Training My Own Guide Dog

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 6 1/4 Months Old

After the experience the week before last with Sagan and diarrhea, I have become so appreciative of perfect poops. The regularity of production and the consistency of shape and quantity has captured my fascination. Which foods create the desired effect? What is the best way to clean it up and eliminate odors? Is it okay to put down lime in the fecal zone or is that bad for the dogs? Is it terribly uncouth to put it down our human toilets? So many questions to ponder.

Maybe you think I am going a little crazy or maybe a lot, but as puppy raisers, we need to be observant. The more information we can glean from their bodily functions, the healthier our dogs will be. So far, being consistent with a mostly raw diet has made for the best production values. I rotate brands of raw dog food and training kibble. My intention is to create a well-rounded microbiome so as not to predispose Sagan to food sensitivities. All is well so far except for the overindulgence of tomatoes the week before. As for putting dog poop down human toilets is still on the table for pondering.

The pictures above show Sagan outside on his dog bed enjoying a marrow bone in the sun. 

Training last week was so fun! Sagan is really wrapping his beautiful head around what his education is all about. One day he woke up and seemed to just understand what was expected. He has begun generalizing behaviors outside the narrow training zone of our house and grounds. He recognizes seats as chairs and benches. He reliably knows the difference between doors with different names such as front door, back door, and garage door. I dare not brag though because I know he can wake up another day seemingly to have forgotten everything. It is funny to watch him offer up his behaviors when he is not quite sure what I am asking of him. He is so eager to please and food is a great motivator for him. His training would be much more challenging if he was not food motivated. 

Susie the trainer, and Stu are now taking him on longer training walks. He went to an arts festival yesterday with lots of people and dogs. He did extremely well. He did shy away from school buses but he had never seen such a thing before. I doubt it will become a problem. He is still distracted by children and other dogs which we will keep working on. He is a puppy after all and instant perfection is not expected.

The picture above shows Stu training Sagan at the park. Sagan is sitting at Stu's left side while they pause for a picture.

I want to share a grooming tool that I have found to be absolutely superior. It is expensive but worth it. Poodle hair requires a special brush to get through the curly, thick hair. The Big G Slicker brush by Chris Christensen is a treat to use. Sagan has always endured his grooming sessions with forbearance but he seems to really enjoy them now. He puts his front paws on the grooming table and I lift up his back end. He settles down and I get to work. I have chosen for the time being not to treat him with internal interventions for tick-borne diseases or fleas so grooming is super important. My goal is to make it a meditation for me and a pure joy for him. The link for the brush is below. I am not affiliated with this company in any way.

Overall, this last week has been fun and mostly peaceful except when he found a pen on the floor and proceeded to take it apart. I was on it so no harm was incurred. He moves like quiet lightning at times so I need to be ever vigilant.

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 6 Months Old, Birthday Week!

Sagan was 6 months old on September 2nd. The week started out with a pretty dramatic case of diarrhea. I can’t be sure what triggered it because there were quite a few variables, one being I gave him commercial food instead of his usual raw, and the other being that there just happened to be a pint of cherry tomatoes just in reach of his curiosity. I was up all night with him. Fortunately, with a bland diet, it passed the next day. He did seem to enjoy the tomatoes. I was not worried because he only ate a few and they are not toxic for dogs. They are actually good for dogs but I suspect he ate one too many.

The Picture above shows Sagan sitting at Mel's side near a park bench. He is looking at something off in the distance.

I had a Lime vaccine scheduled for him on Wednesday but I canceled it partly because he had been sick and mostly because my gut said, “No.” I do not take vaccines lightly and since Lime is not a core vaccine, I just need to do some more research and sit with the decision. We do live in an area where Lime is prevalent but lifestyle is also a consideration. I may rethink when we move to the Rachel Carson EcoVillage next summer.

The highlight of the week was when Susie, the trainer came. She took him on a long training walk into town where they worked stairs and whatever else presented itself. My husband went along so he can learn the methods. This way he can increase Sagan’s walks per week. We are still refining our command list and getting everything defined so we are all on the same page. I am putting the current list below in case you are interested. It is an evolving list. If you have any ideas or comments on this list, I am open to suggestions.

