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What is Loading?

Many people who witness an aggressive dog will often say something along the lines of, “he just turned on me without warning.” This is a statement often said by inexperienced dog owners or owners who simply do not know a whole lot about dog body language.

The truth of the matter is that every dog will display certain behaviors before they exhibit a certain action. The term used to describe these behaviors leading up to an action is called Loading.

These behaviors can vary depending upon what the dog’s mental state is as well as the action that is going to follow it. For example, a dog that is about to go into prey drive after a squirrel or cat will freeze and stare at it before slowly making an approach, another example would include a male dog that is sniffing a post before lifting its leg to mark it.

Often these behaviors go unnoticed by many dog owners due to how briefly they appear, the subtle behavior can last for only a few seconds before the undesirable action occurs.

“Loading does not necessarily have to be actions that lead up to bad behaviors either.”

Understanding loading is an extremely valuable tool to have when dealing with dogs. In order to pay more attention to these loading behaviors, one should watch and observe the dog closely and learn some common canine body language that is universally shared among dogs.

Knowing when a certain undesirable behavior is about to happen before it happens, gives the owner/trainer ample opportunity to step in and try to change the behavior before the dog goes over the threshold.

As previously mentioned, some loading behavior is very common in dogs such as staring intently at someone or another dog before lunging and barking; however, other loading behaviors may be more subtle in dogs depending on the habits they have developed with their owners.

For example, some owners may notice that their dog performs a certain ritual such as walking back and forth before jumping up on a couch.

Loading does not necessarily have to be actions that lead up to bad behaviors either. 

Sometimes, loading can be used prior to exhibiting a good behavior too, such as a dog that is getting all hyped up and excited to chase a ball is exhibiting loading.

This type of loading can be used to gain the dog’s focus and build a strong ball drive. Another common type of loading would be a puppy who is sniffing around by the door for a spot to go potty inside of the house. 

This instance of loading if left unchecked could end in a bad behavior. But if the loading behavior is caught early and the puppy is brought outside to a desirable spot of the owner’s choosing, then the loading of that behavior would be beneficial in house training the puppy.

“In cases like a puppy sniffing in front of the door, the dog’s owner can simply pick them up and take them outside prior to them having an accident.”

So, loading lets you know when the dog is about to do something, but what good does that do someone unless you can put a stop to the follow-on behavior from happening?

Well, there are a few options available to you once you have identified the loading that precedes the inappropriate behaviors. The first is to stop the loading behavior from happening in the first place to prevent the behavior that follows from happening. If the dog never begins the loading behavior, then the action that follows it will never come about.

This is essentially like stopping a fuse to a bomb prior to the fuse reaching the bomb. To do this, you can utilize redirection with rewards to potentially get the dog distracted from what they are initially focused upon.  In cases like a puppy sniffing in front of the door, the dog’s owner can simply pick them up and take them outside prior to them having an accident.

There are and will undoubtedly be many circumstances where simply redirecting the dog will not work when the dog is exhibiting certain loading behaviors.

A dog that is staring down a cat or squirrel and is about to kick into prey drive is not going to be redirected by treats, no matter how tasty they are or how many you have.

It is in situations like these where corrections should be utilized to snap the dog out of that mindset and get their focus back on the handler/owner.

This process of correcting a dog when it is showing signs of a loading behavior is what is known as keeping a dog from going over threshold, and it is extremely important in order to train dogs that get easily aroused and excited.

By utilizing this, you can prevent many unwanted behaviors from happening if you are able to catch and intercept the loading in a timely manner.

“Catching a dog while they are loading is not always possible, so do not get discouraged.”

Being able to identify these loading behaviors and knowing the appropriate course of action when faced with these situations can be a game changer for both you and your dog.

Think about how many bite cases could have been prevented if people payed attention to the loading prior to the behavior that caused the bite to happen. True, these signs can be very quick and subtle, and even a keen and experienced eye may miss a split-second of loading prior to a bad behavior happening.

Catching a dog while they are loading is not always possible, so do not get discouraged. 

You may not be able to catch every single time your dog displays this behavior, but with practice, you will be able to greatly reduce and mitigate it from occurring, and that will benefit your dog and help you on the road to training.

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