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!
We rescued our dog 4 months ago and she goes crazy when she sees other dogs and people outside. She is completely out of her mind jumping, lunging and barking. The vet believes she was bitten on the mouth because there is scare tissue on her lip. We have been working on rewarding Look At Me when we see dogs in the distance, but we haven’t noticed much improvement. Is there something else we should be doing? She is extremely smart and food motivated. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.
My Westiecross rescue dog has a beautiful gentle soul.
The main issue is our cat, we took a little terrier 1st, took her home, we took her back, which was horrible to do, but the reason was that she kept nipping at the cat both in the house and even worse outside. She actually caught the cat twice and nipped her, in spite of our care. Hence, on her return, we took care in selecting our next dog. Which was Buster,
No one knew if he was sensitive to cats or not. But in view of his gentleness, we decided to give him a chance.
He is very interested in the cat, and if we did not have him on a long lead when the cat was in the house, he strains to get to her, and once he knows she is in, he constantly looks for her, and once he has the direction of where she is, he visually maintains a constant focus, ready to connect with her. I have tried a few things, I sit by the cat (on our kitchen table) to let him see her and sniff for her scent, etc. if she moves elsewhere, I do the same sort of thing. If he spots her when he is outside (on extending lead) he dashes to get to her and is very strong and it’s a challenge to bring the lead in so he walks to heel. But still makes an effort to keep site of her.
It is very challenging and I have not found anything that gives me guidance on finding a way to resolve the issue. I feel he just wants to make friends with her, but I may of course be wrong.
If you have a resource I can look up, that could give me ideas and guidance, I would much appreciate it. Neither of us wants to return him and we are prepared to continue to support him over this issue if there are ways to resolve it. He is a 6/7yr old puppy really. He has had a terrible life previously, living in a small concrete fenced area, with his brother, both fighting each other as they grow older, with his food being checked out of a window into his filthy pen. He still needs to put on more weight, he’s still skin and bone, ribs and spine being very evident. Fortunately, neighbors reported the owner, hence becoming a rescue dog.
He will also chase after a car, or dog, or probably anything that moves fast. He actually pulled the lead out of my hand on one occasion but returned happily once they were beyond his reach.
We love him very much but certainly need help. Thank you. I have purchased one of your courses, but feel if I could get some guidance NOW to help things to start moving forward I would really appreciate the help. He is bidable and has learned several commands very quickly, We also have a little Chorkie. Buster will now sit and wait whilst I give scruff his food, and sits and waits, whilst I place his bowl down and waits till I give the command to eat. So it’s not all frustration, which gives us hopeThanks.
I was really interested in this post as it covered the exact issue I have with my Golden Doodle. He has 2 obvious triggers, (otherwise he is very chillaxed), which are visitors into the house and other dogs. Both send him into an excited++ state, and possibly ‘wired’. Lights are on but nobody’s home if playing off lead. I know I shouldn’t be allowing this but he loves it so much.
Thanks for the great article on triggers. So often we see triggers as only the negative, but a trigger can be motivating your dog for good as well. My dog gets triggered by, or disappointed by, me putting on my shoes. Sneakers means she is going out, heels means go to bed, she is not coming with me. Smart. Red floors, tables etc are also a trigger, but thankfully this is rare in real life (only in PetsMart or at class, the dreaded red table climb!) Skateboards used to be a trigger, so we desensitized at a local college campus with 4 different guys showing her their board and its wheels. Neighbors rolling the trash cans out, similar trigger but she is not terrified of those, just alerting. The skateboard thing was almost comical, she was so scared. Now she ignores them completely. Pee mail is still the most distracting for her. Luckily it occurs in an area considered her “free zone” where I dont usually expect her to work on anything complex, but its difficult to break her out of sniff mode to just enjoy everything else.
Anytime my 14 week old boxer gets excited, that is his trigger!!
Is this a trigger? I am trying to teach my 5 month old Brittany Spaniel to walk on a trail through our woods but every time he finds a pile of rabbit poop, he goes into a frantic state of eating it. He has leave-it skills in the kitchen when I unexpectedly test him, but on the trail he goes out of his mind trying to frantically eat it all. I have tried to be prepared and take a high level treat with me to give the command “leave-it” when I revisited the same areas, I sill cannot get him off the pile of rabbit poop without severely dragging him. What should I do?
I have this problem with my 1 yr old Aussie mix and horse apples. He will drop chews and balls when asked, but will not drop a horse apple once its in his mouth. He will “leave it” when told, but if it gets in his the mouth it is his. I would love some suggestions too.
