Since my last post, we've been continually working with Dash and Dot on our own schedule, without pushing them or doing any special tricks. Just trying to be sure that every interaction we have with them is positive, and as fun as possible for them (within the bounds of that they must come in the house and approach us properly in order to have fun).
Most of the 'fun' is really food. But some of it is the opportunity to play with the other dogs (especially Gator), in the house. And some of it is watching me make a fool of myself in order to see if I can trigger happy/confident/empowered behavior from them.
One strategy was suggested by my friend Dianne, who knows a thing or two about training animals. What would happen if instead of letting them act afraid of me, I pre-empt that by acting afraid of them? Like by wincing and hiding, and running away from them.
Doing this - esp. the part about moving away from them and trying to hide - definitely triggered something like curiosity in them. Especially Dot, but to some extent both of the dogs, wanted to follow, find me, and investigate. An excellent result!
But then I added sound (*whimper*) to my scaredy-act, and that was definitely a mistake. Dash was really startled by that, and it caused him to back off and watch me even more carefully, in case I was actually as crazy as it seemed. Dot didn't seem to respond to that one way or the other, so after one try, I stopped it.
And a few days later, Dottie seemed to make a decision. I went out in the yard one afternoon, and instead of her standard running-away-if-I-try-to-pet-her, she stood there and let me stroke her neck. And that evening she came in the house willingly, and was able to eat her food and let me and/or John walk around, including behind her and upstairs, and do whatever we wanted without it causing her to wig out. It was like she'd figured out that it was safe to be in the house, and while she's still going to be cautious about us approaching her, she's not going to let that get in the way of her getting lots of treats and kibble. What a good girl!
Dash has gone the other way, though. Now he's even more scared and jumpy than he was before the holidays. It's very odd, in that he's been more confident around us than Dottie pretty much the whole time. Now the tables seem to have turned.
We have determined that one problem in our 'come in the house and let us close the door behind you before you can have fun' strategy is that we have tended to leave one of us right at the door, so that the dogs have to walk right past us to get in the house. Now we realize that if the door-closer stays away from the doorway, but still upstairs, that both dogs are fairly willing now to come down into the living room. Once that happens, the door-closer can wander over and close the door behind them while inciting minimal trauma. It definitely takes two people - Dash will not let a person walk from in front of him to behind him if there's an escape route behind him. That still causes him to freak out. But if the person was already up there, and didn't seem to be paying much attention to the whole in-out of house thing, then it's apparently not scary.
While this has been going on, we've also fine-tuned the psychotropic meds so that each dog is on a combination of prozac and amitryptaline. Of which I'll bet I spelled amitryptaline wrong. I don't have any kind of strong feeling as to whether the meds are making any difference at all, either in a good way or in a bad way...but am trying to let them stabilize for a while while we (hopefully) continue to make *very* incremental progress. I think it may be with this kind of thing that even the regression part is progress - it's maybe the precursor to a big step forward?