Training My Own Guide Dog

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, Still 4 1/2 Months Old

Sagan got his first hair cut and I felt like pulling mine out. This last week was full of highs and lows. It has been an emotional roller coaster. One day he is a complete angel genius and the next he is possessed by demons. My anxiety has risen because I am so in love with him that I am feeling more like a helicopter mom. I am hyper-vigilant to every sound he makes which is okay because it is only me that makes myself crazy. Now I want to double-check everything that others are doing which makes them crazy too. There have been a few close calls with him getting away or getting hurt not by something I have done wrong, so my own anxiety has been reinforced. I am sure I will continue to be vigilant, but I can be more zen about it.


His grooming session went very well. He was as good as a toothy 4 month old can be. He is very handsome. He feels like velvet.

Pictures above show Sagan after his first grooming. 


I ordered a custom vest for him which says "Guide Dog in Training."  It is orange and black and looks great on him. He doesn’t seem to mind it at all. His first time wearing it was last Tuesday when we took him to an almost 2 hour appointment. The building had an elevator which did not phase him. When we got to the office, he went down and under and stayed there the whole time. I treated him occasionally. He mostly slept. I was so proud. I also took him to visit a neighbor with his jacket. It was a little more challenging to keep him down and under because there was a creature underneath the porch deck. Overall he did quite well.

Pictures above show Sagan outside the Dogs and Cats Rule Store. He is wearing his new guide dog vest.


Susie, the trainer came this week. We learned Paw Pad positioning. This is the use of using an elevated surface to help Sagan find and keep a proper position while standing at my side. Both of us learned it quickly. We practice every day.

Pictures above show Suzy and Mel training Sagan on the blue mat. 


Next, we worked on staying on his mat as I went out of his sight. He stayed put without any prompting from the trainer. The idea is to always set him up for success. With the trainer there by his side, while I command him to stay, she can encourage him to stay. He then gets rewarded for doing such a good job. The rewards will be faded out over time. Sagan and I can practice alone by using a long leash and very slowly increasing duration, distractions, and distance. Susy breaks everything down to to simple concepts so it is easy to implement.


This journey is not all unicorns and rainbows though. He has begun to bark when startled. Once he gets going, it is challenging to get through it. We have discussed it with the trainer and we have some strategies. He is also barking more when frustrated or he wants something. He is definitely in a developmental phase that requires proper handling so bad habits do not get formed. His barking puts my nerves on edge which helps nothing. It is essential that barking is under control, so the stakes are high.



The hardest days are those when my energy is so low that working with him takes a great deal of pure determination on my part. I feel like saying bad words at him and ignoring him altogether. Taking a puppy into your home is a very real commitment and adding to that, committing to molding great manners in all situations is huge. The task I have set for myself is coming clearer as the days pass. This is not easy but my purpose is clear and my emotional stamina is growing. I love him and what we are accomplishing together.

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 4 1/2 Months Old

Sagan lost his first teeth this last week. This means the puppy tooth fairy brought new toys. He also got a vaccination which only means more new toys. He weighed in at 26 pounds which is 5 more than a month before. Of course, more toys because he deserves them, right? I can usually rationalize buying most anything when it serves my own addiction to novelty.

The 4th of July fireworks were not an issue. Honestly, I did not try even a little bit to expose him to them. I closed up the house and turned on a fan. They could be heard in the distance but he paid no attention. I may have made a mistake but I was just too tired to deal with it.

Picture aboves shows Sagan on his outdoor bed with his piggy toy.

This last week he got to have some new experiences. He went to the vet for his vaccine. He thinks this is grand because he gets a jar of baby food while he is getting the injection. The best part about this trip was that his manners were impeccable. I think he might be a reincarnated guide dog because he did things I have not taught him to do. He went down and under the bench and with a little reminding, he stayed there so nicely. He also sat at the top of the stairs before I asked him. He also stood quietly for a long time between me and the counter when we were checking out. I just couldn’t believe it. I almost cried he was so great. So, I really did need to buy him new toys.

The Gentle Leader continues to be the best tool. I feel like it is helping him understand good behavior because he seems to be more mannerly now when it is not on him. This may be my imagination but time will tell.

