Training My Own Guide Dog

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 10 Months 1 Week Old

It feels good to be back to a training schedule. Our days and nights are calmer and my motivation for working with Sagan is renewed. I am revisiting books and training videos that I studied even before Sagan came on the scene. Now is the time to start using some of the more advanced materials. Sagan is so eager to learn new things and I need to learn how to teach them. We are learning together.

The picture above shows Sagan standing in the kitchen and looking behind himself.

My husband and I are also learning new tricks. We have learned not to put our AirPods in shallow pants pockets where they easily fall out. It is nice of him to find them for us but he prefers not to give them back. Both of our AirPods are now sporting teeth marks. My plan is to perfect his “drop it” and “trade” commands this week. We are also getting accustomed to looking for our cookie sheets and other baking pans on our furniture instead of in the kitchen. Sagan was getting zoomies and launching himself onto the couch. This is not an acceptable behavior so metal pans make the couch landing not as much fun for him. We also only want him on the couch when he is invited. I am not sure yet when we will be able to return our pans back to their rightful place. Sagan also recently discovered that ballpoint pens are the best chew toys ever. This is terrifying because they can do so much damage to dogs. Until I can get a reliable “drop” from Sagan, we need to stop leaving pens around.

Last week I began adding more challenges to his usual commands. Now before he is released to eat his food, I require that he heel and shake hands before he eats. This is for training better impulse control. It is hard for him because he is hungry and he loves his food. He is also required to sit on his bed while food is being prepared. He is pretty good at the “go to bed” command if the stay is short. Now I am teaching him to go to his bed from any place in the house and he must stay put until he is released. It is a work in progress. The other command we are working on is the “close” command. He is required to turn his body and sit between my legs facing the same direction I am. He does this whether I am sitting down or standing. This command comes in handy when we are in a crowded situation. He already does this one pretty well but it needs solidifying.

The picture above shows Sagan in the dining room with his Tearribles monster plush toy in his mouth. 

Our biggest challenge now is his desire to play with other dogs, squirrels, and children on our daily walks. He becomes activated and starts vocalizing and becoming generally unfocused. This is a common problem that will require patience and consistency on our part. He does quite well inside stores which is great. My hope is that his distractability will calm down as he grows older.

We are baking our own training treats now when we can find our pans. It is much cheaper than buying them. Here are a couple of recipes in case you are interested.

Pumpkin, peanut butter, and oats dog treats

Banana, peanut butter, and oats dog treats


Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 10 Months Old

Sagan has healed well from his neutering and all is well. The biggest challenge was keeping him from being too rambunctious. The body suit was the best thing ever for keeping him away from the incision. He actually seemed to like wearing it. We are back to a full schedule of training now that the holidays are over and our house is empty from family again.

The picture above shows Mel, Stu, and Sagan on the couch in the living room. Sagan is laying in between Stu and Mel with his front legs crossed and all smiles. 


We had many people coming and going from our house over the last two weeks so we had many opportunities to teach Sagan to go to his bed when someone knocks on the door. Whenever someone was coming over, we set it up so we had Sagan on a leash and when the knock came, we ran him over to his bed and treated him. He was required to stay there until he became calm. Then he was allowed to greet the people. He did amazingly well with this. He got a tremendous amount of loving and lots of different people playing with him. As far as I know he stole nothing of value from anyone and all the holiday decorations stayed safe.

The picture above shows Mel's son, Cole and Sagan on the couch wrapped in a hug with the same excited expressions on their faces.


I decided to try my hand at crafting a dog toy which is working out great so far. I have collected used marrow bones and I made a bone chain. I got an old pair of jeans and cut them up. I threaded the bones and tied a few knots here and there. It is quite ugly but he loves it. I occasionally stuff treats in it or put a bit of peanut butter on the bones. He carries it around and then he settles nicely with it on his bed. I have spent so much money trying to find the right kind of toys for him. I think making them is the best solution.


We decided that we do not want him on the furniture without being invited. The trainer suggested that we put cookie sheets on the couches and chairs. This has worked like magic. The idea is to break the pattern of launching himself on and off furniture. We do invite him on the couch at times, but he is only allowed to rest with us.

