Trigger stacking

Trigger stacking

20th March 2023

Sometimes this is obvious...other times it is very subtle that you may not even know what caused it.
Somedays your walk will turn to custard and you may have no idea why, it could very well be trigger stacking.

If your dog is normally ok with motorbikes going past them.....and today they maybe barked and lunged at a motorbike going past.....did you notice the neighbours dog barking a few minutes ago? Did you know they can actually be connected ?

Did you also see the child on the scooter a minute before that?...your dog did and individually these wouldn't be an issue but in a short space of time your dog has had their stress levels rise and and then "bam" your dog has a reaction to something they have always been ok with.

Its not the end trigger that started this chain of events....this started with the scooter going past. Did you notice your dog was just a little spooked by it but happy to continue walking...they certainly didn't bark or react but they definitely were not comfortable with the scooter.
Then a minute or two after the scooter your neighbours dog barked...normally your dog doesn't care about this dog...perhaps it always barks...and your dog then started to show some signs of stress, tension in their body and face.....then the motorbike passed and the barking started.
All we may see is the reaction to the motorbike but the whole chain of events started a few minutes ago....this is trigger stacking.

At reactive class in the arena (a strange environment for some dogs so they are a little stressed to start with)....I hear a loud car going past and I warn people your dog may be about to react....I am usually told "oh my dog is ok with cars", car goes past and their dog reacts.
That is trigger stacking.
Uncomfortable things for your dog that individually wouldn't cause an issue they are barking at.

The next time you walk your dog..listen to the environment around them, watch the stress in their body and face, hear the dog in the distance barking, watch the bird land right in front, or look at the child on the bike and WATCH your dogs reactions and if they are close together....the next trigger could be the one to cause the reaction (even if they have ALWAYS been fine with it before).

If you can see it coming, you can get focus back on you, change direction, perhaps a pattern game, encourage them to sniff the ground....there are lots of ways we can interrupt the chain of events unfolding before us.

Trigger stacking is especially important in reactive dogs, often their triggers are very little (to us) but to them they may only need one trigger to react to if already stressed....and it can be the simplest thing, a sound that they have never reacted to before or a cat they normally have no issues with.
Dogs are not immune to stress. They cant tell us they are stressed but they can certainly show it in their body, face, gait and behaviour..... and there is a lot to read before a reaction.  If you have a reactive dog, there are ways to us today