The trainer came. We worked on my technique for treat delivery. The idea is to use treats to perfect his position in relation to me. We also worked on holding positions while distractions were present. He learned quickly. We did make it easy for him though. Over time the distractions will get more intense. He is learning that no matter where I put his mat that he is to go where it is if I tell him to “go to your mat”. Generalizing from one situation to another is very important for guide dogs. I have begun to teach him how to generalize about “find a seat” command as well. So far, that is going well in our little patio area with the different seats. I am trying not to overload his brain with too much. He enjoys training so much that it is tempting to pour on too much at one time. It is so gratifying to see his spongy brain soaking it all up which makes me want to go too fast. Needless to say, I am learning a lot about myself. Sagan is teaching me so much!

Sagan has begun to alert bark. Alert barking is not a bad thing as long as it can be stopped immediately when commanded. It is a self-reinforcing behavior which makes it especially hard to stop. I have not figured out exactly how to train this so next week I will find the best method. I will let you know how we are doing as time passes.

Next week I will let you know which new toys are best. He will get his first haircut this week so that will be fun. I will try not to buy more toys.


Training my own guide dog: Sagan at 4 months old

Sagan has been with me now since May 1st. We are experiencing so many new things together. My hope is that my brain can grow as fast as his. I read every day about puppy development so I can anticipate what is coming next so I can prepare my house and get ready with new puzzles and toys to keep him mentally and physically busy. This keeps us both feeling good about each other.


4 months is often when the first really challenging phase starts to show up. They begin to lose baby teeth and their confidence grows. They start to realize that countertops and furniture are great places to explore, often with great results from their perspective. Well, Sagan is there. No more knives left on the counter or shoes left unattended. The best practice for dog training is to manage by eliminating the possibility of mistakes being made in the first place; so shopping we will go.


My kitchen is his main play area which is gated off. Before he was too small to worry about the possibility of counter surfing. He is three times as large as he was when we brought him home. He has discovered the counter so now it is our turn to make a new plan. My trainer suggested we get a tie-down for the kitchen for the times we need him to stay away from the counters and out from under foot. Thankfully I have tie-downs from the guide dog school so I can use them. All we need is a solid place to hook it. That is a project for this weekend.

The picture above shows Sagan on his outdoor bed. 

On the training front, we are making good progress. This past week we walked a short distance to the mailroom where we found a bench. He went down and under and we just sat and watched the world go by. He got lots of treats for doing a great job. I introduced him to curbs and steps. We practiced waiting at the front door before going outside as well as finding the door. He was able to learn these quickly. From my reading though puppies can regress when they become teenagers so I am not counting on his reliability.


The 4th of July is in 2 days which Sagan has not experienced. Fireworks can be frightening to dogs so I am getting my strategy ready to deal with them in case he finds it unsettling. Because he is to be a guide dog, protecting him completely from the noise is not good. He needs to be able to keep his equanimity around startling sounds. My plan right now is to allow the sound to come in the windows but not too close to him. I will modify my response according to how he reacts. My hope is that if I act like it is no big deal that he will do the same. This is going to be a big test. I will report next week.


We continue to work on his mouthiness. He is still going after my knees and ankles and if I am on the floor, he bites my hands and arms. I realized that I was not handling this situation well. My strategy now is not to try to discipline him with a collar and body hold but to get up and leave the playing field. This is already making a difference. Play stops when biting starts. 


The only thing I bought this last week is a pair of farmer overalls. It is much easier to have lots of pockets instead of wearing belts with treat pouches. They are also not as easy for Sagan to get his teeth into.

The picture above shows Sagan playing with his lobster outside as Mel looks on smiling.


Next week I will let you know how the fireworks land. I hate fireworks myself so I will need to monitor my own anxiety so as not to trigger him.

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan at 16 Weeks Old

This last week started out rough with me feeling overwhelmed and too tired to contain my emotions but I got through it and we are back on track. Stu and I took him on his first big outing so I could get a much needed massage. Sagan wore his car harness with some agitation at first. He settled nicely on the way home.

Sagan was exposed to fast cars zooming by him as he walked on the sidewalk. I was pleased to hear that he watched but was not scared. He was wearing the Gentle Leader which calms him and keeps him walking nicely at the left side. After his walk, Stu gave him a peanut butter smeared whole carrot which kept him busy until my massage appointment was over. I truly feel like he is going to be a good dog if I can keep up my end of the contract I made with myself.

