Dogs do not have memories like humans, they are unable to remember thoughts, events or situations like we do. Instead, they rely on a whole variety of triggers which stimulate them into doing certain behaviours. The consequence of doing these behaviours can be either good or bad experiences for the dog. If they are good experiences he will repeat the behaviour when he comes across that particular trigger. On the other hand, he will stop the behaviour if the consequences were unpleasant. Here are some examples of triggers in Dog Games training (as explained in the various Stages of the Dog Games) -


Triggers The dog enters training compound for Dog Games. Its lead is taken off. Neither the Handler or the Trainer speak to the dog, or give it any attention - they just chat to each other about the dog.
Behaviour The dog relaxes, wanders off to smell and explore the environment.
Consequence There is a marked reduction in the dog's stress levels. It feels safe as it is able to ensure that there are no threats to its safety. Also the dog becomes slightly bored so that it is keen to do something with the Handler and Trainer when its name is called, and the harness and lead are put on.


Triggers The Handler puts the dog's harness and lead on as the Trainer puts the Dog Games training equipment in the training lane (eg jumps; black rubber mat etc)
Behaviour The dog recognises these triggers as they are consistently used in its Dog Games training. It becomes more focused and ready to "work".
Consequence Because of the consistency of these triggers at each session, the dog's confidence increases in what is expected of it. This means that if it does make a mistake it is far more able to cope with the slight setback, and still wants to experiment/work the Handler to see how to get its motivator.

Triggers In Recall and Bounce, the Handler turns his back on the dog.
Behaviour The dog realises that in this first part of the Game, there is no eye contact with the Handler and so the dog walks away accompanying the helper/trainer down the training lane to the 50ft/15m marker.
Consequence The dog knows the Game will only start when the Handler turns round and gives eye contact and the signal/command (see below) for the dog to run back to the owner. It is this consistent signal/command of the owner that is the primary trigger for the dog to do the Game.


Triggers At the end of the training session the dog is quietly led out of the compound on its lead by the Handler. The Handler does not give it any commands or try to interact with the dog.
Behaviour The dog is able to sniff and explore in a quiet spot - away from the training area, away from the other dogs and any other distractions. Another option that the Handler has is to put the dog in its well ventilated car to rest, also with some water.
Consequence The dog has the opportunity to retain what it has just learnt in its long term memory. This is called Latent Learning, and is how all dogs build up the links between Trigger, Behaviour and Consequence.


Here is a list giving some examples of the different types of triggers that can influence dogs' behaviour and associations in its everyday life.



  • Vocal or body signals (see Dog's Dictionary)

  • Handlers movements (even eyebrow lift, wiggle of finger, drop of shoulder, slight hand or arm movement) can be misinterpreted by dogs as commands or triggers

Environment where the dog

  • Saw prey

  • Was attacked/felt threatened

  • Felt safe/relaxed/happy/had fun

  • Felt stressed/anxious/unhappy/overwhelmed (eg training area where it was stressed, confused or punished)

People who

  • Stroked/patted/were friendly

  • Usually or always ignored the dog

  • Were frightened of the dog

  • Cross/angry/aggressive to the dog

  • Had given motivators to the dog in the past

Dogs that it

  • Had happy/good experiences

  • Used to playing with

  • Had a bad/stressful/negative experience with

  • Linked to bad situation/person/experience

  • Becomes stressed near, as they are showing signs of stress themselves


  • Training equipment such as jumps, contact equipment in agility etc

  • Bum-bag, clicker, motivator, training aids, harness, collar, choke chain

  • Being tied up and left while the owner trains another dog

Human routines (eg putting on particular clothes, shoes and bags; picking up the lead, car keys; switching on/off the radio or television)

  • Being left alone

  • Getting ready to go for a walk

  • Both human and dog meal times

  • Going to training or shows

The dog's routines

  • Time of day usually walked, fed, left alone

  • Days of the week (eg taken to training club, long weekend walk with family, regular visit to a friend or family member)

By recognising how dependent dogs are on so many different types of triggers we can help dogs not only build up strong happy associations when they are being trained, but also change unsuitable behaviours for more acceptable ones by either changing the triggers or the consequences of the behaviour.


This web site has been written by Sally Hopkins (unless the author of the web page is stated otherwise).


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