Signals

close up bearThe lack of training, and more importantly the lack of treats going along with the training, has not ceased Bear’s signalling. His learning is less direct. He is re-evaluating the situation and how the high-value treats are distributed to maximize consumption of dried cow liver. A common strategy in this new day of no direction for Bear, which also happened to be a common strategy of yore, is to simply signal Maggie whenever she is around.

Bear sleeps on his couch. Maggie walks in from a run or from meandering around town, heading home like a fishing boat without navigation somehow finding its home port. First Bear’s ear twitches, followed quickly by a quick sniff. His eyes open and he struggles to roll from his back without flopping onto the floor. If you look at the right time you see a subtle grin from Bear as he spots Maggie going to the kitchen.

In no apparent hurry, Bear goes through a down- and up-dog before shaking off the last remnants of sleep, sauntering over to Maggie. She stares into the fridge, stricken with first-world fridge-blindness. Bear takes one sniff of Maggie’s knee, confirms it is indeed Maggie, and proceeds to signal, pawing Maggie’s calf.

bear on porchInstead of the atta-boy and a treat he expects, Bear receives a deafening “OW!” from Maggie. She glares at Bear then quickly connects the dots to me, glares at me, asking, “Why is he signalling?” She doesn’t voice it, but her stare also wonders why he doesn’t know that we aren’t playing that low blood-sugar for high-value treat game anymore? And on top of not playing anymore, why would he signal when I’m not low? I see these questions, or really accusations, in Maggie’s eyes glaring at me, thankful she is not equipped with laser eyes.

And it wouldn’t take much to uncover the pile of resentment for not only beginning the training in the first place, but also for even getting Bear at all. Think of all the shoes, books, and belts that would have been spared had the entire process never begun.

Bear doesn’t know we aren’t playing the game, and it’s been a reliable strategy in the past, so why not continue pawing Maggie at every opportunity. And I can’t fault him. In fact, I can’t help but hold out a secret hope that the years of training won’t be for naught, but rather simply some sort of time delay capsule, and that Bear is in the final stages of making sense of the game.

I think of the time Bear signalled an in-range Dec during training, only to get a small reprimand for a false positive. And then Maggie staggering upstairs searching for sugar. I think of the time nine-month old Bear jumped on someone I was meeting with at PSU, receiving a scolding for such rude behavior. And then hearing back from the victim of Bear’s rudeness that she was in fact hypo-glycemic, and was very low at our meeting.

bear by doorI cringe at all the lost moments for Bear. I thnk of the times he nailed it, smelling the low and signalling, only to be punished for his good work. My neck tingles as each scene unfolds in my mind, tensing in the end with punishment in place of a celebration. Each time learning of his good work well beyond any positive spin could occur. I wonder how much damage those instances did to the training process. Certainly as much or more damage than his Parvo incident.

I did throw in the flag on this low-signalling game. But what should I do with the middle of the night barking? Is it a low-blood sugar scent from Maggie or Dec that Bear is calling to attention, or is it the half loaf of Dave’s killer bread kicking down his back door that he needs relieve? In these days of no training, turns out I still drag myself downstairs, checking blood sugars in the dark, and more than half the time, giving Bear a dried cube of cow liver.

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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.

Turning the corner

Bear takes a selfie

Bear takes a selfie

So Declan asked, “When can I take Bear to school?” I thought, ‘it’ll be a while, quite a while; and do you really want to take him to school?’ But I said, “You could probably take him this year, but we have to work with Bear to calm him down more in public places.”

This conversation occurred a few times, along with Declan suggesting that we take Bear to the store more often to get him more calm in public. I think it is great that Dec is thinking about this. And I wonder if there are some slightly ulterior motives. You see Declan is on the shy side. And he is in middle school. I’m wondering if he is thinking Bear might be a great icebreaker with some coeds. Bear is as outgoing as Declan is an introvert. I imagine Dec walking down the hallway, Bear on leash walking up to every kid for a hello. And some of them going crazy, “Oh my God! How cute! He is so soft! What’s his name?” Which is where Dec would finally be able to step in and have words with them.

Letting Dec share his couch on a sick day.

Letting Dec share his couch on a sick day.

But maybe I’m just projecting what I’d have been thinking if I were in Dec’s position. I’d have leveraged it past diminishing returns, into the land of negative returns. So maybe Dec just really wants to be around Bear more, to have Bear have a fuller life, one bigger than the two walks a day and laying belly-up on the couch. And this is more in Dec’s nature, always looking out for those around him.

