Getting in the way

The sun has returned.

The sun has returned.

It does get in the way a bit, sometimes more than others. On average it’s less obtrusive than the neighbor who continues remodeling his house after ten years. But diabetes does get in the way. Normally it is just little things: every morning checking blood sugar and giving shots; scarfing down sugar during soccer games.

This morning we all slept in because of dentists appointments. Luxuriating in the extra time, Declan went to Lego warfare which was spread on the table. I threw him the kit to check blood sugar, which is when Bear started signaling. It seems Bear is now conditioned to check for low blood sugar the same time the kids are checking. Need to somehow get him to check when they are not checking. That is the whole point of it all.

Dec is 114. Bear continues to signal, barking a high-pitched sound. So it could be that Bear expects a nice juicy hot dog chunk whenever the blood sugar kit comes out, or it could be that Maggie is low downstairs, or it could be that Declan is dropping. In fact just the other night Bear signaled Dec, so he tested. he was in the 90s. We went downstairs and Bear continued signaling. Dec tested again and he was 64. It gets messy with the meter’s accuracy. They claim to be within 10% of actual blood sugar, which studies back up, but when you are around the boundary of being low, possibly dropping or rising, 10% makes a difference, which only leads to how confusing it must get for Bear trying to conform his signals to receive the juicy hot dog treat.

Not wanting to be left for the soccer game.

Not wanting to be left for the soccer game.

So it could be the meter, it could be he is dropping, or it could be that Maggie is low. Maggie and a different meter are downstairs, down I go. Minimizing up and down trips, I check Maggie first, and she is indeed low at 70. Being a teenager, she proclaims that she is fine. On my return upstairs I praise Bear and give him a nice juicy hot dog treat.

You might think having multiple people with diabetes in the home would make training Bear easier. More and more I think it really is getting in the way.

Tough love softened

We get to the dentist’s office and fill the waiting room, the three kids and myself. Each year the waiting area seems to shrink as our physical space increases, mine less so I hope, and the amount of energy expelled (mostly sound) increases as well. By the time we’ve cycled through appointments, Declan succeeded in disabling Fiona’s phone for an hour, which achieves his ultimate goal of pushing Fiona into a slightly controlled rage.

Normally we stop and get breakfast or lunch on our way back from the dentist, and I’m trying to figure out if Bunk, a local sandwich shop, is open. Meanwhile mental jabs and full-on screams ensue between shotgun and back seat occupants, which is when the flip switched for me, and I announce we will not be getting any lunch, but simply being dropped off at school. I am fed up with the mental, and occasional physical, sparring.

Staying away from shoes, but went on a bender, destroying a computer mouse and gorilla grip camera clamp.

Staying away from shoes, but went on a bender, destroying a computer mouse and gorilla grip camera clamp.

For three blocks I enjoy the quiet in the car, Fiona and Declan still fuming while Maggie strategizes a new angle. And then Declan says he feels low, checks, and is indeed quite low at 56. He is without sugar tabs or juice (which he drank while disabling Fiona’s phone). His time delayed insulin, NPH, is kicking in. So instead of being able to punctuate my canceling of lunch by dropping them off at school to fend for themselves, we now have to stop somewhere quick to get soda or juice for Declan.

Any other day I’d appreciate having New Season’s Market three blocks away, but in this case I’d rather have a Plaid Pantry to run into and get a soda, leaving the kids in the car waiting to be dropped at school. Instead we pull into the parking lot, unloading and going into New Seasons. Before getting to New Seasons, Maggie was brainstorming different solutions that all involved her getting a sandwich. “There’s a nice cafe next to the Plaid Pantry, or that place looks good…”

I don’t respond to any of her suggestions, including the one to get a sandwich at New Seasons. She takes the non-response as an affirmative response when we park, and everyone gets a sandwich while Declan horks down a Mountain Dew.

It is a relief to get Declan back into range, but I was looking forward to dropping them off at school, denying them a nice lunch, but diabetes got in the way.


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.

Typical Day

Bear went on the last field trip with Dec's class. He found the rock tasty.

