Generally considered, a threshold is a point where one place becomes another: the point where one steps through a door and is considered in a different room or location. We can use thresholds to describe emotional states as well: “I was on the threshold of an unholy rage.”
Your dog experiences thresholds as well. The point at which your dog is intent on a stimulus, but is not reacting to it, is considered to be their threshold. This is important to note, because when we are working with dogs on maintaining their emotional state of cool and calm, our goal is for that dog to never get ABOVE their threshold. They should always stay below.
Usually, for that to happen, it’s important to stay a farther distance from the exciting stimulus, until you have helped the dog to relax and prepare themselves to move closer. This is why SATS can be so outstanding and helpful! We teach the dogs to remain calm as we push their threshold experience, but we always bring them back out again to a point where they will not react. When you do that, it gives the dog a chance to experience some emotional tension, but have an opportunity to relax once more.
An example from this week is helping my friend Franklin to stay calm and focused around other dogs. He does well at 50 feet, completely ignoring the other dog. He does alright at 20 feet, showing calm interest in the other dog. At 15 feet, his interest is intense, and is difficult to break through. At 10 feet, he is shivering with anticipation and will lunge and bark at the slightest provocation (or just because he’s too massively excited). 20 feet is a good threshold for Franklin.
As you consider your own dog, and where to begin working with them on distraction training, consider the use of the threshold principal and how it may help you shoot to always help your dog be successful before intensifying their training experience!