Too Young?

Young BearBoth of us, that is.  Bear is nearly eight months old.  I am training a dog for the first time.  I’ve always had dogs around, but I’ve never had a puppy.  We always had adult dogs.  Looking at the positive side of things, could it be that my frustration with Bear’s lack of signaling, and his rambunctious chewing is merely a puppy thing?

Winter break is more challenging.  The teenagers forage through the night, leaving dishes at nose-level for Bear.  Wrappers lay on the ground.  Jackets and bags are scattered throughout.  It’s all I can do to not pull out the Glad bag, fill it up with teenager shrapnel, and drop off at Goodwill.  First thing in the morning I do a sweep of the house, gathering remnants of first-world teenage life: mostly eaten bag of chips, half-full glass of chocolate milk, bowl of ice cream, spoon on floor, candy wrappers, slippers, fingernail polish, fingernail polish remover, roll of toilet paper (I hope for fingernail polish remover)

My dulled human senses overlook some gems.  Bear follows me as I complete my sweep.  He simply follows, occasionally grabbing at a particularly choice wrapper.  What he is really doing is noting where all the un-mined gems remain after my initial sweep.  After showing some interest in my breakfast, he quietly departs.

Posing with Dec and Sam for the Nerf battle.

Posing with Dec and Sam for the Nerf battle.

Bear’s poops are now filled with a potpourri of what the kids leave out and I do not gather on my initial sweep.  It is difficult to not investigate what has been ingested, yet remains intact.  Wrappers and Nerf bullets abound.  Ritz cracker packaging and granola bar wrappers remain intact and would be able to be re-used if they weren’t torn apart.

Friday was a particularly active chew day for Bear.  Declan and Maggie had a doctor’s appointment, so Bear was left with Fiona and her friend (both sleeping) when we left at one.  We returned from the appointment to see Bear on the side yard, alone.  Always playful and happy to see anyone, Bear bounded up to say hello.

“What is Bear doing outside?” I asked Fiona, barely containing my anger.

“I don’t know.  He is so annoying.” She replied.

Having been gone for the past two hours, I chose not to engage in verbal combat.  Back inside the house, though, Bear had consumed a straw basket in the living room, found my shoe and Dec’s shoe (still serviceable, but with some rubber chewed off), and apparently opened the door into our room, chewing up a gardening book and two boxes.

“You left the door to my room open?” I stated as a pseudo question to Fiona.

“No, Bear opened the door.” Fiona responded.  Since when can Bear open a door?  Quickly calculating the costs and benefits of engaging an enraged teenager into verbal combat, I chose to start picking up what remained of our possessions.

I simply responded with, “Wow, Bear is really learning a lot.”

Carrying things in his mouth.

Carrying things in his mouth.

But here is where my ignorance clouds my judgement.  I am sure there are people who know how puppies develop, and come to think of it, I have been told by some of these people how puppies develop.  But it doesn’t sink in when someone tells you about the different stages.  It is too easy to simply nod at the explanation, agreeing with the expert that has gone through it themselves.  And it is even easier to suggest improvements (either out loud or in your head).  Why don’t you do this?  Would it help if you did this?

There are people out there training dogs to do amazing things.  I have watched a lot of their YouTube videos.  They go through step by step directions how to train your dog to pick up their toys.  Start by presenting something for your dog to grab.  Then have them hold it for longer and longer periods of time.  Then have the object on the floor, not in your hand.  The number of steps depends on how involved the “trick” is.  I’ve noticed that I am able to get Bear through the first one or two steps and then I hit a road block.

Similar to where we are at with the signaling of low-blood sugar, we get stuck on a preliminary task.  Bear can put the object in his mouth, but he won’t hold it for any amount of time.  When I withhold the click-treat, he quickly flops to the ground and begins playing with the object (I’ve been using a blood-glucose testing kit).

My new hope is that Bear and I are simply not at the optimal experience for this stuff, and that we will soon develop into something more.

Does the gift need returning?

Jelly cleans Bear's ears.

Jelly cleans Bear’s ears.

We were at Costco doing some last-minute shopping, Declan, Bear, and I, when Dec suggested getting something for Bear.  Back in the pet area he spotted a four-pack of chew toys.  Little stuffed animals with a squeaker inside would be a nice addition to the three-pack of squeaky toys obtained a few months back.  I figured we might be able to wrap one of the stuffed animals for a young niece as well.

