Written by Camille Hartnett Owner of Trail Sniffers Dog Behaviour and Training
Dog behaviourist specialising in puppies and reactivity-based dog behaviours. Certified FDM, KPA Puppy Instructor. www.trailsniffers.com
As puppy parents, we cherish every moment of our puppy’s growth and development. However, you might notice that your once confident pup is now showing signs of fear and hesitation. Don't worry; this is a common and natural phase called a "Fear Period." In this blog post, we'll explore what fear periods are and how to support your puppy through these essential stages of emotional growth. Let's discover how to nurture your pup into a confident and well-adjusted adult dog by understanding these periods and knowing how to support your pup during such times can make a significant difference in their emotional well-being and behaviour as adults.
What are Fear Periods?
Fear periods are specific stages in a puppy's life when they become more sensitive and susceptible to developing fear and anxiety towards various stimuli. These periods are an essential part of a puppy's emotional development, as they help the young dog learn to cope with and overcome potential threats in their environment. There are two primary fear periods that commonly occur:
- The First Fear Period (Around 8 to 11 Weeks): This period generally coincides with a pup's transition to their new home and family. During this time, they may become more cautious and wary of unfamiliar people, objects, or noises.
- The Second Fear Period (Around 6 to 14 Months): This period occurs during adolescence and is often more intense than the first fear period. Puppies may exhibit fear responses to things they were previously comfortable with, or new fears may emerge.
Recognizing Signs of Fear in Puppies:
Puppies express fear in various ways, and it's essential for puppy parents to be attentive and recognize these signs:
- Avoidance: A fearful puppy may try to avoid certain situations, people, or places that trigger their anxiety.
- Trembling or Shaking: Shivering or trembling, especially when there is no apparent reason for the pup to be cold, might indicate fear.
- Hiding or Seeking Comfort: Puppies may hide behind furniture or seek comfort from their owners when they encounter something frightening.
- Excessive Barking or Whining: Fear can manifest as excessive vocalization, expressing the puppy's discomfort or attempt to ward off perceived threats.
- Tucked Tail and Cowering: A fearful pup may tuck their tail between their legs and crouch close to the ground.
How to Support Your Puppy during Fear Periods:
- Stay Calm and Patient: As a positive training dog behaviorist and trainer, I encourage puppy parents to remain calm and patient during fear periods. Your pup looks to you for guidance and reassurance.
- Avoid Forcing Exposure: Do not force your puppy to confront their fears. Instead, allow them to approach new situations at their own pace.
- Positive Reinforcement: Use positive reinforcement techniques to build positive associations with the things that trigger fear. Offer treats, praise, and affection when your pup shows bravery.
- Create a Safe Environment: Ensure your home is a safe and secure environment where your puppy can retreat to if they feel overwhelmed.
- Gradual Desensitization: If your puppy is fearful of specific stimuli, gradually expose them to it in a controlled and positive manner. Keep the experience short and rewarding.
- Professional Training: Consider enlisting the help of a positive training dog behaviorist or certified trainer if you encounter challenges in helping your puppy overcome their fears.
The Gift of Time and Understanding:
Fear periods in puppies are temporary phases, and with patience, love, and proper guidance, most pups come through them stronger and more resilient. I have seen firsthand how a supportive and compassionate approach during fear periods can shape a puppy's emotional development positively, resulting in a confident, well-adjusted, and happy adult dog. Remember, your understanding and care are the building blocks for a lifetime of trust between you and your furry friend.