This last week proper sucked. I was in a bad mood for most of it, quick to snap at people, quick to pass judgement on others, I was an angry, stompy arse.
Well today is the 2 year anniversary of the death of Khanu my very first “dog of my own”. I had actually had to have four other dogs put to sleep before I had to make that decision for Khanu but for some reason this one was the worst. Well actually it was the worst for lots of reasons that in the end I guess don’t matter. I miss him daily. And last week (and probably still today) I was a horrible person to be around because of it.
That and the fact that my back was still hurting after a sneezing incident the week before that. Yes really, a sneeze caused considerable amounts of pain and knock on effects to my neck and shoulders because they are pretty rubbish at the best of times anyway.
Then the office job was a bit crap too, nothing terrible but little annoyances that felt bigger than they should have.
Probably I would have coped with any one of these things on it’s own OK. I still might have been subdued about Khanu but I probably wouldn’t have been the bitch from hell that I was if my back wasn’t also hurting.
Why am I telling you all this? Trigger stacking.
Trigger stacking is really about the cumulative effects of stress. Normally in people we think of it over the long term, but it can be a shorter term effect too and dogs suffer with it as well as us. It’s that saying “the straw that broke the camel’s back”. It’s the building of perhaps small (sometimes not so small) things over time, or together that then result in a complete overreaction to some, normally small and insignificant, thing.
It’s the reason why you can walk your dog for 40mins and she meets several people without issue and then at 45mins and on the 6th person she has a meltdown. Each preceding person added a little stress, and a little stress until the final straw came and she couldn’t cope any more.
However, it isn’t just negative, fear evoking things that can add to this overload (it often is but not always), which is why ‘trigger stacking’ is perhaps not the best term. It’s not just your dog’s triggers that can be an issue, ‘happy stress’ or excitement, frustration and just plain old sensory overload can also add to the mix.
Let’s think about taking a trip to the amusement park (see some of you are getting stressed just thinking about it). It can be a really fun day (depending on what your definition of fun is) but it’s exhausting just the same and if you have taken young children to these things then you’ll understand that animals who have limited or under-developed self control can be ‘unpredictable’ later in the day. We often say that a cranky child is overtired and needs a nap, but we don’t necessarily provide the same relief for our dogs and expect them to be the same calm collected canine regardless of what happens day in day out.
So what can we do? Well for sure helping our dogs not be so fearful or aroused around their particular triggers is a very good idea as it reduces the amount of stress your dog experiences every time he sees the scary thing. However even for dogs that are friendly and calm with everyone and everything, a day of great excitement or just more unusual activity can mean that they would appreciate some time out to decompress. Off lead walks in quiet places where there are no or limited triggers where your dog can enjoy being a dog for a while. Or just a quiet place in the house with a stuffed Kong and a comfy bed to snooze on can go a long way. It’s his version of a glass of wine after a long day. Or for some of us tequila…..
At the end of today I’ll be raising a big fat glass of margarita to my beloved Khanu. Feel free to join me.