Dog Fear Periods – When Tough Canines Become Scaredy Cats
Felines aren’t the only one to get skittish and scared. Even tough dogs can experience fear. In fact, all dogs go through stages in their development called fear periods. During these periods, a puppy will become suddenly become more frightened of its surroundings including people, places and things. But don’t worry, this is a normal part of a puppy’s development. This article will give you quick tips for getting them through this tough time!
What Are Dog Fear Periods?
Dog fear periods are a normal stage in a puppy’s growth when they suddenly experience fear at a heightened level. During this time, they are much more sensitive and in tune to any negative experiences they may encounter.
Dogs go through two fear periods during their development, one as a young pup, and another when they’re getting closer to adulthood. Both of them last around 2-3 weeks.
They can happen overnight and unexpectedly. Suddenly your dog becomes more hyper aware and scared of certain things they weren’t previously afraid of.
The first fear period is milder while the second is more pronounced. Let’s take a look at each one so you can know what to expect.
The First Dog Fear Period: 8-10 Weeks
The first dog fear period occurs early on at the age of 8-10 weeks. This is a normal part of their development and nothing to fear!
This is normally around the time that a new puppy is finding its forever home. Since this first fear period is kicking in, a new pup has to face a double whammy!
Not only will his fear sensory be heightened, but he will also be experiencing new people, foreign objects, and new smells.
Remember, during this time, puppies are very perceptive and responsive to their surroundings. They may get overwhelmed easier so make sure to really think about what you are exposing them to.
Allow them to explore their new home on their own time and don’t force them to meet new people. Let them approach your friends or family on their own time.
The Second Dog Fear Period: 6-14 Months
The second dog fear period happens when they are a bit older, anywhere between 6-14 months, possibly longer for larger dog breeds. This second period could kick in as early as adolescence or at the beginning of adulthood, it just depends.
This one is usually more unexpected and significant since your dog is now closer to an adult and more mature. Despite your dog’s age, they are typically still developing emotionally and physically.
Even though they have been taught good socialization skills, they can immediately start acting suspicious or paranoid about seemingly insignificant things.
Here are some examples of things that may spook your dog during this period:
- An unknown person approaches your dog to pet them on the street.
- He sees an unknown object in the street on his walk like a sign or a cone.
- You walk in the front door with a bag of groceries.
- Loud noises such as fireworks or thunder.
- A family friend brings over a new baby or child.
Why Are Dog Fear Periods So Important?
It is very important to know what to do for your dog during these periods and what to avoid. The consequences of one traumatic event could lead to a permanent change in your dog’s future demeanor and personality.
Single Event Learning:
This phenomenon is called “single event learning.” It is an instinct that is built into a dog’s DNA from their ancestor, the wolf. For a young wolf pup, it is crucial to learn quickly what is dangerous or life-threatening when surviving in the wild.
Their fear period as a pup helps them learn what to be scared of and what not to be scared of. This same instinct is built into modern day dogs.
However, with dogs, single event learning can have a negative effect. If a dog experiences one really scary traumatic event, it can have emotional consequences that last a life-time.
Case in Point:
Jennifer Summerfield, a behavior vet and dog trainer, had one sad case etched into her memory forever as a senior vet student.
One of her clients had a 3-year-old German Shepherd named Heidi. She was great around people but would aggressively go after other dogs.
One day she brought Heidi in because of an extremely close incident in which she almost attacked a small dog that was off-leash in her apartment complex.
This aggression was apparently triggered by one single event in Heidi’s past that carried on with her into her adult years. Before this, Heidi was gentle and playful and never had any issues with other people or dogs.
Heidi was contained in her yard using a shock collar. She would often play with the neighbor’s Labrador mix who would come over to wrestle around with her. Unfortunately, one day, things took a turn for the worse.
“She and her doggy friend were playing and wrestling as usual when they inadvertently strayed too close to the boundary line. Heidi received a shock from her collar, yelped in pain and confusion, and redirected aggressively towards the other dog – who, for his part, reacted defensively and fought back. A full-blown dog fight erupted in the blink of an eye, and the dogs had to be physically separated to calm down.”Dr. Jen’s Dog Blog – The Dark Side of Socialization: Fear Periods and Single Event Learning
During a normal phase of development, this event may have come and gone with minor consequences. But because this incident happened during Heidi’s fear period, Dr. Jen believes that it caused a permanent change in Heidi’s brain.
After that point, Heidi would associate that bad memory with other dogs, hence her aggression towards them. In the wild, this would be a good thing because it would help to avoid getting attacked by a predator.
However, as a domesticated dog, it makes life harder as a dog owner when your dog can’t be around other dogs for fear that they will attack.
This is a valuable lesson for dog owners who will be going through these two fear periods. Make sure you know how to best navigate these sensitive times in your dog’s life.
How To Get Through Dog Fear Periods?
It is important you know what to do when your dog suddenly becomes fearful of an object, person or other animal.
Obviously, it depends on your dog’s age but you will want to start with good socialization from an early age. It should give you an edge when they enter their second fear period.
The first thing you should do when a dog becomes suddenly scared, of an object for example, is remain calm and don’t overreact. Never yell at them or make them think they did something wrong.
Instead, be confident and calmly allow them to walk away from the object. When they come to you, reward them with some praise and a treat.
You can then go stand by the object to let them know you are not afraid of it. Without forcing them, let them approach the object. If they are curious and get close, reward them for remaining calm and getting closer to the object.
This mainly applies to the second fear period. A lot of times the first fear period will go unnoticed by the owner.
Dog Fear Period Tips For Owners:
Here are some quick tips to help you and your dog get through these fear periods.
- Make sure you are socializing your dog from an early age. You should start at 8 weeks when you bring them home and shoot for them to meet at least a 100 people by the time they are 3 months old.
- Always use positive reinforcement to train them. Use praise and treats to reward them when they face their fears. Never yell at them for getting scared. It will have the opposite effect as they will relate being scared with getting yelled at.
- Don’t use training methods that instill more fear into your dog. Avoid things like shock collars or invisible fences. They can backfire and end up having a permanent negative effect on your dog’s personality and temperament.
- Never force your dog to approach or interact with other people or dogs. Let them approach when the feel ready. It may take them a little while to warm up to the situation, especially when it involves new people.
- Use a clicker to condition them when they are having a fear episode. Use it to divert their attention away from the scary situation and onto something positive like a new trick they learned. Reward them with praise and a treat!
You will have to learn to recognize when they are actually having a fear period and when they are not. The most obvious sign is a sudden change in their confidence level. They will go from being bold and daring to skittish and scared overnight.
Fear periods are a normal stage of behavior in a growing dog. Knowing when they happen and how long they last can help you prepare and train them properly.
Remember to avoid any traumatic experiences if possible and never lash out at your dog for being scared. Make him feel safe and secure, remain calm, and let him know you are on his side!
Please leave a comment below and let us know what you think!
Do you have any experience with dealing with these dog fear periods? Let us know! We would love to hear any personal advice you may have for new owners!