Training My Own Guide Dog

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 14 Months 1 Week Old

Sagan is being a little rebellious this week. Stu and I have been somewhat or probably a lot remiss in practicing recalls. As a result, Sagan has learned the really fun game of keep away. This manifests when he has something in his mouth that I need to check on and he runs in the other direction. We turn and walk away and tell him to sit. He usually does this, so we walk toward him with an item to trade for the one in his mouth. It is working except when the thing in his mouth is the best thing ever, then it gets a little tricky. My problem is that I can’t see what he has so I get panicky. Naturally, this helps nothing. I think he is getting better though as we are more consistent with our reactions. He also reads minds so he knows when we want him to go in his crate or when we want to put on his walking gear. He moves away from us. This problem is also a result of being slack with our recalls.

The 3 pictures above show Sagan on the outside patio performing obedience commands before he gets a reward.

The other behavior that has cropped up recently is demand barking. I am sure we created it unknowingly. One thing I know for sure, raising a good dog makes for a more conscious person. Awareness is a great gift that puppies give us should we choose to accept it. Sagan has figured out that barking gets our attention, so if he loses his bone under the couch or under something he can’t reach, he can bark and we come running to get it for him. We are softies and we want him to be happy. We also want him to be quiet. Being the genius that he is, he has generalized the barking to let us know that he is bored and it is time to play. It is totally our fault for relenting and playing with him. As I am throwing the toy for him, I am thinking to myself, “I shouldn’t be reinforcing this demand barking.” I need to rearrange my thinking to think before I act and not during the action. Now I am reaping what I have sewn. Fortunately, Sagan unlearns behaviors about as fast as he learns them if I can figure out how to undo what I taught him in the first place.

The moral of this story not be slack in teaching and practicing recalls and think before you act. We have some revisiting of foundation skills before we really dig into harness training. I am sure our backsliding is normal but nonetheless, it is humbling.

The good news is that his outdoor work is improving remarkably. He is learning how to find the way around complex obstacles and it is clear that he is thinking on his own. This is an essential skill for a good guide dog so we are very pleased. He is getting much better at his impulse control around children, squirrels, and other dogs. Overall he is doing great with his guide work but we just need a little work on house manners which translates to I need to think better, act better, and be more consistent.

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