Bestest day ever ever

IMG_20130802_074300It’s great sleeping down here in Dec’s room. He is the smallest of the people, and my favorite. I sleep on his bed or on the floor or on some giant pillow. I love being in here. Wait! I hear something. It’s my favorite person. “YERP!” Get me out of here!

This small Declan person is so responsive. Now for my favorite part of the day. I get to say hello to my favorite person. Wait! I need something in my mouth. My stuffed animal, the long one with a rope on one end would be great. Where is it? Wait, here is a bunched up sock that smells of Declan. Perfect! My favorite. Hello, hello, hello. “Rrrrrwrrrrr. Rwrrrrrr.”

Oh this is great. Hello. Hello. You want the sock? That’s why I brought it. Here you go. Now why do you throw it downstairs. That’s where I got it. Stuffed animal! My favorite. Hello, hello, hello.

Morning walk at the river.

Morning walk at the river.

Wait! Here comes the big person. My favorite. He has the big coat on. This means we go for a walk. My favorite part of the day. I have to wait first, though. I leave the warm place after he puts my favorite blue leash on, and after he says “Okay.” There it is. Let’s go.

WHOA! I have to pee. Quick to the grass. Ah, what a relief. Now we walk. What? We’re stopping? Big tug on the leash. Tight on my neck. Growl from the big one means something. I’m still trying to figure this out. Okay, we’re walking now. Cold crisp air is great! Collar is a bit tight. Whoa! I guess we are going backwards now. Still trying to figure this one out, but sure I’ll back it up. Let me know when we’re ready to go.

Now I need some more grass, need to take care of number two. Looks perfect right there. Collar tight, back it up, okay. I didn’t like that spot either, how about this one? Okay? Phew, because I was about to explode. Hey there is a good smell over here. I can’t quite reach, just a little further, collar is tight. Whoa! Here I am suddenly looking over the big person whose crouching over that poop. Waiting. Waiting. Okay we can go again.

My favorite stick at the river. Found it three times in a row.

My favorite stick at the river. Found it three times in a row.

What’s that smell? The little one? Is he out here? There is the warm place. My favorite part of the day. Back inside and smothering Declan, the little one, on my couch, the one by the window. He is pretending to be asleep. He is under a blanket. I love this game. I have to try to lick his face. And if I lick it, then I need to try to lick it again.

Whup! I hear the can opening. I smell the food. Gotta get off this couch. I just realized how hungry I am. “Sit.” I know this one. Got it. “Okay.” I know this one, too. Sniff it out. Smells like the same stuff that was in the dish yesterday. Looks like it, too. It is. Few bites. Serviceable, but not nearly as tasty as that dish I can reach on the counter. But I sure am hungry.

IMG_20131007_131522My favorite part of the day coming right up. Finish the meal and off to my couch, laying belly up. Ah. I just realized how tired I am. Running. Running. Barking. Barking. River. What’s that smell? Reminds me of those yummy treats that are round. Smell still there. Back at the river. Running. Running. There’s that smell again. And is there something touching my nose? Blink. Oh yeah. I remember. The plastic tube with white inside. That’s the smell. Jump up on the big guy. Or bark. Or pull his knee with my paw. Yep. There it is. And now the yummy treat. And now I wait. I wait. I wait. “Okay.” Where is that scent? Not here. In the other room. I can sense it. Not sure where. But it is here somewhere. On the couch maybe? Nope. Sheesh. I am hungry. And I know the yummy treat is coming at some point soon. Is it on the chair? On the shelf? Ahhhh! I can smell it. Where is it. “Rerp! Rerp!” I can smell it! I want my treat. Oh, right there! Got it. I found it! I found it. Yummy treat! My favorite part of the day.

The big people are gone. Just the smaller ones now. Normally the smaller ones are gone by now. And I’m in that place by the door. And I have a dish of water and my favorite chew toy. But the smaller people are not leaving. They are still here. I can stay on my couch. I am so tired.

IMG_20131017_185344Kids here but not here. Two downstairs and one in the room. Time for my favorite game of find what’s on the counter. No way! A bag full of round bread with seeds on top. Quiet now. Quiet. I’ll take it to room with the one kid, the small one. The one named Declan. I like being around him. He is talking to that flat screen hanging on the wall. I like this brown long furry thing on the floor. Soft. Keep quiet, though. Pesky bag. I can see them, but they are trapped. Free the bread. Freed. Soft and squishy, and so easy to throw down in two bites. Six bites of this round bread.

