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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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.

Recent stats

Bear sleeps with Dec's blankets in his absence.

Bear sleeps with Dec’s blankets in his absence.

Bear is batting about .500 for the past week. Standing at the table, ready to sit for breakfast, Bear pawed me and gave a sharp bark. I first thought he might need to go outside. Then it dawned on me that Bear just signaled. It really takes a while to learn this stuff. I gathered the kit and went to check Dec and Maggie, both still in bed.

Sure enough, Maggie was low. Back upstairs for a juice bag to treat the low; back down to give to Maggie; and then back up to root around the fridge for the yummy treats. Maybe a bit out-of-order, but Bear was finally rewarded for the low. Next time I hope to remember a treat on the first trip downstairs.

I got home that afternoon and Dec informed me that Bear signaled him. This is great. I asked if he gave him a treat. Dec said he couldn’t find the treats. So he just gave Bear some of the cheese he was eating. This is great. Then I finally asked how low he was when he checked. “I didn’t check.” Dec responded. He assured me that he felt low. I’ll chalk that one up as a live alert.

Bear shows holiday spirit on the morning river walk.

Bear shows holiday spirit on the morning river walk.

Very next morning Heather hears a sharp bark from downstairs while she is in the kitchen. Bear is in Dec’s room so she checks Dec first, who is in range. But Maggie is low. Second morning in a row. Three accurate alerts in a row.

I suppose Bear may have felt he’d cracked the code. He just needed to signal and a yummy treat is on its way. After triangulating the data, he alerted again the next morning while Dec sat at the counter. “Let’s check.” And Dec was in range. But Maggie was downstairs, and with the third morning in a row, I was getting a bit better at this. Downstairs we went, and Maggie was in the 314. She informed me that she was 47 in the middle of the night.

So not only was the alert a false-positive, but in the middle of the night there was a false-negative. For the positive spin, Maggie’s confidence in Bear is growing. She was surprised that Bear didn’t alert in the middle of the night for her low.

With a re-calculation of his triangulation, Bear signaled again in the afternoon with another false-positive. So over a three-day period, Bear averages .500. Not bad for a batter, not great for a diabetes alert dog, but at least trending in the right direction.

Related story

Declan left Saturday morning with his cousin and grandparents on a trip to DC. He’ll be touring the sites with Grandma and Rylee while Grandpa is at a conference. They had a direct flight Saturday morning. 

As much as Dec wanted to bring Bear in the car with us to the airport, we left him at home. Dec gave him some big hugs and put cheese treats in his food bowl before leaving.

Prior to leaving we went over the basics of diabetes care with Grandma. There were all the supplies and the routine to go over. At this point Declan can take care of everything as long as he is reminded to do it. He pulls and administers the shots. He checks blood sugar.

They all got through security just fine and onto the plane. After two hours into the five-hour flight, I got a call from Grandma. They had a medical emergency and had to land in Billings.

According to Grandma, a man on the flight was having a seizure. They asked over the intercom if anyone had a blood glucose meter. Declan took the meter up to the doctors that were helping the man. Not knowing how the kit worked, Dec had to get it all ready for the doctors. The man’s blood sugar was 23 and he was unresponsive. They tried to get his blood sugar up. Dec gave them some sugar, and they had a drip going. The man was still unresponsive. After giving his kit and sugar to the doctors, Dec was back at his seat. Over the intercom they asked for something else. Grandma hoped someone had whatever they asked for. She didn’t recognize what it was. Declan reached back into his bag and ran up to the doctors with his emergency Glucagon shot. They administered the shot and the man came around. By the time they landed, the man was able to sit up and was able to walk off the plane.

Willamette River.

Willamette River.

Declan may have saved the man’s life. Seeing a person in a seizure and unresponsive is certainly disturbing, but much closer to home for someone with diabetes. My hope is that Declan’s response empowers him to be attentive to his diabetes rather than instill fear because he lives with diabetes.

Sure enough

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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.

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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.

River

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.

Five months

With a bit of primer on his nose and paw.

Bear is now five months old.  He has been with us for three months.  Now that we are on hiatus from lessons with Kristin, we have gotten into a bit of a routine.

I’ll start at the end of the day.  About three days a week Bear sleeps with Declan.  Bear wakes Dec up around three in the morning.  I think he just wants to get up in bed with Dec, but rather than bring him up on the bed, Dec opens his door and lets Bear out.  He then ventures up to our room.  If he doesn’t settle down right away I put him in the crate and close the door.  I then lay in bed thinking about whether Dec might be low.  A few times I have actually dragged myself out of bed and went and tested him.  He has never been low.

In the morning we let Bear out to the backyard to do his business.  Before the air warms up, I go and find as many of the piles as possible to keep the flies (and spiders) at bay.  Bear chases Dec around the house a bit; the bike gang gathers at our house, giving pets to Bear and putting him through some basic obedience.  After they leave for school, I take Bear on a good walk with scent sample, vest, and dongle.

If we have time we go all the way to the park where Bear gets to run around a bit without his vest, leash, or harness.  On the walk we do a few scent trainings, a few behavior trainings and a lot of walking nice practice.  Back home he gets the weeble-wobble feeding toy to eat.

After the last kid leaves for school we do the “go to bed” and “left” and “right” drills.  Then Bear gets to settle down for his first of several two- to three-hour nap.  With any luck he completes his nap on the couch in the living room.