My 96 pound, approximately 10 year old Doberman Bentley has a weird trigger that started relatively recently. If we’re watching a tv show and an elevator makes a “ding” noise, he wants to hide. We’ve often watched movies or tv shows with that particular noise, so we have no idea why this happens. We live in a ranch house (single story, he doesn’t go to the basement even). We can’t figure out why this started, or what to do (other than try to hit the “mute” button on the channel changer, but sometimes we forget and miss).
Triggers for my 4 1/2 month old pup:
Brooms & sweeping
Vacuuming- he’s okay with it being on, but goes nuts when I start using it
Rakes & raking
Me pushing a wheelbarrow
Me gardening- digging, carrying tools, plants, wearing gloves
Triggers for my 2 dogs people or dogs walking past our house or coming to our door.
Dogs walking by when on our walks -sometimes they are happy and want to say hello and pull toward them sometimes its a dog for some reason they are worried about.
If I pick up the treat bowl they will jump into their hot zones excited.
Touch my collar, unfortunately, is one of my dog’s top ten triggers.
Hi Inez, zip over to Susan’s Podcast: https://dogsthat.com/podcast/18/ a bit more here how to work on your collar challenge. Lynda (TeamSusan)
DEER! Isla, an ACD, is great on recall 95% of the time, But that 5%, when she gets the scent of a deer, and she’s gone! It is her trigger and I can’t seem to find a way to get her to return quickly. TOday, she was gone for 30 minutes. Help!!!
Hi Susan, have you found Susan’s podcast? http://www.shapedbydog.com #57 might give you some insight.
Triggers in order of excitement:
Delivery person to our house
Delivery to any other house on our cul-de-sac
Other vehicles including bikes
Walkers with dogs
Walkers without dog
Anyone coming to the door
Ours is almost the same as yours. Add fireworks, and loud noises like nailguns for working on roofs etc.
Great post thank you. My well socialised 2 year old Lab is the most loving dog. He has seperation anxiety, is afraid of thunder, fire works, anything new, hats, old ladies he hates, small dogs on leash, and people with dark skin. He may be ok with a situation one day and not the next.
Often it is people who need training. Many seem to think there is a quick easy fix and no matter how often I say don’t look at him, or ignore him they don’t.
Watching this morning and this was so interesting and informative! We opened the gate this morning for our walk (leashes on) and met by a munjac in the paddock. All three dogs were “interested” – it was quite a distance away – then it ran and we got “excited”, then one began to bark wildly and all three were soon joined in and ended with my boy turning on my older girl and we had some teeth clashes “agression”. It is so helpful to me to realise this behaviour is not a choice, but conditioned. It would be easy to be disappointed with my boy for turning on his sister with such aggression, but this has helped me to better understand. I have lots of ground work to put in to help my gang cope better – the muntjac are going to occassionally pop up (as do our local bunnies and birds!) and I need to better prepare us all. Thank you!
thank you Susan for sharing such valuable knowledge about dog triggers. G
I have a 10 year old retired Search and Rescue dog (German Shepherd) that has developed a recent trigger. Started around Thanksgiving when neighbors would light a loud bomb fireworks almost every night that would freak everyone out including the dog. She would bark at these but settle fairly quick.
Shortly thereafter, she started having separation anxiety when we leave the house. She started pacing, and breaking through windows to get out. We tried some medication, Trazadone, which seemed to help for about a week. After a week, she was back to escaping through the window almost on a daily basis. Seems like the flight response is her go-to behavior.
In the past, she also has escaped from a Impact crate which is supposed to be escape proof. She also has no teeth because of a break out incident when she was two, trying to break out of an outdoor kennel run.
Fast forward to today, when she sees a window (we have low windows with glass slats) she is compelled to break through it. The windows are boarded up with plyboard and she is on Acepromozine in the mornings in her crate. We are not quite sure which direction to go next.
We are also trying Clomicalm, but it takes a month to start working.
Have you resolved this yet?Have you found a replacement behavior for the flight-through-windows trick? Did you work on de-sensitising her to fireworks? Or changing the alert behavior she was using to the gun-like fireworks sound?
When I hear the first fireworks going off, I got prepared with a big beef shank bone, and put my dog in place on a towel to get her to associate that wonderful treat with fireworks. I used to sleep on the couch so she had company, but now I have only the one dog, so I moved her to my bedroom. We can have the windows open and as long as I am there, she sleeps all night. When she cannot be with me, she has a cave like hiding place between the recliner and the wall, so her flight as a place of safety associated with it. You can also try a thunder vest, keeping her on a leash so you have some control over the frantic reactions, etc. A crate with a blanket over the top to make it dark but with the door open for her might help. My dog has been comfortable in her crate “den” since the age of four months. I dont know if similar suggestions might help you?
