Training My Own Guide Dog

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.

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, Tribute To Jingles

Sagan is not the star of the blog this week. He has been virtually ignored as much as anyone can ignore a teenager. We will get back on track now that Jingles is gone.

The picture above shows Mel and Jingles posing for a picture on March 8, 2014

The picture above shows Mel with Jingles and Rowan the cat sitting on the couch on October 19, 2015. Rowan is laying on Mels' lap and Jingles is at Mel's right side. 


For those of you who do not know, Jingles was my fourth guide dog from The Guide Dog Foundation in New York. She was a golden retriever and she was absolutely the most devoted guide I have ever had. She was very calm and quiet. She never barked out loud except when she was dreaming. She went along her way Friday with help from our vet. She had advanced kidney disease which we had been treating for about three years. I am so grateful to have a vet who was willing to come to our home. Jingles was calm and engaged with us until the very end. She will be cremated. I will put some of her ashes in all of my plants inside and outside my house.

The 2 pictures above show Mel and Jingles on the outside patio in May of 2018.  Mel is sitting on the bench with Jingles in the first picture and she is doing a balancing pose while Jingles looks up at her in the second picture. 

Jingles had to be retired after she had a seizure caused by a pesticide treatment applied in my HOA community. She was only 7 years old at that time. She came very close to dying again after another application in the Spring of 2020. I feel strongly that these exposures to dangerous pesticides were the cause of her illness. She was the canary in the coal mine.

The picture above shows Jingles in January of 2019. She is sitiing in the kitchen looking up at the camera. 

Because of her, I went on a campaign to educate my neighbors and anyone else who would listen that pesticides are killing our pets and wildlife. Wildlife, like people who are blind, can not read pesticide application signs. It is up to us to ask questions of our community and municipalities as to what is being sprayed on our athletic fields and playgrounds where we walk our dogs and our children play. It is up to us to use our voices to declare that using pesticides where we live and play is not acceptable. Please be aware that there is a great chance that you and your dogs are being exposed without your knowledge. Your dog may be getting kidney, liver, thyroid diseases, and cancers due to pesticide exposures. Please educate yourself about what is going on in your community and then speak up about it. There are many alternatives to conventional landscape practices. You can be part of keeping our guide dogs and all the other creatures safe. Being silent is being complicit. I want the death of jingles to serve an even higher purpose than being my loyal guide for as long as she was able. Please start asking questions so you do not go through what I have with Jingles. She was a great companion and guide and I will miss her very much.

The picture above shows jingles in the car going to the store on May 28, 2020. She looks like she is laughing. 

The picture above shows Jingles laying in the snow on the back patio February of 2021.



Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 6 1/2 Months Old

It’s all about bodily functions and leashes this week. A couple of weeks before, it was all about defecation. This last week there was a crisis of urination. Sagan decided that his waste deposit area was no longer pleasing to him. He absolutely refused to urinate in that spot. He had been going there beautifully since we brought him home at 8 weeks old. The thing that worried me most was that he peed volumes directly on his bed which I thought was really strange. I was just about to call the vet. The next time my husband took him out, he said he lifted his leg for the first time to pee. I think he had a rush of testosterone and he couldn’t figure out what he was supposed to do. I was hoping to avoid that behavior but now he does it sometimes and not others. He is a real teenager now.

The pictures above show Mel and Sagan sitting outside the front of the house. Mel hands a treat to Sagan after he sits patiently while my assistant arrives to greet him. 

The other behavior that has intensified is chewing through his leashes. I keep a house line on him all the time. He just recently discovered that they are great chewing fun. He even managed to chew through his Gentle Leader which I had adjusted a tad too loose. Needless to say, money has been flowing to the pet stores. We kept trying different styles of leashes in an attempt to avoid the wrapped metal cable kind. Well, after he chewed through one too many leashes, we acquiesced and got the cable leash. It can also be used as a tie-down. It does not feel great in my hand but he can’t chew through it. I will give you the link below.

Training is going well I think. I have nothing to compare it to so I just have to hope that he is learning what he needs to and that he is not getting unfortunate information from those of us who are doing the training. I feel like I am not working with him enough myself. I worry about the potential for inconsistencies between the trainer, my husband, and myself. I was hoping to do most of the direct training myself but that is impossible with my foot problem. I just need to relax and trust. He is getting exposed to more and more situations which is exactly what is supposed to be happening. He does get very excited when he sees children and dogs but he is also learning to control his impulses. I have been reassured by many people that he is a puppy and that he will learn how to behave when working in a harness. I am trying not to be impatient.

The other thing I ordered this week that I feel is important for everyone who has pets is to put stickers on your doors saying,” Pets live here. Please rescue in case of disaster.” The wording can vary or you can make your own. I will put the link below.

Link to dog leash

Link to Pet Rescue Stickers

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