Training My Own Guide Dog

Training My Own Guide Dog: Sagan, 8 1/2 Months Old

Sagan and I began communicating better this last week. I did not cry once nor did I say bad words in his direction. I attribute the more joyful cohabitation to two major changes. Being much more conscious of maintaining a puppy proofed house and allowing him much more freedom to regulate himself off leash when I am not paying attention to him. I tend to be a little bit of a helicopter mom out of fear that he will get hurt and I have stepped back. Instead of providing him endless stimulation, I am sitting down and doing nothing to occupy him. I am noticing that he paces around which I assume is because he does not know what to do with himself. This is challenging for me to sit still and just let him do it but it is already paying off. He finally settles and takes a nap. This feels like real progress.

The picture above shows Mel and sagan in the living room. Mel is reclined on the sofa and Sagan is sitting in between her legs sitting and staring at her.

I love that he settles and goes to take a nap but there is a slight problem. He does not choose his bed or his crate for his nap. He plops down on the carpet in random spots. I have tried to make his bed and crates positive places but I guess our ideas of what makes a great bed are different. I am sure this is an easy fix which I will tackle once I figure out what he prefers. Sleeping in random spots is not an option so it will be addressed. For now, I am observing to find out what he chooses for himself.

The picture above shows Sagan laying in the kitchen while he chews on a long bully stick.

I continue to ask the question, “How do we communicate best since I am blind and eye contact is not a choice?” All the training books and trainers rely on eye contact to connect with your dog so as usual a person who is blind is required to think outside the box. For the last few days I am experimenting with treating him whenever he just happens to touch my hand or leg when he comes near. I started this by calling him to me and treating him when he voluntarily touches me. He learned very quickly that the treat does not materialize unless he touches me. Now that he does this behavior reliably, I treat him when he just happens to touch me. The result already is that he checks in with me every few minutes to find out if I will treat him. I try to treat him every time for now. I will begin using intermittent reinforcement. So far, I am pleased with my experiment. I want him to want to be near me most of the time. I will gradually fade the treats and let the praise be enough to maintain the behavior. This does not solve the lack of eye contact completely by any means but one sure thing I have learned by training Sagan is that behavior must be shaped in tiny increments. I am not prone to being patient with tedious details so I am getting over it. I will continue to find our own special style of communicating.


Now quickly about toys: Early on I bought toys that were recommended to me. I was disappointed when Sagan did not go crazy for them. The problem I know now is that he was too young for them. I reintroduced the Jolly egg, which is a very hard light plastic wobbly ball. When I gave it to him when he was younger, it frustrated him because he wanted to bite it and couldn’t. Now he has learned to use his feet and he knocks it around. It keeps him occupied for long periods of time or as long as I can tolerate the noise. The second is a food releasing puzzle that held no interest for him earlier. It is the Busy Buddy Tug Jug. It has become his main way to give him his breakfast kibble. He gets very excited about it and he works for his food. Similarly, the Planet dog orbee food dispensing toy is now a favorite for him. He has learned that his front feet are great tools for getting what he wants. These toys have been mentioned in previous blogs but his reaction to them have changed. I thought you might be interested.

Links to toys

Jolly egg,

Tug jug,

Planet dog Orbee,


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