Years ago I attended an APDT conference (here is Australia) and someone was giving a talk titled “When the trigger becomes the cue”! I can’t really remember who gave the talk but that title resonated with me and has been my mantra ever since. The basis of successful counter-conditioning is training the trigger to become the cue. I just love how you have explained it here!
Amazing explanation! I will share this will my clients!!!
My 90lb dobermanXcoonhound’s trigger is huskys & GSDs on leash (any intense forward energy dog really) and the damn doorbell!!’ I have a full handle on the leash reactivity, but still the doorbell defeats me.
Thank you so much for this. I’m discovering Gracie’s triggers are many. Plus, I’ve also learned that during her second fear period around the age of 12 to 14 months was the time when she got scared by a child along with loud sounds and sudden movements. I cannot turn back the clock, but I can move forward and am beginning to recognize the emotional response from her. It is scary at times and I’m thankful she is a Papillon instead of a GSD or Rottweiler. My roommate has told me to discipline her for growling at her dog, yet her dog growls at Gracie. They stare at each other. Who starts it, I don’t know. They are both small dogs and have had fights. I know of a behaviorist who lives
near me and will reach out.
My one little comment would be to never correct your dog for growling. It’s the only way she has to communicate if the other dog has chosen to ignore all the other more subtle signs she’s given. If she’s not allowed to warn then all she’ll have to go to is directly to bite eventually. You can redirect, break up the intense reaction with something more interesting/rewarding, but please don’t inhibit the growl.
I just love the amazing way you understand dogs and help others to get inside their brains. 😘 Thank you. 😀🐶
My dog’s triggers are squirrels and rabbits. Loose leash walking goes right out the window. We live in the mountains in a heavily wooded area. Way to many little critters to chase!
This was timely for me. We have new neighbors with two little, very noisey reactive dogs which send my corgis from 0 to 60 in under a second. They do not go crazy when we are just out walking but these little dogs just trigger crazy behavior. So, we will be working on borrowing triggers! Thank-you!
My 3 year old beagle’s trigger is my roommates border collie. When Berta Beagle was a pup this border collie was pretty snappy, slinky sound Berta. Berta also was/is a resource guarder. At some point she started charging this border collie as she came through the house. I did nothing at first as I assumed this bc was doing her snarky act. Big mistake. It got to the point Berta will jump out if a dead sleep on the couch to beagle screech and charge this poor dog. I’m managing the situation now but see that I need to change this trigger to a good one for her.
My dog goes into wired then Red Line as I catch a fish.
Great article about triggers! Something I need to think about when dealing with my dog. Going to looking into this in more detail when dealing with my pup. I will take notes of the trigger points you mentioned. I will share this on my social media post. Thank you, Susan.
This was such an eye opener for me on how to use my dog’s triggers. I am going to try it out tomorrow.
I have a 10 yo BC who is very well trained (she’s earned an OTCH and 3 MACH’s), but her worst trigger is skateboards. If I see the skateboard coming before she does, and we’re playing, I can often up the olay and get her to ignore it. But if she’s off leash and she sees it first, she’ll immediately chase and bark furiously. No amount of calling will have any effect. And it’s not only moving skateboards that trigger her. She will also react to someone just carrying one, or even just standing still with the board sitting on one tip and not moving…even from a distance of 50 feet. I even taught her to ride a skateboard, which she loves to do. Is there still hope?
I have a 19-month old Papillon who has unfortunately an undesirable trigger of the judge in the agility ring and goes into total fear factor meltdown. He is fine at practice because he knows everyone. If the judge is off to the edge of the ring he is o.k. but if they are in the middle of the ring he avoids that area like the plague. Help
My 1 yr old male aussie’s trigger is other dogs. He “red lines” and is very dog aggressive. I wanted to do dog sports (agility and disc) with him but he needs a ton of work before we can do that.
Thanks for this!
I have been a student of yours for years I have learned volumes from you.
My 14 pound Oliver (Lancashire Heeler) has quite a few triggers. But now, his Number 1 trigger is my grandchild. HIs number 2 trigger after that is food itself.
It is not a jealousy. It matters not who is holding the child. The baby & everything that happens when he is here overstimulates him – all he wants is to be “in” on the baby. Never aggressive as in biting, but aggressive as in poking and being a whirling dervish.
If I am changing the baby on a changing table, he is barking, crying, spinning, and cannot hold his “place” command for even one second. When baby is walking around, the dog must be right there.
What Oliver actually WANTS I cannot figure out. He can play ball toss on the floor with the baby opposite him in my lap with me tossing the ball and Oliver has proved to be gentle with the baby even when baby reaches out to the ball. So not a resource guarder in any way.
