Trigger stacking is common in all dogs but especially rescued dogs. I have two sets of graphics to show you in simple format how trigger stacking works firstly in humans, then you can understand how it happens in a dogs' world. Trigger stacking is a series of event stresses that take place raising the stress hormones in our bodies, we have a threshold point that tells us when we have had enough, when we go over that point then we tend to explode!
This Chart is about human trigger stacking, which helps us to understand how dogs also go over threshold and how to stop it. Trigger stack number 1 in the above picture tells us that Mini stubbed her toe this morning when she was getting ready. She went downstairs to grab a cup of coffee before work and the handle broke on her cup and she spilled hot coffee all down the front of her, this was trigger stack number 2 and she is really not in a good mood now, her cortisol and epinephrine levels have risen which means her stress is mounting. Trigger stack number 3 happens a short time later, when she goes out to her car to go to work and finds a flat tyre! oh no poor Mini is now just about to go over her threshold. She finally gets to work but her boss starts shouting at her for being late which is trigger stack number 4 and the final one which sends her over threshold as she quits her job as the stress was far too much.
The chart above is how trigger stacking works in the dog world which is the same concept only different stress factors. Above poor old Patch has to go to the vet, he hasn't been to the vet before and hates to be touched by strangers. This is trigger stack number 1 as the vet checks his ears, teeth and paws. Trigger stack number 2 happens as they walk back into the vets reception and another dog barks in poor Patch's face, which has now raised his stress levels a lot. Mum takes Patch outside to get him into the car but as they open the door a car horn beeps really loudly and frightens patch, which leads to trigger stack number 3 which takes him to his threshold. Before Patch can get into the car a man comes over to pet Patch on the head and to tell him he's cute but patch thinks the man will hurt him and he is super stressed, so trigger stack number 4 is a bite to the man's hand.
Could this have been avoided... yes. How can you help keep your dogs' stress levels to a minimum. You should be aware of your dogs body language, if your dog is trigger stacking on a walk or trip then the rest of that day and following day you need to keep your dog at home, keep him entertained with Enrichment and play outside in the garden, do some of your dogs' favourite things or just let him relax, these things will lower your dogs' stress hormones so then he is more able to cope with the world outside again. If you were to build up your stress levels and then go home have a bath and a glass of wine to unwind then you would be ready for a lot more stresses!!