Basics

Dec serves Bear his food.

Dec serves Bear his food.

Constant diligence is needed. Letting unwanted behaviors slide just a bit, and we are paying for it immediately. We’ve been taking Bear on regular walks, which improves his on leash behavior, but recently I’ve been taking him to the river. At the river Bear doesn’t need a leash. So back on the leash at the end of the day walk around the block Bear yanks like he is readying for the Iditarod. Not ready for mushing him through the ice, I quickly change directions, doubling back on course, taking weird lefts and rights across the street as if I’ve been chugging the Schnapps all day. Bear is not amused, though he settles down, yanking less often and with less force, which my shoulder is thankful for. I may need some physical therapy in the new year.

Dec and Bear ready at the end of the day.

Dec and Bear ready at the end of the day.

So after noticing how quickly Bear loses a skill as repeated and basic as leash-walking, I figured it might be a good idea to go back to other basics. On the way back from the river we stopped at our local grocery store. And, no, Bear did not go in the river, so he his odor didn’t fill the store upon entrance. Looking back on the year and a half that we’ve had Bear, I realize now that I shouldn’t have been so eager to take him to the store while I shopped. The best setup is to take him through the store with the only task to make sure he minds his manners, and it is a lot easier to do this when not pushing the shopping cart and picking apples out of the bin.

Declan and Bear trying to commandeer parent's bed.

Declan and Bear trying to commandeer parent’s bed.

Another “hind sight is 20-20” lesson I realize is to use treats to redirect. And I’m sure I’d been told to do this by multiple people, but for some reason there comes a point when I feel Bear is all filled up on treats, and that it is time for him to learn, and if he isn’t learning then punishment ensues. And I realize now that this is the point that dog-training books say to take a deep breath, leave your dog at home, and enjoy being without him. Lucky for Bear “punishment” involved multiple sits, stays, and downs. And looking back, it is so clear the misplaced use of basic commands for punishment. Hopefully my lesson arrived in time to salvage Bear as a service dog. We tour the store without a cart, without anyone else, and with a pocket full of treats. We swerve ever so close to the nose-level chips, and I give a yank and a “leave-it” command when Bear looks to snatch a bag.

In the hammock with Dec and Tabor.

In the hammock with Dec and Tabor.

Bear remains calm walking through the store. And he learns quickly to look away from anything enticing, looking to me for a treat instead.And he re-learns this each time we go to the store. So I’m not sure how he so quickly loses the leash-walking skill. Could it be that his line has been bred for seeing-eye-dogs for so long that he wants to lead during the walk with a certain amount of tension on the line?

And may next year be one without chewed up library books and shoes and textbooks from school. And may there not be four-pound Costco-style salami eaten, nor giant Tillamook cheese loaves. And may the loaves of olive ciabatta left on the counter remain there for the humans in the house in the coming year. And may the new year not experience bags of bagels taken and eaten from the pantry, nor lunch-size chocolate milks taken and consumed from the pantry. And may bike helmets be used to protect skulls rather than be used as a chew toy in the new year.

Happy New Year.

Live Alerts

IMG_20130129_121642While Declan and I battled with remote control helicopters, Bear signaled by pawing Dec. And Dec was 59. After properly celebrating the signal, Dec said that Bear signaled him earlier in the day when he was in fact low as well. So two live alerts in a day.

I noticed Maggie poured herself a juice while she was fixing breakfast. After asking her, she said she was 77. Bear had been eyeing his bowl of food at the time, looking at Maggie a bit, but certainly not moving in for a signal. With a little direction, he went in and pawed. Not sure if that is Kosher, but I gave him some hot dog bits for it.

Winter Break

Snapchat to Maggie: He signaled, check your blood sugar. We were at the park and she was at Grandma's house.

Snapchat to Maggie: He signaled, check your blood sugar. We were at the park and she was at Grandma’s house.

Somehow a link between the smell that emanates from the plastic tube with a cotton swab stuffed inside must be linked to the smell emanating from the child with a low blood sugar. The reaction of one child with a low blood-sugar is nearly dichotomous to the reaction of the other. The elder of the two yells at Bear, annoyed at his signal, telling him to get away. The younger grabs his ears and gives him some loving and then runs to get some treats. I’d be confused.

