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.

Coming to Terms with It

IMG_20150729_072442296It’s been a long time. I’ve wondered why go on with it. I was walking Bear down to the park, off-leash, meandering from tree to bush to ice-cream wrapper in the street like when you arrive at the airport early, you have to get to the gate but plenty of time to get there. It’s a summer afternoon with nothing on the agenda save for making dinner.

Across the street the postman finishes his deliveries. Pulling away from the curb he spies Bear sniffing under a rhododendron bush with a Popsicle stick planted near the base. The postman stops and jumps out of the truck so excited to see Bear.

Pointing at Bear, he says, “Your dog really loves to sleep.” Bear looks up, smiling at the postman, and wags his way over to him for a treat and some pets.

2016-02-13This moment, seven blocks from Bear’s couch, where he normally laid paws up in the air snoring, more than any false positive or missed low-alert, solidified in my mind Bear’s likely life trajectory. At the end of his work day, the postman recognizes Bear, not as the maniacal protective dog barking at him through a closed door, but as the dog that snores away on a couch, nary a movement while the postman clangs around on the front porch. He was probably just excited to see that Bear was in fact a living animal, not a decoy stuffed-animal laying infinitely motionless on the couch.

The postman climbed out of his truck, treat in one hand and other hand extended for Bear to lick, excited to see a living version of Bear. It was as if he’d witnessed a resurrection, once dead on the couch, now trotting around the neighborhood searching for treasure. At this moment it occurred to me Bear was solidly in the “pet” category as a dog living in our home. Up until this moment, I’d held out hope that Bear was not yet completely a pet, that he might veer towards that “service-dog” category. I thought that maybe he’d miraculously begin signaling low blood-sugars for Dec and Maggie.

Muddy day chasing the ball.

Muddy day chasing the ball.

And it wasn’t a sad moment. Rather, the weight of scent training and checking everyone’s blood-sugar after Bear pawed or let out a high-pitched bark had suddenly been lifted. We could go on our less complicated lives. No more slightly hidden anxieties as the diabetics lolly gagged, pretending to make their way to a kit to check blood-sugar after Bear gave a signal. Suddenly I was happy that Bear was able to walk down the street off-leash, because he is one big dog, and my shoulder gets sore tugging at his 110 pound mass.

Summer time

IMG_20150618_154325770_HDRThus far it’s been busy, and will be busy for a few more weeks before things ramp down a bit. Gathering supplies for her trip to Israel, Maggie needed some hiking boots, which is how she heard about Hamilton Mountain trail from the nice shoe salesman. He said the views were amazing, so we figured out how to get there. Knowing only that the shoe salesman thought it was a beautiful hike, and the need for Maggie to break in her new shoes, we piled into the Prius.

We left around eleven, which on a non-summer day would have meant Bear had already logged two hours of nap and eaten half a loaf. But this day Bear hadn’t logged but twenty minutes as he was attentive to the sandwiches being made, hoping for a treat to drop, and the packing of bags, which he may or may not know means a trip.

Either Bear gets bored with bags or he has learned that packing bags means an extended time away from his crew because he swung between being anxious for a piece of turkey to drop from the counter and hanging his head low, dropping to the ground as we packed bags for the hike.

It wasn’t until just prior to leaving that he saw the poop-bags and the scoop of kibbles taken for small treats that Bear got the signal that this trip he’d be coming on. And just in case we happened upon a ranger, I grabbed the leash, which was the final signal for Bear that he was indeed coming on the trip.

IMG_20150618_135547330Not only did Maggie need to break in her shoes, but she also needs more practice driving, so she was at the wheel. She is an extremely safe driver, which is great, but she may not yet the best changer of lanes or merger. And this is why we practice, but it is still stressful riding co-pilot as the pilot takes her foot completely off the gas to prepare to change lanes on the freeway, which is really the opposite of what should be happening. Changing lanes becomes immensely more difficult with a pile of cars honking behind you, and cars flashing by on both the left and right sides. We survived and arrived in one piece.

At this point Bear had only managed twenty minutes of napping with all the commotion while driving, clearly under his preferred normal 200 minutes accumulated on a normal day. However, Bear, like most dogs, is very adaptable and showed no signs of fatigue during the hike.

Knowing that sustained exercise, even just walking, lowers blood sugar in both Dec and Maggie, we checked blood sugars. Maggie was fine, but Dec was low, a by-product of dosing for a bagel but not eating it. A bagel is packed with carbs, so it was a large dose he’d given earlier and had already treated one low from it. (Sidenote: Dec is now on a pump, which has been great, but we are still adjusting to it a bit)

Bear picked up on the bags being packed and the lunches being made, but he missed the low blood sugar, and he napped with his head on Dec’s lap. I told Dec that Bear didn’t signal because of the commotion and excitement of being out in the wilderness, in a new place with a lot of new smells. However, I’m coming to terms with Bear just being a pet. The saga is not over, but it tips in that direction.

