Everyone has Thresholds. Your Dog Does, Too

It’s fun until it isn’t.  It works until it doesn’t.  He just stepped on my last nerve.  We have all heard these expressions.  They represent threshold boundaries.  Mental places where we no longer function well.  Dogs have threshold boundaries, too.  Puppies can have especially low thresholds due to immaturity, and many adult dogs display behaviors described as “low threshold”.  Training within an individual dog’s thresholds is a gradual process and yields the most desirable results in the long run.  It also builds the most connected relationship with your dog.  Learn to observe your dog’s thresholds in these three major areas.


Most dogs must be trained to modulate their emotional selves.  Prolonged exposure to a stimulus can set your dog up to mentally move over threshold and become incapable of focus or compliance.  This isn’t your dog being stubborn.  He’s disconnected from you for a reason.  Figure out why and make a change for a different response from him. 

Training in a “wait” or “stay” cue takes time and practice.  Those passive cues are difficult.   Develop duration first.  Often this means a really short time frame to start, such as several seconds.  Don’t be discouraged, several seconds can build to much longer duration with correct criteria setting.  Criteria setting is essential, because the dog must experience success. 


The closer a stimulus is to your dog, the harder it is for her to be attentive to you.  Skills must be trained in to help them learn to cope with life up close.  A dog who can “sit and wait” for a greeter who is six feet away, then loses it when that same greeter approaches to two or three feet away, has been pushed past a distance threshold.  Leash reactive dogs may be capable of remaining calm in the presence of another dog 20-30 feet away, but not as the distance closes. 

These are examples of distance thresholds that have been breached.  Gradually working the dog closer to trigger stimuli can develop a greater threshold and result in calm behaviors. 


All dogs can think and learn in the quiet familiarity of your kitchen.  It’s when transitions happen and dogs go out and about that training can fall apart.  Sorry to belabor this point…..but gradual exposure works best.  Flooding or extreme exposure is not a humane strategy and can backfire.  For a young or under socialized dog, the known world is very small.  It’s our job to educate and grow the dog’s world as he “tells” us he can mentally manage. 

Distractions come in countless forms.  The intensity of a distraction – from the dog’s perspective – plays a large part in his ability to cope with it.  He looks to you for information to navigate.  Tell him what to do via a chain of learned obedience cues.  Move away if you must (hint:  distance threshold, too). 

Low and high threshold animals are born that way.  You can, with work, develop a higher threshold in an individual.  There is no magic here.  It’s lots of training and exposure as your dog can tolerate.  Here’s an important question along the way:  am I doing this for me or my dog?

Copyright © Kimberly B. Mandel   CPDT-KA, 2019 all rights reserved

Kimberly Mandel Canine Behavior and Training LLC