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.


Changing schedules

Donning the military cap in his hatwear series. Photo by Declan

Donning the military cap in his hatwear series. Photo by Declan

We are all back at it. Everyone but Bear anyway. Declan and Maggie start new schools, as do I. And tomorrow we are all back on a schedule. I’m not quite sure where this leaves Bear, though. He’ll be spending more time alone. And after this afternoon’s maxi chip fiasco, he’ll be spending it in the office. Nearly by design, however, my mom recently moved to Portland and will be taking Bear to the river in the middle of the day. So Bear is also on a new schedule.

Bear was home alone this morning after Heather and I left and then Maggie took Declan to his new school to give him a tour. Don’t know the details but I’d bet he was left roaming the home. He may have discovered the maxi chips then. But it wasn’t much later when my mom arrived to take him and Mimi to the river. Mimi is about half the size of our cats, and her droppings proportionally sized, so it text-worthy when Bear had a “two-fisted poop.”

The trucker. Photo by Declan

The trucker. Photo by Declan

Back from the river is when I believe the maxi chips were discovered and quickly consumed. I got home to find Bear and Mimi panting at the door, left to their own devices while my mom went to enjoy a cup of coffee with a friend.

Not having a whole lot of time with Bear anymore, I decided to do some scent work. I walked around with it in my pocket. Bear was acting strange, grabbing a toy and carrying it around for a bit and then going and retrieving it again. he was half-whining half-barking. And finally he signaled the scent. But then he spit the treat out as he walked away. Strange.

So maybe he was reacting to Declan being low. Dec was not low, but he was coming down from a HI reading, clocking in at 378. And then Bear just let loose, throwing up a dark brown substance with a few bits of plastic that smelled like cat poo. He hit the area rug under the table and the wood floor, so clean up was half-good. The color and smell made me wonder if he ate cat poo.

Hitting the slopes. Photo by Declan

Hitting the slopes. Photo by Declan

After dry-heaving through the clean up, I took Bear around the block for his second short-leash walk of the day. He pulled more than normal. Annoying walks again and I wondered if it was the price to pay for total fun free time with Mimi and my mom. And then I wondered if maybe he had to poop, even after his “two-fisted poop” at the river. Releasing him from the short leash, he sidled up to a tree and did the second half of the rooster routine, leaving a puddle of diarrhea. Equipped with a poop bag, I still wondered if it was necessary or even possible to clean up. And for the second time in five minutes I was scraping Bear’s excrement off the ground.

IMG_20130902_211219Back home they solved the mystery. Fiona had taken the pound bag of maxi chips to her room while studying. Chocolate and Bear don’t mix too well. Operation steel stomach now in process.

Back to the dog park

Sleeping on the deck

Sleeping on the deck

It was our third annual trip to the Wings and Waves Waterpark in McMinnville. Last year Bear was along for the trip. This year Bear spent the day in his office. On our return I couldn’t help noticing that Bear was not in the office, but out in the kitchen area. I headed back to the office and nearly fell down by the smell, and then dry heaved seeing the mess of brown liquid on the floor. As my stomach turned right side up, I thanked whoever had the wherewithal to get Bear out of the mess, though they did nothing in terms of cleanup effort.

I wet down a few rags to cleanup and reminisced when we had cloth diapers in Eugene. Whether it was thinking about some of those nasty diapers we cleaned in the toilet, or just a sudden solidifying state of my stomach, I did not add my own mess to the already disgusting floor. What is going on with Bear’s constitution, though?

Bowl of Costco hot dogs and cheese sticks a day

Bowl of Costco hot dogs and cheese sticks a day

Is it the anniversary of his parvo experience, needing to somehow celebrate his survival, Bear’s insides are reminding us how far he has come and how bad it was. Or is it the new high value treat he gets for scent work? He’s been getting about one Costco dog a day for the past week. Though I haven’t tried this regiment, I imagine it could do some damage. After I have one I’ll taste it throughout the day. Or might it be the newly instituted lock down regiment is stressing his constitution? Bear only goes on short walks, no running along with the bike, no dog park, and treats only with scent work.

While cleaning the mess I decided to take Bear to the dog park. We’d walk on leash, which would be painful, before heading to the water and enjoying time off leash.

I finished scrubbing and spraying air freshener (it still smelled of poo) and loaded Bear into the car and drove to the park. The park full of dogs and the smell of the river distracted Bear greatly. He whined a bit and pulled quite a bit. Stay tuned on how the yanking develops into Bear’s lack of feeling around his collar.