Here is an updated list of Sagan’s commands - 

Sagan’s Commands with Explanations, IN & OUT OF HARNESS

  1. Sit  dog’s bum to the floor/ground in heel position or any location
  2. Down  dog’s body to the floor/ground at any location, legs in any position, head up or down
  3. Up Sit  dog’s body moves from down position to sit position, this is mainly an obedience exercise for “puppy push-ups”
  4. Stay dog does not move from last command given until release word or another command given, in Sit, Down or Stand position
  5. Come dog recalls from any location directly to handler and remains close enough that handler is able to touch dog
  6. Let’s Go  to move forward motion with handler, more casual walking with loose leash
  7. Heel  dog moves to left side of handler, head in line with handler’s left leg, forward motion with a loose lea
  8. Stand dog stands securely on all four legs
  9. Back  dog backs up a few inches to a few feet, dog can back up and stand, sit or lay
  10. Wait  to stop forward motion, pause, dog can stand, sit or lay, dog should hold position until release word or another command is given
  11. Free  dog’s release word to break out of command
  12. Get It  to move after and pick up a toy during play
  13. Bring It  to bring toy or object back to handler
  14. Leave It  to leave food item or object on floor or ground, no attempt to sniff, explore or pick up 
  15. Drop It  to drop food item or object directly to floor or ground
  16. Thank you  to release object into hand
  17. Ready?  indication that handler and dog are ready to begin activity together
  18. Touch  to touch hand or indicated object with nose
  19. Get Busy  to go potty - release bladder and/or bowels
  20. Go to Bed/Place  send to designated bed or any “place” indicated 
  21. Down & Under  dog lays and tucks body behind or next to handler
  22. Off  to remove paws off of someone or something
  23. Yes  indication of correct behavior or response, dog will be reward
  24. Head In  to move head into harness
  25. Forward  to move forward with handler 
  26. Halt  to stop forward motion, pause, dog can stand, sit or lay, dog should hold position until release word or another command is given
  27. About  to make a 180 degree right turn, turn away from dog, turn opposite direction
  28. Hup Up  to increase speed, speed up
  29. Steady  to decrease speed, slow down
  30. Left  turn left, quarter turn to left
  31. Right  turn right, quarter turn to right
  32. Over Left  to move further left on straight path
  33. Over Right  to mover further right on straight path
  34. Find the Curb  locate and move handler to closest curb
  35. Find a Seat  locate and move handler to closest seat
  36. Find a Trash Can  locate and move handler to closest trash can
  37. Find the Button  locate and move handler to closest button
  38. Watch  be alert and move handler straight avoiding obstacles
  39. Follow  follow trusted companion following all normal training rules
  40. Find the Way  find the most logical path to move handler in straight line
  41. Straight  move handler in straight line
  42. Straight to the Curb  move handler in straight line directly to closest curb
  43. Find downstairs
  44. Find upstairs
  45. Find the elevator
  46. Find the counter
  47. Find the door outside
  48. Find the door inside

Some of these will get phased out as we become more habituated to each other as a working team. It sounds like a lot but dogs like Sagan are super smart. He won’t go into a real working harness for several months yet and several of these commands will wait until we get there. So far, he is doing great. My husband and I are a little more conscious of how far those curious paws can reach. My counters are getting cleaner and cleaner.

The Picture above shows Sagan outside on a walk. He is standing on all fours and looking up at the camera. He looks like he is laughing.

The below link is the eco-village that we are moving to next year. It is in development. There are a few more units available. I invite you to check it out.

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, Almost 6 Months Old

Something changed in my relationship with Sagan last week. He yanked out the screws from the wall that held the kitchen enclosure secure. I did not yell or cry. I laughed. I thought to myself, “They are just screws in a wall and we can fix that.” If all the damage done is so easily remedied, we will be just fine. It served to motivate me to think about how to phase out the kitchen pen altogether. He is going o figure out pretty soon that he can jump over it so the time has come again to rethink. This journey is keeping my mind nimble. 

I am beginning to trust that he will not bite me now that his teething has slowed down. I actually let him lick my face, raw food breath, and all. I got a little nervous when he started licking my throat but it had a happy ending. He is mostly quite gentle except when he misses his target when going for his bone or toy that is in my hand. I get tough on him when that happens and he is becoming more accurate.

The picture above shows Sagan sitting in the living room. He sits obediently as he looks at the camera for a picture.

Susie, our trainer came and took him for a long training walk. He wears his vest to alert people not to bother her while she is teaching him about curbs and obstacles. I still can’t go on these walks because of my foot. It might be better that she goes alone with him anyway for now. When my foot has healed, we will go out together to perfect our technique. Susie loves working with him because he is so smart and she has always wanted to train a guide dog. We are all learning together. I am so grateful she showed up for me.

The Pictures above show Susie and Sagan on a training walk into town. Sagan walks closely by Susie's left side and she directs him as they approach an obstacle on the sidewalk.


The other behavior that has changed this week is that he is learning to occupy himself more. He has an empty marrow bone that he throws up in the air or kicks around the patio. It goes a long way and it keeps him moving. It seems as if he is creating puzzles for himself with it. He takes it inside his tunnel and leaves it there. Then he runs around the patio for a minute and remembers his bone in the tunnel and pounces on the whole thing. He gets all tangled up in the tunnel until the bone is revealed. Then he starts over. I sit with my late afternoon libation and enjoy the show. Of course, being blind, a lot of it is in my imagination, so I reserve the right to embellish the story.

Susie and I are refining our list of commands that we will work from over the next year. There are so many details to think about when teaching a command. Right now I am deciding how far from a curb or down stair I want him to halt before actually reaching the step-down. If it is a staircase, do I want him to cut across my body to target the rail or stop and wait for me to tell him to find the rail. These are things I never thought about before because my previous guide dogs already knew what to do. I have forgotten how we did it so we are creating our own rules. In essence, I am making a custom-made guide. That is the beauty of training my own dog.

The picture above shows Sagan and Susie at a crosswalk. Susie uses the command word "halt" and Sagan sits immediately waiting for the next command word "let's go" when it is safe to proceed across the street.

