There is so much to say about Justice and his new life. I've waited much too long for an update and hope to catch you up now!
His improvement was evident through his upright posture and lying on his side instead of hunkered down, his venturing out of the small crate more often, and his seeking sideways eye contact. He was also meandering around the entire kitchen instead of just near the door to his crate. I can often hear him playing wildly and running around as well. I walked in and saw him near the door to the living room, the farthest point from his crate. He retreated to his crate but not in a panic.
Justice has a great time with everything I provide for him from stuffy toys to Nylabones, and plain old boxes and containers. Sometimes I find shredded paper on the heat vent on the floor - perhaps he enjoys lying there? Most of the time he takes anything he values into his small crate and it disappears underneath him, sometimes never to be seen again. Eventually he puts the Kongs out on the floor so that I can refill them with tasty canned dog food or cream cheese.
I was very excited when he began to maintain his relaxed position at the front of his crate with paws outstretched, even when I dropped treats, made my breakfast or came near to close the crate door. One morning I took the accompanying photos of him licking out his Kong and eating his breakfast outside the crate, and then reclining in the front of the crate.
Bach Flower Essences
Initially I had put 4 drops of Bach Rescue Remedy in his water each time I changed it for general relaxation, but now I decided to create a custom remedy for him. I used Honeysuckle to help him forget and release his past, Water Violet to allow him to be approachable to receive the help he needs, and Wild Oat to help him find his way in his new life. I'll evaluate in a few weeks and change as needed.
Soon Justice began waiting by the front of his crate each morning for me to greet and drop treats. I've seen his motivation by food, toys and curiosity but I was hoping to see a bond developing between him and me. I know it is early for him to implicitly trust me but he is beginning to. When others visit, he stays in the small crate but glances in their direction from time to time.
When Justice first arrived, he was absolutely quiet almost not making any sound. Then he stopped restricting his movement and even began to vocalize and squeak toys. Now he seems to want to impress or connect with the other dogs by squeaking toys loudly when they are in the kitchen adjacent to his crate. To their credit, they have all habituated to him being there and his presence is a non-issue. I'm excited that he may actually not be as terrified of dogs as I had first believed him to be.
I began leaving the door between his kitchen and the living room open when all of the other dogs were elsewhere. I wanted to help expand Justice's world further. I never saw him at the door and he never came in that I know of.
He did get to the point where he was standing at the front of his crate while I dropped as many as 6 treats for him to eat. He was eating his meals outside of the crate and exploring quite freely, not reacting too much when I entered. He was even making more eye contact.
At this point, about five weeks after his arrival, he seemed to plateau out and ceased extending himself any further. It was as if he had stretched himself as far as he could go and still feel safe. I followed his lead and only asked him to do what he had been doing without asking him to do more.
Then a period of regression followed where he did less than he had previously. He backed away or went into his little crate when I entered the kitchen. He no longer waited at the front of his crate. He waited to eat until I left the kitchen. He wasn't squeaking toys when the dogs were around. Again I followed his lead and made everything easier. I began putting all treats and toys in his crate, not asking him to come out of his safety zone to get what he needed. My visits in the kitchen were brief and I made no effort to connect with him. I provided what he needed and asked nothing in return. I wanted him to know that if he again needed space - that was okay with me. I did not want to be a source of pressure - I wanted him to become self-motivated again and seek me out.
Behavior Changes are NOT Linear
Improvements, plateaus, regressions and breakthroughs are completely normal phases when learning and behavior changes occur. It is crucial to acknowledge and embrace this. Justice needed to retreat and regroup so I let him. I backed off and made everything really easy again.
I couldn't help thinking what if he stays regressed? What if he thinks this is the way to live? What if he doesn't improve again? But I knew that he would and that I needed to be extremely patient for when he was ready.
Safety has to be the trauma victim's priority above all else, even above the relationship with the caregiver. If the caregiver understands this, a deeper trustworthy bond will emerge. It is most important not to pressure or try to encourage at this point, but to meet them, be with them, where they are. The trauma victim knows better than the caregiver how and when to proceed. It's more effective to support them to successfully take a chance or a risk that they feel ready for, than to try and control or push for what we want.
Following the regression period, each day brought a breakthrough!
Justice really likes dogs. Who would have thought that, after his history of being attacked? I certainly didn't. But one day, I forgot to lower the sheet that covers the front of his crate. His door was secure, but he could see and be seen. I was taking 2 dogs outside past his crate when one stopped in front. I realized that Justice had come to the front to greet.
Justice and Sam touched noses and seemed perfectly at ease. I have to tell you that Sam would have been my last choice for Justice to meet. I would have introduced him to every other dog here before he met Sam. Sam had been abused and abandoned, resulting in edgy and unpredictable behavior. He had been adopted, returned, boarded, lived in a series of foster homes, and most recently had to deal with the loss of his big brother German Shepherd Buddy and the separation from his mom who became ill.
I have to wonder if Justice didn't sense in Sam a kindred spirit of survival and resilience. And Sam, who can be reactive and unfriendly, may have sensed the same. I was shocked and thrilled. This chance meeting convinced me to leave the sheet up to monitor the interactions between Justice and each of the dogs.
Each meeting has been a non-event. He has touched noses with each dog in their turn. As they wait by the door to go outside, he sniffs them and watches them. At this point, there hasn't been any contact with Justice outside of the crate since I still am unable to place a collar on him. Soon I see them playing in the yard though. Wanting to be with the dogs may motivate him to allow me to do whatever is needed.
My standing has risen in his eyes as he watches me interact lovingly and playfully with the dogs. I can see that my avenue to him is through the other dogs whom he naturally accepts. Our morning ritual now includes my administering medications with tasty delivery methods. One for each dog and then a treat for Justice. He stands right at the front of his crate expectantly. He seems to enjoy and feel safe belonging to the group.
Justice urinated in front of me. Justice came out of his crate as I was standing at the counter. He seemed like he was on a mission, but before I could take any action, he squatted and did his thing. I thought that showed some real trust and, of course, housetraining and urgency.
Justice is peeking into the living room. I haven't seen him but I can hear him approach the doorway and stop. I can imagine him looking around and wondering what goes on here.
Justice ate a stalk of celery. Most of my dogs love veggies and fruit. I was glad to see that Justice ate one too. I don't know if he was copying my dogs or if he had just learned to eat whatever was available when living on his own.
Justice stole a spoon off the counter. I saw it in his crate. I guess he was done licking it and wanted me to refill it!
Justice comes quite close to me. But of course I don't reach for him. I want to validate his efforts to courageously expand his world and relations. He will let me know when the time is right.
Right on Schedule
Justice is right on schedule for him. I have faith that he knows exactly what he needs to do and when he needs to do it. I'm satisfied that my refraining from pushing him has resulted in major breakthroughs in his own time. He is finessing his life with artistry - my role is to do the same. Each day brings a marvelous change. I am so thrilled to have Justice in my life!