Have you ever felt like your dog is a nightmare… but only some of the time?

You’re looking for patterns in what’s causing your dog to bark and pull on their lead, but you can’t make rhyme nor reason out of it?

This may be down to a phenomenon known as trigger stacking – the psychological reasoning behind the phrase ‘the straw that broke the camel’s back’.

Imagine your dog has a bucket inside their brain. Everything that happens through the day fills up this bucket a little more.

Little things, like tasting something bad or hearing the rain on the window, may just add a little trickle to their bucket; bigger things, like having an exuberant run around with their best friend or visiting the vets, may fill up the bucket completely.

Everything is fine and dandy whilst your dog’s bucket is big enough to hold all of these things but, if too much happens for your dog’s bucket to hold, it will overflow.

Once your dog’s bucket overflows, they’re no longer thinking rationally – they are totally at the beck and call of their emotions. This is where you will see behaviours such as barking, lunging, or excessive chewing.


Northwich Guardian: Humans have this, too. If you stub your toe, and that’s the first thing to go wrong that day, you may cry out but you’ll move on pretty quickly.

If, however, you’ve spilled your coffee on your new carpet, dribbled toothpaste down your shirt, gotten stuck in traffic making you late for work, and THEN stubbed your toe, you may find yourself having a cry, or shouting and swearing about your luck that day.

You’re not thinking logically anymore, you’re reacting emotionally.

Often, when someone says to me that their dog is acting unpredictably, and they can’t find an explanation for why their dog barks at some things and not others, it’s a result of trigger stacking.

So, how can we help our dogs out?

First of all, be mindful of all the things your dog is experiencing day in day out.

An average dog will take 72 hours to recover from a full bucket – but your individual dog may need less or more.

If they’ve had a particularly hard run of it lately – maybe you’ve been moving home, or you’ve been out and about a lot together – think of ways you can have some quiet time and let them recuperate.

Behaviours such as sniffing, licking, and chewing are also inherently relaxing, so try to promote these with foraging opportunities if you suspect your dog’s bucket is getting a little full.