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.


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.

Snow long gone


The snow melted. The river swelled. Sledding hills turned back to grass. Bear cuddles with Fiona’s boots rather than gnawing them. 

Walks at the river turned soggy. Instead of walking along the river on the sand, we now walk through the trees on the path above the river.

IMG_20140210_075139While still in the thick of snow days, Bear donned his boots. The freezing rain that came after the Colorado-like snow cut his paws. So we squeezed his extra-large paws into the medium-sized boots and took to the streets. After a few minutes of high-stepping in his boots, Bear settled down and we walked to the middle school, walking in the middle of the street, abandoned of traffic and more stable than the poorly shoveled sidewalks. And though the front right boot fell off a few times, the boots did their job. I just hope to be able to use them more than this one time, which would bring down their average cost per use from about $70 to $35.

IMG_20140210_153206With the temperatures rising Bear no longer needed his boots when we ventured to the river hill for sledding. Equipped with a saucer someone left at our house, Declan and Bear raced down the hill. And the finish was always a tie, with Bear licking Dec’s face as he slowed to a stop. Then the walk back up to the top.

During the trek to the park and the racing up and down the hill, Declan got a low blood-sugar. I was unable to distinguish Bear’s excitement of sledding and a potential signal of low blood-sugar. Maybe his barking and menacing Dec was in fact a signal. Regardless, I didn’t bring along any high-value treats, and I’d used up all the low-value treats rewarding him for coming back when called, so Bear had to be satisfied with some warm affection for a reward.

IMG_20140210_154130During this time there were several episodes where Declan or Maggie walked by Bear, feeling low, confirmed the feeling with a test, and Bear remained calmed and collected. Not quite what I’d hope for. Several days in a row, Declan woke up low with no response from Bear. No response at least until Declan would walk to him after testing, petting him, presenting his hand, waiting for a signal. Bear now picks up on such pets and invitations from Declan to signal, and Bear would eventually signal by pawing or with a high-pitch bark.

IMG_20140210_100546It was time to change things up. The time and frequency of scent-training hadn’t changed much. I’d open a vial and begin scent training, which was primarily hiding the vial in a different room. So I went back to training with a dummy-vial and a scent-vial. No hiding the vial, simply presenting it to Bear, I’d reward a positive signal with a high-value treat. I’d give a “Uh-uh” and turn away with a false-positive, and I would reward a no-signal negative with a “Good boy” and a pet. Bear is still figuring it out, but he improves.

This past week he has had several live alerts with Declan and with Maggie. The other morning he even had a live alert with both of them at the same time.

Back when Bear fit under a chair.

Back when Bear fit under a chair.

From chewing to cuddling the boot.

From chewing to cuddling the boot.

By no means are we hitting on all cylinders. There are still times when low blood sugars are missed, and there are also times when Bear signals and they are not low. There are also times when he signals and they are HIGH. Which makes me wonder if he is picking up on the high-scent, though we have not introduced that. But maybe that’s just wishful thinking.


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 serves Bear his food.

Dec serves Bear his food.

Constant diligence is needed. Letting unwanted behaviors slide just a bit, and we are paying for it immediately. We’ve been taking Bear on regular walks, which improves his on leash behavior, but recently I’ve been taking him to the river. At the river Bear doesn’t need a leash. So back on the leash at the end of the day walk around the block Bear yanks like he is readying for the Iditarod. Not ready for mushing him through the ice, I quickly change directions, doubling back on course, taking weird lefts and rights across the street as if I’ve been chugging the Schnapps all day. Bear is not amused, though he settles down, yanking less often and with less force, which my shoulder is thankful for. I may need some physical therapy in the new year.

Dec and Bear ready at the end of the day.

Dec and Bear ready at the end of the day.

So after noticing how quickly Bear loses a skill as repeated and basic as leash-walking, I figured it might be a good idea to go back to other basics. On the way back from the river we stopped at our local grocery store. And, no, Bear did not go in the river, so he his odor didn’t fill the store upon entrance. Looking back on the year and a half that we’ve had Bear, I realize now that I shouldn’t have been so eager to take him to the store while I shopped. The best setup is to take him through the store with the only task to make sure he minds his manners, and it is a lot easier to do this when not pushing the shopping cart and picking apples out of the bin.

Declan and Bear trying to commandeer parent's bed.

Declan and Bear trying to commandeer parent’s bed.

