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Trigger stacking in dogs

Trigger stacking refers to the cumulative effect of multiple triggers or stressors on a dog's behaviour. When dogs experience multiple stressors or triggers in a short period, their ability to cope may become overwhelmed, leading to heightened anxiety or reactive behaviour.


Triggers can include various factors such as loud noises, unfamiliar environments, changes in routine, separation from the owner, encounters with unfamiliar animals or people, physical discomfort, and more. Each dog has a unique threshold for stress, and triggers that may seem insignificant individually can compound and result in a behavioural response when they occur together.


For example, a dog that is already anxious due to thunderstorms might become even more stressed if they are also left alone during the storm, have been recently introduced to a new environment, and have encountered unfamiliar dogs earlier in the day. In this case, the cumulative effect of these triggers could lead to increased anxiety, fear, or even aggression. Another example may be, your dog feeling unwell, enduring a car journey to the vets, a number of other unfamiliar smells, sounds and sights in the waiting room before being examined high up on a table or held in a way that is uncomfortable.


It's important for dog owners to be aware of trigger stacking and to manage their dog's exposure to potential stressors. By understanding their individual dog's triggers and monitoring their behaviour, owners can proactively reduce the risk of trigger stacking. This may involve providing a calm and predictable environment, gradually introducing new experiences, implementing positive reinforcement training techniques, and seeking professional help from someone like myself if needed.


Remember that every dog is unique, and what may trigger one dog may not affect another in the same way. By observing and understanding your dog's behaviour, you can take appropriate steps to minimize trigger stacking and promote their overall well-being.

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Man holding a dogs paw, dog looks worried

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