The picture above shows a closeup of Sagan. He looks like he is laughing. 


Now that he is 10 months old, we will start asking more of him in terms of training more complex guiding skills. I plan to put him in harness in March when he is a year old. I am excited about this next phase of his training. 

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 9 1/2 Months Old

Well, after a whole lot of soul-searching and consulting with the vet, professional, and other owner trainers, I decided that neutering Sagan was the best choice for us. I planned to wait until he was close to 2 years old but it was not to be. He was exhibiting behaviors that I did not want to become entrenched. Other dogs were noticing him and he became very activated every time he saw a dog even in the distance. We tried to train past these behaviors without success. I am well aware that Sagan’s work may not be as a guide dog but I felt that neutering him now will give us the best chance for success. He is currently recovering nicely from his surgery.

The picture above shows Sagan post-surgery laying on the living room floor. He is wearing his inflatable donut ring. 


I am sure that most of you are familiar with the horrible plastic cone that is part of post-surgery care for dogs who are likely to chew at their incision. It is truly miserable for the dog and for us to watch. I researched other alternatives and came up with two. One is an inflatable doughnut that goes over their head and the other is a body suit that covers the wound. We are using both. Poodles have long noses which allows them to get around the doughnut if they are determined. Sagan was determined. We then located the Suitical, which is a body suit. It works great. It seems to keep him calm and he can’t get to the incision. We still use the doughnut at times when he isn’t trying to chew himself. I like to give him a break from the suit. The suit needs to be unsnapped when he urinates and we learned the hard way exactly how that needs to be done. We have had to wash the suit twice. I highly recommend the suit for dogs needing surgery.

The 2 pictures above show Sagan standing in the kitchen wearing the Suitical bodysuit. It is a thin black material with snaps in the back.


The most challenging part of the whole thing is keeping him calm and quiet. The first day he was kind of groggy but after that, he was ready to run and jump. I have been keeping him busy as much as I can to keep his focus away from his wound and to keep him from wanting to zoom around the house. We are playing games with food and chew toys. I am looking forward to this phase being over. Keeping him calm for 2 weeks seems unlikely but I will do my best.


I confess that I considered not writing about my decision to have Sagan neutered so early. I know that there are strong opinions about neutering before 2 years old or even doing it at all. I was committed to waiting myself, but we don’t always get to do things the way we hope or plan. I did not want to get the lash back from those who think I made a bad decision. It felt out of integrity not to mention this hard decision because people need to know that raising and training a dog requires flexibility. I hope that my honesty will help others who might be in a similar situation. I will keep you posted as to the result. My greatest hope is that this will allow our training to continue with a calmer dog and that we will ultimately become the superior working team that I have imagined.

Link to Suitical bodysuit

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 9 Months and 1 Week Old

From a few comments I have received this last week, it is evident that I have some explaining to do. I don’t think I ever spoke about my intentions or philosophy in relation to claiming the label “owner-trainer."  It has been implied that I am misrepresenting myself because I have clearly hired a professional trainer who does work with me, my husband, and Sagan. She comes once a week for 90 minutes. She has never trained a dog to be a guide and neither have I. Her job is to be a part of my support team which every owner-trainer must have to reach the ultimate goal of having a polished working team. It is my responsibility as the owner and handler of the dog to raise a dog that is able to perform his tasks skillfully. A skilled working guide must be able to guide with precision and to be quiet, clean, and polite while he is working. It takes time, devotion, money, patience, and skill to do this well. I am extremely invested in having a working guide who will be a credit to his breed and to me as his handler. I am by no means naive enough to think I can do this without a support team. I am not that smart.

