Training My Own Guide Dog

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 8 1/2 Months Old

Sagan and I began communicating better this last week. I did not cry once nor did I say bad words in his direction. I attribute the more joyful cohabitation to two major changes. Being much more conscious of maintaining a puppy proofed house and allowing him much more freedom to regulate himself off leash when I am not paying attention to him. I tend to be a little bit of a helicopter mom out of fear that he will get hurt and I have stepped back. Instead of providing him endless stimulation, I am sitting down and doing nothing to occupy him. I am noticing that he paces around which I assume is because he does not know what to do with himself. This is challenging for me to sit still and just let him do it but it is already paying off. He finally settles and takes a nap. This feels like real progress.

The picture above shows Mel and sagan in the living room. Mel is reclined on the sofa and Sagan is sitting in between her legs sitting and staring at her.

I love that he settles and goes to take a nap but there is a slight problem. He does not choose his bed or his crate for his nap. He plops down on the carpet in random spots. I have tried to make his bed and crates positive places but I guess our ideas of what makes a great bed are different. I am sure this is an easy fix which I will tackle once I figure out what he prefers. Sleeping in random spots is not an option so it will be addressed. For now, I am observing to find out what he chooses for himself.

The picture above shows Sagan laying in the kitchen while he chews on a long bully stick.

I continue to ask the question, “How do we communicate best since I am blind and eye contact is not a choice?” All the training books and trainers rely on eye contact to connect with your dog so as usual a person who is blind is required to think outside the box. For the last few days I am experimenting with treating him whenever he just happens to touch my hand or leg when he comes near. I started this by calling him to me and treating him when he voluntarily touches me. He learned very quickly that the treat does not materialize unless he touches me. Now that he does this behavior reliably, I treat him when he just happens to touch me. The result already is that he checks in with me every few minutes to find out if I will treat him. I try to treat him every time for now. I will begin using intermittent reinforcement. So far, I am pleased with my experiment. I want him to want to be near me most of the time. I will gradually fade the treats and let the praise be enough to maintain the behavior. This does not solve the lack of eye contact completely by any means but one sure thing I have learned by training Sagan is that behavior must be shaped in tiny increments. I am not prone to being patient with tedious details so I am getting over it. I will continue to find our own special style of communicating.


Now quickly about toys: Early on I bought toys that were recommended to me. I was disappointed when Sagan did not go crazy for them. The problem I know now is that he was too young for them. I reintroduced the Jolly egg, which is a very hard light plastic wobbly ball. When I gave it to him when he was younger, it frustrated him because he wanted to bite it and couldn’t. Now he has learned to use his feet and he knocks it around. It keeps him occupied for long periods of time or as long as I can tolerate the noise. The second is a food releasing puzzle that held no interest for him earlier. It is the Busy Buddy Tug Jug. It has become his main way to give him his breakfast kibble. He gets very excited about it and he works for his food. Similarly, the Planet dog orbee food dispensing toy is now a favorite for him. He has learned that his front feet are great tools for getting what he wants. These toys have been mentioned in previous blogs but his reaction to them have changed. I thought you might be interested.

Links to toys

Jolly egg,

Tug jug,

Planet dog Orbee,


Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 8 Months One Week Old

This last week was different because my husband was traveling so Sagan and I were alone. We had a good time except when we didn’t. I puppy-proofed the house more than before so I was able to give him more freedom to roam. Overall, I think this turned out well even though I found myself checking on him constantly for fear that he might have something I did not think of in my proofing process. Once again, “management” along with “meditation” saved my sanity this week.


I just read over my daily log and I had to laugh. Most of the notes I took besides noting food, water, elimination, training time, playtime, crate time, and a few other things, read like a behavior file of a true adolescent. The week began with me rearranging the house and putting a bed for him in our living room. He thought it was interesting at first but he won’t sleep on it unless there are a whole lot of treats involved. Then, we were playing crate games and he laid down on top of his crate very relaxed and satisfied with himself. He did what I told him to do but not exactly.  The funniest thing was when he had freedom and I was happily doing some computer work, I heard an odd sound coming from another room. It took me a minute to convince myself that I really needed to go check on him. When I got to him, he was contentedly gnawing off the foil of a champagne bottle. It is such a poodle thing to do, so I got a good laugh. Needless to say, the wine rack got relocated. I decided to put the champagne in the refrigerator for some unknown celebration. Laughter saves a lot of adolescent puppies.

