Training My Own Guide Dog

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 13 Months Old

We are seeing some real progress this week. I did not cry this week about Sagan anyway. He seems to be settling down but I am afraid to say that and then jinx it. He really does seem to be in a new phase of maturity and for that I am grateful.

This week Stu took him on many walks all around town and into stores and offices. He has even been into the hospital complex. He is learning to meet and greet people nicely or to sit quietly while the grown-ups have a conversation. Stu was especially thrilled when he gave Sagan the “find the way” command where there were cones and orange tape at a construction sight. Stu stopped and let Sagan make the choice as to how to interact with the new situation. At first, Sagan went under the tape himself because he could. Stu let him realize on his own that Stu could not follow. Sagan backed out and took Stu around properly and back to the curb on the other side. This is an advanced skill and Sagan was super. Stu reproduced it later in the walk. Another behavior that we did not teach but Sagan seems to have figured out is to block my path when there is something that I can run into. He has done this more than once but I am not sure he is actually protecting me but trying to get around the object in the fastest way himself. In any case, it is a behavior that can be shaped to serve a good purpose later in harness training. This is particularly useful when crossing streets or blocking at steps or large drop-offs.

The two pictures above show Mel, Susie, and Sagan in a department store. The first shows a shopping cart obstacle and the second is Sagan doing the "down and under" command with a little boy nearby. 

We went to a large department store where we practiced how to maneuver narrow spaces. The idea was to teach him the “behind” command. This was a little confusing for him because I think we did not completely think through the strategy. I had forgotten exactly when we use the “behind” command in guide dog school. I need to ask some questions of other owner trainers to ask how they do this one. He did learn to stop when I was following along with the shopping cart so I would not slam into it. He learns these types of commands very quickly mainly because they are natural self-preservation behaviors. They just need to be tweaked a little to make sure he knows to include me by stopping a little sooner than he might if he were alone. It feels so good to be walking with him myself. He has a lot of learning to do but overall I am very pleased with his progress.

The two pictures above show Mel and Sagan walking in the department store. The first picture shows Mel walking Sagan in a narrow aisle and the second picture shows Sagan navigating near an elderly shopper. 

We continue to look for ways to keep down his anxiety or excitement when in new places. He tends to whine or yip when he sees something that he deems worthy of play or might be dangerous. We covered his car crate so he can’t see out which helps greatly. I hope to gradually wean him off that covering. Fortunately, he quiets down fast but it is a that needs work. I just learned about a way to teach a dog how to take a deep breath to calm themselves down. I will let you know how it works next week.

This coming week I will be having a simple arthroscopic knee surgery to fix my knee that has kept me from walking very much. The surgeon says I will be dancing at my son’s wedding in late May. Sagan will need to be restrained more than usual so as not to knock into me. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to me using a walker and going up and down stairs on my rear end. I feel like I might need to put a cage around my leg. I am so ready to get this knee fixed and get Sagan in the harness.

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