And then I exhaled, taking Bear off leash and walking along the beach. The leash swung freely from my hand as Bear charged in the water for a stick. He boxed with other dogs. He charged other dogs, faking to the left at the last possible moment and dove into the water.

We came home and he flopped down, tired for the first time in a week.

Sleeping on the deck

Sleeping on the deck

Short Leash

IMG_20130802_074300We picked Bear up from Kristin’s after a week away. While he was happy to see us, he was also as excited, or more excited, to play with the dogs in the Kristin’s backyard. Camp is over for Bear.

And Kristin experienced Bear on a leash. And she said that we need to start over. That Bear needs to relearn how to walk on leash. He is not to pull; he is taken for a walk; he is not taking the thing at the other end of the leash for a walk. He is not to decide that it is time for a potty break and yank the walker over to a grassy spot. Bear needs to walk with the person, following the person.

This has been a challenge from the beginning. And I think the challenge emerged from Bear’s natural inclinations, but also from our lack of consistency in training. Bear is a bullheaded animal. He is not quick to change. In fact, at our last lesson, Kristin was a bit surprised at how stubborn Bear was when we were introducing the “no-scent” exercise. Bear is also very playful. Job one is to have fun. He constantly scans the environment for a playmate, preferably one with four legs, but two will do.

As trainers I don’t think we transitioned from the “get a treat for a trick/behavior” to the “demand for trick/behavior”. It might be the timing of Bear’s Parvo episode that delayed this transition. After getting out of the hospital (and paying that treacherous bill), Bear was still recovering for a month. His intestines were still rebuilding, and we had to be careful with what he ate. He was prone to extreme diarrhea. So maybe we handled him with kid gloves. And coupled with his confident demeanor, the gentle handling really conditioned him to expect special treatment.

I’ve also always had a low-key dog. My former dogs, Duke in Boulder and Annie all over the US, never needed a leash for a walk. They were interested in checking out new smells in the area. We would walk or bike together. They were happy and friendly, but they did not pester people or dogs for attention. I was prideful of their demeanor, laid back, and able to go without a leash. I enjoyed walking the street with Annie or Duke either next to me or trailing a bit behind.

Walks with Bear challenge one’s peace of mind. He sees the leash and dashes away. Not very far, he stands at the back door. And this is likely where the chasm of a trainer and me begin. I walk to Bear, who stands at the back door. He waits while I click the leash. Something inside tells me that Bear should approach me for the walk. Whenever I walk to him, I feel a pang of “I don’t think this is right” feeling. But I am happy he doesn’t continue fleeing from me while I have the leash, so Bear effectively trained me to go to him for a walk.

Bear occasionally got used to the gentle lead.

Bear occasionally got used to the gentle lead.

When we first introduced the gentle-lead I would give him treats when he had it on. I’d put it on him without the leash to desensitize the feeling, giving Bear treats while he wore it, trying to associate yummy treats with wearing the gentle lead. Not sure if my techniques were poorly executed, poorly planned, or were simply not instituted long enough. Bear’s behavior never changed, and I tired of the struggle with the gentle-lead.

And so I would snap on the gentle-lead and proceed for the walk. And Bear still enjoyed his walks. Walking with head up and tail wagging, he would tug on the lead still, but it was simply a bit easier to correct him. And whenever possible, he would rub his nose along some grass with his butt up high, tail wagging, relieving that pesky gentle-lead annoyance on his snout.

Another chasm between dog-trainer  and me: Instead of dealing with the annoying habits of the walk, I found another means of exercising Bear. I nearly completely abandoned the walk. I went for the bike. With the leash in right hand, I rode while Bear ran. We would go to the park to get off-leash time. We would occasionally find other dogs to run with, but usually found an extremely annoying owner yelling to keep Bear away from his dogs, that Bear’s safety was in danger (can’t discuss now, but maybe later). So score another for Bear, he once again taught me behavior in line with his needs.

Dog park by the river.

Dog park by the river.

So now we begin again. With a new Handcraft Collar, we take Bear on short walks. We go up and down the block. We might make it around the block. And why are they such short walks? They are so short because we have about four inches of leash to work with. When he pulls forward or to the side, we pull up on the leash, engaging the Handcraft Collar, sending a signal (hopefully) to Bear to back it up. The challenge involves releasing the leash, disengaging the collar, at the moment Bear gives in. We (myself, Heather, and Bear) are all working on this.