Not only was it the holiday season, but Bear’s off-list chewing has been increasing.  It seems that Bear did not get the list of approved chew toys, the ones purchased for the distinct function of being chewed.  Given a choice between a floppy, squeaky, stuffed-animal with a rope going through it (on-list) and a paperback book (off-list), Bear goes for the book every time.  And he has become quite the reader.  Bear’s chew library is now into double digits with the addition of In the Garden of the Beast.

Over our head

Over our head

At this point I’m beginning to wonder if we’re in over our heads.  We decided to jump in with both feet, and I think we’ve now hit bottom.  And the water is well over our heads, or at least above my head.  Going out on a walk Bear tugs.  Left on his own, Bear finds gloves and shoes to chew on.  Presented with a low-scent Bear signals nicely, but when Dec or Maggie is low Bear doesn’t notice, needing quite a bit of encouragement to signal on Dec or Maggie.

I’ve always felt like I can handle dogs, able to convey to them appropriate behavior, but I am beginning to rethink that.  We walked to Columbia Outlet for some socks and boots for our sledding excursion.  Bear was being more of a pain than normal.  At one point he jumped up on Dec.  And he pulled more than usual.  It was so frustrating I had to take a different route home than Heather and Dec.  Bear continued to search out Dec, occasionally hearing them on a different block.

We got home and Declan was sitting quietly working on a Lego set when the timer went off.  The timer was for treating a low.  Dec was 34 when they got home.  On the re-test Dec was still low at 60.  What had I just done?  In trying to train Bear to walk nicely, I scolded him for signaling that Dec was low.  He jumped up on Dec, and I yanked him down to get in the appropriate place for a walk.

I am lost in the trees, focusing on individual skills while overlooking the biggest skill of all.  And I wonder why Bear still doesn’t “live” signal.

Trip to the Mountain

Dec and Bear digging

Dec and Bear digging

Regardless of my lack of dog-training ability, and Bear’s lack of obedience, we brought him along on our annual inter-tubing excursion.  Bear had yet to experience snow, and if I do anything right it is introducing Bear to a bunch of different environs.  Following up on my stellar training performance from earlier in the day, I forgot his “Service Dog” vest as well as a leash.

Bear waits for Kenny to throw snow

Bear waits for Kenny to throw snow

Bear loved the snow, exploring the hill with Declan, Fiona, and Kenny (aka Maggie).  Ever the socialite, Bear found a dog nearby to play with.  Wanting to meet more dogs, Bear was attracted to the jingling of chains out in the parking lot.  Scary thing was that it was the local shuttle bus with tire chains rattling.  Bear continued looking for the giant dog after the bus passed.

On national Return and Exchange day, the day after Christmas, I begin to wonder if it is time to return this gift.  Is it possible to somehow return Bear?  Are his talents wasted on our abilities to train him?  Given the appropriate training, where would Bear be now?

The Blur

Declan let Bear use his new blanket for a nap.

Declan let Bear use his new blanket for a nap.

The kids got out for winter break this week and I got sick.  NyQuil was a constant presence on my bed-stand, ready to extinguish the cold-sweats.  With the kids home, stellar parenting tools were instituted to optimize creativity and collaboration.

In the morning I mimicked Bear.  Rising from bed in a medicinal fog with the first riser (Declan), I took care of the obligatory insulin shot with breakfast before quickly finding a couch for the first nap.  Sleep deprived from hourly or half-hourly mandatory drinks of water throughout the night, what I really needed was a good chunk of continuous sleep.  However, the pull of an insulin dependent child keeps the mind clicking, potential scenarios playing out.  He might be low.  He’ll need juice.  He might be high.  He did have a big snack before bed last night.  He’ll need a correction along with the breakfast dose.  Too many possibilities.  I’m up.  Let’s see where we stand.

“Shut down Minecraft! Get in here and check blood sugar.”  I dictate to Dec.  Minecraft time must be limited when I am conscious.  The mandatory morning search for his kit ensues.  Is it on the table? In your room? On the counter? On the couch? Bathroom? Just use the backup kit.