I told Maggie that she was single-handedly sabotaging Bear’s training. A bit of an overstatement, I admit. All he needs is a clear message to act upon, and a simple reward for performing the appropriate signal. I try to clear the message by checking their blood-sugars prior to scent training. There have been times when we scent-train while Maggie sleeps downstairs with low blood-sugar. This may be part of the cause for the inconsistent live alerts in the morning. Maggie climbs upstairs and gets a juice, announcing she is low. I can see a look of triumph in her eyes, telling me that the dog is un-trainable. And I may be projecting a bit here. But from Bear’s perspective, why would we care now about alerting a low-scent when we didn’t care in the past. We only cared about alerting after finding the scent in the little plastic tube.

In addition to checking their blood sugar prior to testing, I am also attempting to check BOTH their blood sugars after he alerts. This is a challenge because there are times when I don’t even know that Maggie is home (this happens more than I’d like to admit). Bear will alert and Dec will check his blood sugar. He’ll be in range. Thirty minutes pass and Maggie rises from her room announcing she is low. (We need to do something about the amount of time she spends on her computer; she’ll be holed up in her room for hours and we’ll think she is at a friend’s house) This does not happen often, but when it does I commence kicking myself. Why didn’t I check her room?

Chillin' on the couch.

Chillin’ on the couch.

The positive spin on Maggie rising from her dungeon announcing she is low after Bear has signaled is that Bear accurately signaled. A more common occurrence is Bear signaling and both Maggie and Declan either being in range or high. I’m beginning to think (hope) Bear might be signaling high blood sugar, though we have not introduced that at all. This is merely self-preservation in the jungle of trying to train Bear. It is deflating to get a clear signal to only discover it to be a false positive. Bear is learning that if he wants a treat he merely has to signal. That is clearly not the connection we are hoping to make between the low-scent and the yummy Costco hot dog treat.

Bear continues to LOVE Grandma and the walks she takes him on.

Bear continues to LOVE Grandma and the walks she takes him on.

Dec returns

Bear and Jelly cuddle.

Bear and Jelly cuddle.

No medical emergencies on the flight home. And Bear was beside himself at Dec’s arrival. He shook and wagged and whined and pushed and licked. His whole body shook. Bear squeezed onto the loveseat next to Dec while he handed out presents and told stories. There was the fart in the elevator, grandma getting lost every day, and the monster slippers he and Rylee strutted around the hotel in. And Dec also talked a bit about the flight to DC when he helped someone who was on his way to a coma.

glucagonI spoke to the doctor that was also on the flight. She said that if it weren’t for Declan the man would have likely died. I initially called the doctor to find out if we could get the glucagon replaced that Dec ran up the aisle. But after talking to her about what Dec had done, I didn’t care about the glucagon.

During Dec’s absence, Bear seemed to take a bit of a vacation as well. Though he did great during scent training, perking up as I walked by with a sample up my sleeve, and trotting around the room to find the hidden sample; he did not do a great job on live alerts. Maggie had two lows in one night. Bear remained in a deep sleep, snoring through the night.

Grandma getting a sloppy kiss of gratitude from Bear.

Grandma getting a sloppy kiss of gratitude from Bear.

Before bed I brace for an alert, practicing in my mind what to do. I hear the bark and jump out of bed, grab a kit and juice box and a treat. When it happens, however, I find myself rationalizing the disturbance. Bear got into the pantry (or Fiona’s room) and polished a loaf of bread. It’s worked its way through, knocking at the door, and now he needs relief. Not only do I yearn for undisturbed sleep, or at least less disturbed sleep since I am up at this point, but I also am anticipating a false positive. I need to honor Bear’s signals, but the false positive disheartens me. Back in bed after a false positive, I’m awake from the trip downstairs. I begin playing out training we’ve done and how to change it. And I go through past live alerts that I’ve not responded to, and at times reprimanded Bear during a live alert. My heart sinks more.

Monster slippers

Monster slippers

Bear snores, back to sleep so quickly. If only I could slip back into sleep like Bear. I begin to question the viability of training Bear. He remains a challenge on the leash. My left shoulder can attest to that. Yet he improves on the leash (at least with me). A neighbor came by to take Bear to her house to play with their puppy. She returned after thirty feet of trying to walk with him on the leash, unable to deal with his bouncing. She then drove her car a block to take him.

