Trigger Stacking in Dogs Explained


Trigger Stacking Explained

Have you ever just woke up on the wrong side of the bed? You nearly missed your alarm, so now you're rushing to work. You think, "caffeine will solve all my problems," and head over to your favorite cafe - only to be met with a long line. On top of that, the daily commute felt more packed than usual, followed up by a hard day of work. Once you return home and think the day couldn't be more stressful - your significant other has left their shoes strewn about the front door. And you lose it.

The build-up of multiple stressful things causes you to get more and more stressed until you reach a point where even the smallest thing can trip you up. This can happen to our dogs as well.

What is Trigger Stacking?

A trigger is anything your dog finds stressful or decreases your dog's ability to cope.

Reactions are your dog's responses to events that occur. They can vary in degrees of aggression.

Your dog's threshold is the amount of stress your dog can handle before it becomes overwhelming. The closer your dog is to their threshold the more stressed they are and the more likely they will react aggressively.

Trigger stacking is when multiple stressful events occur in a relatively short period of time. Each stressful event builds on top of each other until it reaches a point where even the smallest event can cause a huge reaction.

What are Some Common Causes of Trigger Stacking?

Each dog is different and will react to situations in different ways. These are some common situations that may cause a reaction in your dog.

- Feeling unwell, hurt, or tired

- Meeting multiple new dogs at once

- Any new dog

- Lack of choice

- Being approached or touched by a strange

- Loud noises

- Stormy weather

- Vet visits

- Baths

- Nail Clipping

- Being yelled at

- Punishments

What Can You Do to Avoid Trigger Stacking?

1. Learn your dog's body language to recognize when and what stresses them out.

Some common initial signs that your dog is feeling stressed include blinking, licking their nose, looking away, walking away. Increasing stress or more stressful events may cause reactions such as ears back, tail tucked under, or stiffening. The idea is to recognize these initial signs in order to avoid more aggressive behaviors such as growling, snapping, or biting. See the chart below for a visual.

Canine Ladder of Aggression

2. Once you know your dog's triggers, decrease or manage triggers whenever and wherever possible.

Try to avoid public activities and interaction with other dogs if you dog is feeling unwell or is injured. Understand how your dog reacts to strangers approaching and encounters with other dogs, then work on these interactions in safe and planned situation. Plan walks at less busy times of the day.

3. Allow your dog to reset after stressful events.

Some events are unavoidable - like the vet or grooming appointments. Allow your dog time to time to reset by spreading out these events over a few days.

4. If your dog is above his or her threshold, remove them from the situation.

Trying to practice obedience when your dog is feeling stressed and triggered may pile onto their stress. It is better to remove them from the situation as soon as possible and help them feel better.

Reactive and aggressive behavior can be scary and even embarrassing when in public. It is important to remember that your dog is having an instinctual reaction of trying to protect themselves. Using these tips to help recognize and avoid triggers will go a long way in reducing or eliminating these reactions.

Aggression Ladders - Pretty Good Dog

Understanding how trigger stacking works and how to recognize stressors for your dog can help you become a more empathic owner for your dog. Avoiding situations that cause your dog stress, removing your dog from adverse situations, providing recovery time after a stressful experience, and being a bit easier on your dog and self will lead to more easy goign days for both of you!

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