Trigger Stacking

Those who have leash reactive or excitable dogs usually know what their triggers are as they are what cause our dog to be at the end of the leash, lunging, barking or jumping. Largely these are other dogs, people, vehicles and wildlife. A trigger is defined as anything that starts a stress or overexcited reaction in the dogs body and mind.

When our dogs are constantly encountering their triggers they become over threshold and stressed which then kicks in their fight or flight mode. What we as the dog owners need to know is how to keep our dogs under threshold to help them deal with those triggers in a positive way.

Dogs adrenaline can last up to three days after what causes their reaction so imagine if they are encountering their triggers frequently how are they supposed to deal with them? Stress requires time to reverse and dogs need time to recover.

Photo by Wieselblitz

Here is an example of trigger stacking for dogs. I'm out with my dog who is leash reactive to other dogs, and bikes. When we come out of the house we encounter a dog on the front sidewalk which causes a reaction because this trigger is close and my dog is caught off guard. A little ways down a boy comes by on a bike that causes another reaction of lunging and barking, now remember emotionally and physically he still dealing with the first reaction. We then pass a couple on the walk who he hasn't reacted to before but since he is already over his threshold his limbic system is over powering his problem solving and rationality. His adrenaline is so high now he doesn't know what else to do, is unable to cope and has another reaction of barking and lunging.

This doesn't always have to be a reactive dog it can be excitable dogs meeting too many dogs and people at the dog park going over that excitable threshold.

Here is an example for a person trigger stacking. On a Monday morning going to work the road conditions are bad and traffic is slow so I'm going to be late for a deadline. I then get rear ended and have to deal with that situation. My adrenaline is high from worrying about missing my deadline, and having an accident that when I finally get to work a co worker asks how my morning is and I snap and grumble at them. Have I ever snapped at them before for asking a nice question? No though I was over my threshold at that time, but the difference between us and dogs is that after I have my coffee and get on with my work day I have calmed down and my adrenaline is back to normal whereas our dogs last a lot longer.

As dog owners it is important to recognize triggers and stress in our dogs in order to help our dogs in those situations and in life overall. A calm lifestyle with management, prevention and a positive reinforcement behaviour modification will benefit your dog lifelong.

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