And so we dug into the closet to find the “Service Dog” vest for Bear. Bear remembers it, pulling his ears back and even shying away when he sees it. But once it is on, he is fine.

All smiles

All smiles

Taking him into the store I remember how I used to take him when he was a puppy and wonder what I was thinking. I’m not sure why, but I would take him in the store and do the shopping. Bear lurched for every little crumb on the floor and I’d be trying to control him with one hand while pushing the cart with the other. I realize hindsight is 20:20, but I’m shocked I’d never thought of walking through the store, Bear in tow, without shopping. Now when I take Bear I feel superior to my self of two years ago who tried shopping while taking Bear around.

Bear is older now as well, which makes the stroll around the store easier. He no longer dives for each little crumb on the floor. He is wizened now, he knows a loaf of bread waits for him in the pantry, and he must know the foraging return is much greater at home. Which brings us to the bread aisle. This is by for the most challenging part of the store for Bear. My presence dampens his drive to forage, but he looks to bread, planning his return to the bread aisle off-leash, and probably calculating if he could take the loaf all the way back to the TV room, the place to consume contraband.

Bear is not only less eager to sniff and grab at the nose-level food, but he is also not as interested in meeting everyone. This as much as the interest in food makes the lap around the store more promising. And looking ahead, makes me think that Dec might actually be able to take Bear to school someday.

Alerts

Bear gives Dec about a third of the bed.

Bear gives Dec about a third of the bed.

Bear is alerting more often. He is keen to the signal that the glucose meter means someone might be low. So he always signals the person checking blood sugar, which is not a bad strategy for Bear, but the timing is all wrong for us. The kids have not had many night time lows recently, and this remains the blind spot for Bear’s signaling. If only I could be ninja-like, sneaking into Dec’s room in the middle of the night, not waking Bear, and holding a scent-sample to his nose (after checking both Maggie and Dec to make sure they weren’t already low), then maybe we could get Bear’s heavy sleeping days behind him, and get him a bit more aware of potential low-scents in his area.

Litter-mate

Bear got to meet up with one of his litter-mates. They met at the river together, caught up on this and that, and traded new moves.

Typical Day

IMG_20141007_070424149 (2)The day begins with me going downstairs to get Bear out of bed and out for a walk. If Bear did not signal in the middle of the night, then this is my first trip down. If he signaled at some point in the middle of the night, then it could be up to my sixth trip down: one to go down and realize the kit is upstairs, two to bring the kit down and realize there are no strips in the kit, three to bring the strips down and test, fourth to bring down a juice box for Maggie or Dec, fifth to bring down a scrap of hot dog for Bear, and the sixth to come down to take Bear for a walk.

On school mornings Bear is still in bed snoring away. The only change for a weekend is that I am snoring upstairs, and Bear is barking downstairs. Up and out of bed, stretch and scratch, and we are on our way to the park to throw the ball. Along the way there will be anywhere from one to four poops, depending on how much bread was left in the bag that Bear ate yesterday.

Back at home Bear gets fed and finds a cozy spot on the couch to wait for Declan to wake up. The couch spot is abandoned briefly after Heather and I are done getting ready, before the kids are up, to check to see if there is any cat-food left out. Then back to the couch. The kids saunter upstairs and each has to be greeted. And Bear may signal solely on the presence of the kit coming out to check blood sugar. The success rate on these signals, as you can imagine, is quite low. But there are times when Bear signals and either Maggie or Declan are still downstairs and they are low.

Heather leaves. I leave. And then the kids walk around the house and make sure there are no less than 15 lights turned on. Maggie and Fiona leave either together or separate. And then it is just Declan and Bear for a solid hour. I cannot confirm this, but from the pattern established this week, I believe Declan leaves the ice cream out on the counter after eating a few bites and then makes sure there is a loaf of bread in the pantry within chomping reach of Bear’s snout.

1408051310200After Declan leaves then it is serious couch time. But first Bear must tour the house for any treasures within reach. This is when he finds the carton of half eaten and half melted ice cream, and the half to three-quarters of a loaf of Dave’s Killer Bread. Not sure if he takes them one at a time, but the treats are consumed int he TV room, where I find a ripped apart ice-cream carton, and torn plastic bag that used to hold the bread.

