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.

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.

Special Friend Day at Sellwood Middle School

After making fourteen phone calls to all of her uncles, aunts, and cousins that could have possibly attended special friends day, Maggie called me.  It was 905 in the morning.  She called from the office, minutes  before the tardy bell.

“Can you come to school at ten for the special friends assembly?”  Maggie asked, winded from running from her locker when she remembered that I was the only one left.  She caught me just in time.  I had just geared up for a long walk with Bear.  I was ready to head to the dog park: clicker on wrist, treat bag (not a fanny pack) clicked on, poop bags hanging from the treat bag, scent sample in right pocket, “no scent” sample in left pocket, low-value treats, and high-value treats.  I only had to harness up Bear and clip on his “Service Dog” vest.

So when Maggie asked if I could come for special friends day, I was first inclined to drop her softly, but then I realized that Bear would be Maggie’s special friend.  Instead of declining the invitation, giving Maggie her fifteenth negative response, I told her that I’d bring Bear, her truly special friend.

“No you can’t.  You better not.” I could hear her brain narrowing in on the best reason.  “The principal prohibits dogs in school.  She won’t let you inside.  She has already kicked out other people’s dogs.”

I have to give it to Maggie; she can really be convincing.  And had I not been briefed about where service dogs can and cannot go, I may have left Bear at home (or left Maggie at school alone, and taken Bear for a walk.  I mean, do middle schooler’s need a grandparent coming in to visit?).  But I knew better.  I knew that Bear could go anywhere without explicit permission, save for religious institutions.

And so I clipped leash to harness and headed out.

Visiting the school allowed Bear to practice sitting in a small space and being in large crowds.  The marimba band banged out a few songs, students gave some announcements, people walked by our chair, the jazz band blared out a medley of Les Miserables, and Bear stayed under the chair with the help of my foot on his leash.  Bear struggled at first, attempting to lick the shoes traveling by nose-level, but he soon settled down.

After the assembly we walked the halls with all the other special friends.  With no shortage of distractions, my hand was full of treats, doling them out at a constant stream.  The vest kept everyone from approaching Bear.  A few people could not help themselves, and asked nicely if they could pet Bear.  After a quick explanation that he needed to be sitting and stay sitting, they got their wish of a few pets as Bear slobbered over their fingers.  One person that could not help herself was the principal.  So much for being kicked out of school.  In fact, she had recently had to put down her yellow lab of fifteen years, and immediately created a strong bond with Bear.

Leigh and Maggie strike a pose. Bear not impressed.

Because part of Maggie’s evil plan involved going out to lunch after the assembly and tour of school (“It’s part of special friends day,” she said), we had to go be her friend Ashley’s block class and silently confer about if she was coming to lunch.  You remember silently communicating with friends across the room in school.  It’s pretty obvious to everyone.  I conspicuously stood in the doorway as Maggie attempted to pull me to the stairwell, terrified that the teacher would invite us in to his class.  Fiona had this teacher two years ago, and he knows that I am taking a year off to train Bear (among other things…hopefully).

Sure enough he spotted us and invited us in at which point Maggie disappeared.  So Bear and I went without Maggie.  I answered questions about what he was being trained for and other parts of training.  We demonstrated signalling a low-scent.  One of the students who sat in our row at the assembly said he didn’t even realize Bear was under my seat at the assembly.

We left the class, left the school and went to Killer Burgers for lunch, where Bear laid quietly beside our table with the help of my foot on his leash.  I can’t help but feel a little cruel taking Bear to a hamburger joint and forcing him to silently lay beside us.  Most of Bear’s world is through smells.  It would be like taking a recovering alcoholic to an all-you-can-drink party and not giving them a cup.

Bear did great.  Though not totally under control, he never completely lost it.  More trips are planned.  In fact, today we went to Costco.  Tomorrow we go on a field trip with Declan’s class to the Sellwood Bridge.  This will be very challenging as it is right next to the dog park.  Maybe we will steal away for a little bit of free time.

I continue to be concerned that Bear is smelling the plastic or the cotton swab when I present the low-scent sample.  I remain nervous each time I present the “no-scent” sample that he will signal for a low-scent.

On day one, before Bear pooped in Maggie’s room, she loved him (I think she still does), and he was a bit afraid.