Picture above shows Sagan in the kitchen playing with a puzzle toy.

Another achievement last week was walking him to the nearby mailroom where I sat on a bench and he performed a perfect “down and under” command. He went easily under the bench and stayed put.  I was treating him every few seconds which I increased the duration as we sat. He also went down and under when people were over and there were no treats. I had to replace him several times but he finally acquiesced and went to sleep. It feels good to know that he can be still if I work with him long enough to help him understand that fighting the inevitable is just not worth it.

Puppy nipping has been troublesome this last week. He communicates that he wants to play or attention by biting my knees and ankles. He also goes after my hands if I am sitting on the floor. I have had to employ discipline to quell the behaviors. It works for a time, then he forgets and goes back to biting. I have been assured over and over that this too shall pass. I know it will and I can’t stay mad at him for more than a second. He is too cute for that. Puppies and human babies are born cute for a good reason.

The best toys of last week were the football shaped ball which bounces around and keeps him moving. The tunnel also keeps him very busy and it makes me laugh a lot. I am like a child though myself in that I want more toys every week. I am afraid it is becoming an addiction for me to keep ordering toys. I think I need to learn to play better with the ones I have. I am not naturally a loud person who plays freely and with great enthusiasm so I am learning to let down my own walls. Sagan is teaching me so much. It is tough at times but well worth doing.

Pictures above show Sagan running through the tunnel chasing after his Jolly egg toy. 

Desensitizing him to the grooming table and tools is going well. I also like the new crate which feels more secure. The links will be below.

Grooming table,

Pet Crate,


Training Sagan: Training my own guide dog, 15 weeks old

Well, to tell the truth, and nothing but the truth, I feel drained and frustrated. My intention here is to tell it like it really is when it comes to training Sagan. The last couple of days has been tough. The week in general though has been very good. My capacity for constant vigilance in keeping him safe and staying consistent with his training is, at this moment, exhausting. I am not one of those people who thrive on adrenaline rushes. I am struggling with feeling angry. When his toy of choice is my hands and my clothes and IT HURTS, my reflex is to hurt him back. Rest assured that I do not do that but the temptation is great. It takes a great deal of energy for me to calm myself so I can make a good decision about how to respond correctly. The last thing I want to do is hurt him or make him leery of me. I did the right thing and removed him to his crate where he is now barking as I write this. It feels like sandpaper on my brain. Time for sound-canceling earphones.

The picture above shows Sagan sitting in the kitchen with his dragon toy. 

I am finished whining myself now. Maybe he will stop too.

Sagan woke up more this last week in many ways. His brain is growing along with his body. He sleeps less and requires more mental and physical stimulation. The answer to this is more and more toys. Toys for his mind such as treat dispensing puzzles and toys that keep him moving. It feels like Christmas every time a package comes to the door. I am more excited than he is. This week I ordered him a hard egg-shaped ball. It is amazing how he chases and jumps all around. The link will be at the bottom. I also got him a 6-foot-long tunnel. I throw the ball from one end to the other. He runs and pounces which makes for great videos and a lot of laughter. The food-dispensing puzzles have not been tested yet. I will let you know about them next week.

Training went great this last week. I began using hand signals with basic commands like sit, stand, down, up sit, and stay. He is still getting a truckload of treats as rewards for his accurate behaviors. I introduced him to the grooming table which was a limited success. That will take small steps and lots of treats. I do like the table I ordered so the link will be at the bottom. I  am refining his commands by asking him to respond more quickly and to hold the position longer. He learns so fast! Loose leash walking is super challenging. He is pretty good in the house but it has not transferred to outside yet. The Gentle Leader is helping a lot and more practice is needed. Overall I am extremely satisfied with his progress.

Sagan needs his mouth occupied except when he is sleeping. Bully sticks and frozen, raw marrow bones from the butcher section of the grocery store are great for keeping him out of trouble while I take care of my own domestic chores. They are kind of gross but the peace and pleasure they bring are worth it.

The picture above shows Sagan outside stuffing his nose into one of his treat-dispensing toys.