At this point I remember we have a puppy as Bear, holding a toy in his mouth, wags over for the morning greet.  He needs a walk.  Or can he get by with a saunter through the backyard?  Not sure, but it will have to do.  And Bear is more than obliging to skip the morning walk for sharing the couch for a nap.

After two hours of shuteye on the couch, I get up and again tell Declan to turn off Minecraft.  I brace myself for a walk outside with Bear.  I’ll need all the usual supplies: poop bags, treats, and scent-sample.  But now I also need more time dressing.  Jeans over my pajamas, sweatshirt and puffy coat, gloves, and hat keep the shivers away, occasionally bringing on cleansing sweat episodes.

A shower is necessary after the walk to warm myself back up.  And then down for a second nap.  My mornings morph into Bear’s routine.  Wake up and take a nap on the couch.  Quick walk and then back on the couch for a nap.

Up from the second nap it is lunch time.  Get off Minecraft.  Check blood-sugar.  Second search for kit ensues.

Past noon.  Time to rouse the teenagers.  Screams of agony.

Medicine is kicking in.  Time to hustle to the store for supplies before the glimpse of well-being flees.

I made the mistake of bringing Bear with me.  The short walk in the morning is not enough exercise for him.  He needs to be worn down.  I only did it once as I learned how much more cumbersome it is trying to navigate the store, dishing out treats, wearing a big puffy down coat.  Mid shop I put Bear back in the car.

Back home for another nap.

As the sickness retreats a bit, it becomes increasingly difficult to get to sleep at night.  I read well into the night.  Tired of reading, I still couldn’t sleep, so my nights mimicked the teenagers’ night as I began watching Breaking Bad episodes.  It is entirely too easy to start the next episode at the end of the first.  And so on.

And the cycle continued as Declan and Bear burst into the room at seven.

A lot of screen time

  • Breaking Bad – nearly done with the second season.  Sometimes too close to home for me.
  • Silver Lining Playbook – Great movie! I laughed and I cried.
  • This is 40 – Another great movie.  Again, very close to home.

The Grind

Dec's helmet now chewed up.

Dec’s helmet now chewed up.

I keep telling myself that it is Bear’s age, that it is some developmental plateau he is at.  Bear is nearing eight months of age and I keep hoping he will signal when Maggie or Declan are low.  We haven’t even introduced the high blood sugar scent, yet.  It is beginning to feel futile, like Groundhog Day (the movie), doing the same thing over and over again without much to show for it.  Bear continues to chew up books and shoes and helmets.  Dec’s bike helmet is now in the garbage.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is now in recycling.

I’ve tried to change it up a bit when possible.  I’ll put the scent sample in Dec’s pocket, or in Fiona’s pocket, or in Maggie’s sock.  Bear pretty quickly understands that it is game time.  With game face on, sniffing intently, he’ll search for the sample and signal once he finds it.  Maybe I’m giving him too much credit, but it appears Bear knows when the sample is out and work is to be done with a yummy liver treat to be consumed.  Does he smell the sample as soon as the cap is taken off?  Can he hear the lid being placed on the counter?

I’m convinced that he can tell when I try and inconspicuously unscrew the sample while it is in my pocket.  He tilts his head the side, his ears perk up, and if we aren’t walking he will sit down and get ready to signal.  This won’t be a problem as long as Maggie and Declan unscrew a vial in their pocket whenever they are low.

Yesterday Maggie got down on the floor with Bear, got him to signal a low by putting her arm out, and then she tested with her kit.  Being the ultra sensitive person that she is, Maggie was indeed low.  This is when I realized what she was doing and asked if she could sit a bit longer with Bear, feeding him treats and blowing in his face.  She also suggested we take some low-scent samples.  In addition to being ultra sensitive, Maggie is also money motivated (Over the summer we agreed that they would get 25 cents for each scent sample).  She was planning a date at Starbucks the next day.

Starbucks date aside, Maggie got down on the floor with Bear, got him to signal and gave him treats on her own accord.  It may be that she has come to terms with the fact that Bear is around for the long haul, and that he may as well be an asset to her.  Similar to asking me what my plans are each morning, she may now see Bear as a resource worth utilizing.

At the PT office.

At the PT office.

