wondercide Flea and tick repellant



Training Sagan: Training my own guide dog, Week 5

Sagan Training: Week 5 / 12 weeks old

Sagan was 3 months old on June 2. He is growing in size and strength. My body is feeling his determination to reach his goals in my shoulders and knees. He usually wants to reach Jingles, my retired guide dog so he can play with her. Of course, he thinks it is playing and she thinks it is a great pest to be endured. I tried letting them be together a little more but Jingles decided to defend herself and Sagan got bitten. I actually was proud of Jingles for standing up for herself. So for now, they stay apart. Keeping them separate is recommended by McCann Dog Trainers and I am inclined to agree.

I was away for 5 days last week so Sagan and Jingles were left with a trusted friend. It was very hard to leave him but he had some new experiences that I would not be able to give him. He got in some good play time and my friend got worn out herself. It was helpful for me to have someone with vision take care of him for a few days because I learned more about his behaviors that I was not noticing. It turned out very well and I am glad to get back to training this week.

The picture above shows an annoyed Jingles relaxing on an outside patio chair while Sagan tries to engage her in play.

My main goal this week is to get him acclimated to the Gentle Leader. Loose leash walking is an absolute must for my health and his. I am doing this by giving him sardine-coated kibble every tiny step of the way. He thinks it is great fun until I actually get it on him completely. Once it is on, he wilts and does not move. On one level this is wonderful but that is not the ultimate purpose of the Gentle Leader. My hope is to get him moving this week. I am challenged to be patient with this slow process. McCann has some great YouTube videos on using the Gentle Leader, so that is what I am relying on for information.

I have decided to make my own training treats for him. I am concerned about the commercial treats in terms of their ingredients and processing. I am putting his kibble in a tight container with either sardines or high-quality chicken or beef hot dogs. I think this will be more economical and healthier. This way I can know how much he is actually getting in a day. I also supplement his meals with raw foods.

I promised last week to tell you about the new crate and grooming table. They have not arrived yet so that will wait for next week.

The baby pool is a big hit. We got it at a hardware store. It was only $16. He loves it whether it has water in it or not. The water hose is as much fun as the pool.

My hope is to be able to tell you next week that we are walking in a civilized manner. My other goal is to find ways to play with him for his fun and to tire him out. I will keep you posted.

Youtube link for McCann Gentle leader

Training Sagan: Training my own guide dog, Week 4

Sagan Training Blog: Week 4/11 Weeks Old 

It is Sunday morning after our forth week together. It is possible that Sagan is almost twice the size as when I brought him home at 8 weeks old. I did not cry this week but I did become reactive when he jumped up and grabbed my hair. I am sorry to say that I yelled bad words and bared my teeth at him like my mom used to do when she was really angry with me.  I guess people and dogs are more alike than we like to think. I apologized to him and he was upset for a couple of seconds before trying for my hair again. I managed the situation by putting up my hair. I learned in a big way this week that managing situations before they happen is as important as training to increase or decrease a behavior.

In the spirit of management, I bought a Gentle Leader head collar yesterday because my shoulder is not happy with his pulling at the leash. I need to get the pulling under control so we can progress to more fun activities. This morning I introduced him to the collar with a truckload of treats and a little manhandling to avoid his shark teeth. I will take small steps during the next couple of days to make it a positive experience. I will try to put it on and feed him his lunch. Next week we will find out how it went.

We got a baby pool for him and that has been hysterical. He runs and jumps in and out of it whether there is water in it or not. He also likes to add his own water to it by urinating as many times as possible. He seems to think it is his toilet.

Picture above shows Mel holding Sagan on a leash while he discovers new pool.

He had his first grooming session early this week. He did very well. He is fluffed up which happens to be the business name of the mobile groomer. She was fantastic with him and she showed me her brush and how to use it. She also suggested I get a grooming table to help with desensitizing him to the grooming process and also to help me with grooming him myself. Poodles need to have their hair done allot and their nails too. I will let you know next week if I like the table I ordered.

