Sudden Environmental Contrast

You might have noticed that your dog is sensitive or reactive to visitors when they stand from sitting, leave the room and come back, or move around. We call this “Sudden Environmental Contrast” or SEC. It can be so deceiving when your dog finally settles after a visitor arrives, and when they get up to use the washroom, your dog reacts as if they’re starting from scratch and the visitor has “arrived” once again. Not just deceiving, but downright frightening, confusing, and embarrassing!

A medium sized dog barking inside a home.

It might start with a startle and a hop to their feet, and then it might eventually escalate to barking and charging, even nipping at the person’s pant legs, calves, or ankles, to full-on bite.

First, we have proactive training. Be sure to work through the protocols that prepare for the doorbell/knocking routine, welcoming visitors into your home, and finally, Treat/Retreat. These are all fantastic foundations for this scenario.

As always, we have to be sure that we are managing really well to prevent any escalation or incident. What does that look like?

Management & Prevention

We have to arrange the situation every time so that your dog does not rehearse the unwanted behaviour:

  • Keep your dog behind a baby gate or in another room while the visitor is over.
  • You would have to ensure that the visitor does not approach the dog while they are tethered as that can certainly escalate as it would with any cornered animal.

Next up, we have modification.

LEVEL ONE: 

Your dog is safely secured away from the guest, and again, you will need a compliant guest to help with this exercise

  • You are sitting close to your dog
  • The guest stands up, your dog takes notice, you happy-talk and feed a series of 3-4 small, high-value treats
  • The guest sits back down
  • Repeat this until your dog looks to you expectantly when the guest stands up

LEVEL TWO: 

Your dog is safely secured away from the guest, and again, you will need a compliant guest to help with this exercise.

  • You are sitting close to your dog
  • The guest stands up, takes 1-2 steps towards the bathroom (away from your dog), your dog takes notice, you happy-talk and feed a series of 3-4 small, high-value treats
  • The guest returns to seat, sits back down
  • Repeat this until your dog looks to you expectantly when the guest stands up and takes a step or two away

NOTE: As always, if you are working through this behaviour and your dog’s behaviour escalates or worsens, stop all training and contact us for a consult. You may need some fine-tuning prior to moving forward.