What else. Pantry door open. My favorite place. What? Where is the chocolate milk? And there is normally a loaf of bread on this shelf. I can smell it. But it’s not here. And the pasta! I smell it, but it is also gone from its normal resting place. That stuff is fun to eat. Crunchy and small. They disappear in the brown furry thing in that other room.

Thirsty. To the white bowl that the people sit on sometimes. Refreshing.

Waiting for Ashley to finish eating my food.

Waiting for Ashley to finish eating my food.

Whup! Glass jar with something in it that smells a lot like bacon. Yep, there it is. A bit tricky to carry. Got it. What is this metal thing on top? New challenge. Whoa, it just popped off. Cool. Now for the jar full of bacon grease. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hmmm. Thirsty. Back to the white chair. Where did the water go? “Yerp! Yerp!” Here comes Declan. He is so responsive. And suddenly it is refilled. Lovely.

Couch. Tired. Sleep. Hungry. Ah, more treats on the counter. Best day ever. The little people stay home and leave treats on the counter for me.


Enjoying the river

Out of bed and it’s still dark. jammy bottoms, down jacket, and old sneakers on, ready for the morning walk. Dragging in the beginning, force Bear in a short leash walk. Bear takes a long pee. I count to no less than 25 on the first pee of the morning. After a block I unleash him. We walk a loop.

But in the evening, if I get home in time, we’ll go to the river. And it is beautiful. And Bear runs off leash and retrieves sticks. And now he leaps off the squishy dock into the river.


We continue to train with scent samples. Bear is improving with the scent sample. But not so good in the middle of the night. Last night Maggie woke up at 46 and had trouble getting up stairs. We all slept through it. Later on, Bear woke me at 5. We went down and checked Maggie. She had rebounded to 300 after treating the low on her own.

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.

Lacking sleep

Catching up on some sleep.

Catching up on some sleep.

The new routine is in place. By 745 in the morning everyone is gone except for Declan and Bear. Declan leaves by 845. Then Bear is home alone until Grandma shows up for the middle of the day river walk. Declan is supposed to put Bear in his room before he leaves for school. We even put an alarm on Dec’s new phone to remind him to put Bear in the room. From the daily updates I get from Grandma, Bear has been successfully placed in his room three times.


Part of the new  routine is getting daily updates from Grandma. The updates not only report the whereabouts and the damage Bear has done when she arrives at the house, but they also include how things went at the river.

CaptureReading the text updates from school can be a bit nerve wracking as there is nothing I can do about it. I wonder what mess will be found when I get home. We still need to replace that shin guard. 

In contrast to the benefits of Grandma’s daily visits is Bear’s new night time schedule. Though he is exhausted at the end of the day from multiple walks and a lot of running at the river, Bear has trained himself to wake sometime around 2 AM. I believe the main objective for Bear is to take advantage of a few treats that are more accessible at 2 AM. First he goes to the kitchen pantry, looking for granola bars and chocolate milks that might be on a low shelf. Next Bear ventures to the counter for a jar of butter. Though no butter may be found, he can generally snag a spatula or spoon to chew on. After exhausting the plastic on the spatula, Bear saunters back to the bathroom to clean the cat food dishes.

Playing with Homer.

Playing with Homer.

The regularity of night barks has decreased Dec’s sensitivity and increased my sensitivity to middle of the night commotion. So now I hear Bear barking in the Dec’s room. I venture downstairs, letting him out and placing him in his crate. Then I lay in bed trying to go back to sleep, which is about the time I realize that Dec or Maggie might be low. After a brief debate with myself, recalling the bedtime blood sugar number and the previous evening activity, I rise from bed and descend the stairs again, this time with a kit to check blood sugars.

Initially Maggie and Dec’s blood sugars were fine. But now that I am the one letting Bear out of Dec’s room, I now remember to take a kit down and test them before putting Bear in the crate. And twice his night time routine has coincided with a low. Or, optimistically, he was signalling the low with his barking.

