Approaching year three

Muddy day chasing the ball.

Muddy day chasing the ball.

It has been awhile. Nearly three years. We are settled into our routines. Unfortunately, one of those routines is not scent training. With all the intentions to do so, it has not happened. For me it is partly the constant vigilance that needs to occur. Whenever Bear signals people need to check blood sugar and appropriately signal back to Bear whether the scent he picked up on was the appropriate one.

In fits and starts I’ll do scent training. I’ll get all the materials ready. The scent vial will be in the fridge. The high value treats in a container. And I’ll collect new scent samples from Dec and Maggie when they are low. In the morning I’ll do a quick training with three or four treats being given out. The afternoon training consists of trying to sneak up on sleeping Bear with a scent. After alerting the first time I’ll hide the scent in different parts of the house.

Cuddling in the back seat.

Cuddling in the back seat.

And after a few days of training, Bear signals more often, but not very accurately. He cycles through different triggers to signal for. Bear signaled when he saw either Maggie or Dec with a kit, getting ready to check their blood sugar. Not a bad idea, as after checking they are sometimes low. There was a time when Bear signaled as soon as Maggie showed up. I realized this happened after training with a couple of low-scent vials from Maggie. Again, not a complete whiff, Bear attempts to connect triggers during training. More recently Bear signals whenever he sees a juice pouch. To his credit the juice pouch comes out to treat a low blood sugar. So he tries to get the signal, but for some reason he is not getting the scent. And we haven’t been doing a lot of training recently, so the only time we “train” is after Maggie or Dec are really low and they sidled up to him after finding out they are low with the kit.

Bear gives Dec about a third of the bed.

Bear gives Dec about a third of the bed.

Bear loves the treats. And he certainly won’t get any of the leftover Passover brisket without signaling. So he continues to try. In hindsight, Bear signals in places and times that are similar to the training: in the afternoon with everyone around (especially me). Bear has not alerted in the middle of the night for I don’t know how long. And Maggie has a low two out of three nights. Luckily, she still wakes from the low. To his defense, Dec’s bed looks pretty comfortable.

For the time being, Bear is simply a lovable dog to hang around with.

Playing with the cousins.

Playing with the cousins.

Season changing

We are heading into fall.  If you live in the Northwest, or have visited the Northwest in the fall, you know that there are a lot of trees.  It is a beautiful time of year with the leaves changing color.  I’m not going to be able to enjoy it nearly as much this year with Bear pouncing on every leaf within four feet.  With some of the trees already dropping leaves, walking with Bear has become more challenging.

I’m not sure how he picks the leaf out, but I can see him zero in on the approaching leaf, tumbling along the sidewalk.  Rearing up on his hind legs as it gets near, he pounces down with both front paws.  It is cute for three or four times, but after the 20th leaf on the same block, it starts getting old.  To decrease the leaf fatalities on our walks, I’ve increased the amount of treats Bear gets.  I’ll just have a handful of treats, clicking and giving treats as fast as possible.  And it is actually working.

I try to anticipate distractions along the road, be them leaves or people or dogs.  As we approach the distraction, I increase the rate of treats.  The more distract-able, like a screaming three year-old, I’ll literally have my hand in front of his nose, pulling him toward me and dropping treats in his mouth.  There are times, though, my concentration lapses and we are passing another dog on the sidewalk.  And the shocking thing is that before losing total control of himself and sniffing the other dog, Bear will actually look at me expecting a treat.  And what is even more surprising are the times that I am ready to give one out in the half-second he glances up at me.

Changing behavior

Not sure if it is the season or a growth-spurt or post-parvo, but Bear is lounging around a lot.  He’ll crash on a couch for a few hours.  But when he is not sleeping he is often gathering up toys, piling them up in his “territory”.  As he gets a bit older, he has experimented with different toys, namely non-dog toys.  He had a short stint with socks, including a sock monkey.  He discovered shoes, and they remain a favorite.  We often search for a single shoe in the backyard.  There was a short infatuation with balls, be it tennis of base types.

His newest toy genre is hats.  He found a checked cap first that no one really claimed.  After chewing a notch out of the brim, the cap is officially Bear’s.  The plastic army hat is a mainstay, it often jumps out of his grasp, and with its durable plastic form, Declan continues to play with it during Nerf gun battles.  Every once in a while, Bear finds a new “toy” that is dear to someone named Fiona.  Recently Bear found Fiona’s new H&M hat that she spent a fair amount of time posing in.  Luckily Fiona rescued the hat before he placed a notch in it, claiming it as his own, and probably causing harm to himself in the form of a teenage girl.

Five months

With a bit of primer on his nose and paw.

Bear is now five months old.  He has been with us for three months.  Now that we are on hiatus from lessons with Kristin, we have gotten into a bit of a routine.

I’ll start at the end of the day.  About three days a week Bear sleeps with Declan.  Bear wakes Dec up around three in the morning.  I think he just wants to get up in bed with Dec, but rather than bring him up on the bed, Dec opens his door and lets Bear out.  He then ventures up to our room.  If he doesn’t settle down right away I put him in the crate and close the door.  I then lay in bed thinking about whether Dec might be low.  A few times I have actually dragged myself out of bed and went and tested him.  He has never been low.

In the morning we let Bear out to the backyard to do his business.  Before the air warms up, I go and find as many of the piles as possible to keep the flies (and spiders) at bay.  Bear chases Dec around the house a bit; the bike gang gathers at our house, giving pets to Bear and putting him through some basic obedience.  After they leave for school, I take Bear on a good walk with scent sample, vest, and dongle.

