I first heard about the concept of trigger stacking when I went on Grisha Stewart’s Behaviour Adjustment Training Course with my colleague, and it totally made sense to me – in life with dogs and my own life!
I’ll start with some definitions: So a trigger is defined as ‘An event, person, or animal, noise or other factor that leads to an undesired or abnormally large reaction. If your dog barks at black dogs then black dogs would be considered to be triggers for your dog reaction.’ (Grisha Stewart, BAT 2.0, P. 276)
Tigger stacking is defined as ‘Stress accumulation due to exposure of multiple triggers, either simultaneously or close enough in time that the dog’s reactivity has not returned to normal. For example If a sound sensitive dog who’s afraid of children hears a loud crash before he sees a child, he is more likely to bite than if he had met the child under calmer circumstances.’ (Grisha Stewart, BAT 2.0, P. 276)
So an example of trigger stacking in my life was a few years ago when I was driving to the hospital with my Mum (stressful enough) , our car breaks down on the way to Watford, smoke billowing and we have to get help pushing the car onto a lay by… (stressful and scary)..I will be eternally thankful to the man with the little staffy who helped us!…then going into work (into a job and to a boss I don’t like and doesn’t like me!) and the trains are delayed into London and having to stay late. You can see why I may have exploded that day, and I think I did have a good old cry at the end of it! But the difference is for dogs, they don’t have the ability to go home and have a glass of wine and some chocolate and talk about their bad day. The only way they can communicate is through their behaviour, so it’s so, so important that we listen and respond to them. A growl is a warning sign and it tells us that dogs are uncomfortable with the situation. It’s so important to put in management techniques so our dogs are not put into situations they can’t cope with and put them over threshold and likely to react. I think this can be attributed to our lives too, if we’re experiencing a lot of stress then we need time out to do nice things, things we enjoy, perhaps travel, massage or seeing friends.
If your dog is not comfortable with strangers coming in the house then pop them in a separate room with a comfy bed and a tasty kong (mine’s a liver paste and cheese!). If your dog is not comfortable around other dogs then quieter space walks are advisable.
As always your vet should be the first port of call for any behaviour in your dog that’s untoward – they can examine them and check if they’re in pain. If you need help then always seek the help on a qualified accredited behaviourist.
Grisha Stewart developed a technique (BAT) for short, that provides techniques to help with fear frustration and aggression in dogs. It allows dogs to interact with the environment in safe ways and learn more polite cut off signals such as sniffing the ground and moving away rather than lunging and growling – more can be read about it here: http://grishastewart.com/bat-overview/