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Saturday, May 5, 2012

Teaching and Using Trigger Words to Avert Trouble

A trigger word is what I use when I want to change my dog’s frame of mind. It is what I use because I run a multiple dog household. Having 6 to 7 inside dogs at a time is normal here and changes among them can take place due  a dog’s age, a sudden illness, if dogs are not sexually altered, or if there have been changes in the house such as new child or new pet. There are a multiple reasons why dogs suddenly shift ranks among them and a rift divides one dog from another. I first started training trigger words when I had, 1 Cocker Spaniel, 4 Newfoundlands, and 1 Golden Retriever. The Cocker had a tendency to act out, I believe it was just his personality and I allowed his personality to continue rather than nip it in the bud.   SHAME ON ME!

My Cocker Spaniel Cody would growl at anyone or anything that he perceived as coming into his space. He was a fear aggressive dog and if he felt threatened he lashed out. Of course looking back, it was quite funny to see a 20 lb dog make four 150 lb Newfoundland’s run for dear life, but in reality, if I had not done something to change Cody’s mentality, eventually this pack of dogs would have turned on him and that could have been his demise!

Before my Newfoundland’s came along, Cody was used to being with older dogs that were not rambunctious, the Newfs however, were pure terror, young and very rambunctious, which in itself is a book I am sure!  

One day while Cody lay on the couch, Bentley, the father Newf, came into the room and went to sniff Cody. (We knew Bentley had very  little common sense to begin with but this was really stupid on his part!) Cody gave his normal low growl and Bentley I suspect having had enough of Cody’s attitude, jumped onto the couch and stood over Cody’s little black body. In my mind’s eye I could see this horrible scene playing out before me, so  I reached in between the two dogs and grabbed Cody’s harness and of course this lead to a canine puncture in the top of the hand by Cody.

I admit, it is a stupid move to break up a dog fight and I don’t recommend it, however if I allowed the two dogs to come together I would probably have ended up with a very expensive Vet bill or a dead Cocker Spaniel! So instead, I ended up with an expensive ER hospital bill as through the night hours my hand blew up like a balloon and had gotten infected to the point that I could no longer tell where my knuckles were!  Either way, for me personally, it was a lose, lose situation and a hard lesson learned but one not forgotten!
             After a straight line into the vein from two bags of antibiotics, medication to go home with, a wound flush, and 1,200.00 dollars later, I realized something had to be done!

The purpose of a trigger word

The purpose of a trigger word is to take the dog’s mind off of a negative and put it in a more positive frame. In the instance above with Cody and Bentley, had Cody known a trigger word I could have used it at that instant and trouble could have been avoided as Cody’s mind would have been put on something positive and Bentley would have gone away.  To some, a trigger word seems like I am rewarding the dog for bad behavior, but if used correctly it can really avert trouble between to household dogs. When used correctly it does not cause more aggression by the dog.

You can use a trigger word for a variety of circumstances to get the dogs attention but  this in no way means that you don’t have to continue to teach basic obedience, no skimping!

Teaching a trigger word
(I used my clicker to teach Cody his trigger word as he already knew that sound as his marker. See to get started with a clicker)   

To teach a trigger word, you want to associate it with  a word the dog really loves. In this case Cody loved food so my trigger word was biscuit. It did not have to be a biscuit that I gave him, I could have given him a cheerio and the response would have been the same because he was a food hog. ( I say was because Cody did pass away of old age a few years back)
A trigger does not always have to be a word, it can be a sound. The sound of a biscuit jar or treat bag being opened also works, but chances of you walking around with a  treat jar in your hand is less likely than say, oh I don’t know, always having your voice!

To start, say the dog’s name and the trigger word, then back that trigger word up immediately with what you are going to give him. If you use 'Ball' as a trigger word because your dog loves balls, you need to have many handy when you train. It is imperative that once you say the trigger word you back it up immediately! Once the trigger word is learned you can take the time to walk to another room and get the ball or treat.

Here's how it should work and  I will use biscuit as an example because I have food hounds. You say, “Fido Biscuit” in the most upbeat positive voice possible. Fido looks at you because the tone of your voice alone tells him something good is going on and you immediately give Fido a biscuit. Do this repeatedly until you are sure he knows that the trigger word means something special is coming his way, when you are sure he’s got it,  then go about your business and ignore the dog for a while.  Call him to you again when he is not paying attention to you by saying his name and the trigger word. If he has gotten this down, he should come running to you and be in a very good mood with his tail a waggin’!

When I think back on the Cody /Bentley episode I look at it like this, would Cody have wanted to get the crap beat out of him by a 150 lb dog or did settling down and grabbing a biscuit sound better? I can tell you that after Cody learned his trigger word, the biscuit always sounded a better choice to him!

Use of the trigger word

 A trigger word must be used before the dog’s mind has been allowed to move too far forward into attack mode.  If however it is at the point where the dog’s mind has moved too far forward, then don’t use the trigger word and just stay out of the fight if it is a fair fight. I don’t want anyone to get that same large hospital bill that I did unnecessarily!

Also this is not something you want to use when you are out and about with other dogs who are off lead or getting in your dog’s face as you have no idea what might trigger a strange dog to attack. This is to be used for your home circumstance when the family dogs are not getting along.  Most people are familiar with their family dogs, and if you watch closely you will know when it is time to use a trigger word.

In the video link below is a most recent encounter between mother and daughter Newfies. The mother has not been feeling her best so her eating habits have changed. She is not up to having her dinner, but she also does not want her daughter to eat.  You will see the mother corner her daughter, put her head over the daughter’s neck and hold her there. If I were to step in at that point and touch or grab the mother’s collar, it could have escalated to a bad scenario.  If I had been in the room when the tension first started, I could have averted it by using the trigger word. But in fact, I walked in at a point that the mother had already cornered her daughter so I had to wait for the mother to back off just a bit before using the trigger. The daughter did exactly what she should have done to avoid a fight which was look away and be still. However knowing the mother as I do, any other movement by the daughter toward the area where the food dish was, even though it was hidden behind the blue mat, the mother would again have started with the daughter. The mat was up because I had just finished sweeping the floor. Until I had the time to move the dish up high, the mother would have continued to try and dominate the daughter.

So there you have it. Teaching a trigger word is easy! Hmm, if only there were trigger words for spouses that would have them instantly do what we ask of them!  Until next time, happy training!

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