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.


Sure enough


Bear waits quietly to eat while Jelly finishes drinking from his water bowl.

The single bark came in the middle of the night. I only know if was before three in the morning. I jumped from bed after the high-pitched single bark. Through bleary eyes I saw Bear standing at the office door, looking back at me. Deciphering the scene in the dark I saw child gate blocking the doorway and thought Bear just needed to go outside. I ignored Bear and he quickly settled back down, wanting to avoid the crate that he gets placed in for being a belligerent puppy.

Bear leaps into the river.

Bear leaps into the river.

Back in bed I briefly debated the single high-pitched bark. Bear must have just needed to go outside since the gate was up. Turns out the gate wasn’t up. Not sure how much time passed, but I woke again, this time from Maggie in the kitchen, drinking juice and getting a snack ready for after her low. Not really after her low, as she just starts eating after she downs the juice. It being three in the morning, I withhold my lecture about waiting to eat the snack until re-testing blood sugar. Instead I quietly admonish myself for not heeding Bear’s signal.


Asking if it is alright to eat, or if he should continue waiting.

Maggie stabilized and Bear spent the rest of the night on his couch. I finished the night in fits of sleeping thinking about the damage I can do to Bear’s training, and how much more quickly he could be trained if it weren’t for me.


On a brighter subject, the clear crisp weather has kept the river a great place to take Bear. And mid-day scent training continues.

Walking the mean paths of Riverfront park.

Walking the mean paths of Riverfront park.

Enticing treats

IMG_20131017_182855We have a better handle on what Bear consumes. He is more consistently put in the office during the day, leading to fewer loaves of bread eaten. Now the loophole is in the early afternoon when Fiona or Declan get home. They let Bear out of the room while they forage through the pantry and fridge, leaving remnants of the teenage diet on the counter. Easy picking for Bear.

Bowl of Costco hot dogs and cheese sticks a day

Bowl of Costco hot dogs and cheese sticks a day

Because Bear eats more of what he is supposed to, not getting as much cheese, bread, salami, and cookies as before, his desire to work for treats increased. The hot dogs and cheese are suddenly more of a treat than before. So now when we pull out the scent samples, the smell of hot dogs motivates Bear. He is more active and vocal, sniffing for the scent, and announcing he found it.

Resting after doing the laundry.

Resting after doing the laundry.

Bear sleeps on the couch and I walk by with a scent up my sleeve or in a pocket. He wakes himself to alert the scent, earning a piece of hot dog, at which point we continue training by hiding the scent in another room. Bear remains in a STAY until release, at which point he goes to the room I just exited. Once in the room I wonder at what point does he smell the scent. Sometimes he’ll sniff around a bit and then come up to me and paw me, or bark, or jump up on me (he has incorporated some new signals on his own).

At what point do I reward the signal? Has he gotten enough of a whiff of the scent by passing by it, or should I wait for until he really locates it, putting his nose on it? Continuing some inconsistency in his training, I keep to no rule on this. If time is short, I’ll tend to give some leniency. With a lot of time, I wait patiently until Bear finds the scent. But I am not sure either is really better. If he smells the scent, but is not right on it, shouldn’t he signal. But then how strong is that scent? It is a cotton swab inside a plastic beaker. How much scent can be wafting out of that little thing?

Bear did signal Dec the other night, so it might be working regardless of my lack of knowledge. Dec was in the tub and Bear started yapping his high-pitched annoying bark. At first we ignored it, thinking Bear was simply excited, wanting to jump in the tub with Dec since he does everything else with Dec. After his persistence, we got a kit and checked Dec’s blood sugar. Dec got a juice pouch and Bear got a piece of hot dog with a side of cheese.

IMG_20130321_065938Maybe we will get there. Middle of the night alerts may be a stretch, though. Bear sleeps well. His snoring woke me the other night. I considered getting a scent sample at that time for some middle of the night training but opted for sleep. Maybe next time.

Eating well


Bear and Dec at the river.

At first I thought it was all the exercise Bear was getting. A couple walks a day on top of the trip to the river with Grandma exhausted him. I’m beginning to wonder if it might be an increase in extracurricular dining. Yesterday and today I think we got to the bottom of it.

Every few days there would be one or two packages I’d find around the house or out in the backyard: An empty box of cereal in the TV room, a torn up bread bag outside, the butter dish on the ground. Concerned about manners, Bear used utensils as well. Next to the cookie sheet on the living room floor is the serrated knife. Beside the Tupperware is the spatula, chewed to oblivion.

Need extra sleep.

Need extra sleep.

Yesterday I got home and found a bit of dried olive Ciabatta on the floor. Weird, I thought, as I picked it up and cut a thick slice to slather with butter. It wouldn’t be the first time that the animals known as teenagers had left half eaten food around the house. However, later I found the bag that went with the loaf of bread. It was torn and had some puncture wounds. Stirring the boys from their Xbox game I came across the remains of the Tillamook baby loaf, a Ritz cracker container, and a dead bird (pretty sure that was the cats, though).


More sleep.

At dinner I asked Declan about the bread and whether he and his friend ate it. Dec explained that instead of Bear greeting Dec at the door with the usual dog toy in his mouth, Bear had a loaf of bread in his mouth. Of course he didn’t notice this until his friend pointed it out to him.

Today I came home and found the paper wrapper from the giant Costco size dried salami on the floor next to Bear’s couch and the remains of the Costco size Irish cheese between the couches.