It has been a week and things are improving. Bear walks nicely along a boring stretch of road. He continues to become maniacal when we approach a house or park that has a history of playing with other dogs. The final exam for Bear (and me I suppose) occurs at the dog park, walking nicely on lead in the parking lot. We will try this out today. And just thinking about it makes me sad because I see it as a form of torture. And I vehemently hate torturing things (even though I teach math). In fact, I would rather be tortured than administer the torture.

I love taking Bear to the dog park so he can run and swim. Not only can you see the joy in Bear’s entire body wagging, but he also wears a smile. So I wonder do we go down to the park and walk in the parking lot, returning after that training. Or do we continue to the park after the training? What would a trainer do? If he is horrible on the leash in the parking lot, lunging and crying to play, do you still give play time. Or is it simply a training session, no more. No reward for bad behavior? I’m inclined to let him play, walking in the park, letting Bear run around, feeling for a few moments at least, that I have a dog I can walk without a leash.

Update: Scent training

Scent training tools: scent, no-scent, hot dogs, and cheese chunks.

Scent training tools: scent, no-scent, hot dogs, and cheese chunks.

We continue with the “scent/no-scent” training. Bear does great, signaling the scent and ignoring the no-scent. And then he does not so good, reluctant on the scent and signaling the no-scent.

But then he’ll wake from a nap when I walk by with an open scent sample in my pocket and signal. And he’ll ignore the no-scent in my pocket. I’m still clinging to the time he slept on the couch and I put the scent beaker in my pocket. His head jerked up and walked over to me to signal.

Back at it

Finishing up the entire new season of "Arrested Development" with Fiona and Heather. Very appropriate.

Finishing up the entire new season of “Arrested Development” with Fiona and Heather. Very appropriate.

After a long break from any formal training, Bear and I went back and had a training session with Kristin yesterday (the photos are unrelated to the training, instead they show what he’s been up to recently).

Kristin said there is still hope, that Bear can still become a service dog. I shared with her my fears that he signals when he sees the scent sample rather than when he smells it, and how he is getting better on walking and behaving in public places. I’m still not sure where we will land with Bear and how serviceable he will be as a service dog, but we did start moving in the direction of a service dog.

Oblivious to students practicing a dance performance.

Oblivious to students practicing a dance performance.

My inclination that Bear signals on sight of sample rather than on scent were confirmed. He is on auto pilot. He sees a sample container and he paws for a treat. Not only that, but he’ll signal when you just hold your hand out pretending to hold the sample. During the lesson we had one scent and one no-scent sample. We present the no-scent for Bear to sniff. He automatically signals before even smelling it. A quick “Nuh-uh” response and turn away with disappointment when he signals on a no-scent.

Cape Lookout with neighbors. Bear under table.

Cape Lookout with neighbors. Bear under table.

Bear needs to think about whether it is a low-scent or a no-scent. During the lesson he continues to signal the no-scent. We continue to turn away. He begins to not signal, to ignore the no-scent. He gets a “good boy!” and a treat. The hope is that he’ll do this three or four times in a row. This does not happen during the lesson and has not happened in the three training sessions since the lesson.

After time with the no-scent we switch to the low-scent. I can see Bear’s frustration and confusion here as he abstains from signaling yet does not get a treat. He needs to connect the scent with the signal and then the treat. He begins wandering off, checking out new corners of the room, sniffing the breeze blowing in from the window.He sits and scratches himself, a favorite of his. All throughout Bear’s attempts to find something else to do, we pull him back to the plastic tube that either has a low- or no-scent.

Chilling with Grandma on Bear's love-seat.

Chilling with Grandma on Bear’s love-seat.

We are reminded of how Kristin described Bear over a year ago, when she was visiting the litter from early on. She described Bear as confident and independent, that he was often the first to do things. A year out confident and independent translate to stubborn, bull-headed, and happy doing his own thing. In more able hands I’m confident Bear would be pretty amazing at this point. However, Bear is in our home, adding one more stubborn adolescent to our potpourri of teen-spirit.  In our hands Bear has become an independent minded dog, looking to satisfy his needs, which includes nutrition (food on the counter), jawing exercises (chewing shoes, books, and other sundry items), and playtime (looking for any dog to play with).

So we are back at it with more focus. We are working on distinguishing the no- and low-scent. After he masters this we will bring back the doorbell for signaling, having it present with and without the low-scent. And Bear will be wearing the “gentle-lead” collar on any walks.


