Bear is too social

The last few training sessions, the ones after our trip to visit Fiona, have focused on two main things: 1) What to do when we are on a walk and Bear is soliciting attention from anything that moves (including the leaf blowing across the sidewalk), or strangers approach wanting to touch such a cute thing; and 2) Giving Bear more play time to act like the puppy he is.

Before describing the new regime of training, it is worth noting that Bear is growing.  We took him in right before our trip for a health certificate, and then one week later for a Parvo booster.  He weighed 26 pounds the first time, and gained over three pounds in one week (over ten percent weight gain for those of you who like to put things in percentage growth).  Here are two pictures around the water dish; one within a week of us getting him, and one after four weeks.

Too social. It became apparent on our walks during training sessions at Kristin’s house that Bear loved to meet anybody and anything that moved.  It was very similar to when we walked Bear at home.  He’d be doing great, paying attention to us, moving along at the appropriate pace, and then something moving would catch his eye.  The greater the distance the smaller the distractibility, but the smaller the object the greater the distractibility.  For instance, a person a block away is not as distracting as a person half a block away.  But a little kid across the street is much more distracting to Bear than an adult across the street.  Thus, a leaf blowing across the sidewalk under his nose registers very high in distractibility:  it is very small and it is very close.

Our walks were frequently interrupted by a well-meaning adult (normally a woman) approaching with out-stretched hands to tell Bear how cute he is.  If you were Bear, why wouldn’t you seek these people out, giving you such positive attention for just being.  The small version of an adult, a child, was more enticing for Bear.  I’m not entirely sure why, but it could be that they are simply closer to his size and act more playful.  Children have quick movements coupled with squeals of delight.  Often times the squeals of delight (or fright) come after Bear has begun “playing” with them, which oftentimes meant Bear had begun tugging on a skirt or the hem of shorts.  Before being told that Bear is too solicitous for attention, we were racking all this up to more socialization.  The clock was ticking, and Bear needed to meet at least 100 strangers.  Well, I think he has far exceeded that number.  Now we need to reign him in, making sure he is able to do his job first, and then meet people in the appropriate way.

Now when we take Bear on a walk we either avoid meeting people by crossing the street, or try to get the message that we are not social by simply walking forward with a stern face, or just telling them that we are training him as a service dog.  The first technique is the best as both Heather and I have a difficult time being mean, especially to strangers, and telling people he will be a service dog (we’ll put his “service dog” vest on sometimes to give a non-verbal cue to people) more often than not elicits many questions from the passerby, and comments of amazement that dogs can be trained to do such things.  At some point we will be able to allow Bear to meet people on walks, but only after he sits down nicely.  At this point, Bear sitting nicely on a walk means holding his collar and crouching behind him so he doesn’t jump up.  After in this crouching position, then the stranger awards him with adoration (no need for a clicker or treat).

More play. Turns out Bear is not getting enough play, which may be to the  difficulty during walks (see the previous post about Frustration rising).  As much as possible Bear needs to play with dogs in the neighborhood.  Boo down the street, who happens to be the sister of my mom’s dog Mimi, and Sage, my niece’s dog (in the picture with Bear), are the two best victims of Bear’s attention.

Along with the needed puppy play, we will also be allowing more play.  We will play more tug-of-war before walks, and we will do a lot of playful walking before we start the business walk.  We’ll entice Bear to play more by stringing a toy to the leash at the beginning of the walk.  Dangling in front of his nose, Bear immediately grabs the toy and charges forward.  I’ll run along with him, knees willing, which I’m not sure if I’m supposed to do, but it seems playful.  After he gets most of this playful energy out, then we’ll switch to business.  The left hand business-walk, also known as “healing”, is much easier after he has burned off some of the puppy energy.

We have also started using a harness during walks to prohibit the pulling.  At the end of walks, nearing our house, Bear would become a sled dog, pulling us forward, gasping for air as his collar tightened around his neck.  Turns out the pulling on the neck releases endorphins to the dog, and they start to really love pulling on the leash.  So Bear gets this harness that really limits his pulling.  If he goes to lunge forward the harness pulls his front legs out from under him.  Being such a smart puppy, Bear does not pull at all anymore.

Scent training.  The scent training continues.  We pair the scent with a signal.  Bear finds the scent hiding under my knee or calf, and then he paws my hand.  It is fun to see him figuring this sequence out.  After finding the hidden scent he’ll furrow his brow and cock his head to the side, wondering (I can only assume) why he didn’t get a click and a treat.  After pawing my hand or arm, with some direction in the beginning, he’ll get a click and a treat, and his tail wags.



Frustration rising

I have to be perfectly honest with this training stuff.  It is wearing me down.  I am not sure if it is from newness of Bear diminishing, Bear becoming more feisty, or a combination of the two.  After someone comments on his cuteness during a walk, I no longer respond with, “You wouldn’t think so after a couple of hours.”  I just barely manage a wry smile back.

This blog being about training Bear to signal when he smells a high- or low-blood sugar, it is paramount to keep in mind that Bear is a puppy.  Three months old is all.  Puppies are pains in the butt.  That said, I believe he is a much calmer and confident puppy because of the training we do throughout the day.  He is engaged in figuring puzzles out and getting treats for figuring them out.  But he is a puppy, and I am beginning to come to terms with the fact that there will be many painful incidents, that there will be recollections that make me cringe at how I handled Bear.  One of these occurred on our trip to Canada.

When walking Bear there are a couple of versions of Bear.  There is the tail-wagging-head-up-and-attentive Bear.  There is the need-to-smell-every-single-thing version.  There is the social-need-to-meet-everybody version of Bear, tugging on the leash.  And there is the I-am-a-puppy-and-need-to-play version.  In the need to play version, Bear is prone to grab his leash, jump up and down, and play tug-of-war with the leash.  He is also very likely to snap at the hem of shorts in this mode.

Bear was in this need-to-play version that I overreacted.  I could point the finger to not enough sleep; or being a bit stressed with traveling with the kids and puppy for a few days; but the situation repeats in non-traveling times.  We were walking in Nanaimo and Bear was jumping and snapping.  Because he had taken Maggie down to the ground the previous day while playing, I was more attentive to how he was acting and where he was.  He went to lurch at the back of Maggie’s leg, and I yanked back on the leash, and being frustrated with the I-need-to-play version of Bear, I may have put a little more gusto into the yank.  He was in flight when the leash went taut, pulling him sideways in the air.  He landed solidly on his side with a whimper.

I suppose it wasn’t such a bad landing; Bear bounded up pretty quick.  It was, however, the meanness and ill-will that I did it with.  It was like the over-developed 6th grader getting lunch money from the boy a full head shorter and 30 pounds lighter.  Just bullying the little one around when all he wants is to play.  Turns out Bear’s version of play is quite different from ours.

At that moment I needed to sit and have a cold one, settle the frustration bubbling over.  It being 9am on a Monday, there were no open establishments.  Had there been a place to get a beverage, I would have been just as frustrated trying to enjoy myself while Bear tugged on the leash and the kids bugged each other.  In fact, it may have been worse as I considered the Nirvana that could have been: sitting alone, enjoying a beverage, watching the world go about its business.

So we continued on.  Though ashamed of my overreaction, the frustration of dealing with a bounding Bear was still at the surface.  We were heading to the clothing store; Maggie had shopping to do.  To speed the journey, I had Bear on the right side (party mode), which meant fewer corrections and fewer treats.  Suddenly Bear was lagging way behind, slowing down.  Giving the command, “Bear. Let’s go,” I continued walking forward, not looking back.  Careful not to jerk the leash, I kept dragging Bear forward, hoping for a bit of slack in the line to be able to praise Bear with a treat.  He quit dragging when we got to a grassy patch.  This is when Declan turned around and noticed the poops along the sidewalk.  I’d just pulled Bear through half a city block while he was pooping.  The shame came flooding back as I realized this whole time Bear had simply been trying to tell me something: he needed to poop.

Two things I’ve learned.  1) When Bear is acting like a jerk on leash it is more likely than not that he needs to drop a deuce.  2) I am a very slow learner, and only after writing about it will I remember next time (maybe) dragging Bear along during a walk that he might need to relieve himself.

Some culture on our trip to Canada

disclaimer: more about the people and less about Bear in this post.

The trip was a mere four days, though it felt longer.  I tried to do puppy training whenever possible, though not a lot of training can occur in the car, and for half the trip I did not have any scent samples.  I believe the greatest accomplishment in our training of Bear is that he is completely comfortable in the car and in his crate.  He also got a heap of socialization with people and dogs, mostly cranky ones.

We stumbled upon some great events along the way.  I experienced traveling with two kids and a puppy (it gets really tiring stopping every five yards for someone to pet Bear, see It’s True).  Here are a couple of cultural events we stumbled upon:

Lavender Festival: Our first day, after stopping at the Twin Totems for lunch/breakfast, we found ourselves at the Sequim Lavender Festival, which explains why it was so difficult to find a cheap room to stay in.  After settling into our room, which was mainly setting up all of Bear’s stuff, we went into town.  We found a street fair, parked, put Bear’s vest on, and went to find some crafts.  Two things I learned while navigating the stalls: 1) All these craft fairs are identical, whether they are for the Lavender festival, or whether they are at Portland’s Saturday Market; and 2) It is a pain in the butt to make any progress through the fair with Bear, both because he is so dang CUTE, and because he was wearing his “Diabetics assist dog” vest.  And one more thing worth mentioning that I already knew is that I quickly find my way to the food court area, soaking in the smells of fair-food.

Declan found a wood-gun shop and asked about buying one not only for the rest of the time in Sequim, but for the remainder of the trip.  Declan’s question of the trip was, “Is there a toy store?  Do you think they will have the wooden guns?”  And occasionally he would ask if Todd could make guns like that (cousin Todd is a master wood worker).


Maggie found “Brandon”, the new love of her life (the one on the left, not the right).  She claims he is from SoCal by his blond hair and overall cuteness.  She was a bit flummoxed by his choice in footwear, though, which resembled sandals that dorky-dad and farmer-Mike have been known to wear.  Though Maggie and Brandon never met, they spent some quality time in the ice cream line (with an appropriate six people between them).

Dungeness Wildlife Refuge:  I was somehow able to find this spit of land without too much questioning from the little people.  Bear played in the surf a bit; Maggie and Dec struck a pose, and we saw some gorgeous views.


Ferry ride: An integral part of life in these parts is riding on the ferry.  This was not only a cultural experience for us, but a highlight.  Our first ferry took us from PA to Victoria and took nearly two hours.  Bear slept in the van the entire time.  We were up on deck exploring.

Bathtub races: Cultural event in Nanaimo Bay.  Once we were settled into our apartment at the hostel in Nanaimo, we ventured to the dock to find out when the ferry left for Gabriola Island, which was our ultimate destination on this trip.  Sidenote with more to come: Bear was a big pain on many of these walks. After learning about the bathtub races and the fireworks that were to begin shortly, we walked back to the apartment because I forgot the diabetes kits: blood sugar meter, sugar tabs, insulin, syringes, and granola bars.  And then we left Bear in the car to sleep.  Maggie and Dec setup chairs on the seawall and enjoyed the fireworks like an old married couple.

Challenges of the trip:  Packing diabetes and dog supplies.  I felt like a Sherpa for most of the trip.  I attempted to find the right combination of bringing what was needed without bringing too much.  The necessities of diabetes and dog supplies fluctuated.  Shifting between the fanny pack, backpack, and stuffing pockets, I settled on a small blood-meter kit with syringes and pen cartridge insulin (they are smaller than the vials of insulin) in the kit pocket for diabetes supplies, and the dog-trainer pack around my waist (clicker, high and low value treats, and hopefully a poop bag or two) for dog supplies.

Once in Canada the phone didn’t work which lightened the pocket load, more room for the diabetes kit.

And a post is never complete without a picture of Bear

Going for a walk on the Ferry

Next up: Fiona meets Bear for the first time, and frustration with Bear.

Trip to Canada


We are in route to visit Fiona in Canada. As we will be staying at multiple motels it is necessary for Bear to wear his vest.
More details to follow, but so far we enjoyed lunch (breakfast for Maggie) at Twin Totems. Dec had two corn dogs; I had two burritos; and Maggie had two chicken strips. Bear had a few kibbles in the parking lot.


And here is a photo of the back of the van:


And in Bear’s first motel room:


Need to get some lows from Dec and Mags for scent training.

It’s true

Our main goal in training for the past week has been to get Bear walking nicely.  I think I mentioned this before, but it is a bit like a mullet.  When the leash is in the left hand it is all business, stay close to the seam of the pants, keep pace with the walker, and pay attention.  When the leash is in the right hand it is party time…or sort of.  Bear can sniff around, walk away from the walker, and generally snoop around as long as he doesn’t tug on the leash.  In addition to the obedience and scent training, we have been going on a lot of walks.  And now I know that it is true.  Women love to meet a puppy.

The initial response is, “AHHHHH, he is so cute!  Can I pet him?!”  At this stage the answer is a yes, as we are still socializing him.  Also, at this stage I think and sometimes say, “Actually, he isn’t that cute if you want to hang around him for more than the time it takes you to give him praises about how cute he is.”  Or I say something like that.  In reality I am not that snarky, but I will make some comment about Bear not being all that.

Last night we went on a walk up to our local frozen yogurt shop.  Heather and I were practicing the nice “business” walking, which Bear was having a difficult time with.  (He slept for almost the entire day, so he had a TON of energy; he has also been getting up at 1 am to do some business, and then not settling back down to sleep; but that is for another time)

Once parked at the shop, multiple “AHHH! He is so cute!” instances occur.  One that typified the experience, both for us and for the woman’s friend/date, happened pretty much right when we sat down.  Said woman approaches with outstretched hand, asking if she can pet Bear.  While she is petting Bear, stranger #89 counted, her friend/date is visibly stumped, so much so that when they leave Declan comments on how the friend was not happy about his friend paying so much attention to the puppy.  He rolls his eyes, and is trying to change the subject to something that isn’t so darn cute, which sheds a not so friendly light on his general cuteness and cuddability.

Needless to say, the adoration of strangers has not gotten to Bear’s ego.  He remains aloof.  It has also not affected the kids wanting to spend more time with Bear.  This is something that we are not pushing; we do not want this to become an arduous chore; one that they loathe to be around.  After all, Bear will (hopefully) be going to school, friends, practice, camps with them.  At this point we are hoping for a positive bond to occur between Bear and the kids:

Find Bear as he tours the tanks:

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Honeymoon is over

Two weeks and one day have passed. Bear continues to be a jewel in every strangers eye.  Yesterday I took him to the Wings and Water park in McMinnville with Declan and his crew (quick post and pic).  It is an hour drive, and we only had to stop once for a pee break, though Bear cried for a lot of the ride.  Once we arrived Bear got to witness the water park while I paid for entrance, and then Bear and I were back outside.  I was able to do a lot of training with Bear, including working on “nice” walking, which I am terrible at (I’d rather just let them roam free).  Bear was able to meet his 100th stranger.  Further, he menaced a few Guide Dogs for the Blind.  These dogs were great, and they looked

like Bear’s relatives.  The owners were very tolerant and kind to Bear. Also at the compound were some really cool tanks that Bear got to play around some cool tanks. Enough of the good stuff.  Here are some challenges.

Chewing:Not only on the furniture, rugs, and wall, but also on clothing and fingers (occasionally).  Even with his menagerie of chew toys, for some reason Bear prefers the base of the table and chairs to exercise his jaws on.  So we are supposed to provide him with an alternative chew toy, letting him know that that is the appropriate thing to chew on.  The problem is that I can rarely find one of the appropriate toys as they are spread over three rooms and two cars.  Similar to other annoying behaviors, this chewing occurs when Bear has a lot of energy, which is likely to occur when I’m getting the coffee maker ready for another brew.

Walking:This was a very frustrating exercise for me.  I found myself getting really annoyed with Bear.  I have a difficult time with this exercise because he is supposed to be paying attention to you so he can adjust his pace and direction.  However, this is difficult to do with so much new stuff to sniff and chase.  I began with the expectation of walking “nice” for half a block (on the left side), and having fun walk (on the right side) for half a block.  The solution came when I shortened the business walk to about 40 feet.  It is getting better, but remains a frustrating part of training for me.

Side note on the leash: The McGiver leash has been replaced by a lush green leash provided by our concerned neighbors.  After seeing the McGiver leash, Kathy promptly went out to the store and picked up this Cadillac of a leash.  I will say that Bear now loves the leash, and ,after clicking the leash to his collar, he will walk around the house holding the leash in his mouth, ready for the walk.

Snapping:You can tell it is playful, but the puppy teeth are very sharp.  I think is partly a problem because Bear is not around other dogs much, so he is not getting the proper feedback about appropriate snipping.  This problem occurs mainly when Bear is meeting new kids.  At this point I really am not sure how to deal with this other than to be extra vigilant when kids are around.

Waning interest of kids: The elephant in the room is the fact that puppies are so cute and soft and adorable for about ten minutes, and then it is back off to Nerf gun battles or hanging out with friends.  At this point in our home, the cuteness factor is in the negatives, to the point where they are seeking activities that clearly place them out of paws reach.  Dec is making great use of his bike to place himself at friend’s homes.  At this point I do not want the training to be a burden for the kids, so I am easing the pressure of doing training with Bear.