Training My Own Guide Dog

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 15 Months 1 Week Old

My patience was tried this week. The East Coast was blanketed with heavy pollution created by fires in Canada. I have never experienced anything like it. As a result, Sagan did not get his daily walks. I am sure if you have ever had a puppy or a high-energy dog, you can imagine what happens when the dog has pent-up energy. It means exercising your own creative mind to devise diversions inside the house.

Sagan was pretty seriously resisting putting on his harness. I was worried but after consulting other poodle handlers, I discovered this is a “poodle thing”. Since we could not go out, I used the time to entice him to put his head in the harness with very high-value treats. For days I just held the treat in such a way that he had to put his nose through to get the treat. I did this many many times without moving the treat in any way. Over time I began pulling my hand a little further back so he had to put his head further through to get the reward. I also put the harness without the handle on the floor and put treats all around it and inside the head hole while it rested on the floor. We made it a fun game. Sagan, being the genius that he is, knew exactly what I was trying to do so he was very watchful. He knew that eventually, I was going to try to put it over his head so he would put his head through super fast and back out. By the end of the week, he was accepting the harness over his head while I fed him treats. He probably gained weight this week. I have a feeling that Sagan will not ever jump for joy to have it put over his head but thankfully, he does not seem to mind wearing it and working. I will keep playing these types of games with him in hopes of making it easier for him.

The two pictures above show Mel training Sagan. Mel is enticing Sagan to put his head through the harness with a kong full of treats. 

I confess that I am guilty of using marrow bones and Bully Sticks to keep him busy. I did more of this than I like to do but sometimes I just needed a break. Stu and I did do recalls up and down the stairs with us hiding in different places. I also had Sagan stay while I hid a toy or treats in the house. He is great at this. I would sometimes tell him exactly where to look by saying, “Find it, toilet”. I used different words that he knows. It was so fun to watch him go directly to the place I put the treat. Other times, I tried to hide them in sneakier spots without telling him. He quickly found everything.

Mentally challenging a dog tires them out faster than physical exercise so I began asking him for more before allowing him to eat his food. At some meals, I would make it very challenging by having him go to his bed after I had put down his food. Then, I called him to me in the opposite direction from his bowl. This was very hard at first but he got it quickly. I changed his commands from meal to meal so he really had to think. By the end of the week, he was a pro at moving away from his food and performing his basic obedience commands in whatever order I gave them. He is such a good dog.

Sagan’s favorite activity is destroying boxes. I save big and little boxes that have little or no adhesives on them. I put a couple of treats in all the boxes and put the little ones inside the bigger ones. I put all kinds of things in the different boxes in hopes of keeping him engaged. Fortunately, he does not eat the boxes and just goes for the treats. My house looks like a dump yard now but it’s okay.

The picture above shows Sagan on his bed ripping apart a box that Mel put together for him. 

The last big change this week is that I started letting him sleep with me all night on my bed. I know this is a controversial subject. Some trainers say that this is a horrible idea and others say it is just fine. I have never let a dog sleep with me before because of the shedding of other breeds. Sagan is super clean. My intuition tells me that it is good for bonding. It may be my imagination, but I do think he is more attentive to me now. He seems to want to be near me more than before when he was crated all night. He does have a tendency to want to sleep on top of me so we have some work to do on his allowed space. He now comes into the bathroom with me when I shower. I leave the shower doors cracked so he can look in which he does almost all the time. Running water fascinates him. He usually ends up with his head wet. We are having fun together now in different ways. Raising and training a puppy is not for everyone but I am thoroughly enjoying the process especially since I have such a great support team.

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