It’s bin collection day here. Cue a chorus of barking around the neighbourhood.
Traditionally, bins were collected once a week by just one waste collection vehicle. Today, we can end up with three or four vehicles (bringing lots of banging and people outside your home) coming on a single day – as they collect the different types of waste and recycling.
How is this relevant to our dogs? 🐕
Vehicle one arrives. It bangs about, picking up yours and your neighbour’s main waste bin. The dog next door barks before yours does. Your dog gives a few barks, then settles again.
15 minutes later, vehicle two arrives – ready to collect your garden waste. Your dog is awake before it sees the van and barks for a minute.
30 minutes later, the recycling vehicle arrives. This one has brought more people and lots of noise as glass bottles are emptied. Your dog is on high alert as each bottle bin is emptied from the surrounding houses – barking on and off for five minutes.
Continuing throughout the day, you notice your dog is barking more frequently at any sound that occurs. They aren’t sleeping as deeply and generally seem unsettled.
This, my friends, is what we dog professionals call “trigger stacking”.
Tigger stacking is the “stress accumulation due to exposure of multiple triggers, either simultaneously or close enough in time that the dog’s reactivity has not returned to normal.” (Grisha Stewart) It’s those days where little events build up, stress levels keep rising, and your dog is left in a more vigilant state.
Imagine you’re fast asleep when the “boom boom” of a neighbour’s late-night party music wakes you up. You wake up and feel disorientated… mildly annoyed. The music stops and you return to sleep. But just as you’re easing into a wonderful deep sleep, the music starts back up again. This time you awake feeling instantly angry. You bang on the window to try and encourage them to turn the music down. They do, and back to sleep you go – but it takes longer to settle this time. 10 minutes later, you’re awoken by car doors banging as more of your neighbours’ friends are arriving. Now you lean out the window and shout to tell them to be quiet. Can you see how quickly this frustration builds?
Now imagine that you’re responsible for noise complaints in your area. It’s your job to tell people to be quiet or alert them to the disturbance they’re causing. Isn’t that just like our dogs? Dogs who have been bred to alert us to disturbances? Who believe it’s their job to tell off anyone who comes within 5 meters of your home?
Alert barking is probably the most common form of barking we experience from our dogs, living in a busy human world. Our dogs don’t understand that the doorbell itself is enough to alert us to the arrival of a guest. They need to add their own voice to the occasion.
So, what can we do to reduce this behaviour?
- Management! Always a key part of any training plan – we need to reduce the chance our dogs are likely to practice the behaviour while we teach an alternative response. This is where the management of environments is vital.
- Feel Good Factor! We want our dogs to feel happy and content in their home. Calm, relaxed dogs are less inclined to bark. Balancing exercise, mental stimulation, and rest is the basics of welfare for our dogs. Adding in activities that make them feel good – such as sniffing, chewing, playtime, or training, boosts the production of endorphins.
- Training! Teaching our dogs that they can do something different to barking when certain situations occur – such as bin day – is the way to enjoy a quieter home in the long-run. This could be doing a specific task – or it could be learning to “settle” through these experiences.
Would you like to help your alert barking dog to feel good without using its voice?