Puppy Fear Impact Periods – bringing home a new puppy or teenage dog
It’s exciting bringing home a new puppy. Most people who bring home a new puppy get themselves prepared for all of the fun and challenges of puppy hood. However many new puppy parents don’t know about the puppy fear impact periods. To help your puppy feel supported and safe as they develop, it is important to know what to do when they are experiencing their puppy fear periods.
What is the puppy fear impact period?
Our puppies go through several fear impact periods. This is where your pup may suddenly appear fearful of new things or things they have been comfortable with in the past. For example, your pup may have previously been comfortable with different people coming to the house. During a fear impact period they may now appear fearful or even aggressive towards visitors.
Fear impact periods for puppies usually coincide with different stages of their development. The main hypothesis for these fear periods is that each of these life stages is when puppy develops greater levels of independence. When our puppies become more independent, they need to have an increase in their fear response to any change in the environment.
When do these fear periods happen?
Puppies usually have their first fear period at around 5 weeks of age. This is when they are with their mum and siblings, so most puppy parents won’t see this stage.
The second puppy fear period occurs during the 8-12 weeks of age period. So, if you bring your puppy home at this age range, they are most likely going through a fear period. This second puppy fear period coincides with the end of our pup’s socialisation period. This socialisation period is between 3 weeks of age and finishes anywhere from 12-16 weeks of age depending on the breed of dog.
The third puppy fear period occurs at some point between 5-14 months. This coincides with further developmental changes and sexual maturation of the pup.
During these fear impact periods, try to ensure your pup is not exposed to anything particularly scary or stressful. If this does happen, it can impact on our puppy’s ability to cope with changes in the environment and to cope with stress for their adult life. For example, if a puppy has a bad experience with kids during a fear impact period, they can develop a long term fear of children.
My dog Henry, in the photo above, was in a council pound for his first two fear impact periods. It is an unfortunate reality that these kennel style environments are scary for most animals. This experience in the first four months of his life meant that Henry’s ability to cope with any change in the environment had been significantly compromised when he first came to live with us.
As Dr Ian Dunbar notes, these fear impact periods for our puppies do not start and finish at exact times. These periods are rough guidelines only and vary greatly depending on the breed and individual dog.
What to do during a fear impact period
- If you see your puppy being fearful of something, the biggest thing to do is to try not be worried or upset. We want our voice and body language to be relaxed. This means our puppy sees that we are relaxed and not worried about the thing they think is scary. Try and add a light happy tone to your voice and talk to your puppy. For example, “what’s that silly thing over there, what a clever puppy you are!”
- Give your puppy the choice to move further away or go closer to the thing they are scared of. We never want to force our puppy to interact with something they are scared of. Similarly, we don’t want to lure them closer to the scary thing using food or a toy. If we do this our pup will follow the lure and then realise how close they are to the scary thing and become even more scared of it.
- Pair a tasty treat with your puppy seeing the scary thing. Over time your puppy will build a new association that when they see the scary thing, good things happen. If your puppy is not taking treats in this situation then it is likely that they are too scared. In this case you need to get your puppy much further away from the scary thing straight away. Always work at a distance where your puppy is not so scared that they don’t want to eat.
- Avoid any big changes where possible. If you think your puppy is going through a fear impact period, try and avoid doing things such as invasive vet procedures, long distance travel or changes in the household.
Is it a puppy fear period or something else?
We offer one on one consults and both puppy and adolescent classes to help support you during your puppy’s development. Please get in touch if you would like some extra support.
In particular, if the level of fear that you puppy is experiencing towards something is not changing or is getting worse over time, please get in touch so we can help reduce your puppy’s fear.