Are You Stacked?
We have all had one of those days where we wake up, seemingly on the wrong side of the bed. For example, imagine that you get up, make coffee, and then proceed to spill it on your favorite shirt. Then as you go to change your shirt, you stub your toe on the door. Then, as you rush to leave the house, because now you are late, you can’t find your keys, and your dog won't come inside from the backyard. Then you arrive at work late for an important meeting and your supervisor is really unhappy with you and tells you so. How do you feel after all of that? You are likely very on edge and would snap at the slightest provocation.
I think we have all had days similar to this where everything goes wrong and we are truly aggravated and just want to go back to bed and start over. Perhaps if only one of the events occurred, it might not be so bad but since all of them occurred in a row we are not so good at coping. This is a concept called trigger stacking.
You may be wondering, what does this have to do with dog training? Well, sometimes similar things can also occur with our dogs. For example, consider a dog that is uncomfortable around other dogs. You go for a walk and your dog walks past a few dogs in a row, seemingly without incident. Then when she walks past the fourth dog, she explodes barking and lunging. Perhaps your dog was feeling like you were when you spilled the coffee but did not react outwardly. If we expose our dogs to a number of triggers all in a row, that could cause our dogs to eventually lose their cool, showing that they are trigger stacking. If it was just one dog, your dog may have just walked on and been fine and you would not have thought about it, but perhaps because there were multiple triggers, it was too much for your canine companion.
To help our canine companions, we should do our best to not allow them to trigger stack. Instead, we should expose them to stimuli in a positive, purposeful way without overexposing them and setting them off.