Puppy Playground

A little pre-bed reading for Dec and Bear.

A little pre-bed reading for Dec and Bear.

Schools let out at one last Thursday. It was in anticipation of the coming storm. And they got it right. We’d been having cold temperatures so when it started snowing it accumulated right away. And by dinner time school had been canceled for Friday.

The cold temperatures and accumulating snow arrived and the normal rules for dogs departed. Walking on a leash became a safety hazard with stable footing gone, so the leash stayed in my pocket on the walks. And with school shuttered, we went to the playground to throw the ball, with no risk of getting a talking to from the custodian who always seems to appear as we would step on the corner of the field.

Bear and Jelly curling up on Dec's bed. Dec took this picture.

Bear and Jelly curling up on Dec’s bed. Dec took this picture.

Knowing Bear needs to run, and getting two comments that he is fat in the past two weeks, I’ve been taking him to the school in the wee hours of the morning. We walk/jog to the field and then I throw the ball for Bear to really stretch his legs a bit. But every time we get to the field I expect the custodian to arrive on site, pushing some cart, asking me if I saw the three signs that said “Dogs must be on leash,” asking me if I could read. Though we arrive to the field before six, I scan the parking lot, take an inventory of which lights are on in the building, and check the back gates before letting Bear off leash to run. If nothing else, his constant berating keeps me paranoid and gives me pause before taking Bear’s leash off.

Bear thieving hats from Sam, Dec, and Emma while Taylor pulls them.

Bear thieving hats from Sam, Dec, and Emma while Taylor pulls them.

So with the snow comes a confidence that the custodian is absent. Absent also are any cars on the street, so we walk down the middle of the street, arriving at the field to find one or two other dogs liberated to run freely, without fear of the custodian, at the schoolyard. And there is something new about having everything covered in snow. Other than the crunch when you walk, the air is more still. Whether it is the stillness, or the crunch, or the powder, the dogs have more jump


Walk softly and carry a big stick.

Walk softly and carry a big stick.

We bundled up and ventured for the fifth hole par three at the golf course. It is a steep hill prime for sledding. There were plenty of other people and plenty of other dogs. After running with the puppies, Bear took up the cause of chasing sleds as they careened down the hill. We got back home around noon, a time that Bear would have already clocked over three hours of napping, so he quickly jumped on his couch and slept curled up in a ball.

All smiles at the sledding hill.

All smiles at the sledding hill.

The snow continued as did the no-leash walking, chasing sleds, and playing with dogs. And a lot of sleeping.


Bear pawed me. First, I went to Declan. Bear pawed me again. Dec was in range. Then downstairs to find Maggie in her room. She was in range. Then I checked myself. I was technically in range at 86, but I think he was alerting for me. I’d just gotten back from the gym and hadn’t eaten anything. So he alerted me, I checked Declan and Maggie’s blood, and then I checked mine. Not sure if the connection is made between the alert and the treat, but I gave him some hot dog-cheese-kibble potpourri.

It is a bit more difficult with the free-form snow-days to continue with scent-training, but we’ve been able to get in a few sessions. In fact, the “put the sample next to Bear’s nose while he sleeps” has been easier to practice with his deep sleeping after all the playing in the snow.


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

Day 5

IMG_20130214_093405It is going better than I expected. Not only has Bear adjusted quickly to being tied to someone, but I also increased the length of the cord to accommodate Bear laying on the couch. Bear responds more quickly to me moving around. He’ll get up and follow me, which is, I suppose, the intent. It would be nice if Maggie or Declan would enjoy having him tied to their waste, but I will not force this on them.

IMG_20130214_093340Because we are tied to each other whenever we are indoors, I’ve started a project outside. I’m putting in a concrete block planter-box/bench at the end of our deck. It is nice to be able to untie Bear from me. As a bonus, the weather has been holding up. Similar to working on a project with kids around, my productivity is, at best, half of what it would be without Bear running into me and licking my face. Today when I go out I am going to prepare a chew toy with peanut butter to get a solid twenty minutes of work done.