And then it is off to the couch to help digest. We have had friends say they come by the house to drop something off, or see if anyone is home, and Bear is splayed out on the couch. They knock on the door and Bear doesn’t move. They knock again, checking to see if he is still alive. Bear slowly turns to see who is at the door before turning back to his nap. And after the ice cream and bread any of us could use a solid four hour nap.

IMG_20140808_170543880A couple of days a week the nap is interrupted by Grandma Estelle coming over to take Bear for a walk. I believe this is the best part of the day second only to Declan coming home. After the walk Grandma makes some coffee and maybe makes a sandwich. She reinforces some good habits for Bear, tossing extra meat or cheese his way and Mimi’s way while she makes her meal.

Back home and back to the couch to wait for Fiona to come home and turn on a few more lights. Eventually everyone gets back home. When I get home I do a quick tour of the house to not only take inventory of what Bear ate from the kitchen, but also to turn off all the lights. I grew up during the energy crisis in the 70s and am conditioned to turn things off if they are not being used.

IMG_20141012_125740960 (1)As each person comes home Bear finds a sock, or a shoe, or a towel, or anything from the floor to carry over to the person and greet them. There might be an occasional low-blood sugar to signal for, but Bear must always first greet the new people with something in his mouth.

IMG_20141014_195651067Then dinner and homework, maybe someone takes Bear outside for a quick walk or to throw the ball a bit. And then back downstairs to go to bed with Dec.

What to do?

Sunday afternoon down time.

Sunday afternoon down time.

Weekend rolls around again. Six AM and the chirping bark sounds from the far reaches of the basement. Bear still isn’t understanding the idea of the weekend. It is a time to sleep past six, maybe into the seven-o-clock hour. But I have to respect the signal. And as I rise from the fog of sleep I remember Declan got a shot before going to bed. Proportions and ratios and activity level in the afternoon come back to me. He was mid 400s before bed. He got a 2.5 unit shot to correct the 400. He had been with friends and had walked home before testing. It could be that the signal is a true-positive.

Kit and juice box in hand I navigate the dark stairs. First Dec and then Maggie. Dec was 328 and Maggie was 227, neither low. Trying not to reinforce to Bear that the chirpy bark means getting outside whenever he wants, I put him back up on Dec’s bed for what remains of sleep time.

Back up in bed, trying to steal a few more minutes of sleep as day approaches, I begin to wonder if Bear could have been signaling the high-blood sugar. Apparently the scent for the high is much stronger and more irritating than the low scent, and most dogs begin picking up on the high-scent on their own. Could he have been signaling the high-scent? If so, couldn’t he have signaled it much earlier? Or was Bear just beginning to stir from sleep and realized there was a high-scent and so he signaled, simultaneously realizing that his bladder was full.

Because Bear still hasn’t mastered English, and also because I haven’t picked up on the nuances of a high- or low-blood sugar-scent, these questions, I’m afraid, will never be answered. However, I continue to question how react to all this uncertainty.

Soccer

A game each morning this weekend, and Heather brought Bear along to both of them. With enough exercise before first whistle, Bear is able to stay in a “down” for the game. He acts more like an adult dog now.

At half-time of the game on Sunday Dec was 50 and had about six sugar tabs before getting back in the game in the second half. After the game Heather said that Bear was really well behaved except for right before halftime. Not sure how we can coordinate it, but we need to somehow communicate the misbehaving of Bear not only to check on Dec (or Maggie), but also to reward Bear for signaling.

Trying to figure this out

Bear celebrating the Cal overtime win over Colorado.

Bear celebrating the Cal overtime win over Colorado.

Yesterday Declan stayed home from school with a headache. He was hunkered down in his room for most of the day, avoiding light. This is a dream come true for Bear. Not only does he get to be with Dec through the night, but he also gets to sleep with him through the day. It was only when Grandma came over that Bear barked at the door to get out of Dec’s room.

Later in the afternoon Bear signaled Declan with some of his annoying barks. Dec was in the mid 80s, so Bear got some yummy hot dog morsels. Declan had a snack to keep his blood sugar from going lower.

About forty minutes later, Declan sat on the couch eating a grilled cheese, and Bear barked at him. Playful at heart, it is not unusual for Bear to yap away trying to get someone to play with him. And it is even more common for Bear to do this to Declan. Throw a grilled cheese sandwich that he might like to try, and the message seems clear that Bear is wanting some play. However, Declan would not acquiesce. He still had a lingering headache and was enjoying some quiet. So Declan “scolded” Bear, telling him “No” and to be quiet.

