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Understanding Triggers: How to Identify and Manage Them

Do you have a dog that barks and lunges whenever you take them on a walk? In order to help you and your dog learn how to navigate the world without unexpected outbursts, it's first important to find out what is setting your dog off and how to prevent it from happening. The cause of these outbursts is referred to as your dogs "trigger." A trigger refers to a specific stimuli or situation that causes an emotional response in your dog and that emotional response leads to your dog feeling the need to react by barking and lunging. Finding out what triggers your dog is the first step in preventing and training the behavioral reaction. Triggers can be diverse and may include other dogs, unfamiliar people, loud noises, objects, and even certain scents. Each dog may have different triggers and their reactions to those triggers can vary in intensity.

Figuring out your dog's triggers can help you reduce their reactivity.

Avoiding triggers is an important aspect of managing your dog’s reactive behavior. Management is an important part of behavior modification training. During behavior modification training, the goals is to change how your dog feels about their trigger. We teach them that the thing they find scary is actually not so scary at all and actually might be a good thing. In order to change how your dog feels about their trigger, we must prevent them from having the negative feelings so we can replace them with positive ones. Here are five strategies for avoiding triggers.

  1. Identify and Understand Triggers: The first step in avoiding triggers is to identify what specifically sets off your dog's reactivity. Observe your dog's behavior closely in different situations to pinpoint the triggers that cause them to react negatively. Common triggers can include other dogs, strangers, loud noises, or specific environments. Once you have a clear understanding of the triggers, you can proactively work on avoiding them.

  2. Plan Walks and Outings Carefully: When walking your reactive dog, plan your routes carefully to minimize exposure to triggers. Avoid busy streets, dog parks, or areas with high foot traffic, especially during peak times. Choose quieter times of the day when there are fewer distractions and potential triggers. Additionally, consider walking your dog in more secluded areas where they can have space and distance from potential triggers.

  3. Have an Escape Plan: When you do take your dog out on walks, have a plan for if you come across one of your dog’s triggers. Stay near your home or car so you can duck inside quickly. Turn around and jog away from triggers while walking. Duck behind cars, bushes, or trees to prevent your dog from seeing triggers. You can even toss some particularly yummy treats on the ground to distract your dog from looking at their trigger.

  4. Manage Visual and Auditory Exposure: Minimize your dog's exposure to visual and auditory triggers by controlling their environment. Close windows, blinds, or curtains to prevent them from seeing external triggers like other dogs passing by or people walking near your home. Similarly, reduce auditory stimuli by playing soothing background music or using white noise machines to mask external noises that may trigger your dog's reactivity.

  5. Use Leash and Muzzle When Necessary: When in situations where you can't entirely avoid triggers, use a secure leash and a properly fitted muzzle for your dog's safety and the safety of others. The leash allows you to have better control over your dog's movements, while the muzzle prevents them from reacting aggressively if they feel threatened or anxious. Always introduce a muzzle positively and gradually to ensure your dog associates it with positive experiences.

If you are interested in muzzle training your dog check out They are a fantastic training resource. Enlist the help of a positive reinforcement dog trainer to help you with your dogs reactivity. Positive trainers focus on helping you and your dog feel safe around your dog's triggers and help make long lasting behavior changes.

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