Bear came with us today to a physical therapy appointment and to a dentist appointment.  Maggie took a few pictures with Bear, yet another sign she is coming to terms with him.  While Maggie got a cavity filled at the dentist, Fiona had the scent sample in her shoe, in her pocket, and under her leg.  Knowing the sample was out, Bear’s game face was on and he signaled when he found it.  After the filling we took the dentist out for some hot wings.  Bear laid under the table quietly.  As we got up to leave there were two guide-dogs in line to order some hot wings (with their handlers).  I had to forcibly direct Bear to the door.  Even so, the two other service dogs were distracted and had to be redirected by their handlers.  Not to be mean-spirited, but there was some solace in the fact that these guide-dogs were distracted, that it is not just Bear.

At the New Year Bear will be eight months old, which is the age some dogs are placed in their home.  At the New Year I will be half way through my year off.  I’m hoping for some milestones.

Hoping

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Teddy bear. Check. Bike helmet. Check. Ready to run to school.

I have to be honest here.  I am now beginning to think that we have a great dog on our hands.  Bear is settling down and is becoming more and more attentive to who he is with.  He actually looks to whomever is with him before looking around for something more interesting, like a leaf on the sidewalk or a clump of mud in the street.  Though not perfect in stores, he is at least malleable, able to redirect his attention from the enticing stroller passing by to the dried chunk of liver in my hand.  However, I am unsure that he is catching on to the whole low-scent signaling.

There is this Facebook group consisting of people training diabetes assist dogs.  It is great to banter with the challenges of such an endeavor, but it is also a bit frustrating.  You see a lot of the posts are people posting about the first “live” signal.  This is a very exciting thing to happen.  In fact, I still get goosebumps when I think about the time Declan was trying to get Bear to “clean” the wound on his knee by licking it, and Bear sat down and pawed him instead.  It is a fantastic thing.  But with each post of a “live” signal, I am reminded of Bear’s lack of signaling.

In the backseat of the Subaru.

In the backseat of the Subaru.

I believe Bear is very capable, and is at times bored with his couch life.  I started teaching a few new “tricks” this week, and Bear is quite responsive.  But back to scent-training, I’ve said this before, but I think that Bear is picking up on visual cues as much or more than the scent cues.  For instance, if I hide the scent in a pocket or in a cuff and stand next to him, I believe that he picks up on how I am leaning toward him, my stature, and then sits seriously, does some sniffing, and then signals.

There have been several instances this week when either Declan or Maggie has been low and Bear walks by without a care in the world, eyeing that couch to climb upon.  When they are willing we call Bear over, encouraging him to sniff and signal, and then have a big celebration for the signal, pouring treats down his mouth.  Just yesterday Declan got home from school and was 96.  Knowing that he often drops in the afternoon, I kept an eye on both Bear and Dec.  Not long after, Dec was 67 without a peep from Bear.  With some encouragement and presenting of Dec’s arm, Bear signaled, and we gave ample treats.  I’m pretty sure if I present my arm to Bear and quietly wait that he will signal me for a low.

Using Dec's glove as a pillow.

Using Dec’s glove as a pillow.

On the upside, Declan and Bear are really becoming good friends.  Declan seeks Bear out when he gets home from school, and Bear runs to Declan whenever he hears his voice.  Bear sleeps in Dec’s room every night, normally sharing the bed with Dec.  We open the window a bit for both the body heat and body smell.

So I am anxious for that first unsolicited signal, for Bear to approach Maggie or Declan and signal.  I am a bit concerned that that time will never occur.  If not, we have acquired a great dog that Dec will be able to take with him to college, which Dec asked about not long ago.

UPDATE: Dec just walked over to Bear with a scent sample in his pocket and Bear signaled.  Maybe my concerns are unwarranted.  Or maybe Bear is just really good at sniffing out the plastic container and cotton swab.

Time to ride?

Time to ride?

Bear was featured in an article in the local paper, The Oregonian.  I got my first and probably last photo credit in the article. There was also a great article on diabetes assist dogs in the Wall Street Journal.  Bear was not featured in that article.

Chewing

  • What Can You Do with a Tail Like This?
  • Nerf bullets (who knows how many?).
  • Hairbrush

Operation wear-down

Posing with Dec and Sam for the Nerf battle.