Bear went on the last field trip with Dec’s class. He found the rock tasty.

It may be that Bear is not getting enough food each day. Like the adult with ADHD who self medicates with marijuana, Bear makes up for his lack of nutrients received from dog food with treasures left around the house. And though Bear finds some small caches of food in easy to get to places, the coffee table often has some remnants of food in a discarded wrapper, the real prizes exist on the counter, requiring more stealth planning and more acrobatic search and seizure actions.

And although the reward can be abysmal, a dirty bowl with a few pieces of oatmeal, the cache can be ample and tasty, a pound of European butter left on the cutting board to soften. A quick risk-reward analysis signals two thumbs up, a strong buy, a giant green light, for Bear to seek treasure on the counter. Though there are risks, they are somewhat minimal for Bear.

Sleeping in the clsasroom while a group of students practice a dance.

Sleeping in the clsasroom while a group of students practice a dance.

Bear may be caught in the act, front paws on the counter, eyes scanning for dishes. Bear is reprimanded with strong, loud words, forcing a feeling of shame. He will then quietly sulk to the throw rug and plop down for some alone time. A completely different risk occurs when a seizure is successful without any reward. This occurred the other night when a used cereal bowl was captured from the counter, only to be dropped on the floor where it broke into two large pieces and many shards. Another note of interest for Bear (I believe he already has noted these things, I just wonder his recall accuracy) is the time of day the act occurs largely dictates not only success of mission, but also severity of penalty. The aforementioned broken cereal bowl occurred at two AM, bringing on a disproportionate penalty for such a measly amount taken.

Bear's preferred sleeping position.

Bear’s preferred sleeping position.

Because of Bear’s increased intake of counter food, his GI tract is less predictable, causing frequent trips outside. These often occur in the middle of the night. Bear will spend half the night with Dec, and then the chicken carcass will finish processing and need immediate attention. After waking Declan up to open the door and doing the same to me, Bear will be outside fertilizing the garden. I will then check blood sugars not knowing about the timing of the chicken carcass.

Quality lounge time with Dec.

Quality lounge time with Dec.

Bear attempts to show gratitude for being let outside to relieve himself by licking exposed faces, jumping up on the bed, and playing with the cat. His gratitude is countered with some solitary confinement in the office. Sleep must occur.

If Bear is not in the classroom with me, he will spend time on the couch. We continue to train him with scent samples and basic obedience. However, he is morphing into a house pet.

Still chewing

Bear checking out the new dirt in the planter box.

Bear checking out the new dirt in the planter box.

We near the third week of being attached to each other (most of the time), yet Bear still loves stealing away and finding something to chew on. Earlier this week Bear found Fiona’s Chemistry book and rounded out the corners of her text. This was the first book in quite a while, but likely an expensive one. His preference is leaning more toward recyclables, especially when the can is full, sitting by the kitchen door waiting to be taken to the big container. He’ll poke his head around, finding choice cans to drag out.

If it were just me, I imagine the chewing issue would be solved. Or at least I can hope it would be. The tethering is not completely consistent because I am not always at home, and I don’t always bring Bear with me. I ran to the store the other day and didn’t want to bring Bear. I ask Dec if he wouldn’t mind having Bear tethered to him. Dec loves Bear and of course doesn’t mind. But at some point while I’m gone, Bear gets annoying and Dec unties the chord. On the flip-side, if Bear is in his crate home alone, he whines and barks when anyone gets home, but especially Dec. So Dec lets him out to say hello. Either way when I get home there will be some chewed up cardboard and a cream cheese container mangled on his bed.


Bear is becoming much more consistent alerting. Last night Dec, Bear, and I were down in Dec’s room getting ready for bed. This is after we all head out to the backyard and take care of business. Bear sits up straight businesslike and paws me. Sure enough Dec was low. Two days ago Maggie grumbled upstairs in the usual teenage fashion and Bear signaled her. Either not understanding what he was doing, or just being a teenager, Maggie yelled at Bear. But when she tested she was 64.