I must be working really hard outside lifting those blocks because Bear signals me a lot. He jumps down in the gravel next to me, sniffs, and signals. It is hard work. And I didn’t have a lot of breakfast, but I didn’t feel shaky. Nonetheless, I climb up and check my blood sugar. With a functioning pancreas, my blood sugar was generally around 100, though once it was 92. Regardless, I gave him some treats. I checked my blood sugar five times.

Signaling on those without a functioning pancreas has been less consistent. This morning Maggie came upstairs and yelled at Bear for carrying around one of his new chew toys. “That is a good toy for him to have. What’s up?” I asked Maggie. She felt low and wanted Bear to signal her. This is great that she wanted to get Bear working. And it shows the irritability of being low (and being a teenager). But Bear went about his business sniffing the bacon grease that was spilled on the floor, a no-brainer for both two- and four-legged animals.

I’d also like to think that the low was on its way up, so Bear didn’t smell anything. Hope. Jelly-cat continues his dominance of the bed, though he has become a bit playful with Bear. You can see him move his paw slightly when Bear tries to play.

Highs and lows


Bear and Dec sharing the new bed.

So last week we started noticing Bear signaling quite a bit more, starting with the time he barked at me with Declan sitting across from me (Late Update). I believe that he has been signaling at some level, but we have not been noticing. That said, Bear is not on all the time. Two nights ago Declan was getting into bed; Bear was on his trundle snoring. Dec said, “I think I need to test.” Sure enough he was low. We got Bear awake and he signaled, but at some point Bear needs to wake from the scent on his own and signal.

This morning Maggie rolled out of bed and came upstairs, sitting next to Bear. Bear pawed her and then she went and tested. She was low. The challenge in this case is twofold. First, it would be good for Bear to have to come to Maggie, but she is in tune with how she feels. So she will go to Bear when she feels low to give him practice, but the only time Maggie goes to Bear is when she is low. Bear needs to signal when she is low, not when she approaches him. At this point I am not convinced what Bear is signaling. The second challenge is to get Maggie excited after he signals. When he pawed her this morning, she simply stood up and went to her kit to test, quietly telling me that Bear signaled her. Now I wonder how many times has he signaled without any celebration or without any treats.

Bear wondering why Sam is trapped in his crate.

Bear wondering why Sam is trapped in his crate.

This afternoon I was running to the store when Dec and Sam got home from school. When I got home my mom, who is out visiting, told me that Bear pawed Declan. Declan quashed the signal, telling Grandma that Bear paws a lot when he gets home because he is so excited. And I agree with Declan, however, when I got home and heard this I told Dec that he needed to test. Though I was expecting the usual mid-afternoon 300+ blood sugar reading, Dec was 72. Though it was quite a bit after his initial signal, we had Bear signal Dec again before treating the low with a juice pouch.

Chewing update

After spending over $60 on chew toys and bones, things have improved. Bear now has a big basket of toys that is depleted throughout the day. (Need to teach him to pick up his own toys.) The basket is refilled as the house gets picked up throughout the day. In addition to more approved chew things, I put Bear in the crate whenever I leave the house. Needless to say, it is not foolproof. Yesterday Fiona stormed upstairs screaming, which is not out of character, but she was screaming that she MUST have a lock on her door. Bear chewed up a hanger and a leather-bound sketch book.

The fourth of six helmets destroyed by Bear.

The fourth of six helmets destroyed by Bear.

I am able to empathize with Fiona. I’ve had several shoes gnawed on along with books and notebooks. However, I had trouble not laughing with such a big deal about a hanger being chewed up. “It will have to be replaced!” she yelled. I’m fine with that. It is a bummer when Bear chews things up. Now whenever we drive past our local True Value, Fiona points to it and says, “Let’s go and get a lock for my door.” I respond by telling her that Bear doesn’t chew anything anymore. She rolls her eyes. He doesn’t chew as much, at least, it is going in the right direction. Guffaw. And I’ll do a better job of making sure the gate is up at the bottom of the stairs and that your door is latched. Another roll of the eyes.


Jelly getting some quality Z's on the new bed.

