Emotion stacking happens when your dog doesn’t fully recover from one trigger before experiencing the next. This means that he will add the effect of the next trigger to the result of the last one. This is very common and can totally sabotage your behaviour training plan if it gets out of hand.
It might look like this….
Your dog starts getting excited as soon as you say “time for a walk.” This might raise his excitement to level 5! Then when you get your dog walking shoes on, you add another 5 levels. Another 5 when the coat goes on. Then 10 more levels when the lead comes out! You haven’t even opened the front door yet and he’s already at excitement level 25.
Imagine what happens when you open the door and actually head to the park…!
All emotions can be stacked
The same can happen for anxiety, frustration, or whatever your dog is feeling. The higher he get’s, the harder it is for him to respond, and eventually he’ll switch his brain off altogether. In the case of the dog going for a walk, it probably happens around the time you get the lead out! He’s not even left the house and he’s already too excited to listen to you. Imagine how this could impact the way he greats dogs or responds to a recall when you are out!
I specifically look for emotion stacking as a part of your dogs assessment as it really can make the difference between success and failure!
It’s even more important if your dog suffers with anxiety related problems. Proper recovery from an anxious situation can be a game changer. If your dog never fully recovers from an anxious experience, he will never get the feeling of relief he needs to conquer that anxiety. Or if he does, the experience will be long over and he’ll never connect the two together.
The most obvious case of anxiety stacking is with separation anxiety. Your dog is a master at knowing your routine, so the anxiety might start building long before you even get your coat on. Identifying the steps he associates with being left alone is an essential, and often neglected, stage in recovery.
How to solve it
Actually, this part just requires patience. First break down the experience into smaller steps. Each step will add a level, or two, to the emotion. Now, just stop after each one and allow your dog time to recover at each step before moving onto the next one. So, for example, start by fetching your dogs lead, he’ll go to excitement level 5, now wait for him to relax back to level 1 or 2 before putting it on. He should be quiet and still with soft body movements. Now put the lead on, he’ll get excited again, but just wait for him to come back to 1-2 before moving on. If your dog is very excitable this could take time, but your patience will pay off if you stick to it.
The same principle can be applied to most emotions, separation anxiety requires a more careful approach but the principle is basically the same.
How can I help you with your dogs behaviour training?
Private Dog Behaviour Consultations are currently available in the Dundee area and beyond. If you are looking for help solving your dogs behaviour and training problems, then please get in touch!