Posing with Dec and Sam for the Nerf battle.

After two days of inactivity, Bear was up as much as he was asleep.  In a lack-of-sleep induced fog, I took Bear everywhere the first day.  After the first day of chaperoning Bear, he still was restless at night, but not nearly as bad as the first night (see previous post for details).  Since then I continue to take Bear everywhere, and am happy to report that Bear is now back to his usual sleeping self, snoozing away the day (when at home) and settling down quickly at night.

Though Bear continues to consume books, shoes, socks, DVDs, headlamps, Hanukkah gelt, presents, and pencils, he is calming down considerably.  While out walking he is much more responsive and attentive, he spends less time in a craze of energy, and he does not pounce at every possible distraction.  When he gets distracted by a spot in the concrete, I can hold his attention with treats, walking past the imperfection in the concrete.  Alternatively, Bear may just be hungrier than normal.

IMG_20121206_101544I believe the calming to be a maturation effect, not some spillover from taking him everyplace I go.  Now that he is settling down, I seem to recall Kristin looking at one of the older dogs in her back yard and saying, “I can’t stand them at this age.”  Looking back, I believe the dog was right around six months.  Adolescence for dogs is a pain in the ass, too.

Cruising in the minivan, listening to NPR

Cruising in the minivan, listening to NPR

Bear is not through yet, but he is improving, which a trend I’m hoping will continue.  Of course it may be explained by Bear’s appearance.  He no longer looks at all like a puppy.  He looks like a grown dog, and at 75 pounds, a big dog.  When walking the corridors of Costco, people are much less likely to ask to pet him.  I can walk through the store with only two interruptions, and those being a quick, “Nice looking dog.”  Not to confuse things with competing theories, but I may be getting better at ignoring people staring at Bear, never giving in and making contact with the probing eyes.

Regardless of where Bear is developmentally, he has picked up a great new skill in our travels about town.  With all the time in the car, and unable to lay down in the seat because of his size, Bear can sleep in the car while sitting upright now.  He’ll look out the window for a bit, and then his head begins losing altitude, inching toward his front paws.  He’ll gently sway to the movement of the car, asleep, head at about mid leg height.

IMG_20121209_105341This looks incredibly uncomfortable to me, and I’ll even wake him up at times, afraid that a sudden stop, or a sharp right turn will catch him unawares, tumbling him out of the seat.  So I was happy when he figured out how to lay across both seats, resting his head on the other seat with one paw on the floor.

Places we’ve been the last four days: Orthodontist office, Fuchsia gifts, Cha Cha Cha restaurant, Costco, New Seasons, True Value, Dollar Store, Petco, Target, Soccerplex, Bowling alley, the bar at the bowling alley, middle school, public restrooms at Costco and bowling alley, and back to Costco.IMG_20121210_072625

Lack of exercise…lack of sleep!!!

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Bear is alert, ready for action.

I suppose if I were to sit around the house for two days straight, sleeping away the light hours, I wouldn’t do to well when it was time for lights out.  Yesterday marked the second day in a row that Bear had minimal to no exercise.  I took him on three short walks, following the doctor’s orders of walks to relieve bodily functions, no running, no jumping.  I can take care of the first request of limited walks.  But no jumping and running is more difficult to limit.  Bear takes things into his own paws, racing around the house, jumping up on a couch or bed, completing a couple of 180 degree turns, jumping back off, and repeating the circuit five or six more times.  However, Bear’s self instituted exercise regiment does not come close to the energy expenditures needed for a seven-month old puppy.  Enter night-time, the time most mammals get some shut-eye.

Bear began the night in Dec’s room.  He seemed to be settled on his bed when I left the room, but thirty minutes later Dec had let him out, and Bear was sauntering up the stairs (another no-no according to the doctor’s orders).  And this is where the internal debate begins.  First, I think Bear simply needs to settle down, and that a couch might be a good place for him to settle down.  Of course I come to this conclusion after he whines to get out of our room.  So I let him out of our room.  Two minutes later he is peeking into the room, whining to get back inside, for some reason unable to push the door open another three inches.  Out of bed again, this time leaving the door open for Bear to come and go, hoping he will find a place to settle down for the night.