The 2 pictures above show Sagan laying on and beside his bed in the new living quarters that we set up for him. 


There is one behavior that started this week that I find disturbing. With his new freedom and his new hormones, he has begun to use my body as an object to bounce off of and to mouth. It does not feel aggressive at all but it is nonetheless an unacceptable behavior. He probably weighs close to 50 pounds now and he is lightning fast. He zooms around like a crazy dog and body slams me and he nips. It is very hard to be blind and catch an over-aroused dog. My strategy was to turn my back to a wall and hold on. He finally got bored with me and went elsewhere for his excitement. My hope was it would not happen again so I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Well, the next day he did it again. I caught him and placed him in his crate. I noticed that he immediately plopped down and went to sleep. I realized that this is his new indication of an over-tired or over-aroused dog. His crate is our best friend. Unfortunately, it happened again the next day. I had his house line on him so I could catch him if I needed to which I did. Susie, our trainer suggested that I immediately tell him to sit and do some obedience with him. She also said to have him jump on and off the couch over and over. This way our interaction ends with both of us feeling better. This is working beautifully so far. Having a trainer to call on is a great help.

The picture above shows Mel training Sagan in the living room. Mel is sitting on the couch as she hands Sagan a treat after he follows a command.


I want to mention a training exercise I am doing now with Sagan. It is a Relaxation Protocol developed by Karen Overall. It is basically having the dog in a down stay while you stand there or do other moves like clapping your hands, walking around the dog, and leaving his view. Treats are dispersed at intervals. I have enjoyed doing this and Sagan seems to settle easier and his down stay has improved immensely. The protocol is on YouTube. The link is


Poodles are kind of like highly intelligent and curious children. They have lots of energy and they need their minds to be working. If they are not provided with mental and physical stimulation, they will create their own which is often less than desirable behaviors. As a result, my management toolbox is growing. I introduced nose work last week. I hide his breakfast kibble all over the house. Some are in Kong toys and some I just place on the floor. He is required to sit-stay while I do this. I go back to him and treat him for staying so patiently and then release him to go search out his breakfast. He loves it. He is still getting his raw food in a bowl but everything else he works for. This satisfies his brain and his belly which gets him ready for a nice morning nap.


I want to tell you one more thing. The tribute I wrote for Jingles got published in our local newspaper. I sent it to them in hope that people will connect the dots between pesticides and increased cancers and organ failures in our animals and ourselves. Here is the link in case you are interested. It is similar to the blog post I wrote here a few weeks ago. Link to article,

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, Still 8 Months Old

Sagan was 8 months old on November 2nd. He got a giant bully stick for his present. His jaws are strong now so I have to keep a close watch while he is enjoying it. I take it away from him when it gets to be about 5 or 6 inches long. He also had his first water buffalo horn.  It was great fun for about 5 days and then it started chipping. It went straight to the trash. I am still searching for a chew toy that has little or no calories and is not made of synthetic materials. I am concerned that so many pet products are made of dangerous plastics and micro fibers. I don’t think they are good for our animals to be chewing. If you know of environmentally friendly pet products, please let me know.

The 2 pictures above show Sagan dragging a small red shovel up onto his outdoor bed. He did this a few times.


My biggest thrill this last week was walking Sagan myself in a large cemetery. My husband and Susie, our trainer, were with me. Stu and Susie have been walking with him alone these last months while my foot healed. It felt so good to be walking again. I used my cane in my right hand and Sagan was on my left. Stu and Susie changed places as we experimented with what works best. It was truly a discovery walk for all of us. We discovered that Sagan and I weave. I have never been able to walk in a straight line. This is common for people with visual impairments. In fact, most people have a tendency to veer in one direction or the other. It is a guide dog’s job to keep the handler walking straight. We discussed how to teach him this somewhat more complex task. Over all I am pleased with the progress we have made. I am feeling impatient to get a real harness in my hand again, but I will wait until his skeletal system has stabilized more. I also want his hormones to settle down some. 

The 2 pictures above show Mel, Sagan and Susie, the dog trainer out for a walk at the cemetery. 


The update on Sagan’s narcissistic tendency is that with all the windows covered, he has pretty much stopped barking at himself while inside the house. This morning though, while we were outside, he climbed on a chair and looked at himself in our living room window. He barked just a little and then I ushered him off the chair. The oven and dishwasher doors don’t hold any interest for him anymore for which I am grateful.


