Training My Own Guide Dog

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

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.

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