A Stranger in My House

Sophie with the stranger

Sophie, my scottie is clearly concerned about the presence of this stranger near her.  Her eye is on him, her tail is up, she is standing rigid and not moving.  I quickly asked him to stand still until I could reengage her in her ball.

As this worker moved about the house, I used play to desensitize her to his presence.  This Counter Conditioning process involves taking a fear provoking stimulus (stranger) and changing the association to one of signaling something (pleasant) in this case, a play session.

I began this process over 1 year ago with children and strangers on my street and in my yard, by using yummy treats or play to counter condition Sophie’s emotional response when strangers were present.  This generalization stage is the phase of learning where the dog learns that the new association is relevant in a variety of circumstances and situations. Sophie now enjoys strangers entering our home as she associates them with something positive, but having this stranger disappear and reappear with no warning from inside is something very unsettling for her.

I am sure once I get this situation comfortable for Sophie, she will again alert me to something new with a guest or stranger that she is not comfortable with.  I believe I will always need a maintenance stage in which I incorporate repetitions from previous training stages to encourage the appropriate emotional response from her.

While many dogs can be counter conditioned quicker, I adopted Sophie at age 5, so her behaviors had been practiced for some time, but her progress is steady and improving with each play session!