I had a local trainer come to work with us this week. She raised puppies for the Seeing Eye and she also worked theree before she became a trainer herself. We have a good rapport and I am looking forward to learning with her. This week we focused on foot tethering which simply means stepping on the leash to help the puppy understand the concept of a loose leash. Sagan learned very quickly. I have continued to reinforce and add to this new skill. As long as the treats keep coming he does very well.

We continued to solidify basic commands. Sit, down, wait for food, wait at the door, in the crate, go busy, and of course house training and name recall. He is not completely reliable with any of these but progress is definite. I confess that patience is an area of growth for me. I tend to want to jump over the small steps that must be taken to reach a larger goal. I have trouble with thinking in little details so having a trainer helps keep me accountable.

Next week I will tell you about the new crate and grooming table I just ordered. My current crate is an inferior wire crate and I am afraid he will hurt himself. I chose a plastic crate which will come next week.

Overall this last week has been a good one but I am feeling some fear about my ability to do this job right. Frustration and overwhelm have been near to me this week. I have good supports in place so I count on them to keep up my spirits.

Picture above shows Sagan on a car ride after visiting the local dog store, Dogs and Cats Rule.

Links for you this week are below. I have no affiliations with any of these. I just thought you might be interested in the products I am trying this week.


Lobster and pig brand

Zukes treats

Gentle Leader

Doylestown Pet store

Car harness

Fluffed up mobile dog grooming,

Susie Danzies Dog training,



Training Sagan: Training my own guide dog, Week 3

Sagan Training Blog: Week 3/10 Weeks Old

We have learned so much this week. I learned that perfectionism and my ego has no place in puppy training. I have also been humbled by how not nice thoughts come into my mind when Sagan has been barking for an hour straight in his crate. It brought to mind when my oldest son cried from 5:00 p.m. - 2:00 a.m. for the first three months of his life. I had to reach deep into my soul to stay calm and kind. We got through it though with no harm done that I know about anyway.

Picture above shows Sagan laying happily in the kitchen

As you know I am working The McCann Dog Training Method. We were supposed to be on week 3 but I decided not to put so much pressure on myself or Sagan. I relaxed and things got better. We continued to practice basic foundation skills. I did add waiting at the door and waiting longer for me to release his food. We also practiced meeting and greeting new people which went quite well. I gave the people the instruction to stay low so he is not tempted to jump and I told them to step on his leash in case his front feet just happened to come off the floor. He was great with this. I also taught the people how to make sharp noises at him when the teeth found skin or clothes.

A concern this week was that he began barking at other dogs and vocalizing loudly when impatient or anxious. Of course, I am anthropomorphizing because I am not really sure if he is either of these things. I will say that he appears to want what he wants RIGHT NOW, which is rather like me. I have consulted with the McCann instructors and they gave me a couple of choices as to how to handle the crate barking. I will ignore him completely no matter how long it takes for him to calm down unless I am convinced that there is another problem like pain or an urgent need to eliminate. I am already seeing improvement.

I have been researching food alternatives. I am more and more convinced that as close to a raw diet as can be managed is best. I have introduced a frozen prepared raw diet in additions to his kibble. My goal is to help him have a healthy, robust microbiome. So far, he is loving his food and is tolerating it well.

We did have an incident this morning which was I think more about hair around his anus than his food. This is probably more information than you want but it is part of having a puppy. I noticed that he was straining to poop. I am not squeamish about touching most body parts particularly if the puppy I love is in distress. So, being blind, it was necessary to use my fingers instead of my eyes to discover the problem. He had hardened feces all around his anus which I believe was impeding the free flow out of his body. I made him a nice warm bath and he sat in in while I fed him a favorite bone. Then we went back outside and all was well.