The crate is not an option since despite “crate games” “Control unleashed” and hours with his agility coach, he will not relax in a crate or behind a baby gate. Cannot take him to “events” where he needs to be crated.
Considering his highly excitable temperament, he has an amazing recall and will obey lots of off leash commands outdoors. I have been able to call him off deer even.
I stopped doing agility with him because it became so unpleasant. He would Red Line as we got close to the area or entered a building. No fun at all.
I would do nose work with him (like I did with my Berger Picard) but the food just ramps him into Red Zone instantly.
Trying to address the issue: Trainer came to the house. A Vet/Behaviorist for meds to try (only when baby is here).
Reading Patricia McDonnell books on conditioning and de-sensetizing.
I am reading also:
“Please Don’t Bite the Baby (and Please Don’t Chase the Dogs): Keeping Our Kids and Our Dogs Safe and Happy Together”
by Lisa Edwards.
This book is amazing for learning how to manage a home with multiple dogs and a baby, and when at least one of the dogs is a resource guarder.
Our biggest problem with solving this is FOOD IS HIS TRIGGER. The food interferes with the training.
And the baby’s high chair is a trigger because there is food being dispensed to the baby and from the baby.
Food is such a high trigger for him that it doesn’t seem to matter if it is his dog kibble or roast beef – he reacts with the same level of excitement to either one so I cannot give one thing more value than another.
I working on training him to relax. Waiting for a relaxed body and then rewarding him with praise or a pat. Just praising him throughout he day when he is simply relaxed. If I offer food for his relaxed state it will bring him into “excited” immediately which is opposite what I want. I don’t know if praise alone is making a difference.
Food works great on walks though with a “look” command when he is reactive to other dogs (and the dopes who see you struggling to control your dog and who walk close to you anyway).
Life around here has become very unhappy indeed. I dread the visits with the baby.
My mini aussie is triggered by blowing leaves, he’s nervous around bigger dogs — usually ones he hasn’t met before — and, in particular, me chatting with neighbours and not giving him my undivided attention can spark a tantrum.
Occasionally he’s had cases of the zoomies that escalate to jumping and nipping at my arm. When that happens, I step on his leash, command him to lie down and we don’t proceed with our walk until he is calm. He’s 1-year and a half now and his walks have improved but it’s still a work in progress.
I’d love to hear any additional suggestions for curbing his jumping and nipping. What’s worked best for you?
Thank you kindly.
Hope you don’t mind me reaching out to you Jen, my 6 month old Lab has started to do exactly this. Have things improved for you and your dog? Do you have any advice. Thank you. Irene
Amazing information and so applicable to my 20 mth border collie. He red lines the minute a neighbour starts a garden leaf blower. Running crazily back and forth along our fence line. I really understand now his mindset and that his emotional brain has taken over. During this period he will react aggressively to our 8 month old pup if the pup tries to engage in any way with him during this period. So I need to slowly work on giving him a different response when blowers start! Thanks so much Susan,
Putting my shoes on is a massive trigger for both my dogs. It means we’re going out. Saying OUT? with inflection gets the same results even if I’m lying in bed.
Opening a crinkly bag.
I have a 4yr old lurcher who loves the car at certain times of the day, before 9am is good, first walk time, 9am+ means work, my dogs cone to work with me but Snickers doesn’t like to n makes it very clear she wants to stay at home. She does seem to recognise days off n will happily get in the car 9am+
She also likes going into our back garden, usually after 10pm because the dog next door, who barks lots, doesn’t go out after 10pm.
She growls as we turn into our housing estate when I approach one of three ways home.
I have a 10 month old Border Collie Mix who is reactive to other dogs but only sometimes on walks. I always keep my distance and I shake some pennies to get his attention when this happens and it is effective.
Thank you Susan for this info–I have a reactive dog to other dogs . Been working on this exact training
Gem takeaway is that this takes TIME . I needed to hear this from you
Thought what am I doing wrong .
As far as I can tell the amygdala does not secrete anything. It just passes on emotional messages within the neuron.
Thank you for your explanations! You helped me understand that when my dog goes from interesting, straight to Red Lining, that it can be worked out!
Thank you Susan for sharing with us! I have a dog which gets easily over the red line and his brain is turned off then…The trigger might be a food reward before. I am still looking for the perfect recipe to solve the problem. (I do dogdance, heelwork and agility).
I have a wonderful loving adopted Australia Sephard Mini who only loves us. I don’t know his history. I understand after talking to a lot of owners of this breed it’s common. My poor next door neighbor! He can’t walk outside without being barked at by a dog who sounds like he might eat him.
I have a Reactive dog so try to keep him calm and in his comfortable zone. Still learning
I have sent to my students, Susan. Thank you for doing this vlog and for everything that you share.
Great post thank you!