Trigger Stacking

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 stress response that can be aggressive - biting, snapping, barking, spinning or depressive - running away, hiding, refusing to eat.


At this stage your dog’s brain is in fight or flight mode, in a state of survival.

Dogs can live cooperatively with us. If we balance out the needs of our dogs and be aware of what they experience during the day we can manage their lives so that behaviours do not escalate. It is often due to the stacking of the triggers, rather than the triggers in isolation, that we see the unwanted end-result.





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. Once a dog is over their tolerance threshold they cannot learn or think, only react.



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.





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. You will notice from this diagram that there are many stages that come before a bite. A scared dog rarely wants to bite and will only do so as a last resort.


If you notice any of the behaviours in the green or yellow zones, remove your dog from the situation and create more space for them.





How can I Help my Dog?


  • Review your dogs day – dogs need plenty of time to rest and relax between play sessions, training lessons or other activities. One of the most common misleading pieces of advice out there is to 'tire your dog out'. I meet dogs who are overwhelmed with the number of things they are being asked to cope with. Balance activity and rest and condition your dog to relax between activities.

  • Review your dogs diet – some foods and treats contain additives and colourings that may not suit your dog.

  • 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.

  • Learn more about the ladder of aggression and canine body language

  • 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.

  • Monitor play to prevent over arousal


Can I help?


Think your dog might be struggling with their emotions, a 1:1 session would give us time to talk about what is happening and put some tailored strategies into place. work-with-me


Not sure if a 1:1 is for you, get in touch to discuss further clare@clareteachingdogs.com


For a supportive group of people and more hints and tips join our Facebook Group, The Dog Learning Space, for regular email updates subscribe here



If you are the owner of a rescue dog and want to learn how to build an amazing relationship with them, then my online course could be the perfect learning resource for you.

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