Much like humans, dogs go through developmental stages of behavior as they grow from puppies to adults. As they develop and grow, your actions as dog owner can determine much of a dog’s personality and behavior after adolescence.
What Are Fear Stages?
A dog will go through two basic fear stages while growing up, with a little bit of time in between each. During these stages, the puppies become very vulnerable to any “traumatic episode” that might frighten the animal. The difference with scaring the puppy during the Developmental Fear Stages and any other time is that any traumatic experience during either fear stage can lead to undesirable behavioral traits. For example: if the puppy is exposed to a vacuum cleaner during these stages and seems overly frightened, it is entirely possible that the dog will always be afraid of vacuum cleaners for the remainder of its adult life.
When Do The Fear Stages Occur?
The first fear stage, or Fear Imprint Period, occurs around 8 to 11 weeks of age. Note that this stage lines up directly with when the puppy should be weaned off its mother and in many cases is when the puppy is changing homes. It is advisable to not ship any puppies during this time. It is important to train your puppy during this period, but keep it positive and fun! Avoid trips to the vet until the puppy is 12 weeks unless absolutely unavoidable.
The Second Fear Period is a much more important and potentially traumatic stage of development for young dogs. The reason this Second Fear Stage is such a big deal is that it occurs during the puppies adolescence (6-14 months), which is also when the puppy will start testing you as an owner. The puppy might become more aggressive and will become less obedient. This stage just so happens to coincide with sexual maturity, so your male dog will start lifting it’s leg when peeing and females will experience their first heat period during this time. Also, the puppy will be shedding its baby coat and replacing it with its adult coat.
The Second Fear Stage and You:
As mentioned above, this stage is poorly timed with dog behavior. The puppy will push the boundaries and begin assuming the role of alpha in the family if left unchecked. What gets tricky is reprimanding the dog without traumatizing the dog during this delicate fear stage. It is best to be firm but do not raise your voice at the dog and do not hit or swing at the animal (you should never do this anyways!). Many dogs will develop a fear for an individual or an entire gender (human males or females) based on any abuse taken during this stage. However, if you are not firm with the dog and do not often remind it that you are the alpha, it will develop into a disobedient adult.
The puppy will probably become less interested in toys and more interested in chewing on your belongings and jumping on the furniture without an invitation from you. It is best to understand what is happening instead of fighting it.
The puppy will be most hesitant and afraid in any new situations. This fear and possibly newly-formed timidness needs to be handled with care and patience. Your dog will feed off of your energy, so stay cool and calm, but remain firm and decisive. You do not want to verbally abuse the dog, but, on the other hand, it is better not to laud the dog with excessive praise or comfort the dog with patting and treats during these new stressful situations. This might reinforce to the dog that it is okay to be afraid. Ideally, you can just ignore the entire situation and let the dog work it out by itself.
Patience during these fear stages, especially as that patience is tested in the second stage, will lead to a healthy and well-behaved young doggy! Build your dog’s confidence through positive training and always keep it fun!