We are becoming more comfortable with Bear’s sense of low blood-sugar. The other day Dec was getting ready for bed and he felt low. I brought Bear in to see if he might sense it also. Bear simply walked around and gave Dec a hello lick. Not long ago I would have been disappointed, wanting Bear to signal. When Dec tested he was actually high, 340. There have also been times when Bear signals ahead of the meter getting the low, which is very common in diabetic service dogs.

Things are moving in the right direction and it is great to get the signal from Bear. It is not a sure thing yet. We are getting there.


photo (2)

At Jade with his new vest.

My mom and her dog, Mimi, were in town for two days. Bear was very excited to have a dog in the house. However, Mimi is about half the size of our cats, so she didn’t quite know what to do with Bear. In the end Mimi would snarl and snap when Bear’s massive mass was overbearing. And Bear does respond to that, settling down with the correction from a dog the size of Templeton.

I took Bear to a local restaurant with my mom. It was packed with the lunchtime crowd. Bear did great, laying below the table, watching as kids walked by.

Bear impersonating a hot dog at four weeks.

Bear impersonating a hot dog at four weeks.

We continue the scent training, walking without pulling, waiting at doors to go in and out, waiting on stairs, staying in a lie-down position. We need a LOT more work on “come”, however. I’m working on working on it. I often forget to work it into the rotation of drills when we are inside. And I think it has gotten worse as he was home bound for over a week with his split pad. When we finally got back outside he ran around like a wild banshee. He is in a full on sprint, running in circles, tail in a violent circle action, hindquarters slightly slouched down, and head up high. I don’t even think about calling him to me, and I just pray that there is not someone for him to annoy (like an annoying owner who wants his torn up tennis ball back).

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.

Want to play “Try and catch me?”


New bed from Costco

No thanks. How embarrassing, though. I met a friend for lunch at a place called “Shut up and Eat.” I brought Bear along. Other than cleaning the floor with his tongue, he did pretty good. He also liked the smell of the woman’s boots sitting behind me.

After lunch Bear and I went for a walk in the neighborhood. Confined to the floor under the table at lunch, Bear was a little rambunctious, but he did alright considering. I threatened to put on his “gentle” lead by showing it to him, and he calmed down. We found a really nice park on our walk. Rolling hills and open grass beckoned some off leash time.

As we entered the park I took Bear off leash. He went bonkers, charging down the soupy grass. He attempted to stop at the bottom of the hill, sliding in the mud. It was an ideal situation for Bear being able to stretch out in the open and no one around for him to pester. We neared the playground with a toddler on a swing. I called Bear to come. And he did!

Dec, Sam, and Bear play dog-pile on Bear's new bed.

Dec, Sam, and Bear play dog-pile on Bear’s new bed.

Then we came to another off-leash dog, playing fetch. Since the dog was off-leash, I figured it would be fine for Bear to play with him. And they did. Bear had mud up his legs and on his back. Problems began when Bear gained possession of his ball. Bear threw it up in the air, he pushed it around with his nose, and he kicked it with his paw. What he didn’t do was give it up. And what he didn’t do was get anywhere near a person. Catch me if you can, sucker.

And then the other dog’s owner started getting all pesky. “We need to go. I need to get the ball. Can you call your dog?” Not sure if he was mean or just really dim, but at this point I thought it pretty obvious to anyone in a three-block radius that I could not get my disobedient dog to obey. The last thing I wanted to do was chase after Bear, making more of a fool of myself and probably falling in the mud in the process.

I calmly called for Bear, walking slowly to him, as he bounded away with a visible smile pasted on his snout. “Could you please call your dog?” the dog’s owner asked again, clearly annoyed. Not wanting to change the scene from dogs playing to adults fighting, I chose to keep my thoughts to myself.

I continued my slow walk towards Bear, and Bear continued his throwing, pushing, and nosing of the stolen ball. Not wanting the fun to end, Bear kept his distance from any upright animal with an oppose-able thumb. If I had a few bucks in my wallet, I would have just offered to purchase the bloody ball from this guy. The way he coveted the ball I’m afraid he would have demanded twenty bucks for it.

All the fun came to an end when the other dog was finally able to secure possession of the damn ball. We finished the loop of the park on-leash.