The straw that broke the camel’s back

No I have not started to write about Camel’s as the title would suggest. Mind you I might when I run out of dog and cat topics.

This well known and very old saying has an equivalent in dog training circles where we talk about Trigger Stacking. Picture this scenario.

You have had a very hectic day with twenty million errands to run, the kids to pick up from school, no food in the fridge for dinner, the car is just about to run out of petrol and then…………..your mobile rings and it is your husband asking about something that is of no importance at all and could easily have waited until he got home that night. You didn’t need that interruption right now and so you loose it and start yelling at him, telling him he is a nuisance, time waster  who you regret ever marrying and hang up on him. The kids get into the car and it is immediately “mum, mum, mum”. You loose it again and start to yell at them as you slam the car into gear narrowly missing the other big SUV’s double parked in the no parking zone at the kid’s school. You are still fuming when you get home and all anyone has to do is look sideways at your and you start yelling again. Everyone keeps a very wide berth for the rest of the night.

What has happened?

All your triggers have stacked up into a huge pile that resulted in the final one pushing you over the edge. Each on its own you could have coped with but when they all came at you on the same day they pushed you over the edge into a screaming wreak that wanted to run and hide from the world. Does this sound familiar to the mums out there ? If this can happen to a well adjusted, well resourced intelligent human then it stands to reason exactly the same thing can happen to a dog. However in dogs it is called Trigger stacking and is seen often in scared dogs.  The issue  however is that we don’t always recognize what the triggers are and out of the blue we have a dog that is going ballistic barking (canine equivalent of screaming)  or worse has bitten someone, for no apparent reason. They have reached the point of no return and have tipped over into reactive mode, for some that means aggressive action. Once they are there the only way out is to totally remove them from the environment, keep all other environmental stimuli away and let them calm down. For some dogs this might means days as cortisol levels in stressed dogs can often take some time to return to normal. The amount of time the stress levels stay elevated for is very individual and many dogs hide all signs that tell you they are stressed. The only real way of knowing is to know your dog extremely well and that includes being able to read very subtle signs that they are not happy.

The level at which they tip over into reaction, often with aggression or a bite is called their threshold. This threshold level is very individual for dogs and can vary from day to day. The only way to prevent these type of reactions is to manage your dog and the stresses it is exposed to each day as well as learning how to read canine body language that will enable you to detect the subtle signs of stress. The other excellent way to protect your dog is to ensure they were well socialized during the critical 8-16 week age period. It is during that time that exposing the puppy to as many strange things as possible builds up a positive bank of weird experiences that they can tap into in later life.

Want to read more about trigger stacking. Check out his excellent post by Casey Lomonaco on Dogster



Louise Kerr
The Pet Care Magician   | |  Like us on Facebook

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Louise Kerr (aka The Pet Care Magician) is the owner of Elite Pet Care & Education based in the Nambucca Valley NSW Australia. She consults and writes widely on a range of pet care issues including feeding, training and grooming dogs and cats. Her online pet care magic subscription program deals with common pet behavior  training, feeding and grooming issues such as barking, escaping, scratching, aggression and fleas. Pet care professionals are trained to handle customer issues by the provision of up to date programs to differentiate their pet care business from other competitors. About Me 


Posted on February 16, 2013, in Behaviour, Dog Training, Training and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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