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What Is Trigger Stacking in Dog Training?

Understanding trigger stacking is crucial when working with reactive dogs. Trigger stacking refers to the accumulative effect of multiple triggers, or stimuli, that can push a reactive dog over threshold, resulting in a reactive behavior. It is important to note that trigger stacking is a cumulative process, meaning that each trigger adds to the overall stress level of the dog. It is similar to filling a cup drop by drop until it overflows. By identifying and managing trigger stacking, we can help our reactive dogs better cope with their triggers and reduce reactive behaviors.

Triggers can come in various forms, including visual, auditory, olfactory, and tactile stimuli. Visual triggers could include the sight of other dogs, people, bicycles, or moving objects. Auditory triggers might be loud noises such as barking dogs, fireworks, sirens, or thunder. Olfactory triggers could be scents, such as the presence of other animals or unfamiliar smells. Tactile triggers may involve physical contact, such as being touched by unfamiliar people or animals. It is important to be aware of the specific triggers that affect your dog and how they contribute to trigger stacking.

Let's illustrate trigger stacking with an example: Sarah has a reactive dog named Max. Max is reactive to other dogs, bicycles, and loud noises. One day, while on a walk, Max's triggers start stacking. First, Max sees another dog across the street and becomes alert. Then, a cyclist passes by, which adds to his stress level. Suddenly, a loud car horn goes off nearby, which pushes Max over his threshold, and he reacts by barking and lunging. In this example, the visual trigger (another dog), the auditory trigger (car horn), and the cumulative effect of these triggers led to Max's reactive behavior. Trigger stacking is VERY stressful for dogs and should be avoided whenever possible.

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