Something we often see with puppies at All Dogs Unleashed is sudden, (seemingly) out of nowhere fear responses to stimuli a puppy has had no reaction to previously. This can be alarming to pet owners. Obviously, you want to be able to ease your dog’s fear, but it can also present stressful behavior problems and safety concerns when you are out and about. The good news is these sudden changes in behavior, called fear periods, are entirely normal for puppies. Today, let’s discuss some things all puppy owners should know about fear periods and how to help your dog through them.

What is a puppy fear period?

Puppy fear periods, or fear stages, are typical developmental milestones that happen to every puppy. While these fear periods may seem alarming and cause great concern, they are normal stages of your young dog’s development. There are two different fear periods you can look out for: first when your puppy is around 8-11 weeks old, and second, when your puppy is between 6 and 14 months. Each stage lasts about 2-3 weeks. During this time, your dog is learning what they are supposed to be afraid of.

What happens during a puppy fear period?

When your puppy enters a fear period, it will be very sensitive to scary incidents. These single moments of fear can imprint deeply into your dog’s mind, which is why it is so important to avoid negative or scary stimuli during your puppy’s fear period. The evolutionary purpose of this single-event learning is to help your dog survive in the unpredictable and dangerous wild. Today, our furry friends have shelter, food, and protection from danger, so the fear period is no longer essential to survival. Regardless, this leftover developmental milestone can be used to your advantage as you build trust and begin to bond with your new puppy.

What are signs my puppy is in a fear period?

The behavior of dogs in a fear period can vary widely from dog to dog. One dog may cower and hide, while another dog may become aggressive and snap at you or others in the house. The most common characteristic is a sudden and drastic change in behavior. Other common signs include:

  • Sudden fear of people, other animals, or unfamiliar object(s)
  • Frequent whining, barking, or excessive panting
  • Easily startles at noises or changes in the environment
  • Barks, backs away, pins ears back, tucks tail, or even relieves himself when introduced to new things
  • Dramatic behavior changes in response to one incident of fear
    • Example: Your puppy is startled at hearing the lawnmower for the first time and is now afraid to go outside even when the lawnmower is not running

How can I help my dog during a fear period?

While most dogs will grow from a fear period with little intervention, how you respond to your pet’s fear period can significantly prevent long-term behavior issues. Here are four tips to help you build trust and establish behavior expectations during your dog’s fear periods:

  1. Stay Calm

If you panic in response to your dog’s behavior, they will take this as confirmation that they should be afraid. Speak to your dog in a normal, relaxed tone and project the calm you want them to feel.

  1. Avoid Triggers

If you notice your pup entering a fear period, avoid unfamiliar or fearful situations for a while. If you observe a potential trigger in your area, calmly remove your dog from the area.

  1. Focus on Fun

Use this time to focus on things your dog finds enjoyable, like practicing commands or playing. A favorite toy can be a great distraction from negative stimuli. The more positive experiences you can facilitate during a fear period, the better.

  1. Socialize

Socialization experiences during a puppy’s fear period can be a helpful way to show your pup there is nothing to fear in everyday social settings. Introducing your puppy to well-behaved, friendly dogs during this time can help them see other dogs or pets as friends. When meeting new people, introducing treats or other positive reinforcement can also help reduce your dog’s fear response to new people.

A sudden change in your dog’s behavior can be alarming, but fear periods are standard parts of puppy development. All Dogs Unleashed can help you guide your dog through these periods to establish increased trust and a lifetime of good behavior.