Highs and Lows

Post soccer tryouts Voodoo doughnut appropriately named

Post soccer tryouts Voodoo doughnut.

We were doing alright for a short time there. Pantry door was being closed with the loaf of bread in the pantry. And Dec would even occasionally give his NPH shot before going to school, which not only kept him at a reasonable blood-sugar level, but also let him throw down snacks after school without a shot.

The walks with Bear were more enjoyable with the lack of pantry snacking. With a stable diet of dog food, Bear poops were regular, easy to pick up, and generally one per walk.

We went off the rails. Maybe the change in weather relaxed everything, but suddenly Bear eats a loaf every second or third day. Tiring of bread, he now dabbles in other snacks. He discovered the box of granola bars, a post low-blood sugar snack, accessible on the pantry floor. Though he was able to hork down nearly a baker’s dozen, the individual wrapped not-for-resale packaging foiled his parvo-recovered intestinal track. Like the cat leaving a mouse at the doorstep after tiring of playing with it, and not wanting to eat it (people say it is a “gift” to the owners, but I believe cats just get bored with it), Bear left a pile of granola bars, packaging included, just inside the front door. Thank you very much.

Individually-wrapped, not-for-resale pile of granola bars and wrappers.

Individually-wrapped, not-for-resale pile of granola bars and wrappers.

As a frequent consumer of granola bars I am thankful that they have dispensed with the raisin granola flavor. I would have been more upset had Bear eaten a bunch of granola bars knowing that the precious peanut-butter and chocolate-chip flavors were consumed. I wonder who actually likes the granola raisin flavor. Raisins simply wreck the vehicle they travel in, be it a cookie, granola, or cereal. I digress.

I realized that training Bear in Dec’s bedroom, or just downstairs in general, might be a good idea. To lower that hurdle, I purchased and placed a bag of dried liver in Dec’s closet. Shocking that Bear has not figured out how to get into that bag of goodies.

Relaxing on the couch.

Relaxing on the couch.

With a slight increase in training, Bear has picked up on a reliable “tell” that someone is low: the Capri-sun juice pouch. Dec or Maggie would be low. After sipping on the juice pouch, Bear would plop from the couch, stretch, and signal with paw and bark. Do we reward this signal? I told Bear we wanted a leading indicator, let us know before the juice is consumed, not a lagging indicator of low-blood sugar. Nonetheless, we rewarded this signal, then waited for the appropriate no-low-blood sugar in the house to reverse this lagging indicator.

Home alone with Bear, I pulled out a juice pouch. At the sound of the pouch leaving the box, Bear jumped up and signaled. I admonished him for the false signal. After several of these, he quit signaling the pouch.


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.

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

Getting in the way

The sun has returned.

The sun has returned.

It does get in the way a bit, sometimes more than others. On average it’s less obtrusive than the neighbor who continues remodeling his house after ten years. But diabetes does get in the way. Normally it is just little things: every morning checking blood sugar and giving shots; scarfing down sugar during soccer games.

This morning we all slept in because of dentists appointments. Luxuriating in the extra time, Declan went to Lego warfare which was spread on the table. I threw him the kit to check blood sugar, which is when Bear started signaling. It seems Bear is now conditioned to check for low blood sugar the same time the kids are checking. Need to somehow get him to check when they are not checking. That is the whole point of it all.

Dec is 114. Bear continues to signal, barking a high-pitched sound. So it could be that Bear expects a nice juicy hot dog chunk whenever the blood sugar kit comes out, or it could be that Maggie is low downstairs, or it could be that Declan is dropping. In fact just the other night Bear signaled Dec, so he tested. he was in the 90s. We went downstairs and Bear continued signaling. Dec tested again and he was 64. It gets messy with the meter’s accuracy. They claim to be within 10% of actual blood sugar, which studies back up, but when you are around the boundary of being low, possibly dropping or rising, 10% makes a difference, which only leads to how confusing it must get for Bear trying to conform his signals to receive the juicy hot dog treat.

Not wanting to be left for the soccer game.

Not wanting to be left for the soccer game.

So it could be the meter, it could be he is dropping, or it could be that Maggie is low. Maggie and a different meter are downstairs, down I go. Minimizing up and down trips, I check Maggie first, and she is indeed low at 70. Being a teenager, she proclaims that she is fine. On my return upstairs I praise Bear and give him a nice juicy hot dog treat.

You might think having multiple people with diabetes in the home would make training Bear easier. More and more I think it really is getting in the way.

Tough love softened

We get to the dentist’s office and fill the waiting room, the three kids and myself. Each year the waiting area seems to shrink as our physical space increases, mine less so I hope, and the amount of energy expelled (mostly sound) increases as well. By the time we’ve cycled through appointments, Declan succeeded in disabling Fiona’s phone for an hour, which achieves his ultimate goal of pushing Fiona into a slightly controlled rage.

Normally we stop and get breakfast or lunch on our way back from the dentist, and I’m trying to figure out if Bunk, a local sandwich shop, is open. Meanwhile mental jabs and full-on screams ensue between shotgun and back seat occupants, which is when the flip switched for me, and I announce we will not be getting any lunch, but simply being dropped off at school. I am fed up with the mental, and occasional physical, sparring.

Staying away from shoes, but went on a bender, destroying a computer mouse and gorilla grip camera clamp.

Staying away from shoes, but went on a bender, destroying a computer mouse and gorilla grip camera clamp.

For three blocks I enjoy the quiet in the car, Fiona and Declan still fuming while Maggie strategizes a new angle. And then Declan says he feels low, checks, and is indeed quite low at 56. He is without sugar tabs or juice (which he drank while disabling Fiona’s phone). His time delayed insulin, NPH, is kicking in. So instead of being able to punctuate my canceling of lunch by dropping them off at school to fend for themselves, we now have to stop somewhere quick to get soda or juice for Declan.

Any other day I’d appreciate having New Season’s Market three blocks away, but in this case I’d rather have a Plaid Pantry to run into and get a soda, leaving the kids in the car waiting to be dropped at school. Instead we pull into the parking lot, unloading and going into New Seasons. Before getting to New Seasons, Maggie was brainstorming different solutions that all involved her getting a sandwich. “There’s a nice cafe next to the Plaid Pantry, or that place looks good…”

I don’t respond to any of her suggestions, including the one to get a sandwich at New Seasons. She takes the non-response as an affirmative response when we park, and everyone gets a sandwich while Declan horks down a Mountain Dew.

It is a relief to get Declan back into range, but I was looking forward to dropping them off at school, denying them a nice lunch, but diabetes got in the way.

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.


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.