And yet I am not ready to let him slip into full pet-hood. He can do this job. He has done it occasionally. And I believe he can do it, I just don’t know if it is in our combined constitution to get him there. I’ve made the two-year mark a defining line. Until then, my hot dog consumption will remain above average as I snag a few pieces each time I prepare Bear’s training treats. Capture

Recent stats

Bear sleeps with Dec's blankets in his absence.

Bear sleeps with Dec’s blankets in his absence.

Bear is batting about .500 for the past week. Standing at the table, ready to sit for breakfast, Bear pawed me and gave a sharp bark. I first thought he might need to go outside. Then it dawned on me that Bear just signaled. It really takes a while to learn this stuff. I gathered the kit and went to check Dec and Maggie, both still in bed.

Sure enough, Maggie was low. Back upstairs for a juice bag to treat the low; back down to give to Maggie; and then back up to root around the fridge for the yummy treats. Maybe a bit out-of-order, but Bear was finally rewarded for the low. Next time I hope to remember a treat on the first trip downstairs.

I got home that afternoon and Dec informed me that Bear signaled him. This is great. I asked if he gave him a treat. Dec said he couldn’t find the treats. So he just gave Bear some of the cheese he was eating. This is great. Then I finally asked how low he was when he checked. “I didn’t check.” Dec responded. He assured me that he felt low. I’ll chalk that one up as a live alert.

Bear shows holiday spirit on the morning river walk.

Bear shows holiday spirit on the morning river walk.

Very next morning Heather hears a sharp bark from downstairs while she is in the kitchen. Bear is in Dec’s room so she checks Dec first, who is in range. But Maggie is low. Second morning in a row. Three accurate alerts in a row.

I suppose Bear may have felt he’d cracked the code. He just needed to signal and a yummy treat is on its way. After triangulating the data, he alerted again the next morning while Dec sat at the counter. “Let’s check.” And Dec was in range. But Maggie was downstairs, and with the third morning in a row, I was getting a bit better at this. Downstairs we went, and Maggie was in the 314. She informed me that she was 47 in the middle of the night.

So not only was the alert a false-positive, but in the middle of the night there was a false-negative. For the positive spin, Maggie’s confidence in Bear is growing. She was surprised that Bear didn’t alert in the middle of the night for her low.

With a re-calculation of his triangulation, Bear signaled again in the afternoon with another false-positive. So over a three-day period, Bear averages .500. Not bad for a batter, not great for a diabetes alert dog, but at least trending in the right direction.

Related story

Declan left Saturday morning with his cousin and grandparents on a trip to DC. He’ll be touring the sites with Grandma and Rylee while Grandpa is at a conference. They had a direct flight Saturday morning. 

As much as Dec wanted to bring Bear in the car with us to the airport, we left him at home. Dec gave him some big hugs and put cheese treats in his food bowl before leaving.

Prior to leaving we went over the basics of diabetes care with Grandma. There were all the supplies and the routine to go over. At this point Declan can take care of everything as long as he is reminded to do it. He pulls and administers the shots. He checks blood sugar.

They all got through security just fine and onto the plane. After two hours into the five-hour flight, I got a call from Grandma. They had a medical emergency and had to land in Billings.

According to Grandma, a man on the flight was having a seizure. They asked over the intercom if anyone had a blood glucose meter. Declan took the meter up to the doctors that were helping the man. Not knowing how the kit worked, Dec had to get it all ready for the doctors. The man’s blood sugar was 23 and he was unresponsive. They tried to get his blood sugar up. Dec gave them some sugar, and they had a drip going. The man was still unresponsive. After giving his kit and sugar to the doctors, Dec was back at his seat. Over the intercom they asked for something else. Grandma hoped someone had whatever they asked for. She didn’t recognize what it was. Declan reached back into his bag and ran up to the doctors with his emergency Glucagon shot. They administered the shot and the man came around. By the time they landed, the man was able to sit up and was able to walk off the plane.

Willamette River.

Willamette River.

Declan may have saved the man’s life. Seeing a person in a seizure and unresponsive is certainly disturbing, but much closer to home for someone with diabetes. My hope is that Declan’s response empowers him to be attentive to his diabetes rather than instill fear because he lives with diabetes.