Jelly getting some quality Z’s on the new bed.

We go to Service Dog training lessons this Saturday. I needed these classes to start a month ago, and it will be great to get started with Kristin again. Without much direction, and with an adolescent dog, I purchased a few books. My Smart Puppy arrived first. Turns out Bear being a big pain in my butt is developmental. This book should be attached to the puppy when you bring it home. Better yet, it should be mailed to you three weeks prior to picking the puppy up.


photoGrandma came to town and helped out with some walks and teaching Bear to drop a ball at her foot. Not sure how she did it, but I haven’t been able to replicate it. Bear learned to retrieve a ball for Grandma. Anyone else and it turns into a game of keep-away.

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?

Bike crash

So relaxing on the couch his jowls are creased. (Nothing to do with a bike crash, simply what Bear does most of the day)

I got home a bit after Sam and Dec got home from school on Friday.  I was picking up an espelier tree for our side yard.  With puffy cheeks and eyes, Declan told me he crashed his bike riding home from school.  He doesn’t remember how it happened, though I wouldn’t be surprised if he and Sam were attempting to ride around the piles of dirt in the vacant lot.  Apparently Dec lost control, went tumbling forward with bike, and then completed another roll without bike.

By the time I had gotten home, Dec had already cleaned up the worst wound, a giant scrape covering half of his forearm.  He had another good scrape on his knee and one by his ribs.  I really wanted to scrub the wounds down, but Declan gets hysterical with any pain associated with cleaning wounds.  He had a horrible ordeal a few years back with a giant splinter on his foot.  We had two aunts, both nurses, and his diabetes doctor,attempt to dig the thing out unsuccessfully.  In the end we went to the hospital where Declan had surgery, yes, surgery, under a general anesthesia, yes, completely unconscious  to get the splinter out.

Reacting to a splinter in this way is a side effect of type 1 diabetes.  Doctors are extremely cautious about infection in patients with diabetes.  So surgery under a general anesthesia extricated the splinter after three failed attempts.  So when I saw Declan with a good portion of his forearm exposed, I thought about the potential for infection.  I wanted to soak the exposed areas in hydrogen peroxide, letting them bubble over, cleaning all the filth from the street that embedded itself into his arm.

I had to settle for a quick pat of an alcohol swab and gobs of Neosporin.  (Incidentally, we have boxes of alcohol swabs because if we don’t clean Dec’s injection sites before we give the shot, he gets staph infections.  I’m still waiting for syringes to have a built-in alcohol swab.)

As we cleaned up the wounds, Bear made his way over, his long tail whipping around and an Ugg boot in his mouth.  He immediately dropped the boot and started “cleaning” the wound on Dec’s knee.  Dec thought it was pretty cool that dogs automatically start cleaning wounds.  I didn’t encourage or discourage this form of cleaning a wound.  Dec and Bear are in a serious bounding cycle, and I didn’t want there to be any dirt between them.  I did try to get one more pat of the alcohol swab after Bear left a layer of saliva on it, though.

Maggie makes sure Bear doesn’t leave the back of the van on the way to a soccer game with Ashley (Maggie and Bear are not bonding the way Dec and Bear are).

Over the course of the next day, Declan had one soccer practice and two soccer games.  I am proud to say that he soldiered through, participating in all.  Resting at home after the second game, Declan thought it would be a good idea to get his wounds cleaned.  So he called Bear over, exposing his knee to him, actually encouraging a layer of dog slobber over the wound.  Bear sniffed the wound, cocked his head sideways, and sat down without any licking.  Declan persisted, presenting his knee.  Bear sniffed again and then pawed Dec’s leg, signaling for a low blood sugar!

Jelly always tries to find a warm place to sleep.

Ever the diligent trainer, Declan got a treat for Bear, and then checked his blood sugar. He was 62 (anything below 80 is considered low).  So cool.  Declan was home alone when this happened.

Losing teeth

Bear now stays in the computer room instead of the crate when left alone for long periods.