In case you are interested, I am feeding Sagan raw food with kibble for training. The brand of dry food is Open Farm puppy food.  He likes it well enough to hold his interest for training. I also use dehydrated organ meats and Ziwi Peak packaged dog treats. I keep thinking that I will make my own treats but it has not risen to the top of the priority list yet.

Puppy food,

Ziwi treats,

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 8 Months Old

I did not cry once this last week but it is a very good thing that Sagan is very cute when he is being naughty. As I spoke about last blog post, we have relaxed his training schedule to accommodate his adolescent brain fog. Our walks are not so structured and free play time has been incorporated into each walk. He was resisting his vest so much that he is getting just a little break from it. We want him to look forward to and enjoy his walks so we are backing off while his body and brain sync up again.

The picture above shows Sagan laying on the outside patio chair staring directly into the camera.

“Management” is the word of the week. After reading several articles and watching webinars on adolescence, I decided he needs more enrichment. Our morning routine has changed to include two different food puzzles along with his smaller portion of raw food which still is given in a bowl. I do require him to do some basic obedience commands which change every day before his bowl is released to him. It is funny to watch how fast he performs these commands when he knows food is on its way. I put kibble in a wobble toy and then some in a tug jug toy. Links will be below. When I first got these toys for him, he was too young to properly play and work them out. Now he loves working at getting out his food. It works great for me because I get to have my coffee while he is occupied. I also bought him a snuffle mat which is great fun and time-consuming. He spends much more time now working or playing for his food. Lick mats have become part of the rotation also. I spend more time preparing food fun for him than I do for my husband and myself. I am now collecting toilet paper and paper towel rolls for doing nose or scent work. I am not sure how to do this yet. That is a project for another week.

The picture above shows Sagan in the kitchen with his snuffle mat. He is searching for the treats that I hid throughout the mat. The mat resembles Vincent Van Goh's "Starry Night" made out of felt.

Sagan grew too big to go through his tunnel which he loved. I got him a larger one and it is much longer also. My hope is to figure out how to train him to go through the tunnel to get to his relief area. This way when it is snowy or rainy weather I can stand at the door and send him out through the tunnel. I think it is a brilliant idea but I am not sure exactly how to train him to do it. I am generally a weather wimp so I am trying to devise a strategy to make it easy on myself. If anyone has ideas as to how to train him to do this, let me know.

The picture above shows Sagan inside his new blue tunnel. He is walking through to the opposite end with a big smile on his face.

I mentioned last blog that Sagan barks at his reflection. Our trainer suggested we get a product that clings to windows which essentially makes them look frosted so he can not see out of them nor do they reflect his image back to him. It has been very helpful. I will put the link below. It is easy to put on the offending windows and comes off easily too.

One more little story and then I will list the goodies we got last week: I was putting him through his obedience commands, one of which is “go to your crate.” He is very good at this and does it with delight. Well, last week he discovered that he can climb on a chair to get to his grooming table and then walk across to the top of his crate. I told him with all seriousness to go to his crate. He took off like lightning toward his crate only to take his detour which put him sitting perfectly and proudly on top of his crate. He did exactly what I asked him to do. I did not treat him for the behavior but it sure was funny. 

The photo above shows Sagan sitting on top of his crate.

Link list for useful puppy management

Wobble toy

Tug jug

Lick mats

Snuffle mat,

Water buffalo horn,

18-foot tunnel 24-inch diameter

Window cling stuff


Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, Almost 8 Months Old


My baby boy is turning into a man. How do I know this? Well, his baby boy parts are looking more like man parts and he has become much more intrigued with them. When he got his first real haircut, his image of himself changed. Now he is looking at his reflection in windows, mirrors, and even the oven door. He insists on barking at this beautiful specimen of a poodle. I hope he is not on his way to becoming a narcissist. Of course, I am not really worried about this but it is pretty amusing to observe him catching his reflection in every window and glass. I am told that this is normal teenage antics and that it will pass. He is also noticing other other dogs and squirrels which did not seem to be much on his radar before last week. I do not want to neuter him anytime soon so I hope we can move through this transition with patience and good humor.


Early last week we had a bit of a scare. My husband was playing with him on a long line and a flirt pole. The flirt pole had a springing action and somehow it broke. The broken parts flew back in his face and cut just below his eye. He yelped in pain and my heart dropped out of my body. It did not damage his actual eye and is healing nicely. Fortunately, he does not seem to be traumatized. He wanted to play with the flirt pole again within a couple of days. That is not going to happen so it has been disappeared.