IMG_20150618_144356742We treated the low and got moving, stopping every mile or two to check blood sugar and snack. We never made it to the place on the hike with amazing views, the one that sold Maggie on the hike, but we made it to some really nice waterfalls. We ate. Bear drank. And we hiked back. In all it was probably around seven miles.

IMG_20150618_151606580There were no more low blood-sugars for the day, and the drive back did not invoke any high-blood pressure incidents. I think I was just tired and didn’t pay as much attention, which is probably healthier for both teacher and student.

The following day we went surfing. Dec and Bear came along. Again there was a non-signaled low-blood sugar. A decision needs to be made over whether to make one more effort to train this dog of ours, or to be happy with having an extremely happy (and expensive) pet.IMG_20150618_151512135_HDR

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.

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.

The beginning of summer

Another rough day on the couch.

Another rough day on the couch.

And now he is lucky to get one scent-training each week. The morning comes and I hear one bark from down in Dec’s room. Does he need to go to the bathroom? Does he hear Heather getting ready? Or is he actually signaling that someone downstairs has low blood sugar? I lay in bed waiting for the sole bark. And what if I ignore it? What then?

I wake hearing Heather readying for work. There is no need for me to get up, but I still have this sense that I should do something. Summer started a short two weeks prior, and I still have an impulse that something needs doing. Simultaneously, there is a tamping down of ambition. A voice reminding me that it is summer, I can sleep in. And then my ears perk in anticipation of the sole-bark. My mind begins with predictions. How many times in the last week has the sole-bark appeared? What time did it occur at? And did Bear get a chance to get outside before heading to bed? He might need to go pee.

So it is quite likely the sole-bark interrupts my predictions. Onto second-level predictions, that of false-positives. With recent sole-barks as the best predictor, a false-positive signal will be the likely outcome, in which case what do I do?

Do I descend to Dec’s room, check blood sugar, confirm the false-positive, letting Bear interact with the adults, which is really what he wants? The sole-bark changed from “Hey! Someone is low!”, to “Hey! I hear you upstairs and would like to say hello!”

And so I lay waiting for the sole bark, continuing to debate the best action. Given all the time we’ve put in to training, it is difficult to ignore the bark. I am also one of those sleep-Nazi-parents. Though I don’t practice it, I am militant about kids getting to bed early and sleeping a long time. From the beginning I made sure the kids had a routine and got to bed. The sole-bark turns to multiple-barks if left alone, which would interrupt the sleep.

Should I ask Heather to be quieter? She isn’t making a lot of noise, but my ears are primed for the sole-bark and they are hearing the little things. The fridge door just opened. Something was just placed on the counter. Dog’s ears are certainly more sensitive than mine. It’s got to be coming soon. The front-door just opened. And there it is. The bark breaks the slumber. And another bark! What is with the multiple barks? He is getting quite cheeky. And three more barks!

As if there was any doubt what I would do, I jump from bed. In hopes of being able to reward a positive signal, I grab the high-value treats from the fridge. Could it be that Bear hears the fridge and expects the high-value treats? Turning Pavlov’s bells into Bear’s fridge-door.

In this case Dec was low. Apparently the multiple-barks means something different from the sole-bark. But I still wonder when to throw the towel in. At moments of strength I know that one or two scent-training sessions a day would get us there. And I am certain of this up until I pull out the scent and no-scent vials for training. There is little difference in Bear’s response to these different vials. And at moments of weakness I see the slide to pet-hood for Bear, realizing that he is already 95% of the way there.

Bear sings along with Dec practicing his Torah portion

Two Years

IMG_20140508_153544505_HDRMay 2nd, Bear’s birthday. I’m embarrassed to say I know his birthday. We had a big party. Invited his doggy friends. They all frolicked in the yard and enjoyed dog treats.

We didn’t. We have kids that take up all our spare energy, time, and money. And throwing a party for Bear would just confirm for Maggie that we love him more than our children. Which is not true. Most of the time.

But Declan did slather some peanut butter on one of his bones as a special birthday treat.

IMG_20140503_144328180Bear’s area of unpredictability remains signaling for low blood-sugar. He will occasionally have a true positive signal. But he will also have quite a few false negative. A false negative for Bear is inaction when someone is low. Last week this happened three mornings in a row. We must have had Maggie’s lantus dose too high. Every morning she was waking in the 50s or 60s. Nonchalantly, she would test and quietly get a juice. I’d miss the opportunity to train Bear on a live scent, which I believe was Maggie’s intent by quietly testing. All the while Bear remains more nonchalant than Maggie belly up on the couch.

Bear has also had several false positives signals. This occurs when Declan (never Maggie) checks his blood sugar. Bear comes over when he sees me standing with Declan at the counter. Maybe he is picking up on our posture because he certainly is not picking up a scent as Declan is in range.

Backseat: Syringe, insulin, kit, Nerf gun, and dog hair.

Backseat: Syringe, insulin, kit, Nerf gun, and dog hair.

However, there have been several live alerts. The other morning Bear barked out at five in the morning. Declan was in range, but two doors down, Maggie was 63.