If you live with a dog, it is important to understand triggers. Triggers can be a massive help or a massive detriment to your dog.

Understanding triggers is the first step in knowing how they will help your dog have a better life and be comfortable. For those of you who want to train in performance sports, understanding triggers is critical for your success.

In the video below, I reference the “Circle of Fun”. If you are new to my blog, check out my vlog post “Where Is Your Dog On The Circle Of Fun?” so you have the background for our dive into understanding triggers.

The one thing that I want to make sure is clear, is that when your dog is triggered, he is not responding in the same way as when he’s performing a behaviour that you have cued … a sit for example. The sit is a trained behaviour, and your dog is using his thinking brain to respond to your cue and perform that behaviour.

When your dog is responding to a trigger, it is an innate response and your dog is not using his thinking brain as his emotional brain has taken over. The emotional brain is kicking out all of these neurochemicals telling your dog “do this, do that, do this, do that” and his responses are emotional. You might have heard or read that your dog responds to triggers because of all the reinforcement he has received for that response, but this is not the case, he is well beyond that point, it is the emotional brain directing his behaviour.

There are all sorts triggers … good and bad. Watch the video below which was live on my Facebook page and let us know in the comments what your dog’s triggers are. The sound starts at the 20 second mark in the video, so don’t adjust your speaker!

To recap what we covered in the video:

  • A good trigger might be your car keys. If your dog loves car rides, he is going to get excited by the trigger of you picking up your keys as he wants to go in the car with you.
  • A bad trigger might also be your car keys if your dog does not like car rides. You picking up your keys might see your dog leaving to go into a back bedroom. Basically, your dog will want to stay away from where you are.
  • Using the model of our dog’s states on the “Circle of Fun“, it is triggers that move your dog from comfortable, to interested, to excited, to wired, to red lining. If your dog is triggered to red lining by something often enough, he is going to move from comfortable straight to red lining by that trigger. This is a response that your dog has no control over.
  • A neurochemical release happens when your dog is triggered. The neurochemical release is exactly the same for us. This tells our body “be prepared, something is about to happen” …. we may need to flee or fight, and our body starts to get ready. This chemical release happens no matter what we (or our dogs) are triggered by. It could be something uncomfortable, something that’s interesting, something that’s exciting, or something that we love.
  • Your dog’s response to a trigger will depend on what happens around the trigger.
  • Trigger stacking will put your dog way over threshold. When he is over threshold and red lining, he has tripped over the edge. He can no longer hear you, he can no longer notice things that are around him.
  • You can borrow good triggers to help your dog, but you need to be strategic and thoughtful. On Facebook I shared a one minute video showing how I used positive triggers for Swagger to swallow his pill. Click here to watch … this is a public video so even if you are not on Facebook it should play for you.
  • When helping dogs who have the triggers that are undesired, it is important to know what the threshold is for that dog. You can’t let him continue to go from zero to 100 on a trigger scale. What you want to do is work on creating a new response to the trigger. While you’re reworking this, you need to start where the dog is under threshold. You have to be patient with it because this trigger did not escalate overnight. It’s going to take a long time to build back down to the point where the trigger can have a different emotional response for the dog. Visit my vlog on “Dog Body Language, Fear and Aggression” if your dog has triggers that elicit reactivity or aggression.
  • You can use triggers to your benefit in training. I shared a video showing positive triggers in my blog post “Effective Triggers and the Transfer of Value“.

As I mentioned in the video above, the use of triggers is something I’ll be diving deeper into this month in the  “Inside Scoop”, part of a Facebook pilot project. Subscriptions to groups are monthly and managed by Facebook. Members learn how to strengthen bonds with their pets through positive interactions and training, are taught how to be proactive about healthcare and nutrition, plus we delve into the latest research to help us extend our pets’ lives.

Remember to let me know in the comments the good and not so good triggers you notice for your dog. We can use the good triggers to benefit our life with our dogs, and my next blog post covers creating positive triggers.

Today I am grateful for my friendship with Rodney and Karen and to have joined with them in Inside Scoop for the pilot project year, where I share about the science of learning and training with pet owners who want more knowledge and who are lifelong learners. In turn, I frequently learn something new from Karen and Rodney in the health and wellness information they share, that guides me with my own dogs. I’m also grateful for the mild weather we are experiencing here … there have been snow free walks!