The pictures above show Sagan on the couch playing with his octopus. He would run to catch it and bring it up on the couch and than repeat the action several times over. 


The last few days I have been reading everything I can get on adolescence in dogs. I have reluctantly come to understand that though my dog is a genius, his body is a major distraction for him much as it is with human teens, which simply means learning and listening to me is not his top priority. We have eased up on his training to take off some of the stress. It is back to basics and asking him to do things that we know he knows well. My main focus now is building trust and an even stronger bond. We are still working on his house manners and devising new games to keep his brain engaged. His outside walks are less stressful right now. He was getting too aroused at loud traffic and other dogs so now we are letting him observe from a further distance. We are working on his impulse control and loving him up while his mind and body figure out how to navigate hormones. I believe I took good advantage of his spongy puppy brain to teach him many things. Now is the time to reassess and to give him some space to grow up a little more.


I realized this last week that my ego is very much rearing up its head. I want to be the best trainer with the best dog that has ever lived. I can be competitive and driven when there is something I feel I have to prove. Ego has no place in dog training. It is not good for dog or handler. I know this intellectually but really living into egoless dog training is an exercise in self awareness. If I can keep my equanimity for the next ten months or forever, I will certainly be closer to true enlightenment.

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, Still 7 1/2 Months Old

As you can tell from the pictures, Sagan had a major haircut this last week. He looks naked. He is acting like he doesn’t know his own body anymore. He is hyper and the only thing that distracts him for any length of time is a marrow bone or a food puzzle. Unfortunately, I can’t feed him all day so I am trying to think of activities to keep him occupied. I wish I were more energetic and creative myself. I have been assured that he will settle into his new feel in a couple of days.


The picture above shows Sagan after being groomed. He is sitting on the front lawn surrounded by leaves. He is wearing a Halloween bandana. 


Poodles have hair, not fur which means it continues to grow like human hair. Because of this, they need to be brushed a lot and have haircuts regularly. My first two guide dogs were poodles but they came to me as adults. I never knew about puppy coats and the fact that they blow that puppy coat. This is a critical time because the puppy hair and the new adult coat get tangled and matted very easily. I was brushing him most days and I could not keep up with the mats around his ears. The groomer suggested I cut his hair all the way down which will help control matting. I am curious to see how his coat grows in from here.

The picture above shows Sagan and Mel standing on the back patio. Sagan was just groomed. He looks a lot smaller. 

Sagan’s training is going well. He is getting almost daily long walks and time playing on a 20-foot leash. He runs and runs. This allows him to release the possible stress of a long training walk. We now break up the walks with a short playtime in the middle. His impulse control around other dogs and people is progressing nicely. My husband is doing all the long walks and the long leash play times. I wish I felt more comfortable doing this myself but it just doesn’t make sense for me to do it, particularly since I live in a very dog-populated area. I have also discovered that walking with a cane and a strong puppy is too risky for me. Fortunately, my husband and dog trainer can take care of this part of the training. My job is house manners and obedience work. I do all the feeding, grooming, and teaching foundation commands. This last week I worked on teaching him how to back up in a straight line. This command is necessary for guide work later on. I have also been doing more enrichment activities with him to exercise his brain. He no longer gets food just plopped in a bowl and handed to him. I use lick mats and other food dispensing toys and puzzles so he works for his food. He seems to absolutely love it. I just read a book called Canine Enrichment by Shay Kelly which has inspired me to create puzzles out of boxes and egg cartons. It is messy but he goes crazy with the fun of it.

The picture above shows Mel and Sagan sitting outside at a picnic table. Sagan is relaxing after discovering vast amounts of goose poops at the park. 


Poodles need a lot of mental and physical activity but they also need to learn how to relax if they are going to be successful at guide work. I spend time every day having him lie down beside me while I do silly things like clapping my hands and jogging in place next to him. I also require that he stay on his bed while I do kitchen chores. Normally he would be relaxing at my feet while I write this but today he is just too nutty. I needed a break from him so he is in his crate for a while. He also chewed through my favorite leather leash which had sentimental value. It was my fault for not paying attention every second while it was on him, so I need a time-out.