There is one more resource for you in case you are training your own guide dog. The GDB Training Manual is very helpful. Between McCann Dog Trainers, a local in-person trainer, and the manual, I have plenty of support in the puppy-raising phase. I feel confident most of the time that I can move Sagan and myself to be a working team.

Here are this week's links.

Jolly egg,



GDB manual,

Puzzles will wait for next week’s post.


Training Sagan: Training my own guide dog, Week 6

Sagan Training Blog: 13 Weeks old

I am losing track of how long he has lived with me so I am now going to say his age. Any links I mention here are for information only. I am not affiliated.

Life happened, thus two posts together.

The highlight of the last week was finding a fantastic vet. I have been searching for a vet who thinks more like I do about health care for our animals and ourselves. He is curious and thinks outside the box of conventional veterinary medicine. The appointment lasted one hour and we really talked about our lifestyle and how that will predict how we choose to treat Sagan to keep him as healthy as possible without giving him unnecessary treatments. I was thrilled to have a good conversation about diet and its role in longevity. Some might say that I am rather obsessed with diet and its relationship to most of our common diseases so that naturally transfers to my animals. My decisions may be controversial for some. I believe we all do what makes sense to us as dog people.

The picture above shows Sagan at the Vet, laying on the scale.

For now, I am feeding Sagan a mixture of raw food and dry food. The brand of raw food is OC RAW and the brand of dry food is Annamaet, which seems like a good choice. My plan is to rotate brands at random so he builds a strong gut biome and is less likely to become sensitive. So far, this is working well for him. He gets a few eggs every week and random fruits and veggies from my refrigerator. I used to enjoy cooking for my human family but now the dogs eat better than I do. Once I get through this intense puppy period, I plan to get myself back on track.

We also discussed at length treating heartworm and fleas and ticks. I have struggled with this for some time now. I feel like we have a plan that makes sense to me given where we live and where we are going now. I have never been comfortable giving my dogs pills for heartworm or fleas and ticks. If I lived in the south, I would certainly think differently. Ticks are a real problem here so I have chosen to give him the Lime vaccine and to use natural sprays when we go out where ticks are especially a problem. I will be diligent about checking for ticks and fleas every couple of days. He will be tested for heartworm every year so that should there be a problem, it will be caught early. Heartworms are rarely seen here except in rescue dogs coming up from the south. The vet suggested a product called Wondercide which will need to be applied regularly as a repellant. I will also keep him close-shaven for the summer so finding ticks will be easier. Of course, these choices may change as I learn more or lifestyle changes.

This last week was mostly reinforcing basic commands and incorporating hand signals. He is performing sit, down, up sit, stand, name recognition, touch, go to your mat, and stay on your mat. He also waits for permission to eat his food. I have not introduced distractions to the mix yet. He is slowly but surely getting used to the Gentle Leader. It is going to be a game-changer when walking together. I feel he is doing very well for 14 weeks old. Next week will be much the same with the addition of longer stays on his mat and the introduction to the grooming table.

It was a good week. For a nonmeat eater, my house and clothes smell a lot like sardines and chicken. It grosses me out but meat is what he needs so that is what he will get with love and care.

OC Raw Dog food

Annamaet Dry Dog food

Wondercide Flea and tick repellant



Training Sagan: Training my own guide dog, Week 5

Sagan Training: Week 5 / 12 weeks old

Sagan was 3 months old on June 2. He is growing in size and strength. My body is feeling his determination to reach his goals in my shoulders and knees. He usually wants to reach Jingles, my retired guide dog so he can play with her. Of course, he thinks it is playing and she thinks it is a great pest to be endured. I tried letting them be together a little more but Jingles decided to defend herself and Sagan got bitten. I actually was proud of Jingles for standing up for herself. So for now, they stay apart. Keeping them separate is recommended by McCann Dog Trainers and I am inclined to agree.

I was away for 5 days last week so Sagan and Jingles were left with a trusted friend. It was very hard to leave him but he had some new experiences that I would not be able to give him. He got in some good play time and my friend got worn out herself. It was helpful for me to have someone with vision take care of him for a few days because I learned more about his behaviors that I was not noticing. It turned out very well and I am glad to get back to training this week.

The picture above shows an annoyed Jingles relaxing on an outside patio chair while Sagan tries to engage her in play.