And there was another time this past week that he signaled Maggie as she came upstairs. But there have also been the times when Dec is low and Bear snoozes on, signaling only after we’ve checked the blood sugar and we’ve called him over to take a sniff, which is turning out to be a signal for Bear to signal. Not our intention, but we’re working on it.


We continue scent training, though not as much. More of the training is finding the scent now. I’ll hide the scent while Bear is in a stay. I’ll release Bear and then follow him around while he sniffs it out. Yesterday Bear did great sniffing out the sample. It was interesting to see him go past the sample, slow down, circle around, and then quickly zero in on it.

The smoking probably isn't helping the scent training.

The smoking probably isn’t helping the scent training.

When possible I hide the scents in someone’s pocket, or in a sleeve. I believe this will condition Bear to associating the scent with a person and signaling the person. After successfully signaling Dec after sniffing out the sample in his pocket, Bear kept going back to Dec and signaling. I’m giving Bear the benefit of the doubt on this one. I think he was smelling remnants of a low that Dec had earlier in the day. I don’t think Dec smelled like a low, but I believe his clothes still had the scent.

Initially I thought training Bear in our house would be easier because there are two people with diabetes. I now think that it would be easier to train him in an environment with no one with diabetes. It is much easier to control when the scent is out and when the training is occurring without any lingering low-scents showing up unexpectedly.

Back to the dog park

Sleeping on the deck

Sleeping on the deck

It was our third annual trip to the Wings and Waves Waterpark in McMinnville. Last year Bear was along for the trip. This year Bear spent the day in his office. On our return I couldn’t help noticing that Bear was not in the office, but out in the kitchen area. I headed back to the office and nearly fell down by the smell, and then dry heaved seeing the mess of brown liquid on the floor. As my stomach turned right side up, I thanked whoever had the wherewithal to get Bear out of the mess, though they did nothing in terms of cleanup effort.

I wet down a few rags to cleanup and reminisced when we had cloth diapers in Eugene. Whether it was thinking about some of those nasty diapers we cleaned in the toilet, or just a sudden solidifying state of my stomach, I did not add my own mess to the already disgusting floor. What is going on with Bear’s constitution, though?

Bowl of Costco hot dogs and cheese sticks a day

Bowl of Costco hot dogs and cheese sticks a day

Is it the anniversary of his parvo experience, needing to somehow celebrate his survival, Bear’s insides are reminding us how far he has come and how bad it was. Or is it the new high value treat he gets for scent work? He’s been getting about one Costco dog a day for the past week. Though I haven’t tried this regiment, I imagine it could do some damage. After I have one I’ll taste it throughout the day. Or might it be the newly instituted lock down regiment is stressing his constitution? Bear only goes on short walks, no running along with the bike, no dog park, and treats only with scent work.

While cleaning the mess I decided to take Bear to the dog park. We’d walk on leash, which would be painful, before heading to the water and enjoying time off leash.

I finished scrubbing and spraying air freshener (it still smelled of poo) and loaded Bear into the car and drove to the park. The park full of dogs and the smell of the river distracted Bear greatly. He whined a bit and pulled quite a bit. Stay tuned on how the yanking develops into Bear’s lack of feeling around his collar.

And then I exhaled, taking Bear off leash and walking along the beach. The leash swung freely from my hand as Bear charged in the water for a stick. He boxed with other dogs. He charged other dogs, faking to the left at the last possible moment and dove into the water.

We came home and he flopped down, tired for the first time in a week.

Sleeping on the deck

Sleeping on the deck

Short Leash

IMG_20130802_074300We picked Bear up from Kristin’s after a week away. While he was happy to see us, he was also as excited, or more excited, to play with the dogs in the Kristin’s backyard. Camp is over for Bear.

And Kristin experienced Bear on a leash. And she said that we need to start over. That Bear needs to relearn how to walk on leash. He is not to pull; he is taken for a walk; he is not taking the thing at the other end of the leash for a walk. He is not to decide that it is time for a potty break and yank the walker over to a grassy spot. Bear needs to walk with the person, following the person.

This has been a challenge from the beginning. And I think the challenge emerged from Bear’s natural inclinations, but also from our lack of consistency in training. Bear is a bullheaded animal. He is not quick to change. In fact, at our last lesson, Kristin was a bit surprised at how stubborn Bear was when we were introducing the “no-scent” exercise. Bear is also very playful. Job one is to have fun. He constantly scans the environment for a playmate, preferably one with four legs, but two will do.

