Anything that makes our dogs uneasy can be a trigger for a reaction. Since my little dog, Holly was attacked, other dogs have been a huge trigger for her. She changes just by the scent of another dog in the distance, It’s very sad to see.
Triggers can occur through one or more senses. Extremely visual dogs, collies, for example, might be overwhelmed visually, while sound-sensitive dogs might be overwhelmed by sound. So for a sound-sensitive collie, a car roaring past at 40 miles an hour is going to be quite a sensory experience for them. For my terrier, Chips, just the sound of a child’s screech in the distance is enough to overwhelm him and cause barking – even in his own garden.
Your own dog might have one trigger - for example, other dogs -, or he might have many. Identifying them is the first step towards empowering your dog because when you know what worries him, you can control the environment for him. Recognition is pretty easy. If a trigger appears, your dog is likely to change in appearance. He might sniff the air, tense up, focus on the trigger, or prick up his ears to listen. All of these will show you that your dog is paying attention to something. Then one of the following things will happen:
If the distance is decreased to a trigger, the dog’s behaviour will become more intense. He will begin to show signs of uneasiness.
If the distance is decreased to something that isn’t a trigger, your dog will gather the information he needs and move on.
When we are working within our dog’s safe space and maintain a safe distance from the trigger, we are naturally enabling the same gathering of information without taking our dog beyond his ability to cope. This, along with the remaining things we cover in this book, will change triggers to non-triggers by increasing resilience and creating new, better choices for our dogs.
Your role is to find the definition between your dog’s relaxed state and the changes that happen when he becomes triggered. You need to recognise his triggers, then begin to account for them on your walks together by changing direction, managing distance, and keeping your dog calm.
You can learn more about triggers and helping your dog through my 30 day program on Inspiring Resilience in Fearful & Reactive Dogs. The program is designed to build your confidence along with your dog's ability to cope.