My main goal this week is to get him acclimated to the Gentle Leader. Loose leash walking is an absolute must for my health and his. I am doing this by giving him sardine-coated kibble every tiny step of the way. He thinks it is great fun until I actually get it on him completely. Once it is on, he wilts and does not move. On one level this is wonderful but that is not the ultimate purpose of the Gentle Leader. My hope is to get him moving this week. I am challenged to be patient with this slow process. McCann has some great YouTube videos on using the Gentle Leader, so that is what I am relying on for information.

I have decided to make my own training treats for him. I am concerned about the commercial treats in terms of their ingredients and processing. I am putting his kibble in a tight container with either sardines or high-quality chicken or beef hot dogs. I think this will be more economical and healthier. This way I can know how much he is actually getting in a day. I also supplement his meals with raw foods.

I promised last week to tell you about the new crate and grooming table. They have not arrived yet so that will wait for next week.

The baby pool is a big hit. We got it at a hardware store. It was only $16. He loves it whether it has water in it or not. The water hose is as much fun as the pool.

My hope is to be able to tell you next week that we are walking in a civilized manner. My other goal is to find ways to play with him for his fun and to tire him out. I will keep you posted.

Youtube link for McCann Gentle leader

Training Sagan: Training my own guide dog, Week 4

Sagan Training Blog: Week 4/11 Weeks Old 

It is Sunday morning after our forth week together. It is possible that Sagan is almost twice the size as when I brought him home at 8 weeks old. I did not cry this week but I did become reactive when he jumped up and grabbed my hair. I am sorry to say that I yelled bad words and bared my teeth at him like my mom used to do when she was really angry with me.  I guess people and dogs are more alike than we like to think. I apologized to him and he was upset for a couple of seconds before trying for my hair again. I managed the situation by putting up my hair. I learned in a big way this week that managing situations before they happen is as important as training to increase or decrease a behavior.

In the spirit of management, I bought a Gentle Leader head collar yesterday because my shoulder is not happy with his pulling at the leash. I need to get the pulling under control so we can progress to more fun activities. This morning I introduced him to the collar with a truckload of treats and a little manhandling to avoid his shark teeth. I will take small steps during the next couple of days to make it a positive experience. I will try to put it on and feed him his lunch. Next week we will find out how it went.

We got a baby pool for him and that has been hysterical. He runs and jumps in and out of it whether there is water in it or not. He also likes to add his own water to it by urinating as many times as possible. He seems to think it is his toilet.

Picture above shows Mel holding Sagan on a leash while he discovers new pool.

He had his first grooming session early this week. He did very well. He is fluffed up which happens to be the business name of the mobile groomer. She was fantastic with him and she showed me her brush and how to use it. She also suggested I get a grooming table to help with desensitizing him to the grooming process and also to help me with grooming him myself. Poodles need to have their hair done allot and their nails too. I will let you know next week if I like the table I ordered.

I had a local trainer come to work with us this week. She raised puppies for the Seeing Eye and she also worked theree before she became a trainer herself. We have a good rapport and I am looking forward to learning with her. This week we focused on foot tethering which simply means stepping on the leash to help the puppy understand the concept of a loose leash. Sagan learned very quickly. I have continued to reinforce and add to this new skill. As long as the treats keep coming he does very well.

We continued to solidify basic commands. Sit, down, wait for food, wait at the door, in the crate, go busy, and of course house training and name recall. He is not completely reliable with any of these but progress is definite. I confess that patience is an area of growth for me. I tend to want to jump over the small steps that must be taken to reach a larger goal. I have trouble with thinking in little details so having a trainer helps keep me accountable.

Next week I will tell you about the new crate and grooming table I just ordered. My current crate is an inferior wire crate and I am afraid he will hurt himself. I chose a plastic crate which will come next week.

Overall this last week has been a good one but I am feeling some fear about my ability to do this job right. Frustration and overwhelm have been near to me this week. I have good supports in place so I count on them to keep up my spirits.

Picture above shows Sagan on a car ride after visiting the local dog store, Dogs and Cats Rule.

Links for you this week are below. I have no affiliations with any of these. I just thought you might be interested in the products I am trying this week.


Lobster and pig brand

Zukes treats

Gentle Leader

Doylestown Pet store

Car harness

Fluffed up mobile dog grooming,

Susie Danzies Dog training,



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