As trainers I don’t think we transitioned from the “get a treat for a trick/behavior” to the “demand for trick/behavior”. It might be the timing of Bear’s Parvo episode that delayed this transition. After getting out of the hospital (and paying that treacherous bill), Bear was still recovering for a month. His intestines were still rebuilding, and we had to be careful with what he ate. He was prone to extreme diarrhea. So maybe we handled him with kid gloves. And coupled with his confident demeanor, the gentle handling really conditioned him to expect special treatment.

I’ve also always had a low-key dog. My former dogs, Duke in Boulder and Annie all over the US, never needed a leash for a walk. They were interested in checking out new smells in the area. We would walk or bike together. They were happy and friendly, but they did not pester people or dogs for attention. I was prideful of their demeanor, laid back, and able to go without a leash. I enjoyed walking the street with Annie or Duke either next to me or trailing a bit behind.

Walks with Bear challenge one’s peace of mind. He sees the leash and dashes away. Not very far, he stands at the back door. And this is likely where the chasm of a trainer and me begin. I walk to Bear, who stands at the back door. He waits while I click the leash. Something inside tells me that Bear should approach me for the walk. Whenever I walk to him, I feel a pang of “I don’t think this is right” feeling. But I am happy he doesn’t continue fleeing from me while I have the leash, so Bear effectively trained me to go to him for a walk.

Bear occasionally got used to the gentle lead.

Bear occasionally got used to the gentle lead.

When we first introduced the gentle-lead I would give him treats when he had it on. I’d put it on him without the leash to desensitize the feeling, giving Bear treats while he wore it, trying to associate yummy treats with wearing the gentle lead. Not sure if my techniques were poorly executed, poorly planned, or were simply not instituted long enough. Bear’s behavior never changed, and I tired of the struggle with the gentle-lead.

And so I would snap on the gentle-lead and proceed for the walk. And Bear still enjoyed his walks. Walking with head up and tail wagging, he would tug on the lead still, but it was simply a bit easier to correct him. And whenever possible, he would rub his nose along some grass with his butt up high, tail wagging, relieving that pesky gentle-lead annoyance on his snout.

Another chasm between dog-trainer  and me: Instead of dealing with the annoying habits of the walk, I found another means of exercising Bear. I nearly completely abandoned the walk. I went for the bike. With the leash in right hand, I rode while Bear ran. We would go to the park to get off-leash time. We would occasionally find other dogs to run with, but usually found an extremely annoying owner yelling to keep Bear away from his dogs, that Bear’s safety was in danger (can’t discuss now, but maybe later). So score another for Bear, he once again taught me behavior in line with his needs.

Dog park by the river.

Dog park by the river.

So now we begin again. With a new Handcraft Collar, we take Bear on short walks. We go up and down the block. We might make it around the block. And why are they such short walks? They are so short because we have about four inches of leash to work with. When he pulls forward or to the side, we pull up on the leash, engaging the Handcraft Collar, sending a signal (hopefully) to Bear to back it up. The challenge involves releasing the leash, disengaging the collar, at the moment Bear gives in. We (myself, Heather, and Bear) are all working on this.

It has been a week and things are improving. Bear walks nicely along a boring stretch of road. He continues to become maniacal when we approach a house or park that has a history of playing with other dogs. The final exam for Bear (and me I suppose) occurs at the dog park, walking nicely on lead in the parking lot. We will try this out today. And just thinking about it makes me sad because I see it as a form of torture. And I vehemently hate torturing things (even though I teach math). In fact, I would rather be tortured than administer the torture.

I love taking Bear to the dog park so he can run and swim. Not only can you see the joy in Bear’s entire body wagging, but he also wears a smile. So I wonder do we go down to the park and walk in the parking lot, returning after that training. Or do we continue to the park after the training? What would a trainer do? If he is horrible on the leash in the parking lot, lunging and crying to play, do you still give play time. Or is it simply a training session, no more. No reward for bad behavior? I’m inclined to let him play, walking in the park, letting Bear run around, feeling for a few moments at least, that I have a dog I can walk without a leash.