Bear is starting to lose his teeth.  Declan saw a tooth on the floor this morning.  It was a small triangular thing.  Not sure how many more he has lost or swallowed, but he sure is chewing his kibbles and treats funny.  I can almost see the kibble hitting the gum where the tooth used to be.  A silent up and down of the jaw instead of the crunch of an exploding kibble.

Kristin said that there is faith involved in this training.  In the beginning it felt like we were making progress.  You could see Bear figuring things out, and improving on the tricks and tasks.  He quickly blazed through the basic obedience stuff.  He would sit, lie down, stand, and circle with a quick direction with the treat.  He was picking up the scent and signaling for it.  And he was improving on walking on the leash.  Compared to other puppies his age, he seemed like a very calm and adjusted dog.

After getting back from the hospital, Bear has taken to sleeping a lot more.  I don’t think this is from the parvo, but rather from growing.  He is looking more like a dog and less like a puppy.  Training sessions involve much of the same drills, with a few added tasks.  However, we are able to get two solid training sessions.  And sometimes he is good for just one and a half.  Bear will often just lay down in the middle of a drill, throwing in the towel.

I am beginning to wonder about where we will end up.  Kristin warned that Bear needs to be attached to the kids.  With me at home doing most of the training, I am afraid that he is really bonding to me.  I am afraid we will be getting an extremely well-behaved pet.

Bear did sleep in Dec’s room three nights in a row.  Last night, the third night in a row, he went to his room, looking for the trundle to lay on, which is when Declan opted to have him stay.  And for the third morning in a row, Declan brought Bear to our room at five.  This time I did not lay in bed wondering if Dec had been low.  I got up and checked.  Dec was in range at 123, the beginning of the counting numbers and the only three numbers that sum and product to the same value.  But 123 is not low, which makes me think Bear is getting in the habit of changing rooms at five in the morning.  Not a good habit.

Another habit of his is walking while pooping.  In fact, this morning it took a half-block to complete the task.  It being five in the morning made this all the more onerous.  Not to overemphasize solid waste, Bear is back to a runny frozen yogurt consistency, which may be the reason for walking while doo-ing.  This also has me a bit worried if he is allergic to something in the food.

As explained earlier, this also is weighing on my general outlook of the world.  The lack of viscosity knocks my confidence down a notch.  The cherry on top is the kid in the playground at our local private school calling me a “loser” as I rode by on my bike.  Similar to watching an unhealthy excrement, I’m not exactly sure how to proceed with some snot-nose kid bullying me from the other side of the playground fence.

I’ve had students like this before, and it seems to be a catch 22, and they know it.  If I approach him, he can either deny it or make a stink about a stranger approaching him.  If I approach a teacher and explain what is going on, then he can either deny it again, apologize, or lay in wait for the “loser” to pass by again, knowing that he has gotten under my skin.  And if I do nothing then I perseverate on the snot-nose kid that called me a loser, which is the path normally taken.

Another area of concern is the ceaseless fleas, regardless of the treatments I keep applying to Bear.  Not only do we have this comb, the Ferminator, that pulls the fleas up as you comb, but Bear is scratching fairly regularly.  This gets in the way of training.  While trying to get him to do a task, he’ll turn and scratch his ear.  It looks like he is really flipping you the bird, choosing to scratch his ear rather than abide your request.

So I finally treated the cats with flea treatment as well.  I purchased the knock off product from Costco, and put it on Bear, Jelly, and Ashley.  Jury is still out on that product, but it is not looking good.  Ashley disappeared for a day after the application, returning with his back hair all askew.  I thought it was just the flea treatment making it greasy.  On closer inspection Ashley had somehow counter assaulted the medication with a generous poop application.  As gross as that is, the day absence diminished the odor almost entirely.  So Ashley just looks pissed off or hungover with his messed up back hair.

The early morning habit, the recurring fleas, and the lack of viscosity in stool are challenging my faith in this process.  I am afraid it will become self-fulfilling as my conviction in this process diminishes so does my energy in training.  And we all know if the teacher loses interest in the subject material all the students are immediately lost.  This is the time a theater background would be helpful, selling something you might not believe in.