However, Bear persisted. And finally the gears started turning in my head. Maggie wasn’t home yet, so it couldn’t be her low. I’d just downed several handfuls of chocolate chips (damn Costco), so it couldn’t be me. And I thought since Dec had treated his “low” from earlier that it couldn’t be him. No harm in checking, so I grabbed the kit and checked my blood sugar before passing it off to Dec. And Dec was 62. Bear nailed it.

And he was pretty excited about it.

Other recent “hits”

  • Bear was signaling and signaling. He was pawing and barking. I checked mine, Maggie checked hers. We were all not low. Could Bear be signaling Maggie’s sort of high blood sugar? Five minutes later Declan comes home from playing at the park. He is 57. Could Bear have smelled that one? The park is only seven blocks away, so maybe.
  • 530 am and the bark from downstairs is heard. Dec is fine, but Maggie is 62. Bear is quite proud of this, prancing around the house after.
  • Home from soccer practice, Bear signals with a paw. Dec is low.

Recent “misses”

  • 1408051310200Home from her soccer game, Maggie is 61. Bear snoozes on the couch.
  • Everyone in bed, including Bear, Maggie checks and is 57. Bear snoozes in Dec’s room.

Going shopping

Bear is home alone, asIMG_20141001_135336427 usual. He takes advantage of the shrapnel left behind from breakfast. He also enjoys perusing the dry goods area in the pantry. Today he finished off the bread crumbs and Dave’s Killer Bread. He took out the bag of rice, but did not partake in it.

Sometimes yes, sometimes no.

IMG_20140527_073024106_HDRSummer wound down with a lot of soccer. Maggie, in particular, was participating in a lot of hard practices. She had two weeks of “camp”, followed by a week of tryouts. With all the exercise came quite a few lows. In fact, she was getting up a few times a night with lows. And sometimes Bear was down there barking away, letting us know that he needed a treat because someone was low. And sometimes Bear was cashed out on Declan’s bed (I’m still not sure how they both sleep on that little single).

So this was good and bad. Bear signaling in the middle of the night was great. It got us up and able to treat the lows. The bad was two-fold. First, it got Bear conditioned to getting up in the middle of the night. He sensed the time was ripe for a hot-dog morsel and would begin barking. Second, there were times when Maggie felt the low and treated it on her own. It would have been nice to be able to bump Bear out of bed to force signal those lows. However, Maggie can be stealth in the wee hours while treating a low. And I can barely function in the small hours of the night and my blood sugar is fine; I can’t expect Maggie to get Bear and give treats.

IMG_20140822_131753042With the start of the school year I have been getting up early to take Bear on a walk. I’ve totally abandoned the leash on these walks. It’s early enough that there is hardly any other souls out, and the streets we cross have no traffic. Furthermore, Bear has become less and less interested in all the little things. He no longer chases leaves or bolts to say hello to every person, dog, and puppy he sees. He is more focused on the important thing in his life: the tennis ball and cat food. We walk to the park and I throw the ball for him. On these walks he has learned the houses that have outdoor cats and that leave a food  bowl out on the porch. And on our way home he knows exactly where the water dish is four houses from the park.

The regular weekday walks are good and all during the week. And though Bear knows the map to each outdoor cat-food dish, he still is unable to distinguish a weekday from a weekend day. At 530 on each Saturday and Sunday Bear barks. I bump my way downstairs only to remember the kit is upstairs. Back downstairs, I check both Dec and Maggie. Both in range. The first time this happened Bear was upstairs barking at the door to get out. I think this immediacy was from the bag of bagels and chocolate chips he polished off the previous afternoon.

I’m learning, though. Now when I get up at 530 to check on the weekend, I tell Bear to lay down and wait while I check blood sugars. If they are in range, I put him back on Dec’s bed.

Sleeping under the hammocks.

Sleeping under the hammocks.

The summer was long and stressful for Bear.

1408051310200A lot of time on the couch.

Sleeping in the Airstream with Dec.

Sleeping in the Airstream with Dec.

Time hanging with Dec.

Ever wonder how to teach your dog how to beg?

Ever wonder how to teach your dog how to beg?

And time learning how to beg in the kitchen from Grandma.