Trigger Stacking. How Does It Affect Your Dog?
If you have a dog who reacts negatively to different stressors it’s important to have an understanding of what trigger stacking is and why it matters.
Your dog may have multiple triggers that make him uncomfortable. If you have a dog who reacts to stimuli when outside or inside, it is worth your while to mark down all the things your dog reacts to - whether mild or more strongly.
Be aware of what occurs in the course of your day with your dog. Has he encountered any of his triggers? Was the intensity strong enough to cause barking and lunging?
One of the physiological changes that occurs when stressed is the body releases cortisol. This stress hormone shuts down any bodily functions which will interfere with the flight or fight survival response. Adrenaline increases and blood pressure increases to prepare for a fast response. The digestive system slows. This is a reason your dog may not eat for a day or two after a stressful encounter.
Even though he may have encountered riggers on Monday, the physical changes in the body remain for a few days and he may react quicker on Tuesday.
My dog didn't like thunder, children or adults reaching out to touch him or the sound of trucks as they passed. Each on their own, was tolerable.
If there was a thunder storm the night before we went on a walk I needed to pay more attention to surroundings. He would react much faster if we encountered his usual stressors because he would have started the day with an elevated cortisol level due to the storm. Add to that people wanting to pat him and trucks making deliveries - tolerable just became intolerable.
When multiple triggers "stack", the dog's threshold for tolerance is lowered. That may be why sometimes you are surprised at how your dog reacts in a particular situation. If your dog sometimes reacts to people passing by and sometimes not, pay more attention to the sum total of stressors from the day before as well as during that walk.
He may not be reacting outwardly as you pass a person, but is cringing on the inside. Pass 2 or 3 more triggers and he may bark and lunge at the next person. Why? He just couldn’t take it any more. One trigger stacked upon another, upon another until he just explodes.
The human equivalent may be a road rage incident. On a normal day, if someone is a jerk on the road, you may be upset and curse under your breath. Take that same situation and add waking up late, spilling hot coffee, forgetting your keys in the house and a zooming deadline.
Individually, each is likely tolerable and can be dealt with in a timely matter. Stack them and the person who cuts you off is the one that gets the brunt of your stress and frustration.
Triggers may have been building up without you realizing it. It's important to be aware of your dog's triggers and how they affect him.