When we refer to a dog going “over threshold,” we are referring to the point at which the dog transitions from high arousal, into a state where the thinking part of the brain is dulled, and the dog’s behavior becomes driven almost exclusively by instinct and emotion.
One of the features of going “over threshold” is that the dog will lose the ability to follow the owner’s cues. It is important to recognize that the dog is not choosing to ignore you when this happens, it is simply impossible for the dog to respond to your cues in this state.
Hyper-arousal itself is not a bad thing, it is a necessary and normal response to a life-threatening situation. In our domestic dogs however, we often see ineffective habituation, as well as anxiety and perception issues, leading to exaggerated responses to non-life-threatening stimuli. We also see non-fear-based emotions, such as frustration and excitement leading to this same state.
Repeatedly reaching a hyper-aroused state in response to non-life-threatening stimuli is unhealthy. It also poses a potential safety risk to other dogs and/or people. This is because one of the primary issues with a dog entering a hyper-aroused state is the risk for tipping into aggression or provoking aggressive behaviors in another dog.
In this presentation we discuss stressors, arousal, and what it really means to go “over threshold.” We also discuss training and management strategies for dogs with arousal issues.