The reasons I have chosen to go the route of owner-trainer are many. I have worked with four guide dogs from established guide dog schools. I have learned a huge amount about what it takes to take responsibility for such a highly skilled dog as well as the care and feeding to maintain a dog at optimal health. It is so much more than learning how to command a dog and keeping it groomed and healthy. There is a bond of trust that must be forged in order to be a good team. I thought long and hard about my decision to get an 8-week-old puppy because it is a huge undertaking to do what I have set out to do. I wanted to create a bond of trust with my dog from the very start. I also wanted a poodle, which are harder to get from established schools. Another reason is that I am committed to training my dog with force-free and fear-free methods as much as possible. I want my dog to be working for me because it is fun for him. This training method takes longer in some cases because behaviors are being shaped, not forced. They are being rewarded for making good choices, not being corrected until the dog absolutely knows what is being asked of him. Every dog is an individual as is every human. It takes time to learn their learning style and it takes time to figure out what motivates a dog to do what is asked of him. I wanted control of this process from start to finish. I take this responsibility very seriously.

The picture above shows Mel playing in the kitchen with Sagan. 

The purpose of writing and posting this weekly progress report is to show what is truley involved in being an owner-trainer with all the challenges and celebrations along the way. I do not know how this story will end. Sagan, even though he is certainly a genius, may not be cut out for guide work. I won’t know for a long while yet. So far, he is doing very well and we are still enjoying the process at 9 months old. I study and consult with other owner-trainers almost daily so that I can keep us on track. I think that others need to know that this is not just a walk in the park even though that is some of what we do. I write this to get helpful feedback from experienced trainers and I have received much good advice from many. I take it in and weigh it carefully against my own judgment and my philosophy of training. I appreciate hearing all of it, so please keep it coming. My greatest desire is to end up with a guide dog that enjoys his work and proves to the world that people who are blind can take responsibility for creating a great support team and ultimately a working team that moves effectively and with pride through their environment. I believe that people who are blind are perfectly capable of choosing and training their own dog with guidance from experienced people. I believe that we can create a working team that rivals and even exceeds the expectations of those graduating from established schools. Owner training is serious business and the result reflects on all those who have working guides. We must hold ourselves to a very high standard so that guide dogs are always considered among the most highly skilled of working dogs. I am committed to training a dog that will make all of us proud.

The picture aboves shows Sagan after his grooming. He is wearing a red, white and green bandana. He looks very handsome.

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 9 Months Old

Sagan turned 9 months old on December 2nd. Needless to say, this is an obvious excuse for more toys. Instead of buying them this time, I made them. I received quite a few good ideas in response to my last blog, so I got creative myself.

The first toy I made is still in action. I found an old canvas shopping bag and put some of the toys he never plays with inside of it. I tied up the handles in such a way that the toys inside could not come out. The handles are great hand holds for playing tug. He really enjoys running and shaking it to make sure it is really dead. We play tug together and I ask him to stay while I hide it. He has ripped a few holes in it but it remains viable for now.

The picture above shows Sagan in the living room with his canvas bag toy and stuffed dragon. 

Next, I cut the legs off an old pair of jeans. I opened up the leg and then rolled it lengthwise with the cut seam inside. I tied two knots and he loves it. People also suggested that I cut the pant leg in strips and braid them with knots at the ends. I will try that when these get disappeared.

We started public access in earnest this week. We took him to a hardware store, a pet store, a huge grocery store, and a large department store. The latter was with our trainer. She walked him all over using the Gentle Leader and the martingale. Our goal is to move away from the Gentle Leader. He is getting so much better. He did have a few narcissistic moments when he kept seeing himself in mirrors in several of the aisles. He did manage to get over that pretty quickly. I am grateful he did not bark at his reflection like he usually does. He was also very distracted by some young children. The trainer says we need to find some young kids to hang out with in a relaxed way. I will need to make some new friends to make that happen.

The picture above shows the trainer walking Sagan in the department store. 