Always a good time with Dec.

Always a good time with Dec.

It has been hot here. The last few days we went to the dog park by the Willamette River. The first day he got in, but didn’t swim. Yesterday morning we went to a park with a casting pond with ducks floating in it. Thinking the grass and muck in the corner was solid ground, Bear stepped in only to be completely submerged in the water. He came out splashing hard with his front legs. Demonstrating his core strength, he was able to pull himself out of the pond after getting his front paws on Terra firma. Later in the day we went back to the river, this time with Declan and friends. We all got in and Bear was swimming after sticks and tennis balls. Once I threw the stick in the water from the dock. Bear dove in after the stick. He was under water for longer than I though he’d be. When he finally emerged, he was splashing hard with those front paws.


New hope

Productive training session.

Productive training session.

It has been awhile since we’ve had a lesson.  I fear when we return, which we will be in a few weeks, we’ll find out that what we have on our hands is some hybrid puppy, capable of some service dog duties, but largely a house pet.

It is difficult to convey the frustration of attempting to guide Bear to service dog status.  I’m beginning to come to terms with the fact that I may not be the best dog trainer.  I can handle teaching math, statistics, and economics to people, but teaching a dog to bring an object on command is beginning to feel out of reach.  As I write this, Bear is snoring on the couch.  A great house pet, right?

Gentle lead

Gentle lead and a treat keep Bear focused away from jogging dog.

Have you ever seen service dogs out in public?  Whether they are guiding the blind or assisting in another way, they always seem very attentive and calm.  They lazily scan the scene before them, always attending to their person.  They stand or sit right next to their person.  A toddler screams by them, and the service dog merely glances nonchalantly their way, hardly moving their head, merely following with their eyes.

Bear enters a room and quickly scans it for some fun.  Who and what can turn this boring place into a play area.  There is a ball in the corner, a shoe by the door, and a kid hopping up and down.  He’ll first charge the kid, always preferring an animate object.  If the hopper is unavailable for whatever reason, then the shoe wins out over the ball because of some enticing smells, stories to unfold within the smells.

IMG_20130113_115500Maybe I am not giving Bear enough credit.  He is great at some basic obedience stuff, like sit, down, and stay.  He is getting the hang of “go to bed,” but I can’t find the blue pad that we use to identify bed with, so we haven’t been working on that one recently.  You know what else Bear is amazing at?  He knows the sound of the lid to a scent sample hitting the counter.  Fast asleep on the couch, he’ll perk up, ready to work the moment the lid hits the counter.  Then he is all serious, ready to sniff out the low.  I’d like to think that he picks up the scent at about the time the lid hits the counter.  However, he’ll occasionally perk up with the opening of the fridge door, which is where the scent samples are stored.

My hope is that when we begin our weekly group lessons begin, Bear is smart and attentive enough to make up for all of my shortcomings.

And we went to Mt. Hood for a few days away.  Beautiful views and weather.IMG_20130121_104017

Lack of hormones or shame?

Veterinarians will tell you that neuter your male dog calms them down.  They say that the hormones associated with being intact makes them more aggressive.  Now that Bear is back from surgery, I believe there is an alternate theory.  I believe that having to prance around in the “cone of shame” for two weeks significantly destroys the confidence of the “detached” dog to simply make the intact dogs aggressive only in comparison.

Cone of shame

It’d be interesting to put the cone on an intact dog for two weeks and see the result.  It is “purchased” for the price of an xBox wireless controller, but is useless after the two-week period taps confidence and all sense of pride from your dog.  The original cone, the one Bear wore when we picked him up, the one he was wearing as he walked past a pit bull mix (probably intact) in the waiting room, jutted out four inches past his snout.  He banged into everything.  I expected him to be skittish after banging into things, but he just kept at it, pushing through the waiting area, past the door, and eventually into the car.

Declan consoling Bear.

At home Bear kept running into things and began whining.  I couldn’t take the enormity of the cone any longer, so with Dec standing guard making sure Bear wouldn’t rip the staples out of his belly, I took the cone off and cut it back three inches.  With the condensed dish, unable to receive dish-network channels, Bear can navigate through the house a bit better.

Feeling free without the cone.

Bear gets two pain pills a day.  He is already eating and drinking normally.


  • How will this affect his scent training?
  • How will we survive two weeks of low activity?
  • How much training will he be able to withstand?

    Scar from hernia repair stapled shut.