Some where around midday I gear back up for another round of drills with Bear.  I get the snack-pack on, place the dongle in my back pocket, get a scent sample from the freezer, and get to work.  After the training Bear settles down for his second or third nap.

While he naps, I jam a scent sample by his nose to get him to wake up and signal a low.  This has been less than stellar.  But with all of these drills, it is all about being consistent and sending the same message each time (I hope).

As the kids arrive back home, Bear greets them all with the same full body wag and a lot of licking.  Right before or after dinner I’ll gear back up and go through some more drills.  And then before bed, Bear gets one more walk, with drills along the way.  If all goes well, Bear does not leave any surprises in the basement for the girls.

The ins and the outs

Jelly and Bear share food and water

Much like with a new baby, I find myself focused on what goes in and what comes out of Bear.  My mood throughout the day is largely dependent on the healthfulness of Bear’s poops.  You can tell how the poops are on how I walk.  I walk confidently with a healthy firm poop.  Not only are they easy to clean up, but it is an indication of a healthy internal system.  All the mechanisms functioning smooth.  Second to the firm poop, is the Lego siting.  Everything is functioning, but I begin to wonder how many remain?  If one made it out, how many are stuck?  Looking out for signs of stress and pain, I worry about a pointy Lego-arm caught in Bear’s duodenum, causing some inflammation, some internal bleeding, and potentially a cut in the GI tract.

The random Lego siting is much better, however, than the excrement that resembles a Coke-flavored Slurpee.  With a Lego siting things are working inside,  but with a Slurpee something has shut down.  Could it be something he ate?  Or maybe he caught some virus (parvo?)?  How long do we wait before calling the vet?  And if we go into the vet, what will they be able to tell me other than to make sure he gets enough fluids and to get a sample?  And getting the sample turns my stomach, putting into question the entire puppy experience.  I begin to wonder if there might be a nice farm where Bear might be happier.

After witnessing a Slurpee, I am watching what he eats and making sure he doesn’t steal away to some hidden corner of the house to make an unwanted deposit.  It is tiring.  And beyond being on constant watch, I am anticipating what the next experience may be, updating how I might react to another Slurpee and hoping it will not occur in a neighbor’s yard.

Fresh from a walk, I am thankful that Bear has gone from the Slurpee to a goat cheese log: soft but holding form.

Another alert while sleeping?

Going to bed last night, Declan was 394, which called for a two+ unit correction.  In the past we might leave that alone, not knowing how it might metabolize through the night.  And there were times, depending on how active he was, that he woke up with a low blood sugar after having a 400 reading before bed without a correction.

But Bear was sleeping in Dec’s room last night, so Declan received a correction.  At 530 this morning Declan brought Bear to our room.  I lay in bed thinking Bear may have alerted Declan of a low blood sugar.  Should I get up and test Dec’s blood sugar?  It was early, though, and I needed to sleep.  When the alarm sounded without any more sleeping, turns out Declan was low.  He didn’t test, but he grabbed sugar tabs on the way back down stairs, and he was 107 when he finally tested at 630.

I am chalking this up to Bear’s second low-alert.

Accident

Not exactly sure why it happened, but Bear took a dump in Maggie’s room last night.  It could be that she had a tarp down while painting the walls (some last-minute redecorating before the first day of school); or it could have been the chicken scraps I gave him.  Needless to say, he deposited a soft-serve mound in her room.  He was considerate enough to leave three-quarters of it on the tarp.

Sidenote: Bear and the cats, Jelly and Ashley, both male cats, are more comfortable with each other.  Jelly doesn’t react at all to Bear yapping and general annoyance, while Ashley has taken to hissing and punching.  One or both of them come on the walks with us.  They generally lag ten feet behind us.  They must know how much this annoys Bear.  They saunter along behind, and he continually checks where they are.  Today Jelly followed us across a busy street.  This was a first, and I was worried he might not make it back across.  We lost site of him on the walk, and I wondered if he might find the underside of a tire.  I listened for tires screeching.  While typing just now, Jelly slinked in through the window.

Low alert!?

Crate becoming too small

We are not as militant about having the kids train Bear.  Nor or we as militant about having him sleep in their rooms.  We want them to bond with Bear, not view him as a burden.  However, he still spends one or two nights a week in their rooms.

The burden is at the beginning and end of the night.  It takes some time for Bear to get settled.  He may chew on some part of the bed, tear up some paper he found, and/or just strut around the room looking for something to dig his puppy teeth into.  Once down, it is clear sailing until he needs to relieve himself.  This generally occurs between six and eight.  It’s been known to occur at 430, though.

Bear was sleeping with Maggie the other night, which she is enjoying more now that he cuddles with her in the bed.  In the morning Bear woke Maggie up by licking her face.  This is unusual, as he normally gives a high-pitch annoying  bark to let you know he has business to take care of.  Maggie brought Bear upstairs to us, and checked her blood sugar as she felt low.  She was 59, which is quite low for a 630 AM check.  After treating the low (4 oz. of juice), Maggie went back to bed.  Only later did she realize that Bear alerted her to her low blood sugar.

I wonder, though, was he just needing to take care of business, and it coincided with Maggie being low?  Could be he just needed to take a dump.