Link to book

Link to Lick mats

Link to food treat wobble bowl

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 7 1/2 Months Old

We are skipping a week because I was on vacation. Sagan had a dog sitter in our house. The pictures today are from the time he spent with her. I think he had a great time. He got more freedom than I can give him which I think was great for him. We have done some rearranging of our house so I can feel more confident about letting him off leash some of the time.

The Picture above shows a close-up of Sagan sitting on the outside patio chair. He is staring directly into the camera with a serious expression.


Sagan has grown so much these last few weeks. He is becoming quite the athlete. His favorite thing to do right now is to use a chair to get on his grooming table and then walk across the top of his crate and down off a chair on the other side. I am not encouraging the behavior but it is funny. I removed the easy-access chairs but I let him do it on command as a training exercise. We can turn it into a trick.

The 3 pictures above show Sagan playing with his tunnel. He first drags it to his outdoor bed placing the top part of the tunnel on the bed. He then starts to enter from the opposite end with half his body inside and his tail end hanging out. And finally, the third picture shows him fully inside the tunnel. 


The behavior that has me the most worried right now is his barking. He barks at sounds, dogs, and people. He is alerted to unusual things in the environment. Barking is a self-reinforcing behavior which means he is convinced that his barking has made those sounds or sights go away. This is particularly difficult to train out of them. This type of barking gets worse if not caught in time. Needless to say, my main goal now is to stop the barking. I will be working on a more in-depth strategy with our dog trainer this week. In the meantime, I am playing desensitizing sounds for him. This is when Amazon Alexa comes in handy. I asked Alexa to play Calm Pet Desensitizing Sounds For Animals Volume one. I think there is a series of these. The first one has fireworks, big trucks, babies crying, cat sounds, cars starting, and dogs barking. I hope to find one with only dogs barking and children playing. I really hope this helps us move past this challenge. I am open to suggestions as to how to change this behavior before it gets too big to change.

The picture above shows Sagan sitting in the kitchen surrounded by some plush toys. 

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 7 Months Old

Sagan is the only dog now that Jingles is gone. People have asked me if Sagan had any reaction to Jingle’s death. I did allow Sagan to go where he wanted after Jingle’s body was taken away and he sniffed around the spot on the floor where she died but that was all I noticed. He is getting a little more freedom now that Jingles does not need to be protected from him all the time.

The pictures above show Sagan outside standing on our patio chair with the marrow bone at his feet and the second picture shows Sagan licking food off the silicone lick mat which prolongs his eating experience. 

Sagan is a birthday boy today and his teenager self is certainly showing. This past week he jumped over the kitchen gates by using his bed as a springboard. I was hoping the first time was a fluke but he did it again the next day. Now we are readapting our management to fit our new circumstances. He also decided that his bed was a fun place to urinate when the outside doesn’t strike his fancy. I understand this is teenage behavior. So since the bed is the scene of a double crime, it lives in the garage for the time being. I am glad we put in a cable tie-down in the kitchen a couple of months ago because it is getting a lot of use now.

His training is being stepped up now. He is getting longer walks in all kinds of situations thanks to my husband. We are revisiting following collar cues at the suggestion of our trainer. This means we are asking him to respond to very light pressure on the leash to direct his movement without using a verbal command. We are doing this in preparation to fade out the Gentle Leader. Ultimately we want him to have good manners and responses with a martingale collar only. We started in a low distraction area and he is doing great with it as long as treats are on hand as a reward. He usually pulls like a freight train with just the martingale so I will be happy to get this skill solidified. 

The picture above shows Sagan laying on his outdoor bed with his new toys, an annoyingly high-pitched squeaky bottle which he took a liking to right away, and a toy Seagull.

He discovered this week that he could jump on my very high bed. He is usually leashed but one night he got away from my husband. He launched himself on top of me in the bed. It surprised me so much that I started giggling. Fortunately, he did not hurt me so it was pretty funny. I am tempted to let him sleep with me but I can’t trust him yet which means another management readjustment. It is a good idea to be adjustable ourselves because as soon as we think we have a nice routine, it changes as he grows.

Adolescence in dogs can be a very challenging time. Many new dog owners decide that their puppy badly behaves and that they cannot handle them. This is why there are so many young dogs in shelters. People need to be aware that raising a puppy is not always fun or easy. It is a commitment and should not be taken lightly. Puppies are great fun but it is a lot of work if you want to have a well-adjusted family member. I feel confident that Sagan will breeze through this developmental period as long as we continue to learn and adapt.

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