The most fun we had this week was my son and his partner coming to see the new family member. It was great fun. It is nice to have more people to entertain Sagan which gives me a break. We also went to puppy class. Sagan went into the swimming pool on his own and had fun in the tunnels. A baby pool is definitely in our future for the upcoming hot days.

Picture above shows Sagan resting with Family and friends in the kitchen

Today is a rest day. No formal training today. We have had a big week and a break is in order. I feel comfortable with our progress and bonding this week. He is becoming more of himself which is challenging at times but I wouldn’t want it any other way.

One more thing, I have discovered scrubs like doctors wear. They have tons of pockets which are good for having treats, poop bags, and even toys on hand. Having a puppy is like a baby in that I feel slimed most of the time. There is no need to pretend that fashion is important. Scrubs are the way to go. Below is the link to where I got mine. The fabric does not seem to be as enticing as some knits.

That’s it for this week.



Training Sagan: Training my own guide dog, Week 2

Sagan Training Blog: 9 Weeks old

Picture above show Mel sitting outside on patio holding Sagan in her lap.

Just so you know, I get nothing from any links to products I mention here. This is all a grand experiment and the products I like this week may be completely different next week.

Well, one thing I know for certain is that I AM TIRED! Having a young puppy is only partially like having a human infant. The differences being that humans stay where you put them, they do not bite, and they wear diapers. Puppies run fast, pee and poop like lightening exactly when you can’t notice or reach them and they bite like baby sharks. I am almost tempted to say that puppies are more challenging. Humans develop slowly while puppies seem to grow every day. One day he is easy and sleepy and the next he is a wild-thing. After saying all that, this second week home has been rewarding and hilarious. Sagan is smart. I can only hope that I can learn how to teach him faster than he learns how to train me.

This last week we worked from the McCann Dogs training method. The link to the class and YouTube will be at the bottom in case you are interested. We continued foundational skills like name recall, which he is pretty good about. Learning to follow a food lure is getting better as long as he is hungry and the treat meets his standards of delight. Sitting on command is quite good. The “down” command is still proving to be challenging. Honestly, I have not focussed that much on getting him to stand on command. That will be my work for today. He sits beautifully for his food which I pick up and move around the room several times during each meal. He tolerates this quite joyfully. His meal ends in his crate. I am also supposed to be working on teaching him the “drop it” command but I have not worked it much at all. I am most proud of him going up and down our stairs. He is cutely clumsy but he thoroughly enjoys it. I ask him to sit at the bottom and I say, “forward” before we head up or down. I never change this because this will be a guide dog skill that needs to be ingrained in every cell of his body. We are also working on “everything good comes from the left side.” I feed him on my left. He walks, if you can call it that, on my left. He comes and touches my left hand when I call him. Of course, none of this has been perfected yet but we are making good progress.

Now about “the gear.” I have two crates, one small puppy size upstairs where we sleep. There is a second crate which will be his adult crate. He just started going in there to eat and cool out during the day. Our large kitchen is gated off which is where he spends most of his time during the day. I rotate toys in and out of the kitchen so he is not bored. I occasionally throw in an empty box or paper bag wadded up which he pounces on and drags around with exuberance. I never leave him alone with toys that can be torn up or shredded to his detriment. Lastly, his “busy spot” is right outside our back door on gravel. Most of the time he uses it appropriately.

I have needed to make some adaptations due to my being blind. Upon the suggestion of another blind owner trainer, I put a little bell on his collar. I resisted this thinking it would drive me crazy. Actually, it helps quite a bit. I know if he is moving and which direction. The silence says as much as the sound in this case.

I tried several types of treat pouches and settled on a drawstring pouch with a zipper pocket. I put poop bags in there. This pouch hangs on a belt around my waist. I at times attach his leash to this belt as well. My hands need to be free at times. I have been told that I look funny with all the stuff hanging on my body. Link to pouch below.