Update: Scent training

Scent training tools: scent, no-scent, hot dogs, and cheese chunks.

Scent training tools: scent, no-scent, hot dogs, and cheese chunks.

We continue with the “scent/no-scent” training. Bear does great, signaling the scent and ignoring the no-scent. And then he does not so good, reluctant on the scent and signaling the no-scent.

But then he’ll wake from a nap when I walk by with an open scent sample in my pocket and signal. And he’ll ignore the no-scent in my pocket. I’m still clinging to the time he slept on the couch and I put the scent beaker in my pocket. His head jerked up and walked over to me to signal.

Back at it

Finishing up the entire new season of "Arrested Development" with Fiona and Heather. Very appropriate.

Finishing up the entire new season of “Arrested Development” with Fiona and Heather. Very appropriate.

After a long break from any formal training, Bear and I went back and had a training session with Kristin yesterday (the photos are unrelated to the training, instead they show what he’s been up to recently).

Kristin said there is still hope, that Bear can still become a service dog. I shared with her my fears that he signals when he sees the scent sample rather than when he smells it, and how he is getting better on walking and behaving in public places. I’m still not sure where we will land with Bear and how serviceable he will be as a service dog, but we did start moving in the direction of a service dog.

Oblivious to students practicing a dance performance.

Oblivious to students practicing a dance performance.

My inclination that Bear signals on sight of sample rather than on scent were confirmed. He is on auto pilot. He sees a sample container and he paws for a treat. Not only that, but he’ll signal when you just hold your hand out pretending to hold the sample. During the lesson we had one scent and one no-scent sample. We present the no-scent for Bear to sniff. He automatically signals before even smelling it. A quick “Nuh-uh” response and turn away with disappointment when he signals on a no-scent.

Cape Lookout with neighbors. Bear under table.

Cape Lookout with neighbors. Bear under table.

Bear needs to think about whether it is a low-scent or a no-scent. During the lesson he continues to signal the no-scent. We continue to turn away. He begins to not signal, to ignore the no-scent. He gets a “good boy!” and a treat. The hope is that he’ll do this three or four times in a row. This does not happen during the lesson and has not happened in the three training sessions since the lesson.

After time with the no-scent we switch to the low-scent. I can see Bear’s frustration and confusion here as he abstains from signaling yet does not get a treat. He needs to connect the scent with the signal and then the treat. He begins wandering off, checking out new corners of the room, sniffing the breeze blowing in from the window.He sits and scratches himself, a favorite of his. All throughout Bear’s attempts to find something else to do, we pull him back to the plastic tube that either has a low- or no-scent.

Chilling with Grandma on Bear's love-seat.

Chilling with Grandma on Bear’s love-seat.

We are reminded of how Kristin described Bear over a year ago, when she was visiting the litter from early on. She described Bear as confident and independent, that he was often the first to do things. A year out confident and independent translate to stubborn, bull-headed, and happy doing his own thing. In more able hands I’m confident Bear would be pretty amazing at this point. However, Bear is in our home, adding one more stubborn adolescent to our potpourri of teen-spirit.  In our hands Bear has become an independent minded dog, looking to satisfy his needs, which includes nutrition (food on the counter), jawing exercises (chewing shoes, books, and other sundry items), and playtime (looking for any dog to play with).

So we are back at it with more focus. We are working on distinguishing the no- and low-scent. After he masters this we will bring back the doorbell for signaling, having it present with and without the low-scent. And Bear will be wearing the “gentle-lead” collar on any walks.


Always a good time with Dec.

Always a good time with Dec.

It has been hot here. The last few days we went to the dog park by the Willamette River. The first day he got in, but didn’t swim. Yesterday morning we went to a park with a casting pond with ducks floating in it. Thinking the grass and muck in the corner was solid ground, Bear stepped in only to be completely submerged in the water. He came out splashing hard with his front legs. Demonstrating his core strength, he was able to pull himself out of the pond after getting his front paws on Terra firma. Later in the day we went back to the river, this time with Declan and friends. We all got in and Bear was swimming after sticks and tennis balls. Once I threw the stick in the water from the dock. Bear dove in after the stick. He was under water for longer than I though he’d be. When he finally emerged, he was splashing hard with those front paws.