Our biggest challenge right now is house manners. If he is not in his crate or tethered in some fashion, he is in constant motion. We have been allowing him to roam freely in the house as much as we can but honestly, it is pretty frustrating. Everything and I mean everything is prime chewing material. Just when I think I can relax for a moment, he finds something I thought was out of his reach. He keeps finding dental floss and air pod cases. It is virtually impossible to protect him from every potential danger. Our house is getting darker and darker because he keeps finding the electric cords that go to lamps. The lamps get banished to the garage for the time being. Once again, “management” is the word of the week. My husband and I are learning not to put our air pods and anything else dangerous in pants pockets that are not secure. Things fall out of pockets on the couch and are targets for an observant puppy. I have also been working on getting Sagan to “trade”. The idea is to give him something more valuable than what is in his mouth at the time. Sometimes this works but more often than not, he is certain that what it is in his mouth at that moment is the best thing ever. I have had quite a few panicky moments when he has something and I have no idea what it is. I even tried sardines as the trade and he opted for the bottle in his mouth. It ended happily ever after but my heart starts racing at times. I just keep telling myself that dogs seem to live fairly well in the wild so I am trying to trust more in his own survival instincts.

My goal for the next couple of weeks is to train him to go to his bed and stay there instead of pacing like a caged lion. We are also working on him staying at the top or bottom of the staircase when not on a leash when we are going up and down ourselves. He likes to go flying around us on the stairs which is absolutely not acceptable. I think he will learn this quickly.

I think holiday decorations will pretty much be nonexistent this year due to Sagan. I am not up to worrying every second about where he is and what he is into. Maybe I will put some lights on the mantle or hang them from the ceiling. 

Overall, I am thrilled with our progress and we are having lots of fun together even though it may sound like I am complaining. This is a real-life slice of life with a puppy. We have located a puppy friend for him. The family has a large fenced-in yard. Sagan had the best time playing. We hope to make this a once-a-week event and to make some new dog friends for variety. I don’t want you to think it is all work and no play for Sagan.

The 2 pictures above show Sagan on his playdate with his new dog friend, Trixie.

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 8 3/4 Months Old

Toy failures are my gripe this week. Sagan needs new toys or maybe it is me that needs him to have new toys. Truth be told, I am addicted to new ones for him. It is so fun to watch him get so excited. Well, I was told that I am “spoiling” him. I prefer to think of it as “enrichment”. Anyway, I ordered a food dispensing ball which he absolutely loved for about one hour until it broke. Then, I ordered something that caught my attention on FaceBook. The idea of it was brilliant I thought. We opened the box and he went crazy for it. We played together for about 15 minutes and it ripped. I was so bummed out. I was determined to get him something, so we went to the local pet store. I got three more toys. One lasted a day before it ripped, he ripped the cover off of another but it is still viable. The last was a rubber food dispensing ball. He has that one still but it is too easy for him. Needless to say, I am frustrated and still looking. My goal is to find a toy that is not food related and that we can play together without it ripping.

The 2 pictures above show Mel and Sagan outside of the Dogs and Cats pet store. 


Sagan is 46 pounds now. I am so glad he loves jumping on his grooming table via a chair because lifting him is now too much. He seems to really enjoy his grooming sessions which is a good thing because his puppy coat is coming out and he gets mats and tangles. I brush him about 4 times a week. Somebody told me about detangling spray which is helping a lot. 


His training is going well. I taught him how to shake hands this week. It took about a half-hour over two sessions. I am going to teach him to turn or roll over on the grooming table so I can brush both sides of him without going through an ordeal to change his position. We are mostly working on house manners. He is great as long as nobody else is watching. It is time to engage other people to help with door greetings and staying on his bed. I also need to teach him not to pass on the stairs. Since he has more freedom to roam in the house now, this has become a hazard.


The best thing of all was that he got to actually play with another dog in a fenced-in yard. Our trainer set up a play date for him. Sagan had never played in a free area with another dog since I got him at 8 weeks old. We have been using a long line for his running exercise but I wanted him to be able to stretch out and play. When he first met the new dog, he attempted some dominant behaviors but the other dog quickly put him in his place. All went great after that. They ran and ran. It was so fun to watch and Stu and I met some new friends too. The plan is to do this at least once a week.


Back to toys; I ended up making him a toy out of a canvas bag. I put a couple of his other toys that he does not take much interest in and tied them up in the bag. He carries it around in his mouth. It has lasted three days now. Today I am going to make something with an old pair of jeans. I am not going to buy any more toys with stuffing in them. I wish some enterprising business-minded person would create safe toys that could last more than 15 minutes.

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,

< 1 ... 3 4 5 6 7 ... 9 >