What is Trigger Stacking?
A trigger is a stimulus that causes the increase in awareness, fear or reactivity in a dog. As the number of triggers increase we see a reaction that can be labelled aggressive.
Of course, the dog isn’t aggressive. It is desperate! Trying to communicate with the humans around it.
Dogs can live cooperatively with us and if the needs of the dog are appropriately met then the behaviour would not have escalated.
It is due to the stacking of these triggers that we see the unwanted end-result rather the triggers in isolation.
What is Threshold?
In dog training we say a dog is over threshold when the stimuli within the environment are experienced as intense by that individual dog and they cause a reaction. As positive reinforcement trainers we always seek to keep a dog under threshold.
How are Triggers and Threshold Connected?
With only one intense stimuli within the environment the dog would have remained below threshold. With one stressful situation the dog can cope, with two of these triggers the dog starts to show some signs of stress and with the third and fourth stimuli it increases the chance of visible fear or reactivity.
(image from Canine Principles.com)
How will I Know if my Dog is Experiencing some Stress?
Barking, lunging and biting maybe the first reactions you currently notice but dogs have a large repertoire of behaviours that they use to communicate stress and fear. As outlined in the below diagram there are many stages that come before a bite. A dog rarely wants to bite and will only do so as a last resort!
How can I Help my Dog?
1. Review your dogs day – dogs need plenty of time to rest and relax between play sessions, training lessons or other activities. Excellent day care facilities know the importance of this and provide designated nap times in comfortable conditions.
2. Review your dogs diet – some foods and treats contain additives and colourings that may not suit your dog.
3. Review your dogs training regime – a well-balanced training programme will help your dog learn new skills, how to problem solve and build their confidence. Training a dog is much more than obedience these days. Your day care staff can recommend you to a trainer or behaviourist that understands this.
4. Learn more about the ladder of aggression and canine body language – talk to your day care staff for recommendations on learning material.
5. Review your dogs walks – a walk for a dog should be a relaxing time where the two of
you spend time together. Learn the skills of Walking Together.
Here at The Dog Play Centre we want all our dogs to have a happy and enjoyable day. We work hard at actively assessing the dogs and keeping them below threshold. One of the ways we do this by applying a rule in play of "2s company, 3s a crowd" so that play does not become too rough and no dog becomes unresponsive to cues. We will also monitor play with toys and treats carefully to prevent over arousal. We also assess the personalities and play preferences of our dogs, carefully selecting groups of dogs that play well together. We provide rest times for our dogs, relaxing the brains and the bodies.
Becki Lawrie The Dog Play Centre.
Edits: Clare Russell DipCABT
The Dog Play Centre, Mossend Farm, West Calder EH55 8LD
Phone: 07449 457442