So it may be that Bear is exhausted from all the exercise he is getting. The amount of walking, running, and swimming could certainly tire a dog out. But I’m beginning to believe it is all the cheese and crackers, and salami and bread he is consuming. With his increase in exercise must come a commensurate increase in calories.


IMG_20131013_101218Completely unrelated to the food intake, but central to Bear’s job (hopefully one day), Bear continues to signal Dec or Maggie AFTER they sense a low. This morning Maggie woke up and went to her kit. This is a sure sign to me that she feels low because if she didn’t feel low I would have to remind her to check her blood sugar no less than four times before she would actually check. Bear was sleeping on the couch, no doubt finishing digestion of some Ciabatta bread. The positive news is that Bear woke up and went to Maggie while she was checking her blood sugar. I don’t think he would have gotten up had he not smelled the low. So that is at least a move in the right direction.


Getting comfortable at the front of the class

Getting comfortable at the front of the class

Bear went to work today. He came with me to the classroom. It was a late start, which made the day a bit shorter and more manageable with Bear there. Before the students arrived he quickly found comfort on his pad and started sleeping. We were at the door to greet students and they went bonkers. They pet and scratched him. They nuzzled him and cajoled him. And for the most part Bear sat nicely soaking up all the attention. Probably not the best practice for a dog that loves the attention, but I reminded him to look at me every so often. And he quickly responded, moving his head to the side to get a good look at the treat that I held in front of my face.

Once in the classroom I reminded the students about Bear being a working dog and that this is part of his training. I put him in a down/stay on his pad and he promptly relaxed. Several of the students were completely enamored with him and laid on the floor trying to get closer to him. At this point I had to pull out the “I hope to bring him back for more days, but I can’t if he is too much of a distraction” card. They leaped back into their chairs and got to work. These kids are great.

Near the end of class I showed the class the scent sample and how he signals when he smells a low. Bear demonstrated this great when the students were sitting at their desks but struggled when he was surrounded by adoring fans.

Each class Bear got comfy.

Each class Bear got comfy.

Each period was a similar story, but I limited student contact with him. Instead of letting the kids approach and pet him at the beginning of class, I introduced  Bear and put him in a down, letting the students know that they’d get a chance later to interact with him. At the front of the class most students couldn’t see him, so when he came out to greet students some had forgotten that he was even there. Teenagers attention span is about as long as their arm. Some students put Bear through some commands.

Live alerts

This morning Bear signaled me while I read the paper. It was early. Both Dec and Maggie were asleep. He was persistent, so we went down to check blood sugar. Dec was 70 and Maggie was 47.

After soccer practice Dec came home and cuddled on the couch with the fur blanket. Bear looked up at him and barked. He was 89 and likely dropping from the exercise.

Two nights ago Bear woke up at 2am. I checked Dec and he was 240. I didn’t check Maggie, but I heard her about 30 minutes later checking and treating a low blood sugar. It took me a while to get back to sleep thinking about not checking Maggie’s blood sugar (she was 400 before bed with no correction: post exercise drop!)

Post soccer practice cuddle

Post soccer practice cuddle

So last night Bear woke up at 1230. Remembering the previous night I went down to check both Maggie and Declan. There was one test-strip left, so after checking Dec I had to come back upstairs to get some strips. Neither of them were low or anywhere near low. And sleep was far away from my trips down and up and down and up the stairs. But they were both low by morning time. I don’t even try to figure some things out.

Changes coming

Bear rests after alerting Dec.

Bear rests after alerting Dec.

After spring break I start as the long-term sub for a middle school math teacher. I’ll teach five classes: two algebra, one algebra II, and two geometry.

Next week we go to Sun River for a family vacation (aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents included). Unfortunately, Heather has to stay home because it is her closing week. This sucks for everybody, but especially for Heather.

We will not be bringing Bear to Sun River with us. He will be staying at home and we are lining up someone to come and walk him in the middle of the day. Getting ready for this change in his day, I have been putting Bear in the office for extended times over the past three days. His crate and dog bed are in the office with him and he is unable to jailbreak out and cause total havoc in the rest of the house.



After spring break Dec and Sam will walk and play with Bear right after school before heading to Sam’s house. In theory Fiona and Maggie get home around four. However, in practice the four o-clock time is just a boundary, never to be home before this time. Though Fiona is fairly reliable returning home near four, depending on the bus schedule, Maggie returns home anywhere from four to eight. My hope is that one of them will take Bear out for a short walk.

Live alert

Happened just now. Declan and Sam got home and hunkered down for some XBox. This is the usual Friday afternoon routine. I try to keep the door open or the smell can get overbearing. Dec says he is hungry. Before returning to the game with food he needs to lock his bike and take the garbage out. On his way back in, Dec announces that Bear just pawed him.

IMG_20130322_155139In my head I’m thinking that this could be an accurate one. Declan is often really hungry in the afternoon when a low occurs. With the lack of accuracy on signaling from Bear, we now give a low-value treat when he first signals, check blood sugar, and give a high-value treat if blood sugar was indeed low. With two people potentially having a low, this complicates things quite a bit, especially when one of them is quite belligerent about checking blood sugar. This time Declan was indeed low and Maggie was still at school. So Dec gave three liver chunks before getting his juice.

Mags with bangs.

Mags with bangs.

I’m beginning to think that going back to work might help with the training and Bear’s attentiveness. That is my hope.

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).