Monday, July 25, 2011

sonny had a breakthrough

Sonny came back to me last Wednesday night.  For a variety of reasons, his adoptive home didn't work out.  I'll spare you the details, but the situation was unsafe and Sonny was extremely stressed out.  When I picked him up, he was petrified and literally molting.  He was hiding in the back of his crate and avoiding human contact.  He didn't seem to recognize me. I was so scared for my boy, worried that we would be starting from square one.

When we arrived home and I got Sonny out of the car, he perked up.  He wagged his tail a little, but he was still not engaging with me like he used to.  But the moment we walked in the door, Sonny was high as a kite.  He ran around the house like a maniac, wagging his tail, sniffing everything, and smiling! He remembered Roxy and Buster, and was immediately fond of Sugar, our other foster dog.  Rob and I sat on the couch and let Sonny get comfortable.  He kept coming over to me and checking in, and was even checking out Rob.  He would run over to him, sniff his feet and fingers, lick him, and run away.  That behavior didn't last past the first and second nights, but it was so nice to see, especially because that is how his initial interactions with me were.

The night following his return, I spoke with the veterinarian and we agreed to put Sonny back on his medication.  He is on 16mg of Fluoxetine 2x/day.  He's been off the medication for 3 weeks, so I expect it to take a few weeks to see any effects.

Anyway, on to Sonny's break through.  Our typical night with Sonny used to involve Rob and I sitting on the couch watching a movie.  Sonny would spend most of the time in his crate with the occasional exploratory adventure.  I'd been keeping treats handy and doling them out whenever he left his crate.  If he chose to hang back, I'd toss treats for him.  If he approached, he got treats.  Each day was different than the last, and I just followed his lead as to what he could handle on any given day.  He would rarely take his eyes off Rob, regardless of the food in my hands, so there was a lot of offering food while he continued to look at Rob.

Last night, we started an official game of "Look at That!" with Sonny, with Rob as the stimulus.  We have had a large amount of success with Roxy using LAT, and I had been eager to do some overt conditioning work with Sonny, but had been waiting for him to be ready (i.e. waiting for him to be able to stand still long enough to do a few trials in a row).

So, we were sitting on the couch in our normal formation (Rob furthest away, lying down) and Sonny was spending a good amount of time near me. He kept looking at Rob, so I began marking and treating him.  When I marked, Sonny would look back at me, expecting a treat, which was pretty big progress in-and-of-itself.  So, I asked Rob to say a few words every couple of tries.  The first time Rob spoke, Sonny ran back to his crate, and then came back to me when he realized I had marked, "Yes!"  Then we did a few non-verbal trials, where I marked/treated for Sonny looking at Rob without any vocalizations from Rob, just to keep it from getting too scary for him. Then we tried again with Rob speaking and Sonny ran mid-way back to his crate before coming back for his treat.

The third time Rob spoke, Sonny looked at me, expecting a treat, rather than retreating.  He took his treat and stuck around, waiting for more.

It doesn't seem like a big deal on paper, now that I'm re-reading it.  But it is huge progress for Sonny.  He seems to realize he's in a familiar place, And sure, he's still avoiding Rob under normal circumstances, but for him to not run back to his crate when Rob spoke was something like watching a miracle occur.