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Crossing the Threshold

Author: Greg Raub | Date: March 27, 2013

Last weekend I was sitting in my living room reading.  Ernie, my dog, was laying quietly on the floor a couple of feet away.  My partner Steve walked in the room just as I heard ominous steps on our front porch:  the mailman was approaching.  That is something that sends Ernie into a barking frenzy.  But this time, when Steve heard Ernie start to growl, he started talking to him.  “Don’t worry, Ernie, I’ve got this one. It’s my turn. Don’t worry. I’ll take care of it.”

Much to my amazement, Ernie immediately stopped growling and just looked up at Steve. It was like all of a sudden he forgot completely about the mailman.  What happened?

Simply by getting Ernie refocused, using a calm, quite tone, Steve was able to diffuse the situation.

He was able to keep Ernie from going over his threshold.

Threshold is a word we use a lot in the dog training world.  But as I reflected on this incident, I realized that I rarely, if ever, talk about “threshold” in my classes.  I think that’s because I had never taken the time to really come up with a good way to explain the concept.

So I started doing some research.  Lo and behold I found a great definition right here in this blog… from a posting just a couple of weeks ago.

In response to an Ask a Trainer question, threshold was described as “a clearly defined point where your dog’s behavior changes… usually a line that’s crossed between desirable and undesirable behavior.”

That’s pretty clear.  But somewhere else I found the concept equated to the threshold of a door.  That makes sense, too.  When you cross the threshold, you are in a different room… a different place.  The same is true with your dog.  In my example from last weekend, Ernie was an instant away from a barking frenzy, which is a very different place from lying quietly on the floor!

So how can we use this concept to address problem behaviors?  If your dog occasionally “crosses the threshold” and does something you’d like to stop, consider these two questions:

  1. What triggers your dog to go over threshold?  Certain noises?  Certain sights?  If you can identify those triggers, you can steps to prevent them.  Leave background music on to mask outside sounds, keep curtains closed, or avoid certain routes on your walks.
  2. What signals do you see in your dog that he’s about to go over threshold?  Ears and tail up?  Stiffened body?  Growling?  Whining?  If you can identify those signals you can think about how to intervene.  Distract your dog with a Watch Me, redirect your dog with some Touches, or simply talk to your dog to get him focused on you.

Whatever you can do to avoid the triggers or to jump in quickly to diffuse the situation will go a long way toward keeping your dog under threshold.

You can read a little more about threshold in this Ask a Trainer blog where I found that great definition of the concept.


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