If we have time we go all the way to the park where Bear gets to run around a bit without his vest, leash, or harness.  On the walk we do a few scent trainings, a few behavior trainings and a lot of walking nice practice.  Back home he gets the weeble-wobble feeding toy to eat.

After the last kid leaves for school we do the “go to bed” and “left” and “right” drills.  Then Bear gets to settle down for his first of several two- to three-hour nap.  With any luck he completes his nap on the couch in the living room.

Some where around midday I gear back up for another round of drills with Bear.  I get the snack-pack on, place the dongle in my back pocket, get a scent sample from the freezer, and get to work.  After the training Bear settles down for his second or third nap.

While he naps, I jam a scent sample by his nose to get him to wake up and signal a low.  This has been less than stellar.  But with all of these drills, it is all about being consistent and sending the same message each time (I hope).

As the kids arrive back home, Bear greets them all with the same full body wag and a lot of licking.  Right before or after dinner I’ll gear back up and go through some more drills.  And then before bed, Bear gets one more walk, with drills along the way.  If all goes well, Bear does not leave any surprises in the basement for the girls.

Backyard blues

Bear in the TV room

At a glance, or from a distance, it looks just about the same.  You might notice the dog pen pieces (the same ones that used to be inside) at the back and side of the house, keeping Bear in the backyard.  It is a bit surprising that he hasn’t figured out how flimsy the plastic pieces are that keep him secluded in the backyard.  I imagine that it is largely because they were so good at keeping him contained when he was a little puppy.  And on top of that, he still prefers to be inside, preferably on a couch.

But other than the dog-pen pieces purchased at Baby’s R Us, the plants, the shed, the path, the bikes, they all look the same.  Until you walk through the backyard, you would think that it hadn’t changed.  Getting a fenced-in yard was on our list of things to do before getting Bear.  All the other items were taken care of: dog food, chew toys, crate, and aforementioned dog-pen.  A fenced in yard never got done, and it has really only been done in practice.  A more substantial gate at the back and the side need to be installed (one run to Home Depot has supplies for the back gate stacked behind the house).

Walking through

Two things will hit you as you walk through the backyard.  You will notice both eventually.  One is the smell.  It is not overpowering, but it is there.  And it is stronger in some spots.  The smell emanates from piles of poo with plenty of “sitings”.  Along with the smell is the number of flies.  Attracted to an abundant amount of nutrition, the flies swarm the piles.  It has taken me a week to adjust to this new setup.  I now seek and scoop the piles first by sight and then by sniffer.

I first look for a gathering of flies, and then I hone in on the exact location by smell.  As a kid I would get paid a quarter per poop to cleanup Sammy’s yard.  Maybe it was the cold, or maybe it was the thin air in Colorado, but I remember those poops being dry to the point of brittle.  (It could also be the health of Sammy’s insides compared to Bear’s insides)

With paper bag and a shovel called the Super-dooper-pooper-scooper (it had a scissor type setup), I would get two-dollars of poop without any hassle.  There was never any struggle to get all the pieces; I never remember stepping on any. (It could also be that as a kid I just didn’t care if I stepped in dog poop)

Being isolated in the back, I didn’t clean out Sammy’s yard that much.  However, as a central part of our traffic flow, especially in nice weather, I clean the backyard at least once a day.  With the plastic bag over my hand like a glove, I venture out, taking big slow steps, looking for piles.  In the beginning I more often than not found the pile by stepping in it.

I think it is the humidity that keeps the odor on my shoes, and I apologize if you notice a dog poop smell around me, but I can’t escape it.  I’ve started leaving my shoes at the door, fearing what is clinging to the bottom.  I hope that I’ve developed highly sensitized sniffing of dog poop, and that I actually pick it up when others don’t.  I smell it at the gym and out for frozen yogurt.

It’s gotten to the point that I have changed some habits.  Instead of sitting with my leg crossed over the knee, I now have both feet flat on the ground to minimize the smell.  I’m told this is actually better posture.  Other unanticipated positives of having a puppy include: meeting a lot of our neighbors that have dogs; meeting a lot more women when I am walking the dog (see It’s true); getting the our cats in better shape since they walk with us.

It is worth noting that there are also unanticipated negatives of having a puppy: my hands smell like dog food from feeding him during training, my shoes smell like poop, and the backyard is littered with “chew” toys.

Bear territory

Bear playing with a water bottle during Maggie’s soccer practice.

The back patio is littered with actual chew toys and with “found” chew toys.  Branches and scrap pieces of wood are piled in a spider plant.  A bottle of fluoride pills (Portland does not add fluoride to the water) is punctured without a lid next to Bear’s squeaky red dog.  A hair-brush with the half a handle (don’t tell Heather or Maggie) lays in the rock path next to Bear’s kong and bone.  The soccer cone and duster can be found behind the rose-bush next to a hole he has been working on the last two weeks (again, don’t tell Heather).

As Declan and I walked through the yard, he said, “This is Bear’s territory.”  This just made me think of the pre-Tedford era, back when Pawlowski took the Bears to a top ten finish, which then made me a bit sad thinking of the recent loss to dreaded USC.

Spider territory

Lower right is the fly that has been sucked dry by the spider.

Every year about this time there are a lot of spiders.  The nests explode into an abundance of baby spiders.  There are a bit of a nuisance, but they disappear pretty quickly.  This year they are feasting on all the flies.  We get to witness the lower end of the food chain in our backyard.  Beginning from the waste of a higher order mammal, to larva and flies, and onto spiders.