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 5 3/4 Months Old

Clear communication is the key to all relationships, right? Well, Sagan has been expressing himself clearly this last week. He chewed through his Gentle Leader and his house leash. Logically you might say, “He just needed something to chew on and the leash was right there.” We will never know but it sure seems like he had a clear purpose for his efforts. He was quiet about it and fast. I have no idea when he accomplished the destruction. I know that doesn’t mean much since I am blind. He could have done it any time. The thing is that he never chewed on leashes before now and he almost always has something to chew close to him. Gentle Leaders and leashes are not cheap and we are going through them too fast. I can’t help but think he had a method to his madness.

The Picture above shows Sagan lying on the floor in front of the couch with his stuffed lamb toy between his legs. 

Sagan is wanting to communicate with all the children he sees and dogs. He is very social and he wants to play. He is a baby still and it is so hard for me to keep him restrained. It feels wrong to insist that he be quiet and still when so many exciting things are going on all around him. It is my job to do just that if we are to become a working team. Of course, all puppies need to play so I am learning how to play in ways that satisfy his needs. I am working on a controlled fetch game. So far, I haven’t figured out the best rules for us so mostly it has been his rules up to now. As a person who is blind, I need more precision as to where he drops his toy. I am teaching him to put it in my hand. This is challenging because he doesn’t want to let it go. He also prefers to take the toy to his bed rather than bring it to me. My experiments with this failed last week so this upcoming week we will get some very high-value treats and work on it when he is hungry but not too hungry. I continue to find ways to communicate with him without the benefit of eye contact. I will keep you posted. Hopefully, next week I can report success.

The picture above shows a side profile of Sagan outdoors. He is standing fully on all fours as he observes neighbors who walk by. 


Overall last week was fun and we made good progress in his training. We went to several stores where we sat a watched the doors open and close and the people go by. He stayed down and under my chair without much prompting from me. He went on a long training walk with our trainer and she said he was wonderful. Susie, the trainer, and I are learning together how to work with Sagan. She and I are working on our communication skills with each other so we can support our project. I feel very fortunate that she is such a good trainer and she is excited to train a guide dog. Finding her was a gift. I am excited to find out what is next. Adolescence is coming soon so I want to have a good foundation so we can move through it as well as possible.

The Picture above shows Sagan and Mel at the Dogs and Cats Rule Store. Sagan sits patiently at Mel's side as Mel looks down at him with a smile. 

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 5 1/2 Months old

My boy is growing up in every way. One day he looks chubby and the next he seems to be taller and lean. One day he runs to me and jumps on my lap with his toy and the next he runs to his mat and ignores me completely. One day he obeys every command perfectly and the next he has selective hearing. We are having to readjust to new attitudes and his new physical strength, also. “Tough love” is the learning for this last week. I am a softy so I am learning. Fortunately, my newly retired husband is home more and he is great at catching behaviors and acting quickly.

Sagan had new experiences this week. We went into a pharmacy for the first time and walked the isles. He acted like this was no big deal. He paid no attention to items on shelves or people. He stood in line like he was already a pro. I was so proud. Then right after we went to a beverage store where once again he acted great. I was holding him and my cane while we followed my friend around the stores. I need more practice handling my cane and Sagan at the same time. It is pretty awkward. I am learning to let go of attempting to look dignified. There is no real need to worry about my dignity though because everyone looks at his cuteness.

The two pictures above show Sagan walking down the front walkway and sitting on the front lawn as he waits patiently for Mel to get into the car for an outing. He is wearing his new Martingale collar. 

Our dog and people trainer came this week. We learned how to teach the “leave it” command. This is important for guide work and general safety. He learned the command quickly and it will be my job to enhance it by increasing the difficulty. I have had to revise the method to fit my inability to see very well what his reactions are. Instead of using tiny little treats for him to leave, I put a little peanut butter in several Kong toys which are larger. So far, he understands. The challenge will come when he meets the dropped ice cream cone or lovely smelling bits of decaying dead things. We will set him up lots of times in front of our house and other places.

The picture above shows a close-up picture of Sagan resting his head on Mel's lap as they drive to the pharmacy.

We switched him over to a martingale collar for better control. I am finding that I still need him to wear the Gentle Leader in order for me to feel secure in my ability to manage his pulling.

I reached out to other owner trainers this last week for a therapy session for myself. I question my ability to be able to actually shape a super smart and physically strong male dog into a working guide for me. I was advised again to relax and to embrace tough love with consistency. They keep telling me not to compare myself and my dog to others. Every dog is different and every handler does things differently. I am a bit of a perfectionist and I don’t like feeling like I am making stupid mistakes. My biggest fear is that I am going to do something I can’t undo. I am also afraid that somebody else will damage his training in some way. Being a perfectionist control freak is not very endearing to others. The anxiety is seeping into my night dreams replacing the classic college anxiety dreams; you know the one when it is time for the exam and I never went to class. It is definitely time to get back to my meditation practice.

The picture above shows Sagan walking down the front walkway to the front door after his exciting trip through town. He looks very long in this picture. 

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.



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