One of the best things I got is a pair of Crocs shoes. They are ugly but I can step into them in the middle of the night. They can get wet and best of all, when I step in shit which is often, I throw them in the laundry sink with detergent and they clean right up.

Currently I am using a six foot leash but on the advice of other owner trainers, I will shorten it to four feet. This makes it easier to keep him close.

I am still in search of the best way to feed Sagan. I am moving toward more raw bones and frozen raw meats. Last week he enjoyed a frozen turkey foot. It was horrifying to look at but he is a carnivore after all. I am slowly introducing some fruits and vegetables. Blueberries and spinach are a hit. More research needs to be done.

We also went to his first puppy class. He was mostly interested in the people more than the dogs. I think this is good. He went up and down metal stairs which thrilled me.

Okay, enough for this week. I could go on and on like most parents but I will spare you all that.


Picture above shows Sagan resting in the kitchen and putting his nose through the gate.

Links to sites and products mentioned.



Training Sagan: Training my own guide dog

Introduction and Week One

A few weeks ago I mistook peppermint oil for dry eye drops. I know it sounds incredibly stupid. It was one of those blind moments that we who are blind are all too familiar. I  always keep peppermint oil near my bed to put in my nighttime water. I also keep eyedrops there. The shapes of the bottles were unique until that day. I had just gotten a new bottle of eyedrops which had the same shape as the oil. I was sleepy and I reached for the wrong bottle. I suppose you could say it was the wrong bottle, according to your perspective. I say this because after burning the corneas of both eyes with peppermint oil, I realized that I needed to get ready for being really blind. That experience of needing to keep my eyes closed for several days while my corneas healed showed me that I needed to step up my game in terms of blindness skills. I have been contemplating training my own guide dog for a while now and the peppermint oil kicked me into gear. So, I am calling the peppermint oil a gift. We will find out over the next years if this is so or not.

My intention with this blog is to document this journey with the hope of helping others who may want to train their own guide dog and to be an outlet for me on this uncertain journey.

The picture above is Mel holding Sagan next to Danielle, the breeder. 

Sagan was born March 2, 2022. The breeder is Danielle Grouleau and Sagan’s parents are Fiona and Mopar at Doe Valley Standard Poodles. Danielle breeds for Health, temperament, confirmation, and working. She does not dock tails which is very important to me. I don’t approve of that cruel practice. I spoke with her and felt certain that she had the highest standards for raising healthy, confident poodles. I put down a deposit and waited and prepared with high anticipation for about 5 weeks until he was ready to come home. I devoured everything I could on positive training methods. I settled on The McCann Dog Training Method after obsessively watching their YouTube channel, Their videos are fairly well described and they have been willing to help with accessibility issues.

The picture above is Mel on the kitchen floor holding Sagan. Jingles is in the dining room behind the gate looking in on a training session. 

This first week at home has been quite a ride. I have felt overwhelmed and completely exhausted. It is a good thing Sagan is so cute and smart because this has not been an easy week. I began training immediately according to the schedule laid out by McCann Dogs. We worked on name recognition, learning the importance of the marker word which is “YES!”, learning to follow a food lure, crate training, and of course, house training. We have made great progress along with a few melt downs from me. Everything was going great until it rained steadily for two solid days. At first Sagan didn’t find rain troublesome but then he decided it wasn’t fun anymore. He regressed in his house training and I regressed in my equanimity. Today was Mother’s Day so my husband, son, and partner took over Sagan care for a few hours so I could make an attitude adjustment.

Tomorrow Sagan will be 9 weeks old. We will continue to work on foundational skills like last week. I also need to get some better systems in place so we are not falling all over each other. I also need to pay better attention to Jingles, my retired guide dog. She is looking kind of sad these days with this new annoying puppy around.

As I get myself organized better, I will try to give more training details here. Time will tell how all this goes.

The link below is to the dog training method from Mccann dogs and the breeder's link to her facebook page, Doe valley standard poodles.

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