Another “hind sight is 20-20” lesson I realize is to use treats to redirect. And I’m sure I’d been told to do this by multiple people, but for some reason there comes a point when I feel Bear is all filled up on treats, and that it is time for him to learn, and if he isn’t learning then punishment ensues. And I realize now that this is the point that dog-training books say to take a deep breath, leave your dog at home, and enjoy being without him. Lucky for Bear “punishment” involved multiple sits, stays, and downs. And looking back, it is so clear the misplaced use of basic commands for punishment. Hopefully my lesson arrived in time to salvage Bear as a service dog. We tour the store without a cart, without anyone else, and with a pocket full of treats. We swerve ever so close to the nose-level chips, and I give a yank and a “leave-it” command when Bear looks to snatch a bag.

In the hammock with Dec and Tabor.

In the hammock with Dec and Tabor.

Bear remains calm walking through the store. And he learns quickly to look away from anything enticing, looking to me for a treat instead.And he re-learns this each time we go to the store. So I’m not sure how he so quickly loses the leash-walking skill. Could it be that his line has been bred for seeing-eye-dogs for so long that he wants to lead during the walk with a certain amount of tension on the line?

And may next year be one without chewed up library books and shoes and textbooks from school. And may there not be four-pound Costco-style salami eaten, nor giant Tillamook cheese loaves. And may the loaves of olive ciabatta left on the counter remain there for the humans in the house in the coming year. And may the new year not experience bags of bagels taken and eaten from the pantry, nor lunch-size chocolate milks taken and consumed from the pantry. And may bike helmets be used to protect skulls rather than be used as a chew toy in the new year.

Happy New Year.

Live Alerts

IMG_20130129_121642While Declan and I battled with remote control helicopters, Bear signaled by pawing Dec. And Dec was 59. After properly celebrating the signal, Dec said that Bear signaled him earlier in the day when he was in fact low as well. So two live alerts in a day.

I noticed Maggie poured herself a juice while she was fixing breakfast. After asking her, she said she was 77. Bear had been eyeing his bowl of food at the time, looking at Maggie a bit, but certainly not moving in for a signal. With a little direction, he went in and pawed. Not sure if that is Kosher, but I gave him some hot dog bits for it.

Winter Break

Snapchat to Maggie: He signaled, check your blood sugar. We were at the park and she was at Grandma's house.

Snapchat to Maggie: He signaled, check your blood sugar. We were at the park and she was at Grandma’s house.

Somehow a link between the smell that emanates from the plastic tube with a cotton swab stuffed inside must be linked to the smell emanating from the child with a low blood sugar. The reaction of one child with a low blood-sugar is nearly dichotomous to the reaction of the other. The elder of the two yells at Bear, annoyed at his signal, telling him to get away. The younger grabs his ears and gives him some loving and then runs to get some treats. I’d be confused.

I told Maggie that she was single-handedly sabotaging Bear’s training. A bit of an overstatement, I admit. All he needs is a clear message to act upon, and a simple reward for performing the appropriate signal. I try to clear the message by checking their blood-sugars prior to scent training. There have been times when we scent-train while Maggie sleeps downstairs with low blood-sugar. This may be part of the cause for the inconsistent live alerts in the morning. Maggie climbs upstairs and gets a juice, announcing she is low. I can see a look of triumph in her eyes, telling me that the dog is un-trainable. And I may be projecting a bit here. But from Bear’s perspective, why would we care now about alerting a low-scent when we didn’t care in the past. We only cared about alerting after finding the scent in the little plastic tube.

In addition to checking their blood sugar prior to testing, I am also attempting to check BOTH their blood sugars after he alerts. This is a challenge because there are times when I don’t even know that Maggie is home (this happens more than I’d like to admit). Bear will alert and Dec will check his blood sugar. He’ll be in range. Thirty minutes pass and Maggie rises from her room announcing she is low. (We need to do something about the amount of time she spends on her computer; she’ll be holed up in her room for hours and we’ll think she is at a friend’s house) This does not happen often, but when it does I commence kicking myself. Why didn’t I check her room?

Chillin' on the couch.

Chillin’ on the couch.

The positive spin on Maggie rising from her dungeon announcing she is low after Bear has signaled is that Bear accurately signaled. A more common occurrence is Bear signaling and both Maggie and Declan either being in range or high. I’m beginning to think (hope) Bear might be signaling high blood sugar, though we have not introduced that at all. This is merely self-preservation in the jungle of trying to train Bear. It is deflating to get a clear signal to only discover it to be a false positive. Bear is learning that if he wants a treat he merely has to signal. That is clearly not the connection we are hoping to make between the low-scent and the yummy Costco hot dog treat.

Bear continues to LOVE Grandma and the walks she takes him on.

Bear continues to LOVE Grandma and the walks she takes him on.

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