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Trigger Stacking

Picture this: you’ve had a bad nights’ sleep and a rough day at work. Someone cuts you off in traffic on the way home. You stub your toe on the dog’s bone when you walk into the living room. You are now sleep deprived, in a bad mood, AND in pain!

If something bothered you a little on a regular day, you might be able to brush it off or maintain a positive attitude. But today? With all that’s gone wrong, you’re ready to yell at the next person to tick you off.

What does this have to do with dogs? In dog behaviour circles, experiencing multiple stressful events over a short period of time (hours, days) is called “trigger stacking”. Triggers can be anything like a simple change in routine (visitors over, a missed walk), a scary event (being barked at by another dog, the smoke detector beeping), a fun but exhausting play date, or things we may not see like pain or not feeling well.

When trigger stacking occurs, something that your dog is normally ‘fine’ with suddenly causes them to retreat, growl, or even bite.

To help manage this, we can be proactive by giving our dogs extra space and rest when their routine changes. This could include things like quiet time in a separate room with a stuffed Kong when visitors are over, a baby gate to create space from little ones, or a nap in their kennel after a tiring adventure.

Smiling? Nope - stressed! Context matters when it comes to body language.

If you recall from our November newsletter, we included some links to learn more about canine body language. If you notice things like excessive yawning, lip licking, sniffing out of context, lowered body/tucked tail, or ears back, this can point to your dog being stressed about the situation. When stress hormones spike they can take hours or even days to return to normal, meaning the 'trigger' is still affecting the dog even after it goes away.

So if you find yourself saying "he's NEVER done that before!" consider what else might be affecting your dog, and find a way to help them be more comfortable!

By Amelia Pizzi CPDT-KA

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