Training My Own Guide Dog

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 15 Months Old

Two weeks have passed since my last post. I was wiped out from my travels and I managed to acquire a nasty case of laryngitis. My brain seems to think that since I could not talk, I couldn’t write either. No worries though, all is well now.

We started Sagan in harness seriously over the last weeks. I am walking him now myself on very short walks. I take the same route every day. This way I am getting super familiar with the route and Sagan and I are learning how to work together. Stu follows behind to keep us safe. I wear a visor to protect my face from the sun and branches. Eventually, we will start calling his attention to high obstacles. I don’t want to flood him with too much mental work quite yet. I also am very aware of my own equanimity so as to keep us both as calm as possible. I am trying to remember my footwork at curbs. It was once second nature when I had my already trained guides. Footwork and hand gestures are important as well as body alignment, especially at intersections. In order to maintain my orientation, I need to know which direction my feet are pointing. Sagan’s body and mine need to be going in a straight line across from the down curb to the up curb across the street. There is so much concentration required for both of us. We are doing a little every day even though he could probably do more. I must protect my own sanity. My goal is to transmit through the harness that I am calm and confident.

The picture above shows a side view of Mel walking Sagan with a harness. 

I am somewhat concerned that Sagan does not seem to like putting on the harness. I have resorted to putting him in a sit against a wall so he can’t back up away from the harness coming over his head. I always treat him with the most excellent treats but this does not make him happy. All of my other dogs loved the harness. I feel like I need to make it more fun. I have also been reassured by other owner-trainers that not all dogs like putting on the harness but they do just fine once it is on. Sagan seems to fit in this category. I will continue to work with him to see if I can help him like it more.

Once the harness is on, he takes his work seriously and his pace and pull are great. He still notices other dogs but usually, his work stays on point. I keep the leash in my right hand so that I know where his head is and so that I can correct him if need be. Sagan is not a super-sensitive dog. He is able to moderate his stress by shaking it off and then he keeps on going. I wish I could learn to do that more effectively myself. I am so grateful that he does not get bent out of shape if he gets a little correction. He is also able to think for himself and he usually makes very good choices when he is asked “to find the way” around an obstacle. Overall, I am extremely pleased with our progress.

The picture above shows a frontal view of Mel walking Sagan with a harness.

Susie, the professional trainer, Stu, and I make a great team. They are still doing the long walks but my stamina is growing so my walks with him will become primary. Once Sagan and I get our rhythm, we will begin perfecting his attention to moving obstacles like people walking in front of us and crowds in general. Once I feel confident in these areas, we will move on to traffic. I have no doubt that we are exactly where we should be in this journey of ours. There are quite a few challenges yet to meet but we are well on our way.

Here is my dog toy and gear report. So far, Tug A Jug slow feeder is still our favorite food puzzle. We use it every day with joy. The link for the tug a jug toy is

Marrow bones are a staple. We get them from the farmer's market if we can. If the Bone guy isn’t there, we get them from the grocery store. Once they are empty, I wash them and put them in the microwave for about 2 minutes. They do eventually crack after being thrown around on concrete. We monitor him and so far, all is well. They also get stuffed with treats and peanut butter sometimes when we need him to be occupied.

Last week I was kind of blue so I needed some retail therapy. That used to mean I go buy myself clothes. Now it means buying dog toys and gear. During one of these therapy sessions, I found a lick mat silicone food bowl. It suctions to the floor. I can feed his raw food in there without worrying that it goes on the floor. I can also lightly cook his vegetables in it. I like it very much. The link is

I did get him a couple more toys but I will review them later when I know if they pass the test of time.

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