Thresholds in dog training. What are they? How are they established? Why are they so important?
Think of something that you are afraid of. It could be heights, snakes, spiders, or even dogs!
Let’s say you are standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. You are in complete control, with no one behind or beside you. It is your choice to move in any direction based on how you’re feeling. You can maintain your personal threshold or comfort level towards the edge of the Grand Canyon.
Now, let’s say a crowd starts to form behind you. Each person that takes their place anywhere near you limits your ability to maintain your threshold. When your options for keeping your threshold decrease, your anxiety increases.
When understanding threshold dog training, it is important to note that we must not push our dogs over their limits to make this successful. Dog training needs to be a positive experience for your pup to learn and grow up to be good canine citizens. This blog will review what threshold dog training is and the importance of understanding this when teaching your old dog new tricks.
What is Threshold Dog Training?
Threshold dog training is the distance the dog can withstand a trigger without reacting or getting upset. This type of training usually works to modify behaviours associated with fear, anxiety, and aggression, to name a few. The distance that a dog can maintain from its trigger is primarily based on past experiences. Some dogs can handle their triggers at 10-feet away, while others will react if they see or hear their triggers from 50 feet away.
A dog can be pushed over the threshold depending on the amount of time they spend around the trigger. If your dog is afraid of people in baseball caps, they may be able to withstand it for a minute or two. But after 5 minutes, they might become fearful and reactive.
How Can You Tell If Your Dog Is Over Threshold?
Let’s think about the feelings associated with fear. At some point in our lives, most of us have experienced a fear that everyone can understand. Fear of drowning, however realistic or imagined, is terrifying and memorable. Threshold breaks can happen in many ways, and there are just as many ways to decrease anxiety as there are triggers.
Let’s take separation anxiety as an example. A study shows brain chemistry changes when an owner, who has been absent for a short time, re-enters the room. The intensity of the feelings your dog experiences is comparable to the feelings we humans have when we first fall in love. Based on brain imaging and current scientific studies, we now know that your dog experiences events to a much more heightened degree than we do.
Because of this fact, we need to be very careful when trying to expose a dog to its triggers. What seems like little exposure to us can be a big deal for them. So, when you are ready to leave the house, gradually expose your dog to more extended periods of being left alone. If you return and your dog is crying, shaking, urinating, or doing anything else that indicates that they are happy to see you, this means you have pushed them too far out of their comfort zone. Doing this can make training more difficult as the dog will learn to associate negativity with the event.
Why Is Understanding Threshold Dog Training So Important?
We are starting to understand how dogs perceive our world and the difficulties they must experience while trying to navigate the many situations that we create for them. Thresholds impact so many training and behaviour challenges. Everything from barking, jumping, and resource guarding.
There is also a huge misconception as to the proper protocol in addressing any of these challenges. We are a society looking for quick fixes. When we correct behaviour challenges, we must spend enough time trying to understand the origin of the behaviour. We are desperately trying to resolve the feelings that created the symptoms (barking, lunging, pulling, growling, jumping up….the list goes on).
Establishing, maintaining, and working below a threshold is imperative when trying to resolve a challenge where anxiety/fear is the source. Think of the thresholds at play if your dog is afraid of other dogs, particularly on a leash.
The leash, for example, takes me back to standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon and having my ability to retreat, inhibited by people beginning to surrounding me. Your dog’s leash inhibits their ability to move away from what frightens them.
Thresholds are very individual.
Our job is to watch our dogs extremely carefully to see their threshold to each trigger response that we are trying to help them overcome.
Once established, we must work below that threshold point to develop a positive association that your dog can absorb because the level of anxiety has not reached a “flooding” state.
To continue to move forward, threshold dog training must control training sessions. Structure and variables must be maintained.
When you are on a walk with your dog, where triggers are moving around the environment, it is not the best ‘classroom’ to start helping to change neural pathways for your dog.
Trying to train your dog while being mindful of thresholds is not something you have to do alone. We are here for you and all your training needs at Diamond In The Ruff. Contact us today to book your consultation for your Edmonton pup.