Two minutes later he is whining again, this time out by the door.  The internal debate changes sides, siding with the “Bear needs to lay down for the night in one spot.”  I lament the fact that his crate is down in Declan’s room, wanting to lock him in there as I begin to countdown the time to the alarm sounding in the morning.  Bear continues whining by the backdoor.  I get up again and let him outside.  He relieves himself, which takes longer than usual as he completes a traveling-poop that covers each corner of the yard.

Back into our room, I put him on his bed, thinking that this will settle him down, though I can hear Bear wondering why we don’t let him up on our bed the way Declan does.  Directing him to his bed does little to nothing in settling Bear down.  He is up and around the room, banging into things with his cone and attempting to scratch his ears.  One of the negative effects of the cone is the inability to relieve an itch.  Another negative effect is what it does to noise.  It acts as a gramophone, amplifying sounds.  I can actually distinguish each nail hitting the cone as Bear attempts to scratch an itch.  What futility.

And then he lays down with a “Harumph,” the signal of settling down.  I hear the deep breathing.  I take a breath of relief.  At that same moment I hear Ashleigh’s meow and scratch at the door.  Though not an old cat, or a grumpy cat, Ashleigh (he came with the name) can be extremely belligerent, bringing out the worst in people.  From past experience, I know that Ashleigh will continue his request to enter the room until action is taken.  I quickly take action in hopes that Bear will stay settled, but that boat has sailed.  Bear is now quite intrigued by the banging on the door.  I open the door enough to grab Ashleigh, take him to the backdoor, restrain myself from throwing him into the bushes, and simply let him outside (somewhat gently).

Bear is back up and scratching his ears.  This time I hear the Velcro rip and the cone fall to the floor.  I am relieved for the cease of noise, and the internal debate begins afresh in my head.  Without the cone, Bear can relieve the itch, getting comfortable and settling down.  He probably doesn’t need the cone anymore.  Can he even reach those staples with his teeth?  I’ve seen him lick it, but that just cleans the wound, right?  As long as he doesn’t snag a staple with a tooth, yanking it out, it’ll be fine.  Sure, it’ll be fine.

But maybe not.  The other side of the argument listens closely to the scratching, and licking, and gnawing.  What is he gnawing on?  Is that the staples?  I jolt up to see Bear gnawing on his back leg.

Damn fleas!  Why did we spend all that money on the Trifexis?  I don’t think it is doing anything.  It’s like a dollar a day for that medicine.  If you don’t count weekends.   We pay a dollar each business day for that medicine, which does nothing.  He is gnawing at the fleas.  Now he is licking.  What is he licking?  Is it one of the incision sites?  I bolt up and Bear is licking at the stitches, but stops when he sees me.

That’ll do it.  He just needed some redirection.  Now he will settle down.  Wait a minute, what is he gnawing at?  What is he licking?  Time to quiet the internal debate by putting the cone back on.  And maybe it is time to surrender, get a book light, and start reading while Bear strolls around the room.

Bear settles down…for a few hours.  At two he is at it again.  Whining to go out.  Up again, I take him to the backyard, making sure that Ashleigh doesn’t sneak back in.  Another traveling poop, I begin to wonder about parvo.  Can’t be, too much energy.  Back inside, Bear takes a good forty minutes to settle down, letting us know that his ears itch.

Bear takes a "selfie" while laying under the chair at the orthodontist.

Bear takes a “selfie” while laying under the chair at the orthodontist.

And then it was morning.  Though running at half capacity, I am determined to take Bear everywhere today.  There will not be any jumping or running, just a lot of visiting and traveling.  We’ll go to the orthodontist’s office; we’ll go out to lunch with Maggie after the orthodontist; and we’ll go into school to pickup and drop-off Maggie.  And we will be tired this evening.

 

Cone: It is showing its age.  It has two large cracks in it.  And it is too small for Bear.

Bear improving at laying under chair, becoming small.

Bear improving at laying under chair, becoming small.

Concerns with scent training: They continue.  I believe that he recognizes the scent, but signals on visual cues instead of scent.  Last night I began placing scent samples on the kids as they did homework, throwing a party when Bear signaled (many treats and vigorous petting).  I continue to do the scent training we did right at the beginning with just holding the scent and clicking when he signals.