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Trigger stacking - Only Pawsitive Solutions

Trigger stacking

What is trigger stacking?

Trigger stacking refers to an accumulation of stress that can push the dog to react « suddenly and without warning ».

Basically, It’s the snowball effect: when a lot of little things add up to become a big thing, just like for us.

During the day or even a shorter timespan, your dog has been accumulating different stressors and then BOOM! He lashes out because altogether it’s just been too much for him.

Stressors and triggers:

It could be anything causing a negative emotional state for your dog. It’s important to identify it.

Here is a non exhaustive list of triggers and stressors: a loud bus in the street, kids crying next door, dogs barking in the park, crows at the window, a disturbing smell, a cat on the other side of the street, people fighting, skateboards, bikes, strangers trying to pet him, a fire alarm in the building but also the thunder, the rain, the wind, the cold…

Internal stressors such as hunger, thirst, pain, lack of sleep have also a big impact on our dogs and can definitely act as a stressor.

Boredom can also be very stressful for a dog, small or big, young or not. Make sure you reach your dog’s needs!

Can you make a list of your dog’s triggers?

Keep in mind that:

  • Every dog reacts differently, as they all have different THRESHOLD.
  • Triggers have different intensities for dogs (It can depend on the size, the distance, the age of the dog, his past experiences…)
  • Every dog recovers differently after being triggered.
  • Stress causes the release of cortisol in your dog’ system. On average, it takes an hour to the body to evacuate half of the cortisol. 

How do I know my dog is stressed?

Dogs exhibit their stress through their body language. If pay attention to your dog’s body language and learn how to understand it, you’ll be able to evaluate his stress level.

Here is a very nice book by Lili Chin to start learning about body language : Doggie language and if you want to learn more about it, be sure to check out my ONLINE COURSES.

Susan Garrett, a world famous dog behaviour consultant, invented the acronym TEMP, to help us remember what to pay attention to. TEMP stands for


Ears and Eyes, 




What can I do to avoid trigger stacking?

First, remove the trigger or the dog from the situation.

Management is crucial to avoid the stressors and keep your dog under threshold, as much as possible.

Be sure to regularly empty your dog’s emotional cup. It will help him get rid of the tensions. 

How? Simply get him to play, sniff, ask him tricks he knows and likes, take him for a decompression walk (cemetery, deep in the woods, on a secluded beach, in the mountains..). Anything that would create a positive emotional response.

That will de-stress your dog and refill his emotional cup with good energy.

How training can help with trigger stacking?

As mentioned previously, it’s important to list the triggers. Once you’ve identified it, you can start working on it using positive reinforcement techniques.

First we’ll use desensitization to lower the intensity of the trigger. We’ll start with enough distance to keep the dog under threshold.

Then we’ll use counter-conditioning, to get a positive emotional response instead) to minimize the stressors in your dog’s life. We can use treats, toys, life rewards, anything you dog likes and that will have a positive impact on him.

Learning some managing tools is also crucial to learn how to get way from critical situations.

Hiring a R+ dog trainer to help you will definitely make a difference, as it’s important to learn about YOUR dog’s body language, be sure to identify when he’s anxious and needs you to get him away from a situation and then to be sure to have the right timing once you’re training,…

CONTACT ME today to help you with your dog’s problematic behaviour(s).

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