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What is Stacking?

When people or trainers deal with problematic dogs, they often go about placing the dog into the environment that they are struggling with and trying to solve the problem in the heat of the moment. While this eventually needs to happen in any dog training program, many people leave out a crucial step.

The step that these people often leave out is all the behaviors and problems that lead up to that moment where the dog is dealing with a problematic behavior. These moments that lead up to that problem behavior stack on top of one another in what is called stacking.

Dog owners who try to address the problem head on completely forget all of the stacking behaviors that lead up to the problem, this leaves them trying to deal with the symptoms of a problem without actually addressing the problem itself.

In order to understand stacking, let us look at a case study of a dog who struggles on walks and barks at every dog that it passes on the street.

All of these things, while done correctly by the owner, prove to be of no avail as the dog begins to lunge and bark at the approaching dog.

When the owner gets home they go to let the dog out of the kennel, as they open the kennel door the dog bursts out and starts to run frantically around the house. As the owner begins to get the leash ready for the walk the dog begins jumping and barking in frantic excitement due to the anticipation of the walk.

As the owner opens the front door the dog bolts out and begins to drag the owner on the walk. While on the walk the dog is constantly pulling on the leash in order to sniff all the outside smells. Then the moment comes when another dog approaches, the owner has been waiting for this moment to work on the dog’s reactivity issues while on walks.

The owner begins to give treats in an attempt counter condition the dogs explosive behavior as well as start to use corrections when the dog displays loading behavior. All these things, while done correctly by the owner, prove to be of no avail as the dog begins to lunge and bark at the approaching dog.

In this example every moment that lead up to the dog barking and lunging was directly contributing to that situation. The bolting out of the kennel, the extreme excitement prior to the walk, the bolting through the door and the pulling on the leash.

All these minor moments played a role in the actual issue that the dog and owner were struggling with.

These minor moments of excitement create stress and anxiety in the dog, as these moments stack upon one another the stress, excitement, and anxiety will grow over time.

This dog that has all this built up tension now does not stand a chance to be successful when seeing another dog on a walk and the attempts made by the owner fall short. Stacking can take place in a variety of ways; it is any situation that adds anxiety and excitement to the dog that then builds up until the dog cannot contain it anymore.

Many problems that arise in dogs are due to several stacking incidents that have occured prior to the actual bad behavior that we as humans observe.

The problem is that many owners attempt to correct the behavior when it is happening rather than trying to avoid the stacking behaviors and create an environment that produces less anxiety and excitement.

“To reduce the chances of stacking from occurring clear communication needs to be taught to the dog.”

This effectively does nothing to fix the actual problem that the dog is dealing with and only addresses the symptoms that the dog is displaying at that given time.

So, what is something that can help reduce stacking from occurring? Well dogs thrive on three things, communication, structure, and boundaries. To reduce the chances of stacking from occurring clear communication needs to be taught to the dog.

This communication can be in the form of using markers as part of your training and establishing clear consequences in the form of corrections for inappropriate behaviors. Structure and boundaries are also very important and are crucial to preventing stacking.

A dog who rushes out of a door, whether it be a kennel door or the front door, lacks boundaries.

Allowing such behaviors to happen only gives the dog a sense of internal reinforcement. A dog who pulls every which way on a walk lacks structure and needs to be taught the proper way to go about doing so.

By being the leader that your dog needs you to be, you can better prevent stacking from occurring in your dog’s life.

When you fail at doing so you are setting your dog up for failure in an environment that is simply just too overwhelming for them to deal with.

By setting the stage and expecting calm and relaxed behavior inside of the home then the relaxation will carry forth and your dog will be better prepared to deal with the issue.

Eliminating stacking will not be the only thing needed to get rid of the problematic behaviors that the dog is dealing with.

There will still be many hurdles to overcome and challenges that need to be addressed, however understanding how stacking works and attempting to avoid it will set your dog up for success and prepare them to deal with their issues in a constructive manner.

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