Unpredictable triggers are triggers that may sometimes set your dog off and sometimes not. The more rarely a trigger sets your dog off, the harder training actually becomes.
Knowing that a dog will react 100% of the time towards a specific trigger at a specific distance gives us something solid to work with: we can set up this situation and use counterconditioning techniques to improve the dog’s behavior.
It becomes a lot harder if our dog only reacts in 20% of cases – how can we successfully create good training situations?
The only way to go about this is to assume that any potential trigger is a guaranteed trigger.
This will leave you over-prepared in many cases. You might see a potential trigger at the horizon during a walk, step off the path, start scattering your treats once your dog sees the trigger and as he is passing by – and your dog is completely relaxed and does not show any kind of stress or reactivity.
However, this scenario is still better than the opposite, in which you would be under-prepared. If you assume that a potential trigger is “not going to be so bad” and your dog does have a very reactive response during which he crosses his threshold, you will be set back in your training a bit.
It is also helpful to make detailed notes about what exactly sets your dog off. You can then “reverse-engineer” what specific characteristics of the trigger might decide whether or not your dog has a response.
Here is a worksheet for you to fill out after encounters with “maybe” triggers. You may be able to find common denominators, such as that your dog always reacts in a specific location, at a specific time of the day, when he is in a certain mood (see the trigger stacking lesson for more info on that) or a combination of those:
For dogs that are reactive only to some other dogs, triggers often are:
And combination of the above can make the trigger stronger.
(Huskies and Malinois are